Outrage on Social Media articles; State of the Union

Things I’m thinking about, after switching back to a list-based list of thoughts because Gutenberg headers annoy me:

  • Gutenberg headers annoy me. I’m thinking of switching back to my comfortable editing process where I’m not constantly griping about my editor. It’s a flow thing.
  • Good article from Medium, paywalled (so if you don’t have a Medium account that you pay for – it’s $5/month – you may have to open this in a private window): The Power of Not Retweeting. Both the article and the subject are recommended. It’s very easy to be outraged by something that lacks context, and the context might make all the difference in how you actually react – but by the time you get context, it’s too late, you’ve committed your reaction to history and told all your friends.
  • Another excellent Medium article, this time from the New York Times’ Medium account: This Is Your Brain Off Facebook. It’s a little ironic that the NYT published this, given how manipulative they are for their readers… but the king of manipulation is still CNN in my opinion. Those guys should be ashamed. Their editors should be doubly ashamed.
  • I did not watch the State of the Union, but having people tell me that I shouldn’t watch it as a form of protest annoyed me and tempted me to endure the farce anyway. I want our politicians to love country over party, and that’s… not what we have right now.
  • Why didn’t I want to watch the State of the Union? Lots of reasons:
    • It’s Trump. His mode of speaking annoys me greatly. His inability to stay on topic annoys me. His stupid self-propping annoys me. I used to think George W. Bush wasn’t a particularly effective speaker because he always seemed to be searching for words – and now I find that I’d far prefer a President who actually searched for the right words to one who blathers out whatever foolish crap crosses his brain at any given time.
    • Do I need another reason? Oh, yeah.
    • The endless politicization of everything, and the seeming need to turn everything into a protest. I’m all for protesting police brutality, but sometimes a football game (or a State of the Union address) is … just a football game, and the protests don’t really make a difference besides signalling.
    • Circling back: I don’t trust Trump… or his opponents. They both lie. They both choose truths based on what plays to their bases. What’s funny is that Trump told us what he’d do in his campaign… and he’s actually held to that pretty strongly, for better or for worse. That’s somewhat commendable. His political opponents are changing their long-held opinions on lots of things just so they can oppose Trump – I’ve said before that he should just start echoing their campaign positions just to force them to change stances.
    • This is a lot less relevant of a list than I thought it might be.
    • Every State of the Union I’ve ever watched has bored me! There, there’s my best reason right there.

Places, football, Facebook

Things I have learned recently, I think:

  • Every so often, you figure out that you are exactly where you are supposed to be at this particular time. That can be reassuring or frightening, I suppose, depending on your outlook.
  • College football this year has been boring. Sure, I’m affected by not having a pony in the race (FSU missed out on bowl eligibility for the first time in close to four decades) but the quality of the bowls themselves hasn’t been that great: questionable officiating, a number of blowouts and games where the winners were easily predictable, and so forth. I don’t remember watching a single game that I’ve really enjoyed, apart from watching it with my wife and my son – that part’s been great. But I’m glad the bowls are over except for the championship. One more to go… and this one (Alabama vs. Clemson) gives me hope that it’s a competition.
  • I used one of the spray can dusters this morning on the MacBook Pro; it’s running more quietly, woohoo! — but I can’t get the taste of the residue off of my lips. No, I didn’t spray it at myself; it’s just in the air. Bleugh.
  • Yes, I deactivated my Facebook account and no, nothing’s wrong. It just takes too much time and attention away from other things.
  • I still don’t care for the Gutenberg editor in WordPress. What I’d really like is AsciiDoctor for WordPress… but I don’t know PHP, don’t want to learn PHP, and the available plugins for it are kinda eh, as far as I can tell. The last updates for the AsciiDoc plugins for WordPress are three years old… not a good sign.

