Compassion for those on the wayward road of fanaticism and the exit route back to equilibrium.
The world has always been a maddening place to live in and thanks to our increasing reliance and immersion into social media and technology you can’t escape it and neither can your anyone your know: your friends, family, parents and even your Grandma is tagging you in her Instagram posts. When the internet was created, it was as a resource to share information freely and for that information to be accessible to anyone who wanted it. The gracious and noble intent of this philosophy has been lost on most people who instead opted to simply find some large breasts to look at and spout the limited knowledge they had in defiance of all truth to any person who had the misfortune to have known them for long enough to have felt an obligation of a sort to be connected to them on some realm of social media.
It’s easy enough to dismiss those valiant keyboard crusaders for their misguided efforts against whatever cause has driven them to passionately assault and offend the sensibilities of anyone whose opinions might differ even slightly from their own, but the struggle of these people is not just that “cause” to be taken simply at face value- their struggle is a human one. Their story, their rage, their passion, their isolation and longing to feel like they’re not alone- that story is all of ours. They are us.
One cannot be separated from the other.
We have all felt like they feel. We have all felt so wound up by some inane issue to the point of bursting and most of us get over it- whether that’s because we either get exhausted by it or become sidetracked by a new issue. So we’re all entitled to go and rant it out to our hearts content, screaming into the dark void of cyberspace and it’s probably healthier to release the crazy than keeping it inside to fester and grow. The unhealthy point comes when the energy of your released chosen emotion inspires osmosis-like rage from someone else. Your ideas either stoking the fire of their similarly held beliefs and reaffirming them, or debatably worse: contradicting them, in which case you become the focal point and figure head of all the opposition they’d previously had to this faceless anger. From that point on it becomes a balance between how much history and investment you have in that relationship versus how detestable you find their idea (if indeed you do know them, otherwise you don’t even have that tether of familiar recognition to restrain either of you).
The build-up of negativity and its eventual volcanic outpouring is inevitable to happen at some point. Our references of information come in ever decreasing circles of our own sphere of influence and we spend increasingly longer in them as their coils tighten around us, reaffirming our chosen ideology and giving voice to the ideas we would perhaps never discuss with potential outsiders to it.
This kind of bottle-nosed narrowing of perspective is not just a trait to the fictional narrative of populism that has given rise to Brexit and Trump, it is a symptom of our day and age as well as a condition of modern civilisation.
Time was that we would just read our newspaper for the day and maybe catch the news at night if the TV was still on at we didn’t have the energy to find the remote control to turn it off, and that would be it. Now, we live our lives in our own sphere of influence, listening to views that we immerse ourselves in and subscribe to and follow on social media, seeing stories predictively selected for us by algorithm. We see these stories so often that naturally any idea that doesn’t conform to this view of the world we’ve chosen for ourself seems increasingly alien, incomprehensible and incompatible with our own. And when we take the mantle upon ourselves to challenge a this seemingly lost champion of this ideology, we usually find their response so offensively partisan that we dig our heels in deeper, cementing our position until reinforcement comes in the form of heart-shaped Likes.
It’s no longer a case of a casual discussion in a bar, where you would be of the leisurely disposition to entertain a possibly nonsensical idea just for the sheer fun, whimsy and setting (like that guy at the pub who claimed to have introduced George Harrison to Hare Krishna and kept a pet goose whom he thought was the reincarnated soul of an Indian God); now it’s a case of smashing they keys and buttons as hard as you’d like to be shouting at the other person and exchanging fiercer and less congenial points until your facts give way to name-calling and eventually to comparisons to Nazi Germany as Godwin’s Law dictates, until finally somebody gets blocked with all the impotent anger that you’d normally prefer to direct to their face with your fist. For this is the tribal abandonment of all civility and society in the face of an unrelentingly blind allegiance to the “truth”, whatever that may be.
How do you save your peace of mind and escape from this permanent and divisive tug-of-war perpetuated by everyone from the talking heads on television to your crazy Uncle and his conspiracy theories on Facebook?
Would escaping it be the negation and nullification of your civic duty?
Sometimes all you want to do is skip paying the bills on your smartphone in hopes someone will just take the damn thing away from you and save you from the burden of it all. To have that portal to all the world’s problems closed for even just a little bit would be totally fine.
Maybe therein lies the solution to save you from martyring yourself to a cause. Just take a vacation away from all news and media. Hell, if you really want to enforce it then limit your TV time to only re-runs of Murder She Wrote to test both your addiction, desperation and resolve. Don’t be afraid to culture yourself beyond the sensationalist soundbites that are short enough to fill a Trump tweet. There is someone in another time zone to replace you and every other keyboard crusader that takes a break to read a book, go for a walk, take a nap, see a museum or even go to a strip club, just get out of the house and away from siren-like call of the illuminated screen for a bit. See large breasts in person for a change and without a little ‘X’ located north-west of them.
We can’t live our lives forever torn between the tussle of two polar extremes, especially when some of the people on the other side of those are real people we know and care about, who may also care about and even love us — they’re not just the ideas they represent, no one is. So if we can learn to take the overdramatics that media and social media has taught us with a pinch of salt and take time away from the insular, miniature worlds we’ve so carefully created and curated for ourselves then it’s more possible than not that we might find ourselves getting along better — or at the very least not sabotaging relationships with our family and friends and allowing those relationships to survive until Christmas …or whenever the next big divisive issue is.
Sometimes madness is the only response of a sane person to an insane world, so don’t let us forget that behind each crazy idea quoting “alternative facts” is a human being who has loved and been loved and lost love, had dreams and seen dreams crushed, who at one point in time probably even believed in Santa Claus. The breadth and depth of any human existence, neither theirs, nor yours, nor mine, can be reduced to the value of an opinion that doesn’t make sense to us- and might not even make sense to them one day. My Mother once told me that as a small child I was afraid of grass [insert joke relating to smoking weed as a teen here] and if that doesn’t sum up the whole point I’m trying to make then I don’t know what will, apart from looking into the eyes of your loved ones and acknowledging the differences between us that make us who we are and that make us interesting to each other.
So, as Jerry Springer used to say, to remind us of a normality beyond the bizarre after watching two weirdos clashing over something weird: be good to yourselves and each other.
Thanks for reading, follow me on twitter.
— Alex van Beek
Originally published at medium.com