A Social Media Vacation

When something stops bringing you joy, maybe it’s time to stop using it – and so it has become with my social media feed (at least for now).

Recently, I found myself enjoying my social media feed less and less. Despite scrolling past all the negative comments and the bad news, I still couldn’t help seeing it as it went by – and just the sheer volume of negativity out there was starting to be come unavoidable, even if I just perceived it subconsciously. As a result, instead of feeling happy at the cute pictures I was seeing, or excited about people sharing photos, or talking about that neat thing they saw on the way to work or the latest thing about their favorite show or movie… instead, I was feeling angry and stressed – and I was feeling it more and more.

As a result, I decided to take a vacation from social media.

This wasn’t something I did lightly – I enjoy my social media (which for me is primarily just Twitter and its semi-replacement, Mastodon) and seeing lots of cool art, pictures, funny stories, and of course hearing how other people are doing. But between the “algorithms” as they are these days, and also just the nature of the world at large, my feed – though carefully curated – still became a source of anguish for me, rather than joy. So taking the stance that if something doesn’t bring me joy it shouldn’t be in my life, I logged out and committed myself to taking a break from using social media for a time – until perhaps I think the situation has improved or until I feel like I don’t miss it anymore.

“But Keith,” I hear you say, “isn’t this blog a kind of social media? And didn’t I see this posted on your Twitter and also on Tumblr?” Ah yes, well, that’s just the magic of cross-posting at work. I haven’t deleted my accounts or anything, after all. I also do still use my Instagram, since that is basically just photos.

And all silliness aside, I do still like to let people know that I’m still here and doing well – I’ve seen too many other people disappear from social media without a trace, and I’m always left thinking, “I wonder how they’re doing these days?” But with their accounts gone silent or deleted, I’ll never be able to find out.

So, that’s the story of why I’m taking a social media vacation. We’ll see how long this “vacation” ends up lasting, but thus far it has been all right. I’m actually hoping to blog more – less time spent scrolling feeds will hopefully mean more time to write for myself. I still find myself reflexively reaching for those apps on my phone from time to time, but the urge is declining steadily as each day goes by.

In any case, I hope you have a great day and thanks for reading!

This Seems Oddly Familiar

Disturbing dystopian similarities.
I was making a list of the way things are going around here and I suddenly realized I’ve seen this before…

  • Mass surveillance of citizens
  • Small, wealthy ruling party
  • No speaking out against the ruler
  • “Truth” defined by what the party says
  • Prosecution of those who speak against the party/leader
  • Figurehead larger-than-life leader

Maybe George Orwell got it wrong – it’s not English Socialism in Oceana, it’s American Socialism.

ingsoc wallpaper (red)down with big brother

Anger & Fear

I’m not angry; I’m just very, very disappointed.
It seems a lot of the people who voted for Trump were very angry and frustrated. People do not think rationally when they are angry and frustrated, and Trump made sure to keep them angry and frustrated right up to election night.

There was also a large undercurrent of fear as well, and there are two ways to deal with that kind of anger and fear:

“I need to have power over others so they can’t do anything to anger or frighten me”

or

“I need to help others so they won’t give me cause to be angry or fearful”

Sadly, in this last election more people who voted chose the former over the latter.

It is difficult to reason with someone who is angry, frustrated, and afraid – they don’t generally react with thought but instead with emotion. And since emotion is close buddies with our “fight or flight” response, someone who reacts with their emotions will have essentially just two responses: fight or flight. They will act (or in this case, vote) in a way that gives them power to “fight” (i.e., punish or control) whatever frightens and angers them – or they will choose “flight,” which means either running away (or ignoring) or pushing away what angers and frightens them.

This all might seem quite reasonable until you remember that what angers and frightens these people is… other people. Groups of people who are different, who look different or act different or think different. And this means that the emotions of these angry and frustrated and fearful people made them choose a course of action that will punish, control, and push away people just because they are different.

Anger, fear, and politics are a terrible combination. It is all to easy to rationalize terrible behavior and poor decisions when you’re angry and afraid.

“I had to shoot that person; he was coming right for me!”

“We have to get rid of all people like them, they could all be murderers!”

I’m the one who needs a job, not you!”

Rationalizations like this are bad enough at the personal level, but when they get translated into policy or enshrined in law, it becomes much, much worse. An individual can move past their fear and re-think their decisions and change their behavior fairly easily and quickly, but changing public policy and law can take ages – if it ever happens at all.

It’s often been said you shouldn’t make important decisions when you’re angry, and electing a president is one of the most important decisions a country can make – yet we seem to have made this decision quite rashly and while decidedly angry. That this will turn out to have been a terrible mistake seems a foregone conclusion.

All we can do now is try to calm down now that the election is over and put aside the anger & fear we felt and consider our situation carefully. We can still the frustrated fervor that has infected our politics from top to bottom and approach our problems with reason and compassion. It will take effort, certainly, but we cannot sustain this level of anger and fear forever.

The sooner we do this, the better – and the less of an impact this hasty mistake will have on ourselves, our country, our world, and all those future generations that will follow us and judge our actions.

It’s Time to Let Go of American Individualism

America has long cherished the spirit of individualism, but these days we could stand to maybe loosen up a bit in regards to it.
America has always had an obsession with the idea of “Individualism” but this is increasingly becoming a dangerous and unhealthy obsession, especially since lately we seem to be holding ever tighter to the idea, almost to the point of fetishizing it, instead of letting it go (or at least relaxing our grip a bit).

