Journal

Do Social Networks hurt your Social Life? (Bonus OTTO ~ Social Justice Warriors & Immigration)


This is going to be a bit of a difficult subject to broach. Because its going to cover two anecdotes, which aren’t themselves the problem, but I’ll then be covering the topics of those anecdotes. To talk about Immigration is one thing, to talk about Social Justice is another, but to try and cover both in a single entry? That’s probably just stupidity. I’ll give it my best shot though and we’ll see how this turns out. I’ll try to slap some pictures in here from time to time because I know how quickly people get bored. The order of operations here will be answering the first question (Social Networks) in a broad sense, then going on to Anecdote #1 about Social Justice Warriors, perhaps some more about Social Networks, Anecdote #2 about Immigration, and then a conclusion. This will be close enough to that 5 sectioned essay we were all taught in school to give some folks PTSD.

Post Post Note: Holy balls this is long. Take it all with a grain of salt. The TL;DR is that we build up images of who we want our friends to be and social networks destroy the illusion by reminding us that everyone is flawed (sometimes terribly). Discussion on SJW and Immigration stems from two situations where I found myself disappointed in folks for approaching a problem and trying to solve that problem with (what appears to be) terrible solutions. There you go! Now if you want the long version uh…it’s down below.

There is something to be said about the hype train. When a new game is in development the developers must come up with the perfect time to announce it. You want to announce early enough to build up excitement and give people time to save money but not so early that the hype overreaches and the end product is, by necessity, a failure in comparison. Hype is one of those things that snowballs without much help and often the publishers/developers get blamed for it when they hardly played much of a part. The same is true with people, we build an image of every person we meet that makes a lot of assumptions. I am, for instance, making a ton of assumptions about you right now as I throw you into this large group of 7 billion people known as humanity (or hupeoplity). When we make a new friend, acquaintance, or meet a new member of our family we begin to design around them a picture that is not so much the reality of them but the reality we hope they are.

The dark side of this painterly lifestyle is called Racism, or Sexism, or any other variety of ism (Did you know Ableism is a thing? Apparently it is, anything is an ism these days). We tend to look at these versions of the tapestry as needing for correction and I believe without exception you will find agreement from me there. But how are either of these bits of information relevant to social networks? Your friends, your family, and even the strangers you meet online and add to your friend’s list are all doing this in real time. You are doing this as well, you are generating images of your mother, your father, your sister, that guy from accounting, all of them unique and all of them false. From what you think they love, to what you think they think, to how you feel they’d act around a beggar.

You build up hype for everyone you love in the most positive ways and build up hate hype (if that’s not a thing I hope it becomes a thing) for everyone you dislike or hate. Every feature of them becomes a caricature of what lies beneath. We do this with politicians, when they act incongruous with how we’ve painted them we call it flip flopping. A quote from 5 years ago that conflicts with something they just said? Let’s do it! Personally I think these moments are important because they remind us that they are not caricatures necessarily, they are people whose views and opinions change. At best you can average out all their actions and statements and find a rough facsimile of who they were over their lifetime.

The thing about social networks like twitter and facebook is that they provide something of a compulsion. The desire to see updates or comments causes many people to update them frequently with all their thoughts. The ability to share content from around the internet with a single click means that we can act on impulse rather than taking a moment to think. In the time it has taken me to write this far I could have shared twenty quips splattered over the faces of random people to you, likely half of them misquotes or out of context.

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With each dive into the minds of those we care about we find out that they aren’t these paragons of life that we once thought they were. Be it their pension for posting pictures of the confederate south and proclaiming that the south did nothing wrong. Or perhaps a rant about how we should deport kids back to Honduras. That time your aunt posted about how bombing the middle east was a good thing and we should do more of it. Or someone posting a picture of something that is barely veiled racism and saying “This.”

