There has been something on my mind over the past few days which has led me to examine a couple of concepts that have been perverted by a vast majority of people: knowledge and courage. I'll explore both of these in turn, with a bit of my aim (or slant?) directed toward interactions between individuals on social media.
I am reasonably comfortable assuming that a vast majority of people know someone, or are related to someone, who in casual conversation carelessly takes for granted that others may know as much as, or even more than, they do on a particular subject. In particular, when it comes to complicated topics that affect a great number of people (say, politics or religion), these individuals tend to have intellectual blinders on that mask their own arrogant assumptions. I know a few of these types, and over the years have found ways to - for the most part - deal with them without instigating a pointless argument.
(Now I'll take a quick moment here and mention that I am sure many of my friends and family would politely disagree with that last sentence, and respectfully remind me that oftentimes I have a penchant for voicing my opinion. Indeed, there are times where I just can't help myself. So I'll let you all have that one.)
With social media, on the other hand, many people today have a persistent habitual bias that most family and friends (or "connections") fit neatly into the same social bubble as they do. They just assume that if they're conservative, then their family members must also be conservative. If they're Christian, then their family members must also be Christian. Rinse and repeat.
But when a friend or family member does burst their bubble of social bias, it can be a bit of a shock to people. Sometimes it can even be a bit precarious for the person doing the disappointing, as controversial topics can cause otherwise easygoing people to become disturbingly hostile and shockingly cruel. I have found that this is applicable for both older friends/family members and younger friends/family members. Where older friends have difficulty recognizing the younger generations as fully capable and quite knowledgeable adults, younger friends audaciously promote their opinion without researching its validity.
(At different times in my life, I'll freely admit that I've been guilty of both.)
And it is in these situations where the corruption of knowledge creeps into the discussion. It's become so commonplace with social media that people rarely even recognize it anymore. Before my own exit from Facebook, I was constantly surprised at the myriad of posts I saw that had so little truth to them, yet so many people redistributed the lies without an ounce of skepticism. As a matter of fact, it was one of the reasons I left. People would proudly display their own "knowledge" that a particular political meme or religious quip or generic "the universe loves you" reflection must be true because the reader of said meme/quip/reflection believed it to be thus. I hate to pick on Christians again, but seriously, just scroll a bit through your feed and without fail someone will have shared something about the Bible that is blatantly false. Yet behind all the tens (or hundreds!) of likes, not a single person possessed the knowledge to recognize, nor point out, the lie.
I'll give you another example: the recent shooting at the GOP baseball practice. Facebook conservatives just knew all those liberals were violent and crazy. Yet none of them had the mindfulness to recall Jared Lee Loughner, or Edgar Madison Welch, or even Timothy McVeigh.
Which brings me to another reason I left - it was the spiteful way in which people responded when confronted with the inaccuracy of a shared post. This kind of combativeness doesn't even necessarily come from the person sharing the post; I found on quite a few occasions that other family members or friends would come roaring to their rescue with even more flagrant falsehoods. Not to mention that generally speaking, it's a no-win situation for the person pointing out the flaw in their bubble of bias. Point it out to a younger family member and you're, "... picking on them". Point it out to an older family member and you're, "... not being respectful."
Is this the beginnings of illiteracy? No, not necessarily. I do believe, however, that it's the beginnings of single-mindedness, which in turn leads to prejudice.
Knowledge is tricky, mind you, because there will always be someone that undoubtedly knows more on any given subject. But it is the wisdom of skepticism that one can rely on to recognize when a complicated subject or an inconclusive topic sounds a little too good to be true, or fits a little too easily into your own bubble of bias.
If you ask several different people what courage means to them, you'll likely get anything from, "... standing up for what you believe in," to, "... defending our country." And both of these are most assuredly true.
However, when it comes to what people perceive as courageous on social media, the concept has been recklessly twisted into a characteristic that no longer has respectable merit.
As a hypothetical example, let's say that you're an ardent follower of Leviticus 11 and believe that eating lobster is unclean, and therefore anyone that eats lobster is unclean before the Lord. But to your dismay, it has become social acceptable to eat lobster as more and more people are willing to admit to everyone else that they forego Levitical law in order to be honest with themselves that they enjoy a well-prepared lobster. The government even goes so far as to say that it is discriminatory and therefore illegal to alienate anyone who eats lobster. Other friends you know begin acquiescing to those filthy lobster-eaters simply because, they say, it's none of anyone's business if another person eats lobster. Their argument even goes so far as to ask, "Who cares what other people eat for dinner?" Well the Lord does, that's who!
So you, a disciplined follower of Levitical law, unfriend or ignore as many of those disgusting, abominable lobster-eaters as possible. "They're all sinners," you think. "No matter what secular law says." You're really flexing your religious muscle now...
So, you muster the "courage" to compose a brilliant and religiously conscientious post that anyone who eats lobster, and anyone who defends those who eat lobster, are behind the moral decay of our once God-fearing society. And you know that deep down in your, "heart" that you're not trying to hurt, or be rude to all those indecent sinners. Goodness, no! You're just reminding them that what they are doing is in direct opposition to the law of the Bible. Why, you even go so far as to say that in your post!
If you are reading this and have ever posted something similar, believe me when I say to you that you're not being courageous in the slightest. You're just being an asshole. An asshole that's pandering to other prejudiced assholes. And you get off on the likes/shares from the other assholes that you already know agree with you.
Why is it not courageous to take a stand like that? Because it doesn't take an ounce of courage to stand up in a room full of like-minded people sympathetic to your own bigotry and rattle off a parochial opinion piece where you know it is extremely unlikely that anybody will disagree. That's why.
Real courage, I would argue, is whether you bother to take the time to listen to a person who might actually disagree with you, or acknowledging verifiable evidence refuting your current assumptions of what is factually accurate. Real courage is whether you question your peers, your elders, and even your own deeply held beliefs, not grandstanding among amicable supporters.
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Now, I encourage all three people who actually read this to chime in and join the discussion. What do you think?