Hey, you! Yeah, you!
Did you know that in combat sports an effective shot to the liver will earn you a technical knock out? It’s true. If you manage to land a punch, kick, knee, or elbow to the liver, you basically shut down the body, leaving the other fighter completely incapacitated.
Here’s another fun fact: You can similarly incapacitate a person’s ability to reason. For real! Are you feeling experimental? Let’s give it a shot. Keep reading, if you dare.
America is a nation of hypocrites. Liberals bitch about taking care of immigrants, but ignore the homeless veterans; right-wingers bitch about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem, but then proceed to stockpile weapons against their country.
Are you still here? Are you a little angry? Perhaps you’re wondering whether what I have to say is going to square with your politics.
Let’s talk about that, for a second. Pew Research found in 2014 that liberals are more likely to block friends with opposing political views, while conservatives are more likely to surround themselves with political opinions similar to their own. What’s more, liberals tend to cite their news consumption as consisting of an array of sources, while conservatives tend to congregate to one main source.
Nothing surprising there. Conservatives will point out that liberals’ multiple sources are still predominantly left-leaning, while liberals will point out Fox News consumers are overwhelmingly the least informed. But let’s pretend for a second that neither of these statements are true. It may be hard for you, I don’t know, but let’s pretend the mainstream news isn’t as far left as conservatives contend—AND—let’s pretend Fox News is more balanced and factual than liberals admit.
This is an important exercise. Mainly because our collective ability to reason with one another has been metaphorically liver-punched. If we’re unwilling to engage in an exercise like this, we all go down in a technical knockout.
Manipulating the brain shutoff response is a clever strategy. Oh yeah, this is a real thing. It’s used to marginalize opposition; by diminishing contrary opinions into predictable and insulting caricatures, we’ve been conditioned to stop listening to contrary ideas. How? We’re self-censoring the information we receive. And, mostly, we love it.
But what we love is ruining us.
The problem is, we Americans have an infinite capacity for distractions and pleasures. We see it in the orgy of hate on Facebook and Twitter—but we also see it in the orgy of puppy videos ostensibly countering that hate. Both kinds of posts are two parts of a whole; when the world becomes too ugly, we choose pleasure-seeking escapism.
But what happens when we escape into our media—and our media is no escape?
Some folks insist on checking politics at the door. “A Broadway play is no place for that.” Or, “Facebook is for puppies and kids—NO POLITICS.” Or, “Protesting is okay—as long as I can’t find a two jack-wagons doing it the wrong way, in which case the entire four-million-strong movement is invalidated.”
We’ve arrived in an era when our culture is defined by its self-censoring consumers. We choose our facts, deny our political opposite’s sources as legitimate, and darkly worry the truth is unknowable. How does one shut down your brain’s ability to reason? By offering you a political catch phrase designed to put you on defense. If one is artful enough at it, one can get you to say cow by showing you a picture of a chicken.
You know it’s true. We see this pan out every day. It’s the game we played as children called “Opposite Day.” We tried to trick each other into getting what we want. Only now it’s the grownups behaving like children, and it’s become reality-bending.
I’m writing this blog because it’s a topic that’s been nagging at my subconscious for a while. I, like you, agonize over what to post—and what not to post—on Facebook. I’ve come to the conclusion that sharing only that which is sweet or makes us laugh or is otherwise positive is just as inappropriate as only sharing political posts. We are living through extraordinary times. To deny that by insisting only on escapism isn’t “neutral,” or “inoffensive.” It’s standing by while your neighbor’s house is burning to the ground—and then complaining about how negative all the other onlookers are acting.
Which, of course, is bullshit.
It behooves me to point out that ranting on Facebook isn’t the same as taking action. Ranting isn’t the same as calling a senator, attending a rally, feeding or clothing a person in need, or giving to a worthy cause. I believe the best of us are doing these kinds of good things without fanfare AND are mostly keeping things positive on Facebook. We all need to keep our spirits up. But whether we’re sharing information we believe is true and factual, or we’re stopping simply to talk to a homeless person on the street, we all need to make time to talk to each other—meaningfully talk to each other—because the alternative is to conquer ourselves through our appetite for escapism.
At this point, I’d like to propose an experiment to get this moving. Word association. Read the following and make yourself answer the first thought that pops into your head for each word or phrase. Do it quickly, and, if you’re inclined, leave your answers in the Facebook thread you surfed in on. The object of this exercise is to promote respectful dialogue in the hopes that, if we can do it, perhaps it will filter up into Washington.
- Climate change
- All lives matter
- Black lives matter
- Politically correct
- Free enterprise
I bet you had some pretty charged instincts. Did you write the first thing you thought, or did you censor yourself? It’ll be interesting to read your responses, how moderate or inflammatory they are, and how people comport themselves in the ensuing online discussion. Let’s keep it respectful though. Here are my tips for that:
- Stay focused.
- Debate a single topic to its conclusion. Do your best to make a distinction between what’s tangential and what points are actually related to the topic at hand.
- Ignore the glancing blows.
- Your political opposite may throw in a few tangential statements you find offensive, or else outright attacks. Don’t argue those. They’re entitled to a negative opinion of something just like you are, it doesn’t make them a horrible person, and letting it go doesn’t mean you “lose” the debate.
- Highlight agreements.
- For a lot of people, debating their political opposites means an exercise in a literal exchange of opposites. Every up is met with down, every left is met with right—etc. Break the knee-jerk responses through highlighting areas of agreement. Go out of your way to find them.
- The goal isn’t to change their mind.
- The goal is to reveal yourself as a human being. You are not a reduction of partisan warfare, and neither is your political opposite. If you leave the discussion believing you’ve made a friend with someone who has polar opposite politics—you’ve won life! 😉
If you have any additional tips, please share them. Thank you for reading. It’s my hope we can stop identifying as enemies and start identifying as healers and peacemakers.