These moments remind us that people are complicated and the unfortunate truth that many of us have assholes in our families. Some people aren’t oblivious to this, their Uncle Carl is a huge asshole and everyone knows it. But what about your Niece? Did you realize she was a foaming-at-the-mouth racist with strong feelings on corporations as liberators? You probably never would have known that if it weren’t for social networks. Some of this is me exaggerating but all of it stems from very similar revelations. The worst thing is coming to a realization that someone you deeply care about is not only a moron but deeply proud of being a moron. I haven’t had the experience in a while but I’m sure everyone has been there. I’m sure some folks who know me are looking at this and musing “Pot/Kettle.”

Onto the first anecdote. For those of you that know me, which as I’ve mentioned above is unlikely to be many people, you’ll know that I am staunchly on the side of unrealistic utopian thinking. I dream of a world that lacks in pain and suffering, of a future that is dictated by whim rather than fatalistic certainty. People should die on their terms, live lives on their terms, and ultimately be fulfilled if that is their desire. I’ve felt this way for quite a long time and I don’t suspect I’ll waver. Will it happen? Unlikely, but it helps frame the next bit of the conversation.

A little while back one of my connections on Twitter posted about how some guy on Polygon used the “Not all Men” argument in response to a discussion about PAX being a vapid breeding ground for sexual assault. He’s a guy I hold a lot of respect for, he being the twitter connection, I’ve thought highly of him since the first day I met him. I responded that while the argument is not necessarily valid I’m not surprised that some people would make it. It is in my nature to try and see all sides of a problem, regardless of if I agree with them or not, because at the source of this understanding comes the solution. He responded to this decision by telling me I dislike people who empathize with women. Had I been drinking tea I would have done a spit take and most certainly it gave me a bit of vertigo.

What followed was a short discussion where he explained to me that the only way social justice works is if you are an asshole about it. He told me that he didn’t understand how nerds could see people lashing out and not think back to when they were kids and getting picked on. This is at its core a lovely sentiment but it got me thinking about my own youth. I was picked on a lot as a kid. It was a terrible point in my life not helped by the fact that hormones made all my feelings stronger and more difficult to control. I responded to this hurting by lashing out at everyone. What resulted was not that anything changed, people who were assholes remained assholes. What changed is that people who were not assholes became assholes to. My problem did not improve I merely made it more caustic.

The nature of the argument as far as I can tell is that if you speak civilly about the topics at hand you are surrendering some level of control away from the debate. This suggestion that there is something lost from civil discussion is a strange one to me. I think mostly because historically it appears to be wrong. We think of great movements that involved large levels of violence and talk about the progress they made but I can’t help but notice that much of it is superficial. When Egypt overthrew its government that was a miraculous movement of action, I say miraculous but I mean really impressive. But this revolution did not last for long. The military overthrew the elected government and have begun stripping away many of the rights and privileges that the people demand.

This is a very complicated situation and I’m not even going to act like I fully understand it. But I can’t help but feel like part of the resurgence of this abusive power came from the decision to act before a solution was found. We are mortal beings and nobody wants to potentially wait the entire course of their life to make change. That is perfectly fair and I’ll never tell anyone to go for the slower route. If you think that your decision is the best decision for the change you desire, go for it. I’m merely voicing my concern that it might not work.

When people talk about Racism in America it is often said (at least when I hear it talked about) that it isn’t getting better. People don’t get less racist they just redirect their hate to the new nationally accepted group to hate. If we are to suggest that this is true I would put forth that it stems in part from the desire to act without assessing the problem. We move for quick and decisive change without finding the source for the plights and those sources merely become better at veiling it.

http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/01/13/94/011394a07a254446748e353c362e762d.jpg

http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/01/13/94/011394a07a254446748e353c362e762d.jpg

You leave the same bad people in positions of power for decades but make sweeping social changes during their tenure? They become better and better at hiding the wrong that they are doing. Similar to how taking down Napster had a hydra effect. You remove one and many heads spring up in its place each harder to direct or destroy than the one before it. This isn’t to say that action should be done but that it must be done with thought. I’ll also admit immediately that I don’t have an answer. But when I don’t have an answer my solution is not to double down with what is not working. If I find myself saying “It’s not getting better!” year over year my solution is not to just do what I’m doing harder. That’s likely an exercise in futility.

