Saturday, September 1, 2012

An Open Letter to my FaceBook Friends Regarding the "Tea Party"

A recent exchange on my FaceBook page centered around a clip which I posted from "The Best Damned Show on Television Which Is Shown on a Network That I Don't Subscribe To" - AKA: "The Newsroom" on HBO...

... In it (if you didn't "have time" to watch the clip) anchorman Will McAvoy delivers a scathing and painfully truthful treatise on the state of politics in America; which - it should be noted - he delivers from the point of view of a Repubican - himself.  He is railing against the "Tea Party" under whose influence we are, all of us in America, suffering.

It's tenets:  (through Aaron Sorkin's words)
-Ideological purity
-Compromise is weakness
-A fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism
-Denying science
-Unmoved by facts
-Undeterred by new information
-A hostile fear of progress
-Demonization of education
-A need to control women's bodies
-Severe Xenophobia
-Tribal mentality
-Intolerance of dissent
-Pathological hatred of the U.S. Government

Well, one of my FaceBook friends took issue with the post and saw fit to suggest I had my "head up my ass" for sharing it.  At least I think that was why he said that.  It wasn't actually clear to whom he was responding with his jab.

My point is this, FaceBook is the BBS of the 21st century.

"Huh?" you may wonder.  "What is this BBS you speak of?"

"...of which you speak, " I would respond.

To which you would most likely rejoin, "Whatever!"

And then I would explain that BBSes were pre-internet message boards where targeted discussions would take place by "users" posting comments on an electronic "Bulletin Board" which was hosted on some geek's home computer and networked with other geeks to foster widespread group discussions.  Myself being one of said geeks, I hosted a BBS called "the Outpost" and caused my wife great concern for more than 5 years in the late 80's and early 90's.

But, returning to the point... during many of these soaring conversations a certain faction of users would enjoy inflaming the discussions by posting personal insults and downright impolite language to get a rise out of the others on the board. These "Flamers" were, for the most part, anarchists, the equivalent of electronic "bomb throwers" who enjoyed making a mockery of civil dissertation. They were not accepted in polite virtual society; and we, who sought to run high class establishments in the wild-internet-west of the last century - by the power vested in us, the SysOp's - would simply delete them from our userlists.  They would virtually vaporize.

Of course there was no way of knowing when they would join the BBS again under a different name, until I began to recognize certain verbal patterns when they started to get frisky again. It was a tough life in the wild-internet-west.

But, that was then, this is now.  Now we have FaceBook, Twitter, Google+ and all the other social networking iterations of the modern internet.  FaceBook itself has nearly a Billion "users" all interacting in their spheres of influence, sharing and commenting and "liking" what each other posts on each other's pages.  A lot of stuff goes around on FaceBook and the others in the course of a nano-day.  Some of it is, admittedly, superfluous fluff.  (If I see one more cute kitten meme I think I'm going to fwow-up - but oh-so-cutely.)  Yet there is some powerful messaging going on as well; and in a presidential election year, the social internet is the Almighty Conduit.

The Conduit is where people of differing political ideals are interacting at a pace that far exceeds anything this country, indeed the world, has ever seen prior to this.  The "Twittersphere" is credited with informing the world about what happened in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen  during the "Arab Spring" last year.  People in the thick of things that otherwise would have had no hope of ever letting the rest of us know what they were going through, put all of us front row center in it by virtue of a few taps on their internet connected device.  It is was... (is he going to say it?)...a "by Gawd" miracle. (Damn, he said it!)

That being said, the Conduit also carries stuff that is, for lack of a better word, ungood.  Factions that use  it use the anonymity afforded to them by it to propagate a counter message of an anti-societal tone.  The trouble is, as we comb through the rhetoric and sheer volume of words and images, it becomes nearly impossible to filter noise from sound anymore.  Music from discord.  Beauty from indifference.  Truth from lie.  Right from wrong.

Where are the lines?  How are they drawn?

Who's truth wins?

Once upon a time, there were the facts and there was the fiction.  The facts were the Truth.  The fiction was the Lie.  The Truth was right.  The Lie was wrong. There was this whole "Bearing false witness..." thing from those "Commandments" to deal with.  Now, not so much.  People believe whatever they read on the internet these days.  They think: "Since someone spent the time, and went to all the trouble to put it all in print somewhere, then it must be true, right?"  Even smart people fall into the trap.  What happens is they need a truth to believe in so they pick a set of fictions that are close to what they already believe, and that becomes their truth.

I don't know if this is indigenous to our century or not.  Probably not.  But it's a lot easier to find a bunch of new fictions to latch on to these days.  And, here's the rub: in America, it's all protected.

And it's okay.

Here's the other rub: it's up to us to do our own homework.  WE have to do the work to really discern between the good stuff and the gunk.  Opinions are as plentiful as speakers.  The facts are researchable and unique.  Caveat lector.

So, since as far as I know the First Amendment still stands, everyone is entitled to their beliefs and so are any who may want to comment on my humble FaceBook posts and pages.  It's one of the things I love about this social-networking thing. It reminds me of the soaring conversations of the wild-internet-west of long ago.  Some great ideas were exchanged then, and some really fantastic futures are emerging now from the same type of intercourse.  I love it!

As I understand it, the "Tea Party" does not.

As previously stated (with confidence high) the "Tea Party" stands unmoved by such things as facts.  They adhere to an ideology that they cannot see around.  They also tend to be very loud, in a digital print kind of way, in denigrating opposing opinions from theirs.  No truth but theirs, facts or not.

Again, that's alright.  First Amendment, and all that.  But I also have the right to at least request civility in the discussion.  I don't expect it.  I'm not the SysOp anymore.  You can say whatever you want, and unless I think it has crossed the line and begins to insult those of my friends who may agree with me for what they add to the discussion, I suppose falsehood can be tolerated to a point, as long as the truth prevails.  I can assume the mantle of Supreme Protector in my virtual world if I want.  I can't vaporize transgressors, but I do have weapons:  History and the Truth.

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