It might drive me off social media.
At first, I thought it might just be a problem of living in metropolitan Washington, D.C., where the strident opinions held by many are usually interlinked with what they do for a living. No such luck, though: I’ve been on trips to Mississippi, California, and Texas in the past couple of years, and it has been just as bad there, too.
This social pose has driven me crazy for the past eight years, the ongoing and incessant braying that has filled up my Facebook notifications, the “Honk if I’m Paying Your Mortgage” and “I’ll Keep My Guns and Religion, and You Can Keep the Change” memes, which also appear on bumper stickers that I have to follow on the Beltway.
It drove me really crazy toward the end of 2016, when a dear old friend insisted I watch what was said to be the “definitive” video on “Pizzagate,” which charged that an utterly banal and bourgeois Northwest D.C. restaurant was a hotbed of child trafficking—and it had something to do with Hillary Clinton.
I was not especially concerned, or convinced, by Pizzagate. The whole time I was watching, what I was thinking about instead was: who is this guy who has painstakingly spent all this time (and where does he find all this time)—presumably locked up in his basement—piecing together these tantalizing but incoherent bits of tape?
The change of the administration has only made it worse, albeit with a different Dramatis Personae—and no, I am not trying to sneak past you and thus be guilty of the devilish False Equivalency. Many, many of your concerns are my concerns, as well, and I do not doubt that there are serious potential dangers to the Republic. I applaud principled action and activism.
But can you please first Shut Up?
Apparently, I am the only person out there who feels this way, who has been left wondering why practically everything these days seems to be telegraphed in the declarative mode only.
Everybody else, it seems, is perfectly happy to chirp on incessantly about the things to which “Attention Must Be Paid,” in messages that implore you to cut and paste and share if you agree.
I’m not even disagreeing about many of those things, but I wonder what the incessant calling out of transgressions as social performance is for and what it accomplishes. And don’t event get me started on the notion of “standing with,” whereby millions of the enlightened across the country can feel the adrenaline of moral zeal—just by hitting the “like” button.
Why do we have to stand with people? Why don’t we just sit down and eat with them? With everybody, in fact.
Is the problem that my Facebook feed has a fair number of both liberals and conservatives? (For the record, all of them drive me crazy, and this is not, I tell you, a false equivalency.) Apparently, everybody else is “friends” chiefly with the folks who already agree with them.
As somebody who has been labeled both a fundamentalist and an unrepentant socialist (what?), and who really hates talking about politics, this strikes me not only as wrong-headed and sad but fundamentally boring. It reduces others to the mere surface sum of their talking points—and flattens the inexplicable complexity of existence.
For example: I believe in Science (whatever that means), that structural racism exists, and that unions are not necessarily bad or stupid, but I also don’t think that the fluttering fish in the belly is only a baby if, and when, you happen to decide that it is.
And it shrugs the burden of sin—whether structural or moral—off onto the Other. (The Other just keeps changing.)
Plus, nobody will convert to anything if you are an asshole. This goes for all creeds and situations on the political continuum.
I gave an informal talk at my church not long ago—about practicing faith in the secular world, and I got into my head an analogy I haven’t been able to get out of it since, that we focus on these ideological others only as the mid-range composition of their opinions and predilections—which, if they don’t agree with ours, we tend to focus on and stigmatize. It is a kind of background noise that can just about deafen us.
It is only if we are able to penetrate through this level of noise that we are able to see the irreplaceable, precious Being—who might at that moment be calling us a total idiot. And that’s hard to do on social media.
So can’t we just sit down together, over a meal, and not worry about the Apocalypse, even if (and when) we believe in it?
True story: My neighborhood friend Theo is a towering and acerbic dad, a sociologist currently a stay-at-home dad. An Afrikaner raised in the waning years of apartheid in South Africa, he is a keen detector of the lies that lie behind the official versions of everything.
He has scared people off social media before, but I know the man in person. He is just about the funniest person you will ever meet. We don’t agree on a lot, but I am pretty sure he finds my Christian faith to be rather eccentric, if not downright delusional. (He may, at times, have used different words for it.)
But I adore this man: When the cataclysm comes, I want this freethinker in my lifeboat.
As Ralph Ellison said in Invisible Man, the great African American novel that is truly the great American novel—“Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”
A native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, Caroline Langston is a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is a widely published writer and essayist, a winner of the Pushcart Prize, and a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered.
Above image by Eddy Pula on flickr, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.