The best solution I’ve heard to the “not all men” argument was made by a commenter in one of the threads that I was linked to by this connection. They said “Instead of getting angry at people when they say this and accusing them of derailing the subject why not just agree with them. Then make the request to help stop those men who are doing it.” This solution seemed to not generate any anger from everyone in the discussion which in itself is something spectacular and I certainly agree with the notion. If you’ve hurt someones feelings by lumping them in with rapists because of laziness, responding to their hurt feelings with “Well go fuck yourself.” is a peculiar strategy. How is this supposed to win over supporters?

All advocacy is a matter of manipulation. I say that without any negative connotations on the term. Baskin Robbin is trying to manipulate me into buying their ice cream. If they succeed I get some delicious treats and they get my money. An advocate for social justice is trying to manipulate people to help them turn the tides of injustice that threaten to drown most women (and many disenfranchised groups of people). The solution to this is unlikely to be being an asshole. When I was an asshole as a kid I didn’t get sympathy, people reacted to me as people naturally do. They reacted negatively.

Worse still I suggest that this decision to be an asshole just hurts the movement as a whole. When people think of feminists they think of those people in rallies that are holding up signs of scissors saying “If he won’t use it properly he doesn’t deserve it.” Because the squeaky wheel gets the oil. It’s an unfair attribution to the movement as a whole but it is inevitable if people push this idea that you can only get what you want if you are violent about it. One of the most famous advocates in US history strongly disapproved of violent activism.

By most accounts a super cool dude. I'd have loved to meet him.

By most accounts a super cool dude. I’d have loved to meet him.

It was the decision to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr. that appears to have had a massive impact on the movement as a whole. This act of great violence and assholeness destroyed the defense of the racists of the time and cost them a ton of ground. It was their decision to look for the shortest route to their goals that cost them everything. I am in no way sad that they lost a lot of ground, mind you, I can find no logic or positives in racism. I’m also not oblivious to the reality that racists are, like everyone else, human. You must find the roots of their hatred and cure them. Racism and other slights against humanity are diseases, we cannot merely cure the symptoms we must also eliminate the source.

People seem to act like a disease is defeated once you can no longer see the symptoms on the surface and they begin to stop taking their antibiotics. This only leads to even worse bugs that are even harder to eliminate. To clarify I mean the disease itself as well, not the person. Even flawed people are people, they should be spoken to as you would wish to be spoken to. I’m having trouble finding the quote but there is a line from “Manufacturing Consent” that amounts to “Words have meaning”.

What we say not only expresses our thoughts but it readers or listeners galvanize their perceptions of us upon it. If you are publically an asshole while promoting equality the message will be drowned out by the bigger picture: you are an asshole. I liken it a bit to Bill O’ Reilly. You may not be aware of this but he is not a fan of people polluting the world willy nilly. Which I think is an admirable quality. But he is also a bit of an unapologetic bastard. It is because of this that his message is lost on the viewer, that message of a cleaner Earth doesn’t jive with the audience that wants to hear him slander celebrities and pick on the unfortunate.

When you are being an unrelenting bastard about feminism ask yourself this question: “Does the audience that would respond to this also agree with me?” Because really who is the target audience? When the most common response from a feminist online is to act like a creationist I feel like there is a problem in the inner workings. I shouldn’t be given a bunch of urls to prefabricated answers to every possible criticism. I also shouldn’t be told that my opinions don’t matter because I’m not the affected audience. I don’t know how to properly operate on somebody but if I see them leaving equipment in bodies and then sewing them up I’m going to criticize them.

The response to someone trying to relate to a topic should not be to harass them for not blindly accepting it. It should be to educate them, the act of educating should also be done from the heart rather than cut and dry responses. These similarities can’t only be obvious to me. When people point to old tired arguments to defend the young earth hypothesis I don’t think “Oh they’ve got it together.” I think they have put as much thought into it as it takes to copy and paste a url. These are not the actions of a thinking person, these are the actions of a lazy person.

