“The greatest crimes in the world are not committed by people breaking the rules but by people following the rules. It’s people who follow orders that drop bombs and massacre villages”
There is an assumption today that reacting radically against the status quo by electing or supporting people outside of the system is a form of disobedience. This behavior is born of frustrations that are attributable to a cultural system governed and controlled by wealthy individuals which makes it increasingly hard for working-class citizens to sustain a living. I understand and empathize with the frustrations of a majority of people in this country, I wholeheartedly disagree with their tactics and their definition of disobedience.
There have been protests, movements, social media campaigns, and violence in the past few years in the US and elsewhere. Despite these various acts of so-called rebellion, political conditions and their negative impact on both our planet and the daily lives of American citizens is accelerating toward a zero-sum end game. We are drunk on the promise or pursuit of capital. Like addicts who can’t stop, we’re doubling down on behavior that we intuitively know will cause our own downfall for the hope of some unsatisfying payoff. As Gore Vidal once said, “Envy is the central fact of American life.” Envy consumes us, driven by a need to own just a taste of what the super rich have, not even realizing that the products they endorse are not what they in fact wear. Few people with money buy shoes off the rack at Nordstroms let alone ever set foot in a Walmart. Yet, despite this fact, we think the latest pair of Nikes will satisfy our low self-esteem.
We’re living in a terrible paradox where the rich get ever richer, and the poor get poorer, yet the poor and middle class (if there is still such a thing) ever more desire being rich. The line between sophisticated branding and personality is so blurry it’s indistinguishable. Our persistent desire for that which we’ll never attain, and frankly should aspire to, drives us ever deeper into a shame cycle of low self-esteem. We leverage social media to hide behind personas just like celebrities. We’re using the very tools that helped get us into a psychological hole to dig us out. Narcissism and solipsism are driving us to ruin. The more isolated in ourselves we become, the more we see everyone else as the ‘other’ rather than a different version of ourselves. How can we break free of this never ending loop of self-loathing expressed as selfishness? The radical response is to stop feeding the monster—the monster of social media.
Social media arose as a promise to stay deeply connected to friends, family, and acquaintances across the world. Facebook for us began as a sharing platform where our day to day lives could be posted online to give access to others who we weren’t in regular contact with. Unfortunately, social media has grown into cyber-sewer filled with deceit, misinformation, narcissism, hatred, and even propaganda. You have to wade through a mountain of garbage just to find a tidbit of human connection. People you are fond of get caught up in the same swirl of political opposition, rage, and judgment that is widespread throughout. There is a desperate clamoring to find unanimous agreement rather than compelling arguments. Worse, cyberspace blocks personality and one-to-one interaction, making it easier for people to their worse selves rather than their better. Social media has even become a tool for state actors who are now leveraging our own anxieties against us in campaigns that are intended to influence political outcomes. Whether through the focused efforts of Russian meddling or the masterful advertising led by Brad Pascale, his digital campaign director, it’s clear that social media was owned by Donald Trump in 2016 (and continues today). Trump leveraged our desire for unvarnished, off-the-cuff dialogue, with reflective narcissism to manifest the psychosis of a nation into the real world election of a president. If this isn’t enough to scare you into departing social media, I’m not sure what will work to break your addiction. It doesn’t matter if you like or voted for Trump or not, the point here is that you are being manipulated by systems well outside your control that plays to your most profound shame and fear of making money off of what rightfully belongs to you, your daily life.
I’m not a Luddite. I spend a lot of time online and on computers, but outside of work, I’m less and less engaged with social media. I’m justifiably suspicious of businesses owning content that belongs to me, particularly as a writer and artist. I’m uncomfortable with the way social media is rewiring our brains to make us less attentive and more distrustful of each other. We see a return to clan thinking, something a couple of decades ago we found to be much less desirable, and for a good reason. There is a reason we largely abandoned a tribal mentality in favor of collective agreement, centralized governments, and shared economic systems. Indeed bloodshed has declined dramatically as a result of this. Do we really want to return to a time when we hated our neighbor or our neighboring country? Tribalism is especially dangerous at a time when we are seeing the onset of the Anthropocene and the dwindling of natural resources. Let’s not allow the shrewd consolidation of our personal lives into social media platforms appeal to our lowest forms of expression and behavior. The same systems that existed before social media are still in place to engage loved ones or communicate with distant friends and they offer a more personal and private way of engagement that may keep you more centered and civil. Immediacy is rarely beneficial to us. Flippant responses, drunken posts, and reposts of non-factual memes only digs a deeper hole of dehumanization for us.
Lastly, and in some ways this might be the most important take away, remember that if everyone in the world is pre-occupied with themselves, than ironically they don’t care about you. We’re all posting to get attention but if we’re all looking in the mirror expecting a response, then none of us is actually observing anything, other than what our own yearning is sharing. Get our of your head and live in the world. The shit show that’s out there will carry on with or without social media.