A few things have happened over the past few days that have renewed my commitment to removing sources of toxicity and drama from my life. I don’t think there’s anything I’m about to say in this post that is new – neither in experiences or observations. All of this is old hat. I just think I may have finally reached a tipping point.
A few days ago, I posted two comments to two different posts on Facebook. One was on a public page, the other was on a friend’s post (but the friend has like 2,000 other “friends”, so her timeline might as well be a public page). Both comments were fairly innocuous and harmless, but that didn’t stop complete strangers from jumping up and down on my head for no apparent reason.
It was bullying, and I fucking hate bullies.
In one of the threads, I also saw that urbexers are just like any other clique – full of people sitting in judgment of others they deem to be “posers” or “noobs” or “fakes” just because they don’t live up to their standards. Yet another thing I’m getting really sick of seeing.
It’s not that I can’t take it. I don’t really give a fuck what some random trolling stranger has to say to me. I can take the insults and not lose any sleep over them. But… why should I? Why should I subject myself to it at all? Just because I can take it doesn’t mean I should.
Our culture has been growing more combative, more adversarial, more judgmental, and more bitchy – it seems with each passing day. I think some of it is an inherent trait of humanity – the need to feel superior (be it physically, intellectually, morally, etc.) and the compulsion to judge other people and put other people down in order to feel superior.
But I think some other things have exacerbated this condition. President Bush’s “us vs. them” rhetoric had much greater consequences on the national psyche than just as it pertained to the war on terrorism. There’s also a culture of reality television and other competition shows that glorify bitchiness, backstabbing, and insults (American Idol, Hell’s Kitchen, Real Housewives, Survivor, Big Brother, Weakest Link – just to name the first few that pop to mind). The anonymity of the Internet allows people to be bullies with little or no consequence. And then there’s the current President whose own behavior has validated and emboldened bullying behavior worldwide.
The net result is an incredibly toxic and needlessly dramatic cyber environment. Funny thing is, most of my social media interaction occurs on Facebook and YouTube. I don’t even use the services that are notoriously worse, like Twitter, Reddit, or 4chan. Even with my limited interaction, I still find myself having had enough of this shit.
I’m no saint, either. I’ve been known to stir the pot once in a while, and I’m certain many people have found some of what I have said to be equally insulting, offensive, toxic, or combative. But I do think there is a difference. I don’t go out of my way to insult people, and I certainly don’t do it for shits, for giggles, or make a blood sport out of it. I do it to challenge thinking and to challenge people’s assumptions. I’m a psychopath and fucked up in the head twenty different ways from Saturday. I like to shake up whatever I perceive to be the “Normie” way of thinking and the basic assumptions they live their lives on.
Most of my friends understand this because they have taken the time to get to know me. Most of them can tell the difference between me being an asshole and me trying to make a point. (The ones who can’t don’t remain friends with me for very long.) Trouble is – social media is a public medium. Even if you restrict access to your posts on platforms like Facebook, you are still broadcasting to an audience instead of having an individual conversation with someone, one-on-one.
For example, when I write a post on Facebook, I usually have one or a few individuals in mind when I write them. Someone else (that I wasn’t thinking about) will react or comment to my post. Then I find myself re-reading my post while putting myself in the shoes of this other person, to see how they will perceive what I wrote. Sometimes, I find it necessary to clarify something I said for my unintended audience.
I do this a lot.
And mind you, I’m only connected to about 100 people on Facebook. That’s a relatively small number compared to almost every single one of those hundred people (and most other Facebook users, for that matter). Everyone seems obsessed about gathering likes and followers and subscribers like social media is some sort of popularity contest. And I suppose in a way it is. I’ve just never used social media in that way. I prefer a “smaller” and more private audience – my closest friends – people I know and people who know me pretty well.
When you end up addressing 100 people, or 2,000 people, or however many million people are on Reddit or Twitter – it’s very different than talking to one person. It’s not a conversation, it’s a broadcast. Because it’s a broadcast and because of the nature of the Internet, these broadcasts invite a lot of “who asked you?” feedback that turn what would ordinarily be a friendly, peaceful conversation between two friends into a manifesto about how the OP is a fucking idiot.
So I’m gonna try to wean myself off of Facebook and other social media once and for all. I’m keeping my account, because it’s still good for communicating with individual friends. But I’ve unfollowed just about every person and every page, and I’m going to resist the temptation to broadcast every insignificant thought that comes to mind.
I’ve also unsubscribed to all of my sources of news on YouTube, to remove that source of toxicity. I hate not being informed about what’s going on in the world, but the toxic price I have to pay to keep informed… just isn’t fucking worth it anymore. I refuse to digest any more news about Donald Trump.
I’ve tried this before – disconnecting from Facebook and YouTube – and failed miserably. I might get bored. I might get lonely. But I am cautiously optimistic that things will be different this time. Things feel different this time. I think I might find more to do in the real world if I spend less time in the digital world. I might find that I have more to talk about with my friends when I do see them if I haven’t already broadcast my every waking thought on Facebook.
I’m going to try to look to John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) for a little inspiration. It cannot be denied that Marston disagrees with a lot of characters and isn’t shy about expressing that disagreement. He’s famously derisive with folks like Seth or Dickens. But if you pay attention, he’s also remarkably patient and kind to some other NPCs, even if he clearly disagrees with them or thinks they are batshit crazy. He listens to people.
I’m going to give that a shot. I’m going to try to listen to people more and be less quick to judge. This will undoubtedly be the hardest part for me because I am very misanthropic, very opinionated, and as I described earlier – I enjoy challenging Normie assumptions. I also worry that if I try to rise above insults and petty bitching, I may feel like I’m being taken advantage of – like I’m the world’s punching bag and that I’m not being given (or giving myself) an outlet to express my frustrations.
But we all tend to be a little self-absorbed in the effort of telling our own stories to the world, while being dismissive of strangers – the lonely, the elderly, the poor, the sick, the handicapped, the injured. We tend to be dismissive of people who don’t share our views – be they political, religious, or philosophical. We tend to be dismissive of people we perceive to be “wasting our time”.
I think if Marston teaches us one good thing, it’s that there is grace and honor in being the man who sits down and listens to someone else, even if he disagrees with that person or thinks that person is insane. It’s an incredibly simple and kind gesture to acknowledge another person’s existence, grant them the dignity of having their voice heard, and to get to know them personally instead of attacking them as a stranger.
So in the spirit of all that…
This *might* be my final blog post. This domain is set to expire later this year, and I think I might not renew it. I started this blog so I could share my experiences with other people. But I think it’s more important to do that sharing by way of actions and in the course of living. Not by speaking and writing and lecturing.
I’m even having second thoughts about publishing my book. I might publish it, just to get my tiny slice of immortality. But I don’t know that it will be effective in changing anyone’s minds. Surely, it will invite a lot of criticism and judgment and… I just don’t know that I’m going to get enough benefit from publishing the book to make putting up with the nonsense drama worthwhile.