Fame is potent nectar, and in America particularly, we crave fame more than any other country.
In America, millions believe that celebrity or notoriety can help one overcome a life that feels empty or seems meaningless. There are television shows that celebrate and glorify instant fame. Some social media platforms provide the false promise that all anyone needs to achieve fame is a webcam and an account.
And when attempts to capture fame crumble and the realization that fame by talent or artistry is unreachable, some Americans reach for the gun.
Because in America, a gun is always within reach, and with it, fame and notoriety.
For as long as he can remember, he loved to argue.
He wasn’t sure where this penchant for debate came from.
His mother had firmly held beliefs, but he had no recollection of her engaging others in a passionate discourse about politics or religion, or anything else for that matter.
His father’s passions revolved primarily around a reclining chair by the fireplace, an after-work scotch on the rocks, and cigars.
He remembers a heated debate with a friend at a sleepover when he was just a kid.
They argued fervently about which baseball league (the National or American) had better players and teams. He remembers being energized by the back-and-forth discussion. He remembers the thrill of responding on-the-fly to his friend’s assertions, countering them with well-thought-out retorts.
That debate dragged into the early-morning hours. The warm stuffy bedroom became thick with a swampy August heat and the two boys’ passion for sports.
Eventually, he and his friend drifted off to sleep, no hard feelings, no carryover.
The arguer never put his love of debate to practical use. He lacked direction and parental guidance. In the absence of a nurturing nudge, his life was shaped primarily by the stance brothers (circum and happen).
Later in life, when jonesing for a debate, he’d engage others over social media, arguing with vigor and passion about politics and religion.
It was from 2016 onward, that the arguer noticed a fundamental change in some of the individuals he debated. Many of them disregarded verifiable facts and truth in favor of falsehoods and outright lies.
So, for example, when the arguer made a declarative statement about Trump supporters attacking the capital on January 6th, some of his friends took this as an invitation to debate.
They argued the attackers were not Trump supporters.
They argued that the attackers were tourists that posed no threat.
They argued against what everyone saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.
It was stunning.
A basic premise of debate is that there are facts on both sides of the issue being argued.
The intellectual joy of debating comes from being challenged with factual information that counters your argument. The idea that you’ll be able to convince the person that you’re debating to change their mind (and vice versa) is what made debating so enjoyable to the arguer.
The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and work, is not a debatable statement.
On January 6th,the United States Capital was attacked by Trump supporters at the behest of the defeated former president. This also is not a debatable statement.
Climate change is real and poses a genuine threat to our planet. Again, not up for debate.
The point here is that some issues have been settled definitively by evidence, truth, and facts. But because old habits die hard, the arguer was drawn into debating the undebatable.
The result was exhausting, frustrating, depressing, and ultimately revelatory.
The arguer concluded that America is inundated with millions of willfully disingenuous people who are guided by politics over truth. These people are continuously debating the undebatable with falsehoods, misinformation, and quackery.
This represents a default way of thinking and arguing for nearly half the country, to the chagrin of the arguer.
You might have some real friends on Facebook. But Facebook ain’t one of them.
Facebook and Instagram use artificial intelligence and algorithms to learn our views on race, identity, religion, and politics. They don’t come straight out and ask us about our views or interact with us in a meaningful way. Instead, they collect data from what we share, like, comment on, and engage with on their platform.
They analyze the data and come up with a profile of me and you (conservative, male, republican, pro-life or liberal, female, democrat, pro-choice), and based on that profile, they determine what content to send us. And the content they send us reinforces our views, solidifies our attitudes, and affirms our opinions.
Facebook knows which content pulls us in and which content we breeze over.
Facebook knows what we like, who we like, and with whom we like to share.
What’s the danger in that?
What’s the danger of analyzing and understanding our behavior and then delivering us content based on that understanding?
Isn’t that a good thing?
No, it is not.
And here’s why.
We share more about ourselves with data scientists at Facebook than with our priests in the confessional.
But the priest (in theory) wants to counsel and help us. Facebook wants to use us.
To Facebook, we are a commodity. And when you’re a commodity on a technology platform with a data-driven business model, you’re prone to exploitation and manipulation by powerful and self-serving individuals and institutions.
Facebook and Instagram are a conduit for misinformation and lies. We saw this real-time with the Big Lie about a stolen election.
We felt it with the constant stream of misinformation about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccine.
The people who consumed and bought into those lies are lost. Perhaps forever. Tragically, they’re part of a growing community of people who believe misinformation. And as humans, we long for a sense of community – more so, it seems, than truth.
I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg or the other executives who launched Facebook did so with bad intentions. They had a business model and the technology to make that business model successful.
What they didn’t account for was the consequence of their success.
Categorized and codified by cold calculated algorithms, Facebook incentivizes our human desire to be with people who share our views, while fueling our dislike of those who don’t.
Because of Facebook, our society is more divided, less trustful, and has more built-up animus than ever before.
We are seeing the unintended consequences of technology and human nature smashing into one another.
That’s why I broke up with Facebook.
For me, the detriments far outweigh the benefits – it’s scary, because sometimes I think the best and only way to fight misinformation is to counter it with truth.
