Are Social Media Elevating Insanity to Ideology?

Twitter.  The name has always been an immediate turn-off to me.  After all, its initial syllable is “twit”—and I can’t say that the accident creates an inappropriate expectation.  Yet I have persisted in my “tweeting” (a verbal form scarcely more reassuring: what kind of bird-brain wastes time pecking a very constricted number of characters on a keyboard?).  My objective is, and has always been, an indirect publicity campaign: a projection of my views into the great wide world, that is, in the hope of attracting a few curious eyes to my Amazon author’s page.  I’m a perfectly lousy marketer—always have been.  Garbling or botching publicity is one of my special talents.  But on the surface, the objective seems both logical and respectable.  If you like what I say, try some of the productions where I speak at much greater length.

At the same time, I have grown aware of certain seductions in Twitter that could lead someone off the path whose aim was a little less monomaniacal than mine—and I myself don’t always resist, either.  The dozen-word bon mot is sometimes too ready-at-hand and the target too fat and stationary.  Yet sitting about an e-salon while languidly launching barbs at hippopotamus-sized news events doesn’t lead to a very productive morning.  It’s a pastime fit for twits.  Of course, people need a certain amount of amusement, perhaps these days more than ever; so the argument might be made that one lifts the spirits of one’s neighbors in making light of the fools who would rule us… and then, it’s such a great way to attract followers!

On principle, I have desisted from keeping tabs on how many e-disciples are tagging along at my winged heels.  It’s not healthy: it distracts you from speaking truth—it inclines you to probe after the popular.  I need hardly moralize about what hyper-sensitivity to polls and focus groups has done to our political system.   Don’t want the same thing happening to me personally.

There’s a much darker side to Twitter, as well.  Yesterday I noticed one of the public figures I admire most in the world dropping an f-bomb… on Twitter’s head, actually—and Facebook’s, and Instagram’s.  The occasion was a fury over how social media filter opinions not to their progressive-utopian taste and brand them “hate speech” (a phrase, speaking of words, that’s always struck me as implying a kind of caveman syntax: “Ug… me no like… make me mad… hate… hate speech!”).  How do you respond to insufferable idiots who gag and pillory you because you fail to parrot their drivel?  I can well understand the impulse to squeeze an “f” out through the gag… yet, in a way, it concedes the battle to the idiots.  Rather than clubbing the caveman back with a bigger limb, maybe you should just stay out of caves.

Probably half of all posts on Twitter are photos (invariably called “pictures” in these cavernous days), “memes”, or short videos.  A picture’s worth a thousand words—especially for a person who doesn’t know a thousand words.  So we gape at each other’s pictures, someone starts an avalanche of “opinion” cascading (“caption this” or “what’s that in her hair?”), the barbs fly, the tweaked hearts dispense “likes”… and some kind of communication, apparently, has just taken place.  What kind?  Not entirely sure; but I do know that its species defines our brave new world… our e-cave.

I’m both amused and saddened when I hear people say, “Looking back on our time, historians will write….”  No, historians will write nothing—not if no one can read, and certainly not if no coherent sense of historical connection remains (i.e., of the indissoluble complexity of human choice as opposed to “memes” and “pics”).  What I see in Twitter—illustrated helpfully, if unwittingly—is the progress of cultural and intellectual collapse favored by all electronic media, more or less.  The compression of judgment into a few words, the subservience of those words to cliché and jibe, the equivalency of word to image, the instantaneity of word and image alike… it’s all making us dumber by the year.  Look at our dumbed-down college grads, who believe that currencies can be resuscitated by running Xerox machines, that human evil is produced by deficient melanin in the epidermis, that Nature bestows either one set of sex organs or the other upon individuals (including squash plants), that nations must never have borders yet that momentary residents must enjoy the full rights of citizenship…. Where did these analytical featherweights come from who nourish a cultic conviction that less than half of one one-hundredth of one percent of the atmosphere will suffocate life on earth in about a decade—while the same gaseous substance, before our eyes, is feeding a revival of green vegetation….

How is it that we can transform bright young minds into generators of imbecility and lunacy?  What force is driving this incredible degeneration?  It would have to be something that causes views to be embraced because they seem flashy in their extravagance… something that shoulders aside patient reflection… something that awards points for immediate effect rather than for enduring substance.  It would have to enlist its users in a veritable competition to one-up each his predecessor, as in exchanges like this: “The capitalist market is racist.  Oh, yeah?  Well, the entertainment media are [“is” in current parlance] also racist!  Oh, yeah?  Well, grocery stores are also racist!  Oh, yeah?  Well, door knobs are also racist!”

Now, what do you see on the current scene that would elicit such a degree of abject idiocy—unique in the history of the human race, and likely unknown even to the very practical caveman—from millions of young people fresh from college?  What in our society could possibly inspire such unnatural and self-destructive behavior?  An oldtimer like me can gather plenty of clues by visiting Twitter… but study your preferred medium.  Where do you see anything approaching cautionary care and recourse to principle rather than applause in our means of communication?

Of the wide array of drugs killing our society from within, the one that “brings people together” is ravaging us with inestimably more ferocity than all the others combined.

More on Freedom of Speech

Continuing my last remarks about free speech… say that you write the very worst kind of blog post. Say that you ask your readers, “Where are the twenty-first century Harmodius and Aristogeiton who will assassinate Obama… or Trump… or Smith… or Jones?” My God, you’re encouraging the assassination of a U.S. president! You must be apprehended immediately and locked away until your teeth fall out!

Why? Is the assumption that someone will undertake an assassination through reading your words who would otherwise never have thought of it? What kind of condescending, intrusive, prurient, censorious, holier-than-thou Gestapo tyro believes that we average Joes function that way? “Me read stuff say to go shoot Trump. Unh. Where me go get gun? Unh.” If the only thing standing between any public figure and a bullet is the censor’s power to excise the word “bullet” from public discourse, then the public figure had better never remove his bullet-proof vest—because the word isn’t really needed to stir the thought.

What makes people go violent isn’t the suggestion that they do so. In fact, suggesting an extreme act to people who are already riled up may very well be a good way to make them cool down. “I said that I wanted to punch him in the face… not behead him in front of his children.” Forcing speakers and writers to shut up about certain ideas can confer martyr status upon them and mystique upon their idiot notions. It also makes the extreme seem like a distinct possibility. If you say before an audience, “Aliens landed in my back yard last night and told me that you are in their pay to betray the human race,” everyone around you would start laughing… unless, that is, I jumped up and roared, “Shut up! How dare you! You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Once I take an insane notion seriously, it no longer seems so insane to others.

Besides, if I were in law enforcement, I would want the wacko to keep writing so that I could see what bottom-feeders rose to the surface to make comments on his posts. I might even employ an agent to pose as the wacko. Once people start volunteering themselves to be assassins, my job of surveillance becomes much easier, and the world turns into a rather less dangerous place.

I’m far more worried, frankly, about the types who think that we consume and act upon suggestions the way a cow consumes grass and turns it to patties. They have a profound contempt for us as fellow citizens and as human beings, those speech-police. What would they not do to us in order to “protect” us?