The dictionary defines “individualism” as “the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant,” and “a social theory favoring freedom of action for individuals over collective or state control,” which sounds great on the face of things – though in today’s interconnected world I question how truly independent or self-reliant an individual can really be.

The American idea of “Individualism” though goes beyond just “I can take care of myself” and “I want to be free to do what I want without the government telling me what to do.” Instead, the American idea of “Individualism” twists it into “I should take care of myself (and so should you)” and “I should be free to do whatever I want and the government must not tell me what to do, ever.”

We’ve always valued individualism, ever since our earliest colonial days. The United States is a big country, and back in the days when the fastest mode of travel was by horse, it seemed even bigger. As a result, when you were building your home in this big New World, you had to learn to depend on yourself and only on yourself – because there was no one else around! And in these early days, individualism was a good thing, a positive trait, something that you almost needed to survive here.

law of self-reliance
We’ve taken the idea of self-reliance way, way, way beyond this.

Even as cities and railroads and even cars came along, this spirit of individualism remained – again, partly because the US is just such a big country that even with motorized travel there were still huge sections of the country where you would be more or less all on your own. So this idea of being independent, of being reliant only on yourself, became ingrained as part of our culture.

However, as the country grew – as towns became cities and urbanization took hold, and as transportation and communication tied us all together into a connected whole rather than isolated pockets – the need to be individual and the benefits of individualism have become less important, or even counterproductive. Truthfully, in the 21st century, the idea of being completely free and totally self-reliant is basically dead. Oh sure there are still wide open places where you’d better be able to take care of yourself, but we are an interconnected society now, and we all rely on one another to some degree. Individualism will only get you so far. We’re all in this together (for better or for worse) and believing otherwise is just deluding yourself.

We’ve romanticized the idea of individualism too much – we’ve placed this ideal on such a high pedestal that it is quite literally impossible to reach.

Furthermore, this idealized individualism has a dark side. The higher we hold the standard of self-reliance, the lower we hold those who aren’t. If being self-reliant is great, then having to rely on others must not be great – it must be bad, or even shameful. If being free and able to do whatever you want is the ideal, then being subject to group rule – no matter how much or how little – must always be undesirable.

It’s fine to want to be able to take care of yourself (indeed, I think this is still a worthy goal to have), but it’s not OK to look down on those who can’t take care of themselves. It’s great to strive to be independent of others (as much as is realistic these days), but it’s foolish to base every decision, without question, on whatever lets you depend on others the least amount.

There’s another flip side to all this as well – the idea of individual responsibility. As an example, if you’re self-reliant and you built your own home completely yourself, from scratch, that’s great – but when a tornado comes along and knocks your house flat, individualism says that you and you alone are responsible for rebuilding it.

It is important to realize the limits of self-reliance and what individualism can mean, and not delude ourselves into thinking it’s more (or less) than it is.

The key here is balance: as with most things, it is important to strike a balance between extremes. Too often we pursue individualism & self reliance at any cost and prioritize it above any other concern. Over-emphasizing and over-valuing the idea of self-reliance and individualism necessarily causes the de-emphasis and under-valuing of the opposing ideas of needing help (from family, community, society, or government) and being part of a larger whole. This extremism is not helpful to anyone, in the same way that extremism/polarization in politics doesn’t help anyone, either. (The subject of WHY we’ve trended towards such extremism and such black & white thought is a topic for another post.)

After all, I don’t think anyone is arguing for true total freedom of action and self-determination – otherwise we’d all be free to run around and murder one another – so really the discussion is about where on the spectrum of “some freedom of action” and “some self-reliance” we should be. The problem comes when that over-emphasis of the value of individualism causes us to consider decisions solely in light of whether they decrease self-reliance or individual rights, and not whether they actually make sense or benefit the most people.

Like it or lump it, we are a collective society. Individual rights are important and good, yes, but the idea that they are paramount and should always trump any other concerns is simply not workable in a world with as many people in it as there are today. In order for society to function we must, of a necessity, give up some individual rights (how much we give up is of course open to continuous debate – and, again, a topic for another post.) Given this, continuing to idealize and romanticize individualism (and denigrate non-individualism) is fundamentally counter-productive.

As a nation, we Americans need to come to grips with the fact that we’re not living on the frontier anymore, that there are some 318 million of us and that we are all deeply interdependent on one another (whether we realize it or not) and, most importantly, that this is not at all a bad thing. It’s fine to try and make it on your own, sure, but don’t take this as the only measure of success – and especially don’t think that failing to do so makes you less of a person.

Individualism was great when our country was just getting started, but our country is grown up now and we need to be as well – we need to let go of this idealized fantasy of individualism and total self-reliance and come to grips with the fact that things aren’t like they used to be, and this is not a bad thing. No man is an island, as the saying goes, but together we form the better part of a continent, and I think that’s something we can all be just as proud of.

The Necessity of the Free Flow of Information

Free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. … [A] free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism.

Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.

Although this quote is from a video game (Alpha Centauri, actually), it doesn’t make it any less true – or less relevant, especially today.

Censorship – and especially censorship of news and events – is bad, bad, bad. How else will we know when our rights are being infringed or our freedoms being repressed if we can’t hear about it and talk about it? Remember: it is in the interest of the oppressor to suppress information about his oppression.