I recently suspended my Facebook account upon reading more and more reports of its collusion, if not willing complicity, in undermining the 2016 election cycle, not to mention the unending sale of my interests, my online purchases, and my internet habits to the ad tech industry, an industry which now knows what we’re doing online and by extension what we do offline, which includes who you email, what shoes you are looking for, what news you’re reading, or app you’re playing while sitting in a stall at the airport vainly searching for some privacy — privacy which we freely surrender to ad tech without really knowing we are, mostly because the AGREE box we have to check to proceed to buy Q-Tips or use an online service, a box that comes at the end of 43 or so paragraphs of impenetrable copy in ALL TYPE is designed to overwhelm us and wear us down so we’ll just say, yeah, whatever, I just want to buy some Q-Tips already. But I digress.
Facebook is good for some things, mostly to keep track of what my family and friends are up to, however important, inane, incredible, or ridiculous. Aside from that, it’s little more than an echo chamber of shared belief and interests with few meaningful exchanges with colleagues or family members whose political predilections either frighten, terrify, or depress me. I, for example, post stories from the NYT, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, and Atlantic Magazine — my sources for news, a list that Steve Bannonwould call elitist/globalist swamp stewards and Trump just callsfake news. Of course, he calls any news fake that he doesn’t agree with. He’s proven himself a serial philanderer, habitual liar, andignorant narcissist. Yet he’s president, and we’re stuck with him until we’re not. I suppose a democracy always gets the leaders it deserves. The list of how Trump will leave office is relatively long, probably an indication of hope rather than likelihood. I got into several spats with friends and family about Facebook posts and have decided that arguing with beliefs is a useless undertaking. My reposts from the Times or Post are mostly reviewed by those who already believe their import.
The emerging science of how people will attach more securely to beliefs clearly proven to be based on falsehoods is still in its infancy. Consider the old saying: you have a right to your opinion but not to your facts. It’s futile to assume there is any set of agreed upon facts. Of course, it doesn’t require much insight to understand that belief is territory beyond the borders of fact simply because belief is the outright suppression of facts at worst or surrender to some higher purpose at best.
Take the belief system that came with being a Catholic born in 1952: the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Christ, the ascension of Mary into Heaven, life after death. None of these things reside in proof or fact, only in belief. And for those who do believe in them, or in any other number of believers in the truths of Islamism, Mormonism, Hinduism, or Rastafarianism, to name but a few, I say well, if it’s working for you, making your life more fulfilling and death less alarming but not getting in the way of how I choose to live, which is without all these truths, I say go for it. Live and let live, with a decided emphasis on let live. Don’t ask me to make my decisions on your beliefs. Of course, there are some things which we all have to agree to: we shall not kill, abuse children, torture animals, or find pleasure in the suffering of sentient beings, and the like. The list is fairly short. The finer points of what we disagree about and why one’s beliefs wanders into to troublesome territory is what civil discourse, the legislative process, is really for. Abortion is a good example of this problem, being one that rests on fundamental belief versus fundamental right. However we resolve it, there will be a sizeable group of people who will be unhappy with the outcome.
And with this extended regression, I return to Facebook. I guess knowing what others believe based upon their posts is basically a healthy thing. It informs me of many people’s willingness to place belief before fact, to choose falsehood before demonstrable scientific truth, to assume one’s values are, or should be, universal, rather than particular and insular. This disparity accounts for the marvels and the horrors of the 20th Century — a time of astounding scientific and human progress that rode alongside an era of unmatched human violence, cruelty, and suffering. It’s what separates us from the beasts — a separation that will either move us forward as a species or consign us to the fate of the dinosaurs. Who’s to say? If Facebook is an indication, I find no solace there. Yet, maybe one post will find one soul ready to admit, hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. Which is about all I can hope for.
©2017 John Hofmeister
When I'm not writing for clients, I write about things that interest me.