Wondering if you’re loved, literally?, python dependencies

Things I’ve learned recently:

  • If you really want to know if you have value, post something of questionable worth on the Internet. You’ll immediately have a bunch of people correcting you. That’s not to say you should post anything harmful – for goodness’ sake, don’t do that – but post something that makes an assertion of some kind. People will notice. This is a great way to see who really should be off your communications grid, too. 🙂
  • The previous point was not an attempt to be passive-aggressive. If you think you’ve been caught in such a net by me, well, I apologize; reflect on your own time if you think you do that, and leave my what-I-thought-was-mildly-humorous complaint out of it. Thanks!
  • I still find it difficult to abandon my youthful habit of using Anglican spellings for everything. Typing “humorous” without the extra “u” – i.e., “humourous” – is difficult for me even now, for example. It was with a sense of palpable relief that I typed the “wrong one” as the example.
  • This is a great sentence: “Don’t write silly-soundingly,” as found in “Yes, I Could Care Less,” as a quote of Jesse Sheidlower on Slate. Man, references at a deep depth are rough. My middle son gave me “Yes, I Could Care Less” as a gift – and it’s a good one. Thoroughly enjoying it so far.
  • poetry is another python dependency management tool, like pipenv. Work uses pipenv; I might check out poetry just to see what it’s like.

Multidimensional

I was thinking fairly shallow thoughts about perception this morning, in the context of an old friend and how our relationship has changed over the years, and a pattern occurred to me about how I see people. I see individuals as a sort of web of relationships to other people and concepts, such that every strand connects to a concept or person with an indicator of how strong a connection that strand represents.

For example, imagine a person, Sam. Sam might play guitar and like Star Trek; I might know him from a job I had a few years ago. I see Sam as a node, more or less (well, a person, but I see him in terms of graph theory because that’s what I do), with edges connected to guitar, Star Trek, and that job.

Normally an individual with whom I’m familiar has a large network of such attributes: hair color, eye color (if I notice, I guess), sports preferences and team preferences, religious affiliation and dedication, political views, willingness to share those views, and so forth.

There are a few people that I know for whom such networks are really, really small, maybe three or four attributes, and I say that I “know” them in the loosest possible sense: I barely know these people at all. I might recognize their names; I might associate them with a single issue. That’s okay; that’s a person I recognize lightly, and it only says that our interactions were mostly insignificant.

There are others, however, for whom that’s not the case. That’s what got me thinking about the way I see people.

Lately, it’s been really easy for people to fixate on specific issues: “Donald Trump is the worst President ever,” “police are pigs,” “gun control now,” “free Puerto Rico,” and so forth and so on. I’m cool with that, although I don’t especially like it; all of these things can be real issues, and some of them I agree with to varying degrees, but I don’t like the fixation nor the hysteria.

The hysteria is … really awful. It’s distorting, in fact.

There are people for whom my networks of association, the way I see them, have become broken. There are people for whom I used to have dozens of associations in my head – the relationships – and now I see them and the association is dominated by their hysteria over a single issue.

They become dehumanized in my head. They’re no longer Sam, but “Sam-who-hates-Donald-Trump.” The hatred and hysteria – which, again, aren’t necessarily undeserved – become their dominant attribute, and they lose something in the translation.

I have to stop trying to pay attention to those people. Sam – who is, by the way, entirely fictitious – is someone whom I would have to unfollow or ignore. My RSS reader would no longer follow his feeds; I’d unsubscribe from his mailing lists, if any. Whatever the requirements would be to isolate myself from him, that’s what I’d do.

It’s not that I would despise our poor fake example, Sam. I wouldn’t. I recognize that Sam’s humanity is not actually impacted by my perception. With that said, a single-issue relationship like that – someone who is so strongly associated with a single issue that I don’t recognize them without that issue being dominant – isn’t typically helpful.

And even there, there are caveats. There are single-issue relationships that aren’t dominated by hysteria; some are just strongly held beliefs that are positive in nature. (“I know this person because they are associated with this charitable cause.”)

I guess that the cut-off for me is based in negative expressions.

So whose fault is it? Is it Sam’s, or mine?

