Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Enemy is Us

Here’s a thought:

Any view is defined from the opposing end of that view’s spectrum. The idea came to me, while I was entertaining guests at a birthday party for my daughter. I was able to “geek out” with a couple of guests, and in the pursuit of doing so I heard someone tell me that “most comics are left of center.” The context for the statement was that there was a particular group that was advocating “right-of-center” comics, but that they were met with fierce opposition from within the community. (I wasn’t aware of this, but I assume that all hell broke loose because of it.) I found the idea odd, that we need comics written “right-of-center.” No comic book writer/film critic/author writes content that establishes a worldview based on their enemy’s characterization of them—that is, I wouldn’t specifically write a book that was “liberal” because a critic of mine suggested that I was “liberal.” I would assume that they would write a story that reflected their own beliefs. I write stories that discuss things that interest me. I am not out to incite arguments. But I write what I write because I find that content interesting to me.
I find, that when someone (person B) characterizes your views (person A) as their opposite, what is happening behind the scenes is an instilling of existential competition, to validate beliefs of the original critic (person B) as valid, or more valid. I see this a lot in religion because I am a Christian and people are often insecure about their faith (myself included). I see instances where a layman witnesses same-sex marriage become validated by popular culture or reads about a scientific finding that sheds doubt on aspects of Christian orthodoxy, and their initial reaction is to characterize the supporters of those positions as being in opposition to his/her own. It’s therapeutic, ultimately, to be validated by creating an enemy. The stakes are higher now. And because enemies ultimately “lose,” we are invigorated when we read or hear something that sheds doubt on our opponent’s position.
The unintended effect is that we create our enemies as a toxic pursuit to escape our fears, rather than confront them and try to make sense of them.
What should we do, then, to avoid this?
Sorry, I have no idea. But I have thoughts.
See, going back to my opening point. If I write something that inadvertently challenges the worldview of another person, the onus is on that offended party to confront me and ask me in an understanding way why I have that position. Because I am not intentionally trying to offend someone. I’m, in most cases, just writing a story, or creating art, that resonates with me. The specter that we create of our enemies is a strawman that we sling mud upon rather than making an attempt to bridge the gap and attempt to understand any view different from our own.
Another interesting example: there was a time when I thought I was going to be a pastor of a Christian church. The unfortunate thing about this, was that I was very involved with the viewpoint of a certain pastor and I had purchased all his books and followed all his sermons. When I would confront a viewpoint that was different or, worst, in opposition to this pastor, I would write it off as poor scholarship on the opponent’s part. Then I was told an interesting anecdote as I was venting my frustrations our on my sponsoring mentor. If you read one author (his works in total), then you are a clone. If you read two authors, you’re confused. If you read three authors, you begin to develop an ecumenical understanding of knowledge pertinent to that topic.
This applies to everything: cooking, knitting, philosophy, politics, video games, religion, film, etc. What I don’t want you (reader) to take away from this is that your viewpoint is invalidated, or diminished, once you’ve reached this point of ecumenical understanding of your topic. What I desire you to take away is that people believe certain things because it’s personal to them, and there is a story behind that belief. When enough people are like-minded, they coalesce into a larger entity that takes core values (but not all of them) and synthesizes a new position that lacks the multifaceted explanations of certain beliefs.
In light of social media, I am convinced more and more that Facebook and other platforms are a cancer to our ecumenical understandings because they have condensed conversations and familiarity into statements and surface level understanding.
Chew on that for a bit.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Internet Society

The other day I was at work and one of my co-workers sent me a link about the recent mass killing in Canada regarding self-proclaimed “incel” Alek Minassian, who praised the killing of students at UCSB by another “incel” named Elliott Rodger. I use the terminology in quotes because it’s a nonsense category of humanity, one that was created by malignant sociopaths and absorbed egomaniacs.
On Reddit, there was a forum dedicated to these kind of people. These who are faceless and plain, and take out their anger on the women who won’t sleep with them by writing depressing, bemoaning tracts of prose better suited to the stylings of a melancholy junior high on Deviant Art than a twenty-something still living at home with their parents. (My dig at Deviant Art comes from personal experiences, so there.) Fortunately this forum was removed from Reddit some months ago.
                This is a trend ongoing. There are many online forums that are steeped in this type of incestuous talk. What’s impressive is that I was introduced to this kind of thing long ago when I was a kid. I grew up with the internet, with 56K dialup, 4.5KB per second download rates, and simple HTML websites that took two minutes to load in Netscape Navigator. But there I was on forums, in AOL Instant Messenger, and observing first-hand the capricious and devilish stylings of some of the most despicable people I had ever encountered.
                Even I was the victim of online bullying.
                But that’s a story for another day.
                What I still try to understand is the phenomenon of “flame wars” and other types of vilification on the internet. We say a lot of things that we don’t mean, or we have the courage to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t attempt in the company of others. I think vloggers and youtube broadcasters are a great example of the latter: a group of people emboldened by the lack of social repercussions received from face to face conversation. In the right context, these people have become influencers and speakers in a larger conversation. (At the same time the lack of credentialing has led to a conflagration of unsubstantiated observations that bring the layman / laywoman to bad conclusions. This is also a conversation for another day.)
                Internet bullying is like a network loop. It’s recursive. Ego exits the speaker and enters the Other. The Other responds with ego and enters the Other. And on and on it goes. The internet is puzzling like that. There is so much good that the internet brings us. Open and constant information. Limitless education and tutorials in dozens of practices. Extending communication to those halfway across the world in seconds. And even exposing virtuosity for the least of our number to elevate them to incredible heights. But these are not really highlighted upon in the current climate. Right now the internet is a cesspool of thieves, blackmailers, bigots, terrorists, and sexual predators. Information is suspect and, in many cases, counterfeit, spread by people without qualifications. Unprecedented movements in communities lead to the deaths of others or, at the very least, their defamation.
                I mentioned the network loop before… People often say that charity is the best remedy for those needing a better reference. This is because, instead of thinking about ourselves and being trapped in a constant loop of self-preservation, we begin to see others as ourselves and the gap between “Us” and “Them” closes. This whole blog entry really has been about extremes, two sides with an immeasurable distance between them. Breaking the loop, in the context of the sociopath and the internet, is really bringing down the artificial wall of anonymity. When we are confronted with people that are different at a distance, it’s much easier to discredit them than if we are up close.
                So maybe the cure is to see eye to eye, face to face?