^ use your mind. Why ? Because you have one. Do not let other minds use you.

—- —- —-

Anybody who uses social media as constantly as a journalist must sees the vulgarity that pervades it; the ugliness; the ignorance. We are tempted to declare it the result of social media rather than a temporary aberration. Myself, I think the opposite. I think the ugliness —  especially the personal rudeness and the self-absorbed political dumps — is extremely temporary and will soon be discarded.

How so ? Simple. It will be done away with the same way that societies have always done away with it : by shaming it, declaring it bad, shunning it and, on social media, blocking it. We’re no different, as a society, than any of our antecedents. They were people, so are we. Community norms are crucial to us just as they were to the societies that preceded ours. Then, and soon for us too, rudeness got you disinvited. As for political extremism, it too was never applauded except in times of crisis and then only by a few. Why should we be any different ? The novelty of seeing people speak vulgarities perhaps misleads us into assuming it’s here to stay, but all one has to do is block the vulgar user and he or she is gone. Same for those who throw nazi-ism at us, or bigotry, or wilful ignorance. If you choose not to block it, you can laugh it away.

Of course there’s another way to dispose of vulgarity and ignorance : use your mind. Frank Zappa said it well: “think — it ain’t illegal yet.” If you use your mind, you can know when you are being fooled with. And when what is shown to you or said passes muster.

There are a few who will almost certainly continue to stink the threads of social media, no matter what, just as their predecessors stunk the pages of yellow journalism, or promoted hatred on hand out sheets and placards. The only difference now is that these hitherto shunned folks now get seen by all of us on our social media page feeds. It’s a difference of sensing only. We see it and thus assume it has increased in volume or dispersion.

What to do ? Here one can benefit from re-visiting the work accomplished almost 300 years ago by science, as those who practiced it looked at the world of things and actions with a skeptical, inductive eye un-tempered by opposition and untainted by myths.

Scientific philosophers of 300 years ago asserted that the eyes see many things that are not what sense perception says they are. Let us sample this principle in operation, here in some pages of Bishop Berkeley, who in or about the year 1733  wrote these lines (paraphrased in t.he Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) in his “Essay on Vision” :

“When one perceives mediately, one perceives one idea by means of perceiving another (NTV §9), for example, one perceives that someone is frightened by perceiving the paleness of her face (NTV §10). Empirically, the geometrical account fails, since one perceives neither the requisite lines, nor angles, nor rays as such (NTV §§12-15), even though such mathematical computations can be useful in determining the apparent distance or magnitude of an object (NTV §§ 38, 78; TVV §58). So, what are the immediate ideas that mediate the perception of distance? First, there are the kinesthetic sensations associated with focusing the eyes when perceiving objects at various distances (NTV §16). Second, as objects are brought closer to the eye, their appearance becomes more confused (blurred or double, NTV §21). Third, as an object approaches the eyes, the degree of confusion can be mitigated by straining the eyes, which is recognized by kinesthetic sensations (NTV §27). In each case, there is no necessary connection between the ideas and distance; there is merely a customary connection between two types of ideas (NTV §§17, 26, 28).”

(Berkeley’s entire ewssay is worth reading, by the way. Assuming that we have the emotional courage to embrace his all encompassing skepticism about things and sayings. I fear that our desire to believe is so strong in these turbulent times that we dare not shun the easy route of faith rather than travel the hard road of science.)

Where Berkeley’s skepticism applied to sense perception, and what we read on social media has a meaning apart from how it looks to the senses, his insistence on observing things, and on the changes that appear in those things as one shifts one’s position relative to them, so we can apply the principles of observational judgment to meanings too. Just because someone expresses his or her meaning in words does not require that we accept that meaning. We are free to reject it.

Myself, I live by skepticism about the things — and for this purpose words are things — that I encounter. T<here is far more on social media that I do not like at all than there was in social interaction before the coming of internet conversations; but more does not mean more acceptable. I think that I am not alone; far from it; and that soon enough the society at large will bring the permanent truths of social interaction to bear upon anti-social internet talk and scorn it. We will all breathe more freely when that happens.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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