I don’t know. It’s easy for me to blame the Other; it’s Sam’s fault, not mine, right? But it also might be that I haven’t reached out to Sam in such a way that I see other, more positive attributes. But maybe that’s because I don’t have the time, or Sam doesn’t respond in ways that don’t reinforce the negative association.

Like I say, I don’t know.

It actually pains me to stop seeing people in the full glow of their humanity; we’re all human, we all need that association to remain human. Ceasing to interact with someone, even when the level of interaction isn’t very high, hurts both of us.

But sometimes it’s necessary.

And if you’re wondering, the initial thought that started all of this was about my thumb injury last year, and what I’d have done had the doctors recommended amputation.

My rules for social media

Recently, a fellow I know on Facebook mentioned unfriending someone (for very good reasons), and it got me thinking a little more on the rules on how I use the site.

I find that I have four fairly simple rules.

Rule #1: Add People I Might Respect as Friends

I add people who I think I would respect in real life as friends, and follow them. It means I don’t have a giant list of friends, I suppose, but it does tend to mean that when I have someone on my list, it’s someone whose name I would recognize in real life.

I add them because I know them (in real life) or I came across them through their interactions with others (i.e., friends of friends) and would want to interact with them.

It generally doesn’t matter if I agree with them or not, although there are some simple metrics that would probably prevent my bothering with them, I guess. A friend of a friend who constantly refers to http://rawstory.com and http://salon.com as God’s given truth is probably not someone with whom I’d interact. (It’s not that those sites cannot say something true, but they’re so typically slanted that … ugh.)

It happens that I add people who I get to know better over time, and … who knows? Maybe I regret it, but I’m not a fan of surrounding myself with people with whom I do nothing but agree. I don’t want to be expected to comply with someone else’s ideology; why would I demand someone comply with mine? (See Rule #3.)

Rule #2: No “Likes”

I use Facebook’s “Like” feature very very rarely. The general rule for me is that if I might “like” it, I’ll choose to share it or comment on it instead. This goes for everything; posts, comments, whatever.

It’s not that “Like” isn’t useful – it’s been designed to show a response to a posting, after all, and it’s gotten more nuanced than it was.

In general, though, I don’t want Facebook altering my feed based on what it thinks I will respond to.

Rule #3: No Unfriending

I want a heterogenous culture surrounding me. I want different viewpoints. I want different opinions. I want people to challenge me intellectually and emotionally. I don’t want a horde of potential sycophants providing content.

If I thought enough of you to add you as a friend, regardless of what wacko thoughts you had rolling in your head, then I trust myself enough to keep you as a friend.

This doesn’t mean that I will never unfriend someone, I guess, but it happens very rarely. (I don’t remember the last time I unfriended someone.)

I will, however, stop following people under some conditions, mostly related to problems with Rule #4.

Rule #4: Avoid Discussions with People Ruled by Emotion

When someone shows that their decision processes are ruled by emotion, I stop interacting with them.

Facebook has a lot of people on it who seem dominated by rage and offense. (I don’t think they’re this way in real life – but on social media, some aspects of personality are emphasized to cartoonish levels. People who don’t recognize this really need to stay off of social media altogether, but that means 99% of Facebook would have to quit.)

The truth is that a lot of the rage is probably justified. In the last week, we had the “Stanford Rapist” – a rapist who received an outlandishly short jail sentence – and the Orlando mass murder at the Pulse nightclub.

Both situations were horrifying, in different ways; both deserved a visceral response.

Spoiler alert: they got their responses.

However, the nature of the responses – especially through discussion – tells me a lot about the person with whom I might interact.

It doesn’t bother me if they’re emotional; these are emotionally laden events! Anyone who can read about a rape without emotion is a robot. Anyone who reads about 49 people killed and has no feeling of horror… that’s someone desensitized to being human.

My thought is: feel the emotion! Understand it – and then act rationally. Emotion is a perfectly valid stimulus for decision-making.

It’s a terrible sole source for decisions, though, just like “pure reason” would be.

