I’m starting to hold a love/hate relationship with social media again. Today as I logged on, I found an op-ed piece on an international news website that has a tendency to share both truth about current events in the middle east and culturally-relevant bias. The phrases that captured my own attention were:
“These reactions make one pause and wonder how long these same people would last under the Arab and African dictatorships and occupiers the US has propped up and maintained positive ties with over the years.” and “Honestly, the arrogance of Americans who are threatening to flee is breathtaking. They assume that the world will now welcome them with open arms because in a few months, they will be ruled by a less-than-desirable leader. One which, the world will be quick to mention, was actually chosen by Americans and not imposed on them by occupation or intervention.”
With my education in sociology and social and behavioral sciences, my first inclination is to deconstruct the author’s statements to see the individual pieces of the puzzle that make up the entire picture. These statements are bold indictments of the bubble that we Americans have created for ourselves, and should be heeded as a common worldview; one that some of my own international friends have expressed in more delicate terms in our own conversations. The conclusions I have arrived at thus far (as I choose to operate in a fluid state of perception rather than a static state of belief) illustrate several points that we need to scrutinize in our efforts to create the changes we want, instead of acting as though we are victims of a bigger system. That is not to say that the bigger system doesn’t exist, but to point out that if we are not living in a hermitage or in a completely self-sufficient community, we are an integral part of that system as it’s workers, consumers, and propagators.
The first conclusion I arrived at was that we have a tendency to believe what serves or supports our experience, our desires and our fears rather than looking at things critically and objectively. As long as we choose to jump on the latest bandwagon that supports the mixed emotions that are flying high, we will remain in a state of confusion and lack the focus we need to define, much less attain, our goals. Our emotional reactivity puts us in a passive position that resembles the oxy-moronic notion of a willing-victim. Objectivity allows us to define our goals, take thoughtful action, and begin the process of reconciling the underlying reasons and our own responsibility and participation in the system that we’ve created.
The second conclusion I have come to is that we are using blame as a way to avoid responsibility for what needs to be done. For example, many people believe in and use conspiracy theories about some elitist group of people controlling the chaos in the world as a direction to point their finger. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth to the ideas behind the theories, however, the theories that detail specific plans or projects have a tendency to be at best glimpses into pieces of the over-arching relationship between money and government, and and worst dangerous tools to distract and separate intelligent people from thinking for themselves by giving them a false sense of purpose with a handy built in tool to discredit the believer. Other people scapegoat those of different races, genders and social classes than themselves for the economic and social ills of our society, without looking at who is actually making the decisions that largely direct, if not control our economy, media, education or other vital social systems. Both of these ideologies are directed at attacking each other instead of owning our collective responsibility for such issues.
It is important that we cultivate rational thought by using our observational powers along with practical research, and practice critical thinking by looking at how such things impact us on both personal and universal levels, and the relationships between these perspectives. Suffice it to say that while there may be an element, or even a bushel-full, of truth to these theories, they still keep us in a state of blame and distraction, and evangelizing them ultimately discredits believers in the eyes of the people they would like to convince if those people are not willing to step outside of their own belief system.
The very idea of exposure versus education illustrates that the theories, right, wrong or both, are little more than distractions from how we are participating in the manipulation presented by media, materialism and the advertising and entertainment industries, which are the tools that disseminate said distractions.
- Social media offers a platform to share ideas, and has been perverted into a way to express the things that up until the past decade, we would never say directly to another person. It has also become a tool to spread misinformation. This morning, I spent less than 5 minutes using a free meme building site to create a meme with a picture of my own two cats to illustrate how easy it is for anyone with internet access and very little savvy can create things that distract us and has the potential to incite intense emotional reactions. And while social media can be an excellent tool for facilitating conversations, our society has already devolved the art of debate to tag lines, insults, and sound-bytes that exemplify the various fallacies of logic.
