Sir Richard…

The social media response to Sir Richard Branson, astronaut, is nothing if not predictable. He’s an evil billionaire trying to escape earth because he’s destroyed it. He should be taxed into the stone age so we could give everyone in the world three pencils and a timeshare goat or whatever.

It’s done nothing but reinforce my opinion that the kind of lefties who are active on social media are more about controlling what people do or don’t do, how we spend our money and live our lives, and keeping perfect credit with whoever is tracking the approved “social justice” buzzwords of the day.

Branson is the kind of guy we use to tell people they should admire. Starting his own, relatively unremarkable business at the age of 16, over the next five decades he parlayed that small initial success into a corporate juggernaut. He made himself rich beyond the dreams of avarice in the process… and then used that money to fund a project that use to be the sole province of nation states. I’d love to understand how space travel and exploration is somehow less democratic now that it’s not purely a state-sponsored endeavor. 

Yesterday, a self-made man used his own fortune to heave himself into space and open another avenue to travel and explore beyond the bounds of earth. 

I’m here for it.

If the wags on social media can’t or won’t see past their obsession and abject jealousy of who has what, I almost feel sorry for their lack of vision. Sir Richard is making history while the social media set is, at best, scoring points with those in their echo chamber. 

The great unfriending…

Yes, here we are in the depths of the Great Plague, but pandemics come and go. Partisan politics, however, is truly the show that never ends.

I was struck over the weekend by a friend’s short diatribe on Facebook. I should point out that I use the term “friend” here in the classical sense, meaning someone I know personally and whose company and biting wit I enjoy. 

The gist of the post was basically asking “Who have you unfriended” because they don’t share your political opinion?

Well, uh… No one.

You see, I don’t have a litmus test or demand purity of doctrine or thought from the people in my circle. Knowing people of every stripe, from true-believing Marxists to free-booting capitalists, not just makes my everyday conversations more interesting, but it helps me refine and better understand my own beliefs. Not being stuck in a one-sided echo chamber where only one “right” answer is allowed makes me a better, more reasonable human being. 

If the only way I can be your friend is to avoid any original thoughts and dedicate my waking hours to groupthink, I guess you’ll have to do what you have to do because I’m never, ever going to be that guy. The best I can promise is to agree where possible and respectfully disagree where not.

In any case, I’ll be the guy over here supporting independent thought – even (and perhaps especially) for those whose thoughts I find most disagreeable. 

The point of the exercise…

After scrolling through my twitter feed and Facebook timeline this afternoon at lunch, I’ve come to the not-particularly-surprising conclusion that social media isn’t fun any more. Maybe it never really was fun, but it was once new and interesting and held loads of promise of being the for people to communicate in the new century. Now it’s become something more like a never ending grudge match of who can shout loudest, post up the most toxic memes, and get the most reverb from their echo chamber of choice.

Although I have occasionally learned new things thanks to a random post on social media, I can’t think of a single time that Facebook or Twitter have gotten me all turned around on an issue. The way in which we discuss our politics or other issues of the day on these platforms leaves me wondering if anyone has every actually changed their mind based on what they hear and see. It feels more like the perfect tool for those with their minds largely made up to entrench and find others who agree with them.

Look, I know I’m as, if not more mouthy and opinionated than the next guy… so if I’m managing to glam on to the idea that beaming these electrons back and forth at one another is an exercise in futility maybe there’s a thin layer of hope that things could improve. Given the absolute and total rage being thrown by the left and right and the moment I don’t see how any of it ends well. Maybe seeding that kind of division is the point of the whole exercise. If that’s what our benevolent electronic overlords were going for, well played.

Break…

It’s recently come to my full and complete attention that I have a problem. As usual, it’s one of my own making and I take complete responsibility for it. Increasingly I’ve found myself pulled further and further into the rabbit hole that is Facebook. Between that and dwelling far too much inside the echo chamber between my own ears, it’s not the best of times.

I feel less able to focus and driven largely to distraction – or perhaps it’s just allowed me to better focus on the wrong things. The Facebook experience has reached a point where it seems to be pulling me further afield from how I really want to spend my time, namely real reading and real writing. The shouting match of Facebook has left me with the distinct impression that it’s currently taking more from me than I’m getting in return. Under the circumstances it seems that the most reasonable thing to do might be to take a few steps back, reinforce the center, and then evaluate where things go from there.

None of this should imply I’m not curious about the day to day comings and goings of the 500 or so people I’m connected with, but I just don’t know that I’m currently curious enough to keep grinding myself down to slake that curiosity. Increasingly what I’m finding delivered into my feed are items I’d be better off, or at least happier, for not knowing. As it turns out, sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Who knew, right?

I never thought I’d find myself pondering the virtue of seeking at least partial refugee status from the social media age, but there it is. Will I do it? Can I? I have no idea. Should I do it? Yeah, that answer is resoundingly clear. What that could mean given the interconnected, but somehow less intrusive feeling platforms like Twitter and Instagram remains to be seen.

The only certainty at the moment is that nothing I do will in any way negatively impact my ongoing commitment to writing here as often as possible. Since the beginning, and even more so now, it serves as my primary check valve to vent off anger and frustration before it becomes something less manageable. You’ll never know how fortunate I count myself that I learned early on the importance of “using your words.” In a world ruled by 140 character limits, hanging on to the ability to communicate in prose feels all the more important.

Beyond all of that, I won’t even speculate about what taking a Facebook break may look like – or even if I’ll end up doing it at all. At the moment, though, it’s sounding like one of the best ideas I’ve had in years.

A matter of opinion…

Yesterday I saw several social media posts decrying the administration of the current president as the “most out of control and corrupt government in history.” Now it’s fair to say I don’t agree with many of the administration’s policies, but I also know that “in 621_356_history_of_the_world_part_onehistory” covers a lot of ground and a lot of really, really bad governments.

Take for example the Soviet Union under Stalin, who purged somewhere between 1 and ten million of his own people. That’s pretty bad governance. Hitler, that other bookend of 20th century dictatorial madness had a large hand in starting a war that killed 60 million people – or a little more than 2% of the world’s population at the time. Like Stalin, that’s not a great track record. Fast forward a few years and you have Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the killing fields of another 1.5 million. The drug wars raged across Columbia in the 80s and 90s, with politicians being bought or killed by the cartels. Not the recipe you’d want for successful democratic government. The Afghani Taliban made it their mission in life to suppress dissent, create a permanent underclass based on gender, and wipe out two thousand years years of cultural history. And those are just examples from the last hundred years.

Step back to the French Revolution, the Roman Empire, the Mongols, the unification of China and you’re going to see government that behaved in ways our sensitive souls can’t really fathom. Bad as the Obama administration might seem, I think laying the mantle of “most out of control and corrupt” in the vast sweep of history might just be a touch hyperbolic. Sure, it makes a good enough sound bite, but it really discounts the fact that history goes back a long, long way.

We’re all welcomed to our own opinions, but I do wish people would limit their appeals to the blessing of history until they inform themselves on what they’re actually talking about… Otherwise you just end up sounding like an idiot to those happy few of us who didn’t fall asleep in Into to World History.