Facebook’s Ultimate Conflict Kulture

Something to get off my chest before this coming Tuesday. LivingSocial just advertised to me for the third time in a week an “election night party” where I can let my hair down, presumably alongside everyone else who hasn’t yet committed seppuku or slipped into a frustrated coma in front of their preferred news channel. In expecting the evening of 6 November to be a good time to party, LivingSocial is making two massive mistakes: first, that people on the winning and losing sides of this election are likely to agree on anything but heavy drinking and eventually fighting, and second, that on 7 November we can all breathe a sigh of relief and go back to the grind.

To that last point first, it seems like there are practically more election monitors in battleground states than voters. I’d be disappointed but not surprised if we don’t wake up to a President on Wednesday, and this election goes back to the Supreme Court. It doesn’t help that they’re predicting different winners of the electoral and popular votes, as happened in 2004 and almost again in 2008.

Despite wanting to, I’m not going to hammer away with value judgments about the individual candidates here. At the same time, I can tell you with 100% confidence who is going to win this election: The guy who won’t outlaw abortion, won’t legalize gay marriage, won’t withdraw all of our troops stationed in dozens of other countries, won’t end God’s war on Darwin, won’t end the media’s War on Christmas, won’t settle (hell, won’t meaningfully address) the question of global warming, and won’t create 12 million jobs or balance the budget. That guy. And in four years when we have to go through all this again, just about everyone will be angry about half or the other half of those things.

It isn’t just a question of hoping things aren’t as bad as you expect and waiting out the next election anymore, though. Don’t you miss the good old days when aspiring leaders told you they were going to go to Washington, DC and heal the divisions there? It sounded like a good thing, but wasn’t really in your face. That Washington they were talking about was a distant place of backroom deals and evident only through follows-up by the opposition after the State of the Union address.

Times have changed. Obama won office in 2008 partly on the strength of savvy use of social media to motivate his base and win undecided voters, and the opposition has continued to use it to keep the opposition alive and in our faces constantly. The 24-hour news cycle has morphed into a perpetual war for hearts and minds, as well, but in cyberspace there aren’t fact-checkers. Or real debate. Or empathy. And the have more to cover, as Congress slips more toward Parliament. When pols explicitly make a goal out of ensuring the opposing party doesn’t succeed, it’s frankly pretty mild on a scale of 1 to Political Operative. The difference is that these days the sound bites that used to be the way to make the evening news are now pithy taglines on graphics and YouTube videos, and they’re in our faces all the time.

Friends, if I could ask you one intellectual favor for the rest of my life, is it this: please don’t believe anything that fits on a graphic you got from Being Liberal or The Blaze. Nothing in government or society is that simple. More to the point, even if it expresses a basic truth as you perceive it, it isn’t persuasive. How frequently have you managed to change anyone else’s mind on Facebook, or gone into a discussion on someone’s status with an honest openness to having your own opinion changed? If you genuinely consider yourself an exception to the latter half of that question, then I’m not talking to you.

This is a real-world problem, and most readers could readily supply examples from their recent experience. I recently added what I thought was a tongue-in-cheek comment agreeing with a friend’s post – a friend whom everyone knows is a raging liberal. Out of nowhere, someone came back with vitriole that seemed awfully personal where I could decipher it, and only after being rebuked by the wall’s owner, promised to behave because “ur page is the only wun that allows me to debte.” I wonder why. I wanted to ask him, didn’t he know where he was posting? It was like a vegetarian wandering into a steakhouse to complain about the menu. And in fact, maybe that was the point, because most of the time people only preach to the choir.

More worrisome than fights with random strangers are the lasting judgments I hear coming out of this election. I have several friends who have quietly remarked that they have defriended multiple people over their political affiliations, having lost respect for them. In some cases, that’s undoubtedly for the best … you can’t be connected to 200 or 500 or 5,000 people without some of them being raving assholes, so however you found out, bravo. But when these judgments are being made and actions taken because of legitimate disagreements, we’re taking it too far. I’ve seen columns online, both reasoned and belligerent, by authors specifically asking that anyone voting for that other guy defriend them – online and in a more traditional sense. This climate of political warfare isn’t worth the destruction of basic relationships.

I’m not saying that there aren’t important issues at stake in this election – of course there are. The constancy of the debate over which political side is right instead of the right position on issues, however, doesn’t mean that we are sophisticated or politically-active or civically-minded. It means we’re sheep. We scream and a few people profit off of the cacophony, but the secret I’m here to tell you is this: all the wedge issues in the world won’t change the basic FACT that this nation is stronger than any single election. On 7 November, you and I will wake up alongside approximately 311 million other Americans, all of whom can agree that they want to live in a better country. The difference is that the time for promises will be over, and the test will be whether we agree to work toward that goal instead of continuing to vilify one another.

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