- Corporate news outlets are an industry that serve a few main objectives. First, they report the stories that will catch the most attention and highest ratings. Second, they report only part of the story and use human interest and emotionalism to hook our attention and sway our attention from seeing the rest of the picture. Third, our main media outlets are owned by a very small group of very large corporate entities that are more interested in ratings that increase profit margins than truth and the destabilization of corporate power.
- Our entertainment is rife with one-upmanship, making fun of the less fortunate, a nearly constant state of conflict on various levels, and extreme behaviors that glamorize selfishness, greed, excessive materialism, unnatural and double standards of beauty and human value, power, sex, and competition. Add to our entertainment an advertising industry that exists specifically to manipulate us into purchasing and consuming things that hold little actual value beyond symbolism. All of these things are not inherently bad unless their manufacture, use, or disposal create more harm to our health or the environment, but we have become conditioned to consume them to fill the void left by the passivity of our lifestyle and the messages from advertising that we are not good enough without ________. The entertainment and advertising industries are specifically geared to manipulate normal human desires for ease, comfort, companionship, sex, and power into an insatiable need for it’s products.
When considering these points, it is easy to combine our natural inclinations toward dichotomous thinking with emotionalism to defend our participation in how they contribute to our current position. People tend to compartmentalize the world (be it thought, emotion, notions of race, class, and morality to name a few ways), which results in dichotomous, or black-and-white/either-or thinking patterns. We do this for a few reasons. The world as we know it is a huge and diverse place in which we are constantly uncovering new perspectives, life forms, and systems. Our need to classify things is a way of organizing a vast and complex network of existence into a linear plane from which we can draw conclusions. The danger in this is that we lose sight of the spectrum involved and it’s inter-connectivity to a larger nexus when we default to the extremes of the spectrum. Critical thinking involves the examination of each part of that spectrum and finding our own place on it. However, we are so bombarded with information and constant threats (imagined or real) to our belief systems, our emotions, our lifestyles and our security that we default to extremes for our own sanity.
The institutions and industries that profit from this dichotomous thinking rely on our participation and continue to develop more ways that we can passively participate while thinking that we are taking action. By constantly telling us that who we are, what we have, and how we express ourselves is not good enough, we are lulled into purchasing things that hold little more than superficial value. By glamorizing and promoting extreme behaviors, bigotry, and atrocities under the facade of “freedom of expression or information or speech” without critical thought, we are desensitized to the emotional impact these have on us, creating a need for or addiction to more palliative behavior. By separating individual minority groups into individual causes, we are scattered between the details instead of unifying and mobilizing to create actual change.
The good news is that the bubble that we have created (however passively) for ourselves had burst. Like an abscess, it is gross, messy and painful. But it has burst… and will take time to drain of the infection in our thinking and lifestyles. This is an opportunity to take some time to decide what we really want in our lives and our society and begin to build it from the ground up. The United States was built on rebellion against a system of oppression, and every historical event and era has been marked by an emergence from the various forms of injustice that have surfaced. As long as these forms are brought to the surface, we have an opportunity to move up the ladder of social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual evolution that define our existence as a species.
If we pause to reflect on our own parts in how we have participated in this system, we can then make better choices about how to solve the underlying problems. That participation may consist of such things as:
- Posting 30 posts a day (especially without fact-checking sources) against what we don’t want;
- Mindlessly watching TV and Movies and listening to Radio that feed our bias instead of challenge our thinking;
- Shopping endlessly for the right clothing, make up, appliances, vehicles, food, and sundry items that propose to make our lives easier and give us unearned social status;.
- Berating those with whom we don’t agree for their ideas or opinions, instead of first educating ourselves to why we believe what we do and trying to understand why others may have opposite points of views or values;
- Any form of competition that devalues another person’s safety or existence;
- Ignoring and minimizing the suffering of minorities or even people in our own social groups who have more challenges or less affluence;
- Or blaming people who may not think, look, behave, or work the way we do for our own misfortune…
If we can be honest with ourselves about our participation in these things, then we have some common ground and simple ways from which to build our future.