I deleted the Facebook app from my phone today.
…And before I get too deep into the weeds here, let me say that I understand the irony that this blog post I’m putting on my website is going to be reflected in my Facebook feed, and no doubt most of the people who read these words are going to find them because of facebook.
I’ve not deleted my Facebook account, nor have I given up completely on the platform. It is still a very powerful way for me to communicate with people, particularly in my role in Rotary Youth Exchange. Facebook is also the primary means by which I can communicate with very real and dear friends all over the world, and without that platform maintaining those relationships would be far more difficult. So I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon that Facebook, and by extension all social media, is necessarily a bad thing.
The problem I had isn’t even really with Facebook, it is with a character trait (maybe flaw) in my own mind. Much in the same way that alcohol is not the cause of alcoholism, but rather the consumers inability to control their own behavior with it.
With the Facebook app on my phone, I found myself in moments of downtime opening up the app and flicking through the feed for interesting things that would catch my eye. This inevitably would be pictures of my friends kids, news stories with a bit of commentary by one of my friends, or large banner like text messages on backgrounds with some pithy remark.
But the thing I found myself most interacting with, the thing that I would stop and spend half an hour typing out a considered and researched response, were things with which I disagreed. Not once in all of my years on Facebook did I see a post about someone vaccinating their child, and spend any amount of time composing a comment with citations about the efficacy of Immunizations and praising the parent for their choice. I would simply click the like button, and perhaps post a simple five word response praising them, a total of 30 seconds of my time. Yet in contrast when I would see a post about Vaccines causing autism, the healing power of homeopathy, blue lives matter, or how Donald Trump is the second coming of Jesus Christ, I would feel a compulsion to expend 30 minutes or more of my time trying to reason with the poster about the flaws in their thinking. The end result of this is that I was by default investing more time on topics that I found to be unpleasant.
It’s not that I don’t see the value in trying to educate people, far from it. We are not going to progress as a human race until the majority of people learn to be critical thinkers, and grow out of believing in the supernatural. So it is important to reach into that world of garbage beliefs and try to clean up their houses. What I found out about myself is that I have a very low tolerance for stupidity, and found it very frustrating engaging with people who see not questioning their beliefs as a virtue. On a very base level people have to engage their reason, let go of dogma, and be willing to admit their own ignorance before any kind of meaningful dialog can happen. It turns out, there are large groups of people who are unwilling to do this.
In addition to spending far too much time in dialog where I wasn’t comfortable or welcomed, Facebook also showed me that many people I thought decent and upstanding were in fact, not. In a pre-social-media culture, I believe that pleasantness in human interaction could largely be achieved through ignorance. If you were in a organization with someone, or you simply were friends with them only casually, it was possible to have pleasant and productive interactions with them because you never got too deep into their beliefs, values, or motivations. People would show each other the sides of their personality which was suitable to the situation, and that would be that. Occasionally in pre-social-media culture you would learn something deeply troubling about a person that you would casually interact with, and that knowledge would alter how you felt about them and how you would interact with them (or cause you to choose not to interact with them at all).
One of the things that Facebook did was through back the curtain on the beliefs, values, and motivations on many of the people with whom we previously had only superficial contact. I found this to be very shocking and unsettling. Suddenly learning that a person was a racist, homophobe, biblical literalist, religious fundamentalist, nationalist, anti-science, anti-immigrant, or bigoted, etc, changed the way I perceived them in any context in which I interacted with them. Particularly in cases where I was making choices about where to invest my time or money. This realization caused me to question my own very deep beliefs about how I felt about tolerance and being judgemental. I had always thought of myself as a tolerant and non judgemental person, yet I cannot deny my negative emotional reactions about a person when I learn that they would willingly make gay people second class citizens because of something written in a holy book.
These are very deep waters of introspection, and I don’t think I’ve fully come to my own personal reconciliation on the questions of tolerance and judgmentalism. I have learned that absolute tolerance is a self defeating belief, where as people who are willing to tolerate intolerance are ultimately overwhelmed by people who are happy not to think too deeply about the subject and are thus easily manipulated. I also know that the values I respect and admire such as openness to new ideas, curiousness, questioning of one’s self, and the rejection of authority as a means to find truth, tend not to produce people who are generally intolerant. So I may be settling on a position rejecting an absolute view on tolerance, and willing argue that being intolerant of harmful ideas in narrow and limited cases has its place. I’ve not yet started to address questions about judgmentalism in myself, but I will.
Hypocrisy is the state of willingly and continuingly behaving in ways that are contrary to a vehemently stated moral goal. It used to be a shameful insult that we would apply to people as a means of correcting mild bad behavior. But one of the things I think we have lost in our social media culture is the corrective power of shame. Almost in an instant people have collectively decided to redefine terms and moral positions to retroactively include previously unacceptable behaviors. I still view hypocrisy in a very negative way. I know that I am myself guilty of inconsistent views, which is in part why I rarely have any vehemently stated moral goals. Yet I have have such negative emotional reactions to seeing people who virtue signal their religious beliefs in one post, such as claiming that they are letting Jesus “take the wheel” in their lives, but then turn around and post views that are specifically antithetical to the teaching of Jesus and the notion of allowing a supernatural being to assert control, such as denouncing immigrants and building a border wall. I have been going through a period of questioning my own religious faith in recent years, and seeing on Facebook the open contradictions of religious beliefs, and the mental gymnastics that people do to reconcile those beliefs with reality, has only made me want to let go of religion more.
In that same vein of hypocrisy, Facebook showed me that there are some people who are more than happy to be petty casual prognosticators of evil things. Reposting memes about killing journalists, celebrating videos of violence against protesters, vitriol aimed at transsexuals, long winded justifications of rape, and a general desire to make themselves feel better about being bad people.
In the end, I just came to the conclusion that no matter how much I enjoyed cat memes, family photos, etc. I found that I really do prefer to live somewhat ignorant of the beliefs, values, and motivations of most of the people around me, I don’t want to waste my time trying to engage in rational and reasoned discussions with people who are wilfully incapable of having rational and reasoned discussions, and I don’t want to trip that part of my brain that gets fixated and infuriated by irrational people.
So I’ve eliminated the possibility of reflexily opening Facebook on my phone, and I already feel better knowing that I’m less likely to encounter stupidity today.