The world’s not simple, folks. Emotion wants simplicity; the killer used guns? NO MOAR GUNS! FOR ANYONE! EVAR! The rapist was a white man? NO MORE WHITE MAN! ALL WHITE MEN ARE THREATS!

That’s stupid. That kind of insistence on trigger-laden decision making is something that I can’t deal with.

I recognize the validity of the emotion; it’s emotional, after all. It’s not that the person echoing these sentiments is unjustifiable, or invalid, or stupid. I don’t want to say “don’t feel what you feel” – that’d be wrong.

But reacting that way tends to lead to them telling me that I shouldn’t feel what I feel. That’s just as wrong as me telling them how to feel.

So once they show themselves willing to accept this kind of decision-making, I … simply … stop. I don’t tell them they’re wrong. I don’t inform them of their error. I don’t tell them that I’m not talking to them any more. I don’t unfriend or unfollow them.

I just watch and listen. I still (probably) value their expertise and humanity in other ways, after all. I just can’t interact with them without endangering their perceived safe spaces, and I don’t want to bother with their emotions. They’re not my emotions, after all, and if they’re not willing to treat me with rationality, well, I’m okay with that. I don’t want to inflict my views on them any more than I want them to demand that I comply with their views.

Conclusion

So there you have it; my basic four rules for social media. There are more, realistically:

  1. I try not to insult people (although it happens, because I’m sarcastic and have a very dry sense of humor).
  2. I try to avoid personalizing religion. I have no problem discussing religion, but it’s removed; I’ll explain religious orthodoxy but I won’t demand compliance to it (especially if it’s not, you know, my religion.) People have to make up their own minds. I despise ignorance; someone claiming a blood libel’s truth is going to get an explanation of the blood libel, but I’ll leave my own history with it (if any) out of the discussion unless it’s explicitly relevant.
  3. I try to write formally and precisely. This gets me in a lot of trouble, because people don’t know how to read precisely. (“My initial reaction was…” doesn’t mean “this is how I feel,” it means it was my initial reaction.)

How do you govern yourself on social media?

Facebook: good and bad… really bad

I find I have a difficult relationship with Facebook. I think Facebook has a lot of potential value, but with so many people using it so differently, it ends up taking almost as much as it gives.

Facebook: Some of the Good

The good of Facebook comes in the connectivity. It not only gives me a neutral environment to interact with friends from my distant past – people from middle school whom I still remember fondly! – but it exposes me to a wide variety of outlooks and experiences I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

It’s given me a chance to see old friends’ lives – as their careers and their children mature. It’s given me a chance to vicariously participate in the things that matter to them – graduations, successes, failures. It gives me a chance to commiserate and congratulate, even though years and miles separate us.

I’ve had closure for things from years and years ago – conversations with people who had tried to bully me, whether ignorantly or not, for example. It’s given us a chance to see each other as people, actual adults, as opposed to the caricatures created by first impressions of strangers.

It’s given me a chance to meet new people with common interests – the YYNOT “band” (they’re not really a band, but they create videos of cover songs for Rush, even though the people involved are separated by thousands of miles in most cases.)

It’s given me a chance to see others’ agony and interests – and question my own reactions. In some small ways, it’s helped me define myself, in how I see the world, in the things I value, and in the things I could do better.

Facebook: Some of the Bad

At the same time, it’s frustrated me. Facebook is excellent at fostering light connections, but such connections do a poor job of representing actual people – including me. On Facebook, an offhand statement, meant mildly and in context, appears as a core belief, a statement I am willing to defend to the death… and because of the nature of first impressions, no amount of context changes that impression.

People on Facebook don’t get to know each other – they get to know caricatures.

It’s easy to look at oneself in the mirror, and say “I know myself, I know what I like and don’t like, I know who I am,” and maybe that’s even accurate. The problem Facebook propagates is that the impressions formed by things people post on Facebook are perceived as being just as accurate as that self-image – thus, you might see my (hopefully) carefully worded statement advocating caution in judgement, and it becomes an erroneous impression that I defend actions that are, in the end, indefensible.

Those impressions are not accurate. They’re one piece in a puzzle that has two thousand other pieces. Even if that piece is horrifying (“I’m voting for Donald Trump!”) it doesn’t actually say all that much about someone – it’s just one piece of data among thousands. During the Cold War, the Russians loved their children, just as we loved ours.

Plus, people don’t seem to expect growth and self-examination on Facebook. I am not who I was ten years ago – some would argue that I’m barely who I was ten minutes ago. I have no problem saying “This is what I believe,” and learning from that point on. For example, I’m a libertarian – but people, including many libertarians, associate libertarianism with an advocacy of anarchy! So when I participate in a conversation, I see it as a conversation in a continuum, where I start from one position and may change over time, refining, rejecting, accepting points as they arise. But Facebook readers tend to not recognize that continuum and its potential for growth and refinement.

I also find that I tend to de-emphasize conflict where I can. When someone says “This sucks!,” my modus operandi tends to be to try to identify with the author (the one saying “this sucks”) and the objectified target. For example, when news first came out of a controversial family advocate’s hypocrisy, my stance was caution – we didn’t know what the terms used meant to the people involved.

For example, “Personicus Frankus had an affair!” might mean that Mssr. Frankus looked at a woman not his wife in a way that he would say was improper a la Jimmy Carter’s “adultery”, or it might mean that he had conducted actual relations with her… you know, the traditional meaning of “had an affair,” which Bill Clinton might have described as “not having sexual relations.” But to the people accusing Mr. Frankus, there was far more outrage at the potential hypocrisy – even though the actions he was accused of undertaking wouldn’t have offended any of them had he not publicly stood against them.

I understand both points of view; the hypocrisy bothers me, too. (A lot.) But at the same time, in America we advocate innocence until guilt is proven – and Facebook ignores the potential innocence.

It encourages clickbait, snap judgements, and purely emotional decision-making.

(I also find it humorous that someone who rushes to judgement in one post might then suggest empathy and understanding in the next post – “Those evil Republicrats are all going to Hell because they want to take away a label on fat content of cofferdams!”, and then “Can’t we all just get along? Look at these cute cats. I love everyone.” One can only presume that “everyone” doesn’t include those who disagree about labeling fat content of cofferdams.)

I’m tempted to filter Facebook quite a bit – spend a few days looking at who posts most often on my feed, and what they post. If their posts lack nuance or empathy, then I might remove them from the feed… but this strikes me as a really sad action to take, largely because the action itself lacks empathy.

I don’t want to protect myself from those around me. I want to be open and strong. I want to challenge myself to grow, and I can’t do that with a chorus of voices agreeing with me in unison. (With that, I only exacerbate my flaws. I don’t like my flaws. I want to get rid of them. I want to discover my weaknesses, and address them, not hide them.)

But at the same time, I find my agony, inspired by the travails and protests so easily lodged in public, is hardly endurable. I want to encourage collaboration and healing, maturation and empathy… and I feel like I’m one voice, whispering in a crowd of screamers. What frustrates me is that I have no choice; screaming for moderation is… uh… a flawed action. And refusing to stand up for moderation is irresponsible.

Conversation is the roar of the tide, not a ping from a radar.

One of the things I’ve noticed from watching Facebook is that the nature of conversation is being fractured. Facebook, Twitter, and other such mediums encourage the use of soundbites, basically snappy and memorable phrases. Conversations become about headlines, rather than content or context.

The thing is: that’s not how we actually exist.

Our conversations are actually built in a context; it’s the sound of the tide crashing on the shore. What Facebook does is encourage the use of one wave out of that whole tide, as a complete representation of everything that person says, while ignoring the impact of everything else that person believes or thinks or even has said in the thread of that conversation.

What you end up with is an endless series of snap judgements, not a comprehensive picture of what someone thinks or who that person is.

The result is a ruinous, judgemental, callous, libelous society of fools, a subculture built around extraction of tiny phrases to reinforce bias. We don’t look for reason, or balance; we only look for something we can use.

