A daughter told me about this social media slugfest.
Some teenagers were driving a little too fast in a pickup in an empty school parking lot. Some kids were in the back, holding on. Amusement park thrills, without the safety restraint harnesses. No one was hurt. Kids.
But someone passing by shot a few seconds of the action. Posted it on Facebook. “If your kids are in this video, they’re hoodlums, dangerous, should never be allowed near a car again, etc.” The usual Facebook stuff.
The daily, restless social search for something to be angry about found its target du jour.
Within minutes: “Someone will end up dead with this kind of behavior.”
“Where are the parents? Their parental rights should be terminated. Move the kids to foster homes with adults who will teach them about Jesus Christ.”
“I’m scared to go to the store if this is the way people drive here.”
“OMG, I was thinking about moving there, but no way now. Just too dangerous. What’s wrong with you people?”
Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure kids have been driving in tight circles in empty parking lots for as long as there have been cars and parking lots.
I believe it’s safe to say that as a society we’re losing our ability to perceive nuance and complexity. The more people involved in a conversation, the dumber the conversation becomes. Every small action becomes a referendum on what’s wrong with the kids, boys, girls, ethnic group, religious group, political party, or social philosophy ending with -ism.
But, as Walter Cronkite used to say, that’s the way it is. We look at whatever behavior or idea runs afoul of our five second attention span, then blow it up like a balloon to an absurdly exaggerated version of itself, and call the distorted monstrosity we’ve created a fair and balanced summary of the situation.
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We can find evidence of this everywhere we look—from small-town gotcha Facebook videos to the campaign rhetoric of presidential candidates.
Thus “liberal,” which means open-minded or marked by generosity (look it up), now describes a person who is evil and/or stupid who wants to destroy society by eliminating personal initiative and turning us into helpless government-following lemmings.
And thus “conservative,” which means one who adheres to traditional methods or views (look it up) now describes a person who is evil and/or stupid who wants to destroy society by eliminating basic social safeguards, while allowing those with money to stockpile ever increasing amounts of it by naked exploitation and without conscience.
We all know, individually, that the preceding two paragraphs are incorrect, exaggerated, and basically ridiculous. But get us together as a group, and suddenly we find ourselves cheering for our team and wanting to slaughter the other guys.
Over the next several months we will be hearing a lot about the heavenly virtues of capitalism, and the demonic vices of socialism. The first is a one-way ticket to the promised land. The other is a one-way highway to hell.
Please allow me to point out that neither of the