I’m at a distance — a long distance — from the critics who blame social for the ills of today’s world. Well, let’s not call them the ills of the world … more like the fierce groanings of the world and the amplification of once mere whispers and dark thoughts. The lay-all of the blame-all on social is simply a myopic torch to carry, the pitch-forked farmer chasing monsters because chasing is the anger collective and because every chase demands two players … the enraged and the boogeyman.
I can’t deny that social has its problems, but then again, what institution, technology, movement, invention, etc. doesn’t. They all share in some kind of darkness, though the light we shine on such things is intentionally narrow and strategically exclusive. Critics — given a pen or a platform — love to rage against the machine, even if everything is a machine in need of raging. And it is this rage that some direct at social media, their accusations being one of technological fault rather than personal responsibility.*
It’s Not The Cyanide. It’s The Poisoner
To blame the person, some will argue, is to forgive the poison and, instead, blame the victim, that social vitriol couldn’t and wouldn’t exist without social media. To some degree this is true, but by the same reasoning, alcohol holds the sole blame for vehicular manslaughter and paper deserves the world’s praise for Hamlet. The point: it’s man … and it will always be man … and never the medium. Social has its problems, but they don’t include the sudden surprise of men as despicable beasts.
However, if one wants to continue down this path — i.e, it’s all in the machine, never those holding the levers — one must address all machines and the dark sides they offer. Because it’s hypocritical — or just plain lazy — to squint into one darkness but turn a blind eye to others. Actually, hypocritical is too weak of a word. A better word is convenient … it’s convenient to thread your rage through a pinhole, disregarding the potential good in your monster and overlooking the potential bad in things not chased.
Nothing’s Immune From The Dark Side
Theologically, machines are mere cousins to men … born into sin. And not just machines, our institutions too-politics and health care for example. Madison, in Federalist Paper №10, pointed out the inherent sin of today’s political divide-factions! Factions, as defined by Madison, are:
a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
And the root cause of this sin?
As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed. …. The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society.
Again “man” … not the machine.
And what about health care? Is it really any different than social media, offering a dark side for the feasting of one’s rage? The Mayo Clinic offers a window into this dark side (though “dark” is really just one’s perspective choice). In the Mayo Clinic’s Executive Health Program, health care melds with capitalism and out of the ooze spills science fiction … the rich buying better life, health, vigor, good living insured by good wealth. As it’s described:
Although your visit is streamlined, the connection you make with Mayo Clinic is lasting. Participants in our program gain a trusted medical partner and often return yearly to meet with the physicians who helped launch their journeys toward health.
A key to long-term success is a strong relationship with a medical provider and dedicated time to have a thorough discussion of what is required to attain and maintain peak heath.
Expressio unius est exclusio alterius (“the expression of one is the exclusion of others”)** … thus, the expressions within the Executive Health Program — ”streamlined,” “trusted,” “relationship,” dedicated,” “thorough,” “maintain” — are to the exclusion of all other programs … i.e., the Clinic’s “less-than” transactions. Do I believe this whole-heartedly? No, but even half-heartedly, there’s a perceivable darkness (if one chooses this viewpoint) in favored medicine for favored people.
One Last Time: It’s You, Me, WE!
So what causes good medicine for the profiteers but “meh” medicine for all others. I’ll let a doctor… the great Dr. King … answer that one for you:
The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.
Again and again and again … men, women, people! The health care system isn’t a living, breathing organism; it has no neural capacity, no profit incentive, no minted idealism. Systems, technologies, platforms … they’re all artificial states, held together by laws, powered by electricity, connected by networks … but all of them, like the Wizard behind the curtain, are peddled by feet, pushed by hands, and governed by souls.
To repeat myself: the point isn’t that these “things” are bad; it’s that all “things” have dark sides — often perceptually, often a product of factions — and that all dark sides descend from the Adams and Eves of today’s world.
The Bad With The Good
But one can also argue that the dark notwithstanding, “things” are defensible as inherently good … it’s just a matter of how people use them. Yes, yes, yes … now we’re getting somewhere! Heath care is good — the Mayo Clinic too — a life-saving system that can skew (again perceptually) when the capitalist meets the surgeon. Likewise, despite Madison’s warning, government (i.e., democracy) is good — just not so good in the hands of ungood men. But still good, and this is often forgotten because darkness is in the eye of the beholder.
Behold … the goodness of social media. It’s there, though talking heads and “thought-sperts” ignore it, happy to one-side the story and quarantine the arc of truth behind absolutes. The absolute that “social media is evil” is the dark side of the argument and debate. It’s also one’s choice to be blind, a willful feeding of negative bias and its twin, a willful starving of impartial doubt.
For every exclamation that “Social media is evil!” there is more than enough truth that social media is good (or as better put … “rests in the hands of good people”). For every Trumpian tweet, there are thousands upon thousands — everyday — of Chadwick Boseman moments, social media outpourings of love, support, and human expression.
And good people too — millions of them — like my 74-year-old father who calls Facebook his “website,” who’s never spilled an ill word digitally, who uses the tool — the thing — to highlight his friends, his grandchildren, his love of baseball. These moments, these people are a million strong; they are the molecular structure of our social ocean. Negativity — it’s actually the great minority, a pollution that distracts from mankind’s social capacity towards goodness.
The Tyranny Of The Few
So what’s the cleansing air to this pathetic, yet small, pollution? It’s Black Lives Matter, the Ice Bucket Challenge, Oscars So White, Arab Spring, Me Too … all movements, all activism, all bigger, all important, all life-changing, all infinitely virtuous when compared to the singular moment of a divisive Tweet or a Facebook rant. The former … they are forever, they alter the course of history, they are boundless. That latter … they are small, hard, and compact, fleeting moments from small-minded people.
But sadly, small-minded people are usually the focus of close-minded people. Close-minded people berate social media as inherently evil based solely on the few. Nearly 4 billion people use social media; most use it to have a voice, to connect, to entertain, to unify, to advocate, to give breath to the First Amendment. Yes, within 4 billion people, there are those who are underserving, those who don’t belong, those who bring rot with ideas and division. But by defining a galaxy from the emissions of amoebas, you violate this singular truth of judgment and fairness:
Don’t let the actions of a few determine the way you feel about an entire group. Remember, not all German’s were Nazis.― Erin Gruwell
*If your strategy is to fix social by bettering (somehow) humanity, I’m on board. But throughout American history, many “things” fixed have been an obvious attempt to restrict the thing we call “freedom.” To “fix” speech … anthem kneeling, flag burning, profanity, displays, protests, and yes, social media too … is to restrict freedom, and that’s nothing more than censorship masked as “for the betterment of” and oppression guided by our thought police.
** All ye lawyers … wait! As a reformed lawyer, I know this (one of our sacred canons of statutory construction) is an application stretch. But the Latin itself-expressio unius-applies. Here, I’m not technically talking about a statute and its interpretation within a court of law. It’s merely a bit of Latin to cull from the reading.