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The Banality of Benevolence

The case against technology

The current crudeness of our public discourse has given dissonance a bad name. I spend a good measure of my time in the United States and in particular in southern California. Through my admittedly artless and unsystematic research I’ve concluded that in that part of the country, what masquerades as cordiality is really a terribly aggressive form of apathy. When you are told to “have a nice day,” or that “it’s all good,” what you are really being told is that there’s a serious gap between communication and transaction and that the latter is more expedient than the former. This observation, of course, is nothing new but what is new is the context in which these empty, cordial transactions take place. This new context is the raging anarchy of social media flame throwing where the emotional repression of benevolence finds its anti-social antidote.

So while behind the veil of our computer screens we roil with the thunder of exasperated zealots, when we meet for foamy macchiati at Starbucks we’re a soothing barbershop quartet of empyrean politesse.

Implicit in this ecology of manufactured civility is a debilitating self-deception that if continued unchecked may develop into an intellectual canker sore.

It should also be noted that by contrast, our online town square, when not consumed with wrath and vitriol is a warm milk-bath of vacant affirmation. Never has an idiom been so abused and overused as the unfortunate word “like.” Our collective infantilization has reduced our social interactions into an emotional petting zoo.

The result of all this electronic social disruption is a dawn of a new Golden Age of insincerity.

What I have found in my travels is that we are experiencing a hinge moment in our cognitive development. As our methods of communication have been digitized our souls have been vacated of the probity and good-faith essential for the nurturing of authentic relationships. The decline of conventional religious faith has left a void that our artists have failed to fill. Poetry has been replaced by the post and sensation has been supplanted by the emoji. When you don’t believe in anything then you are vulnerable to believing in everything equally.

Is it a linguistic accident that the connective term most commonly used on social media is follower? Do we really want to abdicate our analytical sovereignty in exchange for a horde of templated “friends?”

The time has come to restore our dwindling self-respect and return to the sanity of dissonance. The clamor of nuance, the shading of multiplicity and the hedonic rewards of sensuality must begin to credibly compete with the palliative empty gestures of recreational technology.

The time has come to dislike. The time has come to unfollow,dissent and disobey the seductive silicon cues that are destroying our ability to choose. The messiness of friction is the sauce of viscerality and if we overcome our fears and dare to think for ourselves we may be able to save the thawing ice-caps of our creative independence. 

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