Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Digital Melting-Pot

Digital technology has sped up the reaction time of everyone, and nowadays it's very common for something to happen in the world and almost instantaneously, reactions and comments pop up on Facebook.

Twenty years ago, none of this was even imagined, let alone remotely possible.  And back in the day, when I was young, news came from either the newspaper, the radio or national televised news shows.  We got our news basically twice a day, when the newspaper was thrown on the front porch, or when the evening news programs came on.

Today, we are immersed in news from the second we awake to when the nights go out at night.  Instead of a couple of places to get news, we have many dozens.  The internet has brought an astonishing, incomprehensible amount of information to our fingertips, pretty much for free, day and night.  But so much of this information comes not from independent, credible news sources, but from thinly-disguised echo chambers of political entities for whom journalistic truth is the enemy, not an ideal to which to aspire.

In the vast, global, digital melting-pot that is Facebook, there is always something cooking.  The media stew it serves up can be a smorgasbord of interesting, funny and enlightening photos and comments from my Facebook friends - whom I genuinely appreciate and enjoy reading - to a witches' brew of insanity, paranoia and batshit-craziness from the darkest gutters and cesspools of the American psyche.

Politically-inclined FB pages are public pages, and that opens up the floodgates for all the virulent strains of craziness that seem to be running rampant in this country.  In particular, conservative trolls are ever-ready to inflict their narrow-minded, pointless slander and undisguised racism into any and all discussions, even if they are not even slightly political.  No insult is too cheap, no snide remark too juvenile to make when it comes to denigrating our President.

Disclaimer:  I have certainly put in my time as a liberal troll, and I spent a fun-filled two weeks after the elections last November carpet-bombing political pages and websites with all the eat-shit-and-die liberal gloating I could muster.  I gleefully and mercilessly rubbed as many conservatives noses as I could into the messy bowel movement that was the Romney campaign, with completely predictable results.  Heads exploded everywhere, and the bile and hatred I elicited was quite impressive.  I felt that if I could raise conservative blood pressures to stroke-inducing levels and ruin as many of their days as possible, I was doing my job and life indeed was wonderful. It was almost too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel, but eventually it ran its course and I don't do it anymore.  At least not as much.

The Sandy Hook elementary school shootings in mid-December brought a whole new array of crazy conservatives to the forefront, and these were the extra-paranoid, gun-nut variety.  It really is something when you find out how many of our fellow citizens spend their lives gripped by an intense, irrational fear that someday, vast armies of criminals, armed to the tits with AK-47s, are going to march down every street in every town and city in this country and storm the doorway of their home in a enormous Armageddon-type apocalypse, and the only way they can hope to survive is to make sure everyone in their family, from little two-year-old Nutley to ninety-year old Grandma, has a couple of automatic rifles at their disposal to dispatch all these bloodthirsty felons to the lower depths of hell where they belong.

I was surprised to find out that a lot of people take seriously the notion that their individual liberty and freedom are in constant, grave peril, either from armed, highly-organized criminals or from our own government.  Paranoia and conspiracy theories go hand-in-hand, and these people can see heinous, nefarious plots in every single thing that happens.  Evil socialist Muslim Kenyans are behind everything, and they are well on their way to converting every Starbucks in this nation into Islamic indoctrination centers, and Walmart will start selling burkas any minute.  Actually, it would really be a good idea if some of Walmart's customers wore burkas.

These pathetic, disturbed individuals have a doomsday scenario playing in an endless loop in their heads, that they will someday have to engage in mortal combat with a mysterious Fascist movement which will suddenly rise to power and all the U.S. military forces will fight blindly for the prophet Mohammed, despite nearly 250 years of Judeo-Christian culture and government influence.  How little faith these people have in their fellow citizens, and in the form of government which has produced the wealthiest and most powerful nation the world has ever seen, and has gotten us through a bloody Civil War and two World Wars as well as numerous other skirmishes.  To these hopeless paranoids, it's just a tiny step to go from an established, representative democracy to Sharia law.

The Republican party, along with their mangy, yappy little attack dog the NRA, is expert at cultivating and empowering such mindless paranoid fantasies, and there seems to be no limit to the number of gullible dupes and stooges out there who are ever-so-eager to swallow this claptrap.  Personally I feel it's indicative of the extreme intellectual laziness that has taken hold in his country.  Why make the effort to learn about the world and the things that are happening in our culture, when you can sit comfortably on your couch with your TV and a giant bag of Doritos, and let blowhards like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck or the dimwitted hacks of Fox News fill your head with whatever garbage they choose, because somehow it sounds like they might be right, or at the very least their drivel seems to fit into your personal delusions and biases? They are the professionals when it comes to providing very simple-minded, ineffective, populist solutions to complex problems. Why bother thinking about stuff on your own when you can let someone else do the thinking for you?

There is a herd-mentality aspect in people that makes them want to be a part of something bigger, which seems counter to the famed American "independence of spirit."  People want to align themselves with other like-minded people, because there is safety in numbers and comfort in shared attitudes.  Going out on a limb and actually deconstructing problems in order to understand them is scary and way too much work, and many people just do not have the mental capacity, experience or inclination for critical analysis, thanks to our failing educational system.  They instead opt for the demagogues who speak in terms that sound familiar, or at least non-threatening, and engender an us-and-them separation that puts their followers clearly on the "us" side, and anyone who doesn't agree with them or maybe challenges their long-established biases and prejudices are the "them" that they have to be afraid of.

What people don't understand they fear, and that's been true throughout history.  Overcoming fear requires courage, fortitude and persistence. Sadly, sometimes it seems all too clear that people are not being enlightened by reason and understanding, but instead are turning their backs and marching into the darkness.

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