If lies and misinformation can spread fast on FB, why not use that platform to spread the truth?
I think many of us buy into that argument.
And so we get caught up in this endless battle with others. We live for hours at a time in an environment of constant combat and argument – we look for mistruth, engage the enemy, and fight the fight.
Blood pressures rise.
Friendships get wrecked.
Family members are disowned.
Nothing gets solved. We just become agitated at those who don’t share our views.
We willfully retreat to our camps – we lose empathy – we lose trust – we lose any sense of the things that hold us together as a country and a society.
We lose our ability to compromise and discuss coherently and intelligently with whom we disagree.
Facebook is toxic, destructive, and a danger to society.
How is it in a country full of Americans, half of us consider the other half un-American, and vice versa?
To me, this seems like a fairly recent development.
Some people who know me today might categorize me as a “Godless libtard, who cares more about immigrants than real Americans.”
These same people probably didn’t categorize me at all 10 years ago — even though I was pretty much the same person then — a progressive liberal atheist.
On the flip-side, 10 years ago, I probably didn’t categorize some of the people I knew as “fascist-leaning individuals who’d rather wrap themselves in the American flag than care about their fellow human beings” — but that’s how I’d categorize them today.
So, what’s changed?
In terms of our politics, I don’t think we’ve changed all that much. The biggest difference is the manner and degree to which we broadcast our politics. That’s totally different than what it was 10 to 20 years ago.
Today, we have access to a social media soapbox, and many of us get up on that soapbox, and with a keyboard as our megaphone, we share our opinions (and other people’s opinions). We speak our values; we argue politics, and whether we realize it or not, we present our views on what it means to be American.
I used to think this was a good thing. Now, I’m not so sure.
Too often, our use of social media results in a singularly-focused and myopic view of one another, to the exclusion of the many things we likely have in common – a love of music, parenthood, art, literature, sports, science – the things that we could (and used to) connect over, but now, choose not to, because of political tribalism and a strange social media sectarianism.
Social media magnifies and intensifies our political differences, making it difficult to recognize or even care about things we have common. This unintended consequence benefits foreign enemies, who flood social media with content designed specifically to deepen the divide between Americans — and its working splendidly. Facebook has turned out to be the perfect crowbar to our Pandora’s box- dividing our American house and weakening our country from within.
How do we combat this?
The genie is out of the bottle in terms of social media. Its unrealistic to think people are just going to stop using it – and let’s face it, it’s a bit of an addiction.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter rely on two very human traits; the desire to communicate with one another, and our desire to fight with one another. Combine those two things with an insatiable need for affirmation, and you’ve got the perfect weapon for division and discontent.
The “thumbs up” or “heart” emojis are like herrings to a seal, as soon as we receive them, we instantly bark out more opinions on Trump, Biden, Guns, Abortion, Religion, and Immigration — widening the gap between one another, burning bridges, fueling hate.
Weirdly, social media is weakening the fabric of our country by allowing us to show others who we are, and what we believe in. We were a stronger / less vulnerable country when I didn’t know your politics and you didn’t know mine. If we both liked the Beatles, that was a good enough foundation to at least be kind and respectful to one another.
I looked back at some of my early social media posts, a lot of them had to do with my kids; a shared newspaper article, pictures from family gatherings, photos from sporting events or school dances. You know the schtick, obnoxiously proud mom or dad posting stuff about their son or daughter — often embarrassing them in the process.
“Ah, the early and innocuous days of social media.”
I looked at some of the respondents to those early posts. Interestingly, I’m pretty sure if I shared similar kinds of posts today, many of the same respondents would make a point of not responding.
No emoji herrings for me!
Many who responded fondly to my innocuous posts in the past, probably think I’m an asshole today. In their eyes, I’m a meme machine – a opinionated jerk – an atheist – an intolerant liberal fuck — and I totally get that.
When 9 out of 10 FB memories are rants about politics, you might have a problem (talking about myself here), and who can blame others for seeing you solely through a political lens, if that is all you show them?
It’s not easy to un-see what you see on social media, and some posts leave an indelible mark on our opinion of others and vice versa.
My High School has its 40th reunion this Summer. Our last reunion was in 2016, before Trump won election — before the war, so to speak. But even at that stage, you could see battle lines being drawn on social media. I even remember a plea from one of the organizers to refrain from talking politics.
A lot of shit has transpired since 2016. I know I’ve annoyed the fuck out of Trump supporters on a near daily basis (and vice-versa ). I wonder if we’ll be able to put our megaphones down for 5-to-6 hours and just pretend that we’re not offended by one another? I hope we can, though I expect some top gun-like maneuvers, as we buzz around the clambake tent, trying to avoid in-coming liberals or conservatives who might be looking to engage.
Social media has wrecked us. Its a shame, I wish it were different, and I don’t know how or even if we can fix it.
I think the best approach is to talk more about what we have in common — lead with those things, rather than politics – broadening the perspective might help lower our emotional temperature.
I want to hear from the people who think it’s “OK” to kill animals purely for its sport. If you are such a person, I’d love to hear why you think it’s OK and what you enjoy about the experience. What do you get out of it? I’m not talking about a head – or a tusk – or a pelt – I mean, what do you get out of it emotionally?
I’m not being a sarcastic left-wing dick — I’m actually curious.
When I see a lion, an elephant, a leopard, or a rhino, my first thought isn’t, “man would I love to kill that thing.”To be honest, I can’t imagine ever thinking that way. But there are people out there who shell out serious coin to star in their own wildlife snuff film — and I just don’t get it.
Not being raised in a hunting culture, the thought of killing a living creature purely for the thrill of it — then posting pictures of the kill on social media — disturbs me at an elemental level. When I see these pictures flash across my TV, or when I see them online in stories about hunting — I experience a rush of anger, dismay, and befuddlement.
I know the person standing over that dead lion, elephant, leopard, or rhino is human like me. But the “common humanity” that would typically connect me to these people gets obliterated when I see these photographs. Suddenly, the person in that picture is not like me at all. On a purely human level, my connection to them evaporates.
Besides barbarism disguised as bravado, what I mostly see in these pictures of grinning humans standing over beautiful dead animals, is ego and entitlement. If I had to caption the image, I would surely use those two words. Moreover, the pictures exude an ideological view of man’s dominion over all creatures – you get a real sense that these people believe the purpose of the lion, the elephant, the leopard, and the rhino is to satisfy an evolutionary hardwired human desire to hunt and kill – a bloodlust.
I don’t see in these pictures our “higher” human qualities; decency and kindness; empathy and appreciation; respect and civility. And though I don’t know any of the people in these pictures, I immediately see them as lacking these higher human qualities. This can be dangerous because once that happens, it becomes easy to treat these people as less than human, leading to a social-media-mob-justice that we are witnessing in the Cecil the lion case.
My hope is that over time, we humans become a little less human and a little more humane – that more of us evolve towards the higher human qualities, where we finally put an end to the practice of trophy hunting.
Watching the election returns last Tuesday night was all about the numbers. Which candidate will get to 270 first?How does Romney’s path to the presidency change now that PA’s 20 electoral votes are in Obama’s column? Will Obama finish with 332 or 303 electoral votes?
But for me, the most surprising number was 168. That was the number of Facebook friends I had the day after the election – one less than the day before.
In the month leading up to the election, I often logged on to Facebook to engage in spirited discourse with my Republican friends. Tuesday night, I went there to revel in the joy of victory with my Democrat friends.
On election night I watched with bemusement as Chuck Todd moved battle-ground states into the Obama column with the wave of his hand – like a mythological soothsayer. As the night wore on and it became apparent the President would be reelected, I felt euphoric and somewhat vindicated (selfishly so). Vindicated, because I had argued with some republican friends that Obama’s vision for America was better than Romney’s, and that most Americans would see it that way. To me it was a choice between two very different views about the role of government in America. It was about social and economic justice. And watching Karl Rove stubbornly deny the science of polling (in much the same way his party denies climate change and evolution), only to be smacked down emphatically by truth was the frosting on the cake. It was remarkable.
In the heat of an election candidates and voters can let their emotions get the best of them – taking on an aggressive tone and speaking words that normally they would not. On election night as my son and I sat on the couch watching the returns, the network cut away to Todd Aikin’s concession speech. It was a divisive speech, ungracious, and full of the vitriol and misguided views of a typical Tea Party candidate. I immediately typed a statement on Facebook in which I referred to Mr. Aikin as the dime-sized part of the human anatomy directly south of the tailbone and north of the nape of the knees. Without forethought or hesitation I tapped the Enter key and sent my words into the infosphere. A few seconds later my son chided me with a “that’s not a very nice thing to say dad”, and of course he was right.
I am convinced that my actions resulted in being “unfriended” by an old high school classmate. It had been many years since I had seen or spoken with him in person, and if not for Facebook we probably would not have kept in touch. My friend’s Facebook page was like everyone else’s, a reflection of his likes and dislikes, from pop culture and sports to politics and religion. He has strongly-held views about the role of government (keep your hands off my money, put my god in your classroom, and put this trans-vaginal probe in your vagina).
Politics is a blood sport, and to the victor go the spoils. In this case those who elected Obama are the victors and the President has a sacrosanct responsibility make good on his campaign promises. At the same time, the President must be mindful of the 49 percent of American’s who voted for Mitt Romney’s vision of America. Some republicans would argue that Obama does not have a mandate. I strongly disagree. That said, the President has a difficult road ahead – pushing his vision for America while at the same time keeping the 49 percent who disagree with that vision “in the fold” of the American family. He needs to extend an olive branch to Republicans, while staying true to his principals – no easy task. Push too hard and he risks further fracturing the country, don’t push hard enough, and the same risk applies.
While the president does his part, I will do mine by reaching out to my republican friend in an effort to get back to 169.
I was sitting on the couch – my son across the room with his smart phone in hand – head tilted downward.
Without lifting his head he flatly stated that there is a 95 percent chance that the human race will be extinct in 9000 years. I immediately thought this was an opening argument for why my wife and I should spring for his school field trip to France. But not a single syllable followed. Apparently he just wanted to share a little sunshine.