Witness one fellow saying that “no-one has the guts to allow poor people to wither and die.” (Warning: this link is from rawstory.com, and therefore is editorially suspect. It’s spun, folks, spun hard. I don’t care if you agree with them or not, but you should know the source material is intentionally tainted to encourage a political view. In general, people who quote rawstory.com and a few other such sites on Facebook are almost instantly discounted, for me.)

John Johnston, who is challenging Democratic state Rep. Chuck Moseley for the 10th District seat, said during a social media discussion on poverty that “no one has the guts to just let them wither and die.”

The Valparaiso resident told The Post-Tribune on Tuesday that his comments were simply hyperbole, and he told the paper no thoughtful society would allow people to go hungry.

I’ve mentioned hyperbole before:

Avoid hyperbole, statements that are exaggerated in order to illustrate a point, unless you actually know your audience is going to recognize it for what it is. The truth is that a public audience of virtually any size will not recognize hyperbole. Some in the audience might; maybe even most. But assuming everyone will recognize it is going to lead to you having misrepresented yourself.

Hyperbole is sometimes useful. Not always, of course, but sometimes. But the use of snippets of conversation as a basis for judgement makes hyperbole actively harmful, even though it shouldn’t be. The quote from John Johnston is a good example. He might have been laughing as he said it; he might have been deadly serious. It doesn’t matter – in the conversational mode of the day, the way the text can be spun is all that matters.

People – including reporters – should instead look at a person as an entire being. I don’t know John Johnston, but if I was reporting on this meeting, I’d try to look at who the man was, and what he actually did in life, before deciding that he hated poor people. Maybe he works at a food bank; maybe he’s lower-class himself.

What does he actually think? That’s pretty relevant, and no, a sound-bite isn’t enough. You can suggest that one instance of a crime has mitigating circumstances without suggesting that every instance of that crime has mitigating circumstances.

Imagine two men are shot by the police, for example. In both, the men were running from the police. One, however, might have been a 19-year-old kid, frightened by all the references in the news to young men being shot down without cause, and the other might have just robbed a store at gunpoint, allegedly shooting a store clerk.

Let’s say a person – “Sam,” who doesn’t exist – suggests that one of them deserved being shot. That doesn’t mean that Sam thinks the other also deserved being shot. But without understanding or characterization about Sam, we have no idea what kind of person Sam actually is. If Sam spends his time ranting about illegal immigration, flies a Confederate flag, and mourns the oppression of the Ku Klux Klan, well… those things serve as some form of characterization. Maybe they’re not complete – maybe Sam is directly affected somehow by illegal immigration, or maybe he’s from the Deep South and doesn’t have negative connotations about the Confederate flag, and maybe he’s ignorant as to what the purpose of the Ku Klux Klan really is – but these, too, are characterization points that serve to inform us of who Sam might really be, inside.

These things form the tide that serve as Sam’s makeup, whereas his statement about a shooting serves only as a single wave.

The tide is far more important.

Look at who people are. What they say and do is relevant, of course, but their motivations are rarely as simple as “I hate white people” or “poor people deserve to die” or “shucks, she was asking to be raped.” (To my knowledge: no-one asks to be raped. Ever. If she asks, it’s not rape. If she thinks she didn’t ask, she didn’t ask.)

People are tides, not waves. Before rendering judgement, we should always look at as much of the picture as we’re able to.

We should read with emotion and reason, with reason having control. Sure, visceral reactions are fine, and they’re even necessary if we’re to consider ourselves emotional creatures… but visceral reactions are often based on primitive thinking. They should be tempered by reason and rationality. Fight or flight is not a decision to be made lightly, when you’re trying to actually learn something from someone else.

Be human. Read rationally. Sometimes rage is justified – but few people are all good, or all bad. Consider the context of the person with whom you’re engaged, and try to understand them – while there’s nothing saying that the person isn’t a total jerk, chances are that people have redeeming qualities even when they’ve acted inappropriately. (This is not the same as excusing inappropriate behavior; it’s still inappropriate behavior, and such behavior has legitimate consequences.)

Be human.