Maybe I’m wrong. That’s perfectly fine, I am fallible in every way imaginable I’m sure. But I’d like to see the heart of feminism succeed. I can’t find any instance in history where it will accomplish what it wishes to accomplish in a realistic time frame using the methods that it uses. Certainly not online. Lashing out at people doesn’t net you sympathy, much like stepping on a cats tail won’t make it kiss you. And when that cat claws back it looks rather stupid when the owner of the foot acts surprised.

What ultimately happened was I was not swayed to become an internet warrior. I was not swayed to become an asshole. I just decided to leave twitter. I would rather not be around caustic people and worse still it tainted my image of this person. What was previously a well thought out and fun individual is now someone that I feel is an unaware bully. They act like the very people they claim to be fighting against and that saddens me deeply. I’m not saying I’m better, but they broke that caricature I had in my mind of them. I would have never taken them for someone that would publicly slander me in order to “stick to the message”. That’s a damn shame and something I’d expect from a long term politician, not a smart fella.

Can't we all just get along? [Image from: http://theoatmeal.com/ ]

Can’t we all just get along? [Image from: http://theoatmeal.com/ ]

This is the heart of the problem with social networking. We provide people with extremely efficient ways to build their own echo chambers. But along the way people who are friends or family tag along. Those people become victims to the machine because they might not necessarily agree with the vacuum. Your decision then becomes to ignore them, to remove them, or to fight them. I personally go with the first two options but I’ve been on the latter end of the third one a few times in my life. Each time over something that I’m not even arguing against. I’m not poking a bees nest, I’m point at the bees nest and asking “Why is it shaped like that?”

We become so conditioned in our chambers to take anything short of blind approval as an attack on our morals. Internet Warriors act identical to fundamentalists, razing everything around them that doesn’t swear undying allegiance. This is incredibly disappointing and I worry that I’ll say that too many times in this post. I’ve nearly forgotten what I’ve written as is. I’ll probably write about Social Justice again in the future just because its such a fascinating topic. The shorthand will always be “its a really good idea” though I’m more interested in discussing the mechanics.

The next story stems from a quote, as these problems so often do. As I mentioned earlier (I think) it is incredibly easy to “like” or share a comment. These things that would have previously been throwaway thoughts in your mind are now embossed into your internet history forever. Or for a long enough time to do as much damage as possible. In this case we get onto a topic that is somehow a point of contention in the US. I’ve heard that it is also a hot button issue abroad but I like to think most people are smarter than this.

...who chose that font?

…who chose that font?

This has always been a peculiar moment for me. When people who are usually very smart, that I’ve built incredibly unrealistic images of in my mind, like or share something this vapid. It feeds into a very strange system that has been in the machinations of the US for centuries. Every generation has picked one or many races/groups of people and called them out as the bastards of America. There is a very good chance regardless of your race that your ancestors at one point were a member of that group. Irish, Italian, German, Russian, African, Chinese, Japanese, Native American, and so on, have all been treated like dirt at one point or another. Some of them much worse than others. It is ironic that this would be the case given the poem that is featured on the Statue of Liberty.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – The New Colossus

This is, to my mind, the essence of America. All other nations may (or may not) spit upon their people and treat them as burdens but we will take better care of them. We will show the world that any nation can prosper without treating any person as less than a person. This is the essence of America but it is not necessarily the essence of the America that actually exists. Which is where my problem lies.

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For time immemorable we have talked about America while not admitting that we are not that thing. Every generation that rules the generation that follows it tells that generation that the time before them was a Grand Ole Opry when it was never anything close. We blame the new for the problems that the old now face while the old forgoes any responsibility. While I’ll admit it does appear that each new generation has lesser problems they bring to the table the passing of blame and responsibility still appears to be a consistent trope in our (and probably the world’s) history.

Occasionally it looks like the problems are getting worse but really it looks to me like a matter of scale. A half dozen people can vaporize an entire city in minutes. We have for a long time been improving our technology without addressing the problems. As I mentioned earlier this means that we end up with a disease that is stronger than the one that came before and even harder to cure. Proliferation has its pros and its cons but at the end of the day the necessity for proliferation proves that we are not ready for what we have. I don’t propose that we give it all up but I do think it should become a focal point for human growth.

We should examine our shortcomings and we should improve upon them. What is citizenship really? Did you have a choice where you were born? What parents you were born to? Most of your ancestors regardless of who you are, presuming you are in America, did not speak English. At best they spoke very poor English. A lot of our idioms stem from the fact that people couldn’t figure out the difference between Breath and Breadth or the difference between a Maze and a Labyrinth. Our language is peppered with words from other languages like “Amen” or “Gesundheit.” We are, and have always been, the supposed melting pot of the world.

Steve Pearce (Republican Congressman) went to Honduras to prove that most immigrants fleeing to the US are doing it just for money. One of the most telling parts of this journey is that he and his entourage were too scared to leave the hotel for most of their trip because of how dangerous it was there. There are many reasons for this danger and I think I’ve (likely ignorantly) talked about them a few times in the past. But the fact remained that he felt unsafe there and came back to the US. He had that option, what about the people who by no fault of their own were born there?

Do they even have the time to wait for a VISA? It can take more than 10 years to get an immigrant VISA. Imagine if you couldn’t leave detroit for 10 years? Do you think you’d honor that agreement? One of my colleagues at ONNet spoke English better than literally anyone you know (statistically speaking) and he was fluent in Korean (as you’d expect, being a Korean native). If it came down to it his vocabulary is far larger than mine on my best day (not that I’m any standard to set your life by). He had to wait years to even hear anything about his status. Then when he went to get married they investigated him and accused him of doing so to get citizenship.

This is how we treat the absolute best the world has to offer. This guy is brilliant, no criminal record, and kind enough to make you nauseous at times. Yet he was suspect. Compare this to someone like Sarah Palin. She is only an American because she was born here, had she been born anywhere else there is no way she’d pass the citizenship test. That isn’t saying much because something like 7-10% of Americans can even pass the test. Nearly 100% of immigrants who do take the test can and do pass it (91% to be exact, much closer to 100 than 7%).

Talking about English? She butchers the language every chance she gets. She doesn’t understand geography and in many ways she is at the heart of the movement that has crippled modern politics. So what did we do with her? Demand she leave the country? No, she was in the running to be Vice President. This is my problem with arguments against immigrants, we are unfairly harsh on people that did nothing but desire to be here. They have no higher crime rates, many of them pay taxes, and their understanding of the history and culture here is statistically higher than nationals born here.

Imagine if we had a lottery where we kicked out everyone who won? That’s effectively what we are doing with these attacks on immigrants. The gamble of life itself put them in a different arbitrarily lined and named country and because of it we blame them for our problems. None of which they actually cause. How much money are we spending on those multilingual packets? I don’t know but I can tell you this.

It is nothing compared to the amount of money lost by American owned and operated corporations. American banks nearly destroyed the entire country and threaten to do so again. The US Military spends more on a single fighter plane project than all the translators we’ll ever need to translate all the things we’ll ever translate. F-35 Lightning II is looking to cost over 1 trillion dollars (over 55 years) and it nets you what? An incredible piece of technology that will only ever be relevant if we get into a fight with a country whose conflict would end all human life. That’s it, either WW3 or bust.

What does spending money on translations do? It does absolutely nothing to hurt you, costs so little in comparison to our other projects its entirely forgettable, and it makes new people who want to succeed here comfortable. It gives them time to assimilate just as I started learning Japanese quite fast while I was in Japan (though I’ve forgotten much of it, and for the record they have English on everything there for our convenience also).

On the topic of Teddy, what else has he said about immigrants? Quote a lot, some of it not so kind, but lets go with one of the more on point quotes.

If we leave the immigrant to be helped by representatives of foreign governments, by foreign societies, by a press and institutions conducted in a foreign language and in the interest of foreign governments, and if we permit the immigrants to exist as alien groups, each group sundered from the rest of the citizens of the country, we shall store up for ourselves bitter trouble in the future. – Teddy Roosevelt.

He was probably speaking of immigrants in the US as a whole and this quote makes me wonder how he’d feel about modern partisan politics. The idea of a nation divided along lines of conservative and liberal, republican and democrat, rich and poor. These lines of division are caustic and poisonous. The largest owner of media in the US is an Australian (Rupert Murdoch), which would have probably caused him no end of intellectual torment.

But that last bit. Shoring up of bitter trouble with those we see as non-American I think is apt. When we treat other peoples as lesser, embargo their lands, bomb their people, or even supply arms to the enemies of their nation we create a stigma. A stigma that festers and strews until we are seen not as a melting pot of the world but as a single hurtful empire. An organism built to harm and intrude.

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This fear of terrorism (the majority of it unreasonable) didn’t spawn organically out of “foreigners” just hating us. We bullied them, slapped them around, and through commerce and war treated them like lesser people. They lashed out at us to make a difference. Which, as I discussed earlier, doesn’t make a difference. Now we just see them as assholes and nothing has gotten better. And by “we” I’m being fairly liberal here, the aggressor would be the military and in some number of cases not even the military we have now but a past military whose ills we are still recovering from.

Social Justice and the Immigration debate are much more connected than they might realize. This stigma that floats around for “non-Americans” is fueled by the same cognitive mistakes that fuel sexism or racism. These are frailties in our lesser consciouses that must be actively addressed. They cannot be fought to extinction any better than you could remove the reptilian instincts from a crocodile. To defeat this with violence we would need to exterminate ourselves in the whole and I think nobody really wants that (well basically nobody).

The world is full of huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we already know this to be true, it is up to us to decide if they should or not. If any person decides that they shouldn’t, it falls upon them to justify how another human being deserves to suffocate. I’m not saying a justification doesn’t exist, but I’ve certainly not heard a compelling one.

These sort of debates, looking at the issues as multifaceted and fascinating, do not really happen in the social space. People do not express short handed likes/shares, or 140 character quips, about things they don’t have irrational feelings towards. Even when those things might ultimately be the positive or (historically seen as) correct choices. We think that by hurting those who wish to associate with us that we will make a difference in the world. That many people will see this epic burn we’ve unleashed on someone who thought they were our friend and world peace will soon follow.

I suspect that it will not. That these actions that are little more than veiled passivity hidden as activism will fall upon deaf ears. That they will just create atmospheres more caustic than the ones before them. Arguing with other people on the internet is like praying for the sick. You do nothing, and when the doctors come along and actually heal those sick, you take all the credit for it.

I say you, but I mean in the broader sense of you, I’m sure you are pretty cool. You read this far after all. At any rate, that’s my feelings on those topics and ultimately why I think social networks kill our social lives. They show people that we are all subject to biases and bigotries, and few people want to be reminded that the folks they feel fondly towards are ignoramuses.

As an addendum I’m not suggesting I have the answers for any of this. I am, as Hank Green would put it, a mountain of ignorance. But I revel in that and try my best to expand my knowledge and learn. Ultimately I’ve found that you can’t do that in the social space (and that I use ultimately too much), Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are not places to learn. They are places to shout into the echo chamber. We scream along with our friends and then pat one another one the back once we’ve hurt enough people passing by. Completely oblivious to the irony of our actions. I noticed myself doing it ages ago, being annoyed by people I appreciated and noticing that the longer I saw deep into their brains the less I liked them. I think we learn too much about those around us through social networks. They give us too much access.

But if you like it I won’t stop you for sure. That’s not my gig. I’m just a random concerned moron on the internet.

Take everything you just read for some 5.5 thousand words with a grain of salt. My understanding of history and society is flawed. But I always speak with the best of intentions. Whether or not that makes up for anything else or whether that humorously contradicts my earlier points is up to you.

So I dunno…read a book maybe? Also be nice to people, wait that’s my solution. Be nice to people and have fun. If someone is making it tough to be nice to them, avoid them. If enough people do that they’ll probably change since nobody likes to be alone.