All Or Nothing At All

24 03 2018

All or nothing at all
Half love never appealed to me
If your heart never could yield to me
Then I’d rather have nothing at all

-Arthur Altman & Jack Lawrence (originally performed by Billy Holiday)

 

There was an episode of Gilligan’s Island where the castaways find themselves capable of reading each others’ thoughts due to the properties of special sunflower seeds. It doesn’t take long before everyone is fighting because they can’t help but hear the true opinions of the others. When each person on the island find they are no longer each an island unto themselves, war breaks out.

I think about that episode whenever I think about the effects of social media on political and social discourse. The Utopian vision of Facebook et al., never accounted for the supremacy of the Id over the ego. The dark instincts of humanity are ever-present, even when we consciously, and conscientiously, attempt to be judicious or show constraint. Who among us can resist the siren song of moral combat from the safety and isolation of our technocratic asylums? Every comments section in every mainstream media outlet confirms the thesis has been overturned: social media is not a global community. Instead, social media is the sunflower seed that made us aware of everyone’s thoughts and now everyone is angry and Gilligan is sad.

The way we conduct ourselves in the public techno-sphere makes us a world of reactors rather than listeners. We read someone’s idiotic statements and then we inform them that they are stupid and wrong. It’s so infuriating how wrong they are, it makes us ache with revulsion. It doesn’t matter what side of the argument you’re on. The only thing that matters is that you are right and the other person is wrong. Of course the reality is that everyone is wrong and I’m the only one who’s right. I’m the only rational, reasonable, critical thinker left on the planet. Who else feels this way? Everyone? Right.

From my limited perspective, it seems that we tend to go all-in on a set of ideologies in order to align ourselves with the group that we identify with. You would think that we would be able to pick and choose our perspectives from a vast pool of ideas and information, given the data set to which we have access. Yet western society seems to be satisfied with being cleaved into only two groups: left and right. Or, to distill it further, right and wrong.

We no longer tolerate anything on a spectrum, unless it’s gender, sexuality, or race. Try putting sexual assault on a spectrum the way Matt Damon did, and see how far that gets you. Patting a bum and brutal penetrative rape? Same thing. No spectrum for you.

My suspicion is that society as a whole is like a toddler. It can only stomp and cry or giggle and vomit. We haven’t figured out how to modulate our reactions to things in subtler terms. We’re a big mass of protein with a fledgling consciousness that needs time to grow. Unfortunately there aren’t any adults around to keep us from getting into trouble around the stove, so we’re going to burn ourselves a bunch of times and will need a lot of timeouts to cry. How long will it take us to evolve to the point where we can support more nuanced interactions on a global basis? Probably many generations. We’re pretty smart as individuals. But when you add us all up, we’re just a big, fat idiot that needs to be told what’s right and what’s wrong and there’s no one around to do that. God? Aliens? Anyone? Shit.

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