A Brave New World Where Feeling Is Replacing Thinking
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
And so the Road Trip is over.
We actually returned late Saturday but I took Sunday and Monday to sit back and appreciate how much I enjoy returning to, and being at, home. I think we sometimes get so caught up in our day-to-day activity that we forget to stop and appreciate what we already have. It’s sort of like working your butt off to acquire something only to have no time to enjoy it once you have acquired it.
I also took the time to sit back and observe, rather than participate in, what’s happening across my social media timelines and online in general. We were only gone for a few days but you somehow always expect that you’ve missed something; as if the world has moved forward and you have a great deal of catching up to do.
But, there are no worries there. The more things change these days, the more they remain the same.
One thing I noticed quickly was that when you spend more time out in the real world than online, you lose sight of just how much self-righteous acrimony and judgmental sanctimony there really is on social media now. It’s almost as if there are two different species inhabiting the planet; one species that is pretty decent and a second species that is overrun by hysterical, shallow thinking in a virtual world.
Wherever we traveled, and it was well over 1500 kms, we mostly encountered friendly folks with their families. We saw people of all races interacting without any issues and experienced a considerable amount of laughter being shared. Within five minutes of being logged into my Facebook account, I read a half a dozen posts accusing others of everything from being racists to homophobic; fascists, communists, corrupt, liars and just flat out stupid.
Whoever coined the term social media had no clue what the word social means.
The sad part is that the opinions and the behaviour online are spilling over into the real world and whatever values we profess to hold as a society are being undermined by shallow thinking that is more emotional reaction than anything even vaguely related to an analytical thought process.
People respond to issues with “I feel that…..” rather than “I think that…..” It isn’t merely a choice of words. The simple fact is that feelings have become more important than thoughts. Opinions are formulated based on an emotional response to something and facts which might contradict that opinion are ignored or distorted so that the original opinion can be maintained.
Narratives and agendas have replaced real events so that when a young man is shot and killed during an altercation with a Neighbourhood Watch captain, the facts brought out in court are dismissed in order to maintain claims of racism. The fact that neither the defense nor the prosecution injected race as an issue in what happened is irrelevant because the narrative and the opinion behind it has to be preserved.
We have lost the ability and the willingness to acknowledge when we were wrong in the light of new information.
It is the same narrative that is defended by those with a weak-minded or self-serving agenda who label all who didn’t vote for the current president as racist. In their convoluted thinking, it isn’t possible to have made your election choice based on anything other than race. Economic and foreign policy, unemployment, opposition to the current health care plan are irrelevant. If you didn’t vote for Barack Obama, you are a racist even if you happen to be the same race as the president.
What troubles me aren’t so much the silly accusations, those we can deal with. You simply let stupid comments roll off like water off a duck’s back. What bothers me is how this lack of thought is eroding our civility and our ability to reason for ourselves. It is undermining our values as a society and creating situations that are almost schizophrenic in nature. We demand individual rights but cluster in herds and let the herd do our thinking for us.
Take the issue of law enforcement and the use of Tazers.
In October 2007, Robert Dziekański who was a Polish immigrant to Canada was tazered by four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) which resulted in his death. One of the things that came from his death was a demand that there be more control over who had access to Tazers on police forces. Many forces implemented a policy that only sergeants and above could carry Tazers in future as a result.
This summer, a young man brandishing a knife, was shot on a street car by a Toronto Police officer. Again, putting aside the cause of the shooting, there are now demands to know why all police officers didn’t have Tazers and why they didn’t simply use one to immobilize Mr. Yatim instead of shooting him.
It was a knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Vancouver that caused some governments and police forces to implement new policies about Tazer use in response to emotional but uniformed demands by the public, in particular the online public. There are now new demands that the police equip all officers with Tazers by that same public.
Both deaths were tragic and all the more so because they were unnecessary no matter who is responsible. The issue was never Tazers, the issue is more profound but we ignore it. Both Mr. Dziekański and Mr. Yatim were experiencing a personal crisis and the police were not equipped to handle it effectively.
Does that rise to the level of criminality? I don’t know because I don’t have all of the facts but the courts have ruled it was not in the case of the Vancouver incident and will soon make a determination in the Toronto shooting. Just as with the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the people who demanded justice are now claiming that justice is being served because the police officer involved has been charged with second degree murder. But I fully believe that just like the Trayvon Martin shooting, if he is acquitted, there will be new demands for justice.
Because we respond emotionally, we no longer trust our own justice system or even fully understand what justice may actually be. We are like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland
“I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’ . . . ‘I’ll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death.”
Social media has become a court – a court of uninformed expert opinion where people without any quantifiable experience or all of the facts pass judgment on others without regard for fundamental rights like due process or presumption of innocence. Everyone is an expert on everything – as long as it’s trending. If it isn’t trending, nobody cares. It is, as the Queen of Hearts said, ” Sentence first, verdict after” and if the mob doesn’t like the verdict, they refuse to change the sentence.
A young girl named Rhaetia Parsons was raped and bullied online by her rapists and her community. She eventually committed suicide and the same online community that was either silent or that participated in bullying her suddenly was outraged by her death. Not eight months earlier, another young girl named Amanda Todd committed suicide after being forced to move from one town to another because she was constantly bullied by members of her real and online communities. She appealed online for help in a compelling video but was mocked until she took her own life.
It never occurred to the social media mob to defend these girls while they were under attack. It was too busy condemning others for other things and defending against any incursion by government to put some level of regulation into social media for the purpose of protecting people like Rhaetia and Amanda. In both cases it was originally trendy by many to bully these two girls until they died at which point it became trendy to express sympathy and outrage. It is beyond hypocrisy – it is a lack of thought, a lack of common decency and an erosion of social values in a world of distorted priorities.
Combined, it is a lack of civilized behaviour.
Condemnation of Russia’s new laws against the promotion of the gay lifestyle is another case in point. I think the law is wrong but not because I am an activist for the rights of gays and lesbians. I am opposed to discrimination of any kind and believe that all people should have the same rights regardless of race, religion, culture, political ideology, sexual orientation or gender. People are people and I believe that all people are equal and are entitled to the same level of respect and should equally benefit from the same rights as anyone else.
In countries like the Barbados and St. Lucia, popular vacation spots for North Americans, being gay is a criminal offense punishable by significant prison terms. In Iran, being gay is a capital offense and gay men are routinely hanged in public.
Nonetheless, that isn’t trending – Russia’s law is so all of the online sanctimony is directed at Russia. The oppression of gays in 75 other countries is ignored.
That seems fairly shallow thinking to me or more accurately, a lack of thinking. It is an emotional response based on something that is being circulated across social media about an issue that most who are demanding justice have never bothered to research. People simply want to be part of the ‘big’ story without having to actually live up to any consistent set of values that might force them to think beyond the moment.
From crime to fundamental rights, politics to the environment and pretty much everything in between, our societies are losing their values because most of the people in our societies can’t be bothered to look beyond what they feel. Their opinions are based on the opinions of others rather than on their own analysis of an issue. It is as true of global warming as it is of believing that vaccinations cause autism.
People line up on either side of an issue and the war of words begins. Somehow, the facts as they emerge get lost because nobody is listening. New facts for or against are dismissed by the other side or simply ignored. Nobody wants to ‘know’ because everybody simply wants to ‘feel’ that they’re right.
It’s a frightening thought that after six to seven thousand years of development, this is what civilization has come down to – howling mobs and kangaroo courts. Who would have thought that in a world where oppression still flourishes, the worst oppressors of our values and our rights would be ourselves.
Every known civilization that has crumbled was destroyed from within by the erosion of its values. For all of out technological gadgets, we have learned nothing. Failing to have learned from history, we may well be on our way to repeating it.
© 2013 Maggie’s Bear
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