Dang! It always happens … I’m all gung ho about something I want to write about, and I get some of the research done, and then … life intervenes. Or, more accurately, social media. I’m looking at you, Facebook!
Oh, that Facebook. That sapper of time, that playground for those avoiding actual work, that stew of emotions so many of us find ourselves soaking in. I can give you a dozen reasons why being on Facebook is a good thing, with it’s ability to connect us to long lost friends and relatives around the world. But the honest truth is that most of us are just plain addicted to the rush of recognition we feel when someone out there ‘likes’ our posts.
And that’s part of the problem. We naturally tend to gather around ourselves those of like minds, and soon our interactions may be more about living in a bubble of agreement than actual dialogue. Any dissenting voice can be drowned out by a supporter, which neatly nips in the bud the chance to hear other sides to an argument. Facebook’s own algorhythms contribute to this bubble, since the sorting function places posts higher in your news feed if they’re from like-minded friends. Soon, your view of the world can become distorted, leading you to believe that absolutely everyone, everywhere, feels exactly like you do. And then to be surprised when that does not turn out to actually be true.
The upcoming election has preoccupied me for some time – I truly feel that whoever is elected to steer Canada’s boat over the next four years will shape Canada’s future, for better or worse. Frankly, I cannot wait for it to be over. I intend to fight the good fight, right up until the last vote is counted, and then get a freakin’ life. Enough is too much, when it comes to politics. There are so many more enjoyable ways to spend my days.
What has been most surprising to me in the last few weeks is something I’ve seen coming, but have never seen so up-close and personal before. Divisiveness, knee jerking, vicious verbal assaults, and cruel name-calling have gone from being issues visible in the rear view mirror, to sitting right next to us in the passenger seat, breathing coffee and garlic in our faces. A seemingly innocuous remark can instantly transform your social media experience into a full-fledged WWE tag-team smack down presided over by Vince McMahon himself.
Yeah, it’s everywhere, I know. It’s in all politics, social media, and mass media. We can’t turn on our televisions or listen to our radios without hearing screaming hosts and responsive listeners blaring their opinionated and often misguided or misinformed thoughts, speaking over each other, and literally and figuratively giving each other the finger. Over the last few years, a lack of civility has gone from being politically incorrect to being highly rated entertainment, the more lurid and hyperventilated, the better.
And so, with two highly significant elections approaching, our own Canadian one on October 19th, and the American race that will drag along to an illogical conclusion in 2016, we’re being bombarded with rhetoric, over-heated promises and denunciations, and the spectacle of grown men and women who believe they have what it takes to become the leaders of countries in the Free World, behaving like poorly informed members of a high school debate squad. On a losing team.
As Bob Rae said in his terrific book, What’s Happened to Politics, “The trouble with pursuing politics as a business is that it has helped to create a cynical, fractured electorate that doesn’t know whom to trust, or what to do.”
Career politicians have mined social media and harnessed the power of polls to find their supporters, which they then use in an effort to get elected to positions that seem to be little more than spring boards for their next kick at the electoral can. Less and less actual work appears to be getting done once they’ve secured their spot in the legislature; they’ve actually built large chunks of time into their tenure when the priority is re-election, rather than service to the taxpayers who are paying for their supposed expertise. Incessant campaigning squashes the possibility of responsible governance. That’s not devoting your life to public office and service – that’s devoting your life to BEING serviced. And apparently, it pays very well.
Once the politician’s fan base is in place, it’s carefully nurtured, by which I mean, manipulated , in such a way that it becomes unthinkable to actually parse either the actual words or deeds being done in the politician’s name. Partisan politics, as played by supporters who believe that a louder voice, and denial of reality, and most assuredly a lack of ability to tell truth from lies, has seeped into every crevice of our social and mass media.
The name players in the game, those leaders of the political parties and those fighting to become leaders, snap and point fingers at each other, defending minuscule slurs over the larger picture of policy and national stewardship. And their base, emulating their masters, surge to defend this silly display with ever increasing intensity and rabid vehemence.
The Emperor has no clothes. The pickin’s are slim in these upcoming elections. The distinctions between political parties are narrowing, as corporate dollars seduce the candidates. You can’t offend those who pay for you to play, so each candidate, no matter how invested in a cause, eventually finds themselves beholden to the money that put them into their seat. Consequently, debates revolve around safer issues, or promises clearly designed to sucker in the largest groups of emotionally driven voters.
Which brings me back again to those of us who can’t get enough of Facebook and social media, a phenomena so virulent that it’s gone from being a pastime to an actual condition listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) as Internet Addiction, judged to be more powerful and insidious than the physical addictions of nicotine or alcohol.
We addicts may partake of the real world, walking and talking amongst you, but it’s when we hit the ‘Net that our most intense thoughts and words are free to emerge. Safe behind our glowing monitors, we take our scalpels to those who don’t live inside the same bubbles that we do, and defend our beliefs and opinions, even if those opinions were formed mere minutes before and based solely on a click bait driven headline intended to attract us to a site that will grab our personal data and sell it to the highest bidder.
We can blame the media, we can blame a decay in political morals, we can blame a citizenry now more accustomed to a violent offense than a thoughtful defense. Yeah, let’s do that. Because it would be unthinkable to decide that how we conduct ourselves, in public or on the Internet, has more to do with allowing ourselves to descend into a caveman-like brutality, and less to do with “speaking our minds” and “brutal honesty.”
(originally published Sept. 20/2015, in Bob Segarini’s “Don’t Believe A Word I Say”