To borrow a line from the inimitable Thomas Jefferson: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” And I believe this sincerely. And I’ve tried to live it.
And yet, as I’ve discussed previously, I’m not so sure that’s applicable when it comes to different sets of priorities when it comes to truth. Or, more recently, when it comes to attempts to overthrow our government. Social media has created an odd situation where we have friends, and we have “friends”. That situation was on my mind when I’d written in December and re-iterated post-insurrection, that the Trump voters – and believers of the Big Lie – in my life and I would face a period of reckoning and reconciliation once the dust settled. The dust is still swirling, but I’ve come to some conclusions. And so have some of my social media friendships.
Those that know me well, and probably long-term readers, as well, know that I have strong views on the US Constitution, with all of its amendments, a fairly solid moral compass, and respect for the rule of law. I am still deeply troubled by the January 6th insurrection, and by the revisionist history that is currently playing out with those whose purposes are best served by making it seem less than it was. I realized, with a somewhat heavy heart, that, by the time of the 3-month anniversary this past week, enough was enough – at least in my social media feeds.
By most standards, I don’t have a huge number of social media friends and followers. Like many of us (I assume), my social media friends come in a couple of forms. Using Facebook as an example, I have “friends” who are actual real-life friends, “friends” that are relatives – some closer than others in a real-world sense, “friends” that are not necessarily real-life friends but where the connections are important – often to other, non-FB using friends, and a few others that were either kindred spirits, or members of various groups I’ve belonged to (or former coworkers), or friends of my children that I’d bonded with (and some of their parents, as well). More than a few, in every category, do not share all, or even most, of my political, religious, philosophical, or any other view. And that’s always been okay. At least from my perspective. A few have unfriended/unfollowed me over the ten years or so that I’ve been on social media, and some of those do know me in real-life, and life outside of social media remained unchanged. So it’s all good.
But, something has changed over the past few years, as the rhetoric became more heated, repeating known lies bothered some less than my principles dictate, and a few, long-believing that the “government” was bad, fell down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, and untruths. I tried hard to understand. I also spent a great deal of energy on and off of social media trying to have rational conversations about topics where agreement seemed impossible because the disagreement was often on basic facts. One of my not particularly favorite modern thinkers, Sam Harris, once observed, “If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?” His context was religion, but it applies equally to other areas. Like to those who are convinced Hilary Clinton is some sort of murderous demon, leaving a trail of dead bodies to hide her criminal activities. Like believers of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was massively fraudulent. Like those that have become convinced, by 30 years of talk-radio and ‘conservative’ talking heads, that Democrats are out to destroy the very fabric of society. Like those that believe any or all of whatever QAnon is saying. When you fall down the rabbit hole, there is little objective reality presented by others that will bring you out. This was as true outside of social media, as it was inside. Any attempt at meaningful discourse was either derided as “fake news”, suppression of conservative opinions, or my being brainwashed by left-wing propaganda. When not met with outright anger, it was often simply dismissed as an overreaction, or as no worse than whatever the outrage of the day. It’s exhausting. And, if I’m honest, my experiences in the past few years with cancer, my own and several friends, have left me short on patience with those that require that kind of special handling -especially as it pertains to social media.
I have people in my newsfeeds that share things I dislike or disagree with, but I will often simply ignore it (unless it’s truly offensive or wrong), and if you don’t interact, the algorithms actually show you less of their postings, so it kinda works – I occasionally wander to their pages to see what’s going on, to stay loosely connected. The comments on, and reactions to (and here FB is a bear) the things I share are different subject, and are where I’ve started drawing lines. I used to let stuff slide there, too, and, especially in the past, I’d engage with the comments. But one too many a reaction that was seriously off – laughing emoji for a tragedy (yes, it was deliberate because the responder felt the tragedy was ‘deserved’), for example, and I felt drained. And I changed my approach to the less friendly application of the ‘unfriend’ button. Without fanfare – it isn’t necessary to announce these things, not really. I’ve unfollowed a few elsewhere, for similar reasons. This will likely happen to more acquaintances over time. And probably some friends and relatives, as well. And maybe that will be okay in real life, but I’m no longer as sure of that as I once was. Which saddens me. And last week, when I shared an observation that the January 6th insurrectionists were not patriots, but were, in fact, terrorists, a relative, who I know doesn’t completely agree, responded inappropriately without comment, and I made the decision to unfriend there as well. What happened at the Capitol on January 6th is really not open to an alternate interpretation, so that isn’t a mere difference of opinion.
Constitutional lawyer, and First Amendment expert, Floyd Abrams, said: “It just seems to be a human trait to want to protect the speech of people with whom we agree. For the First Amendment, that is not good enough. So it is really important that we protect First Amendment rights of people no matter what side of the line they are on “
I agree. And I would never want to see anyone’s speech stifled. But, I’m also not the government. In the end, nothing says that I have to continue to listen when reasoned conversation has become impossible. Life is too short, and, frankly, I’m too old, to deal with this shit any more.
Have a peaceful week.
Sunset, June 7, 2019.
Explainer/disclaimer: I’m an equal opportunity offender, and a member of no political party (no primaries for me to vote in, alas). I grew up in an environment (and time), at home and at school, where reasoned debate and logic were respected, and expected. Objective facts still held meaning. Even in my Catholic elementary schools, logic won points over emotion, and sometimes, even faith, in debates (at a time before Roe v Wade, I took a pro legalized abortion stance in an 8th-grade debate – and won). Not that I would ever claim to be free of emotional appeals (that’s sometimes the only way to decide between equally valid views, and sometimes things just are – or should be – viewed compassionately rather than coldly). At times over the years, my moderate, socially-liberal-yet still-in-touch-with-my-conservative-upbringing, opinions and ideals have annoyed, and actually angered, friends and family on both sides of the spectrum – particularly those on the extremes. I don’t enjoy the hostile reactions – or family tensions, so I often looked for ways to state my case without causing those that disagreed too much offense. A tactic that failed an unsurprising amount of the time because we all tend toward defensiveness when our belief systems are challenged. I enjoy the dialogue, though, so I put my thoughts out there, regardless, with mixed results. After (still) dealing with cancer and its long-term repercussions, as a senior – a time when our perspectives and priorities often change, I find that I am no longer inclined to always be quite so constrained.