I’ll preface my thoughts with this notion from Kenneth Burke, which I’ve shared in several of my previous posts:
An “ideology” is like a spirit taking up its abode in a body: it makes that body hop around in certain ways: and that same body would have hopped around in different ways had a different ideology happened to inhabit it. (from Language as Symbolic Action)
Since last week’s nomination hearings of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States were televised, the world bore witness to a hideous spectacle unmatched since Hugh Jackman carried his worship of Oprah to injurious lengths (the Oprah-worship being the hideous part). But this particular spectacle was one of ideological hopping around, tone deafness, intellectual blindness, the fabrication of rules and standards on the fly, and a pathological inability to reconcile anything.
Lest I be painted with some misbegotten brush, I take no political sides in the matter. (And, lest we’ve all sworn the Hypocritic Oath, let’s please concede, shall we, that the entire debacle was political theater at its most implosively absurd.) Rather, with all the objectivity I can muster, I will attempt to manifest the wisdom of Albert Einstein. (“Good luck,” I hear you solemnly intone.)
Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtless submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence and fulfills the duty to express the results of his thoughts in clear form. (Albert Einstein in a letter to Dr. M.I. Cohen, March 19, 1940)
Along with every other explanation for the hearing’s obscene lack of logic and consistency (to say nothing of evidence), what we saw was a parallel (or an inverse) to what’s transpired in marketing; that is, marketing used to comprise two fundamental approaches: push and pull. By allowing people to select only the content they choose to consume, social media all but eliminated push, compelling marketers to pull them with content (much of which is bullshit, but that’s a topic for another post). If people don’t want stuff shoved at them, they’ll just shut off the (distribution) channel.
In the public/political realm, social media has had precisely the opposite effect: By eliminating pull — the constructive, ameliorating, collaborative, reasoning, and potentially redeeming effects of traditional discourse — social media has allowed us to push all manner of groundless hostility and subterfuge and to retreat behind the ostensible safety of our ideological shields, the better to protect our thoughtless, uninformed opinions and our sacred ignorance.
Choose Your Weapon
There’s an argument to be constructed on the premise that we were well on our way to special-interest-fueled disunity before social media came along. Social media has only hastened our demise. Like choosing a gun over a trickling bleeding-out, it’s just a faster means of committing suicide.
As my friend, Samantha Forbes, so brilliantly put it:
“The climate we live in … doesn’t invite or value more inquiry. It invites and rewards conviction.”
RIP: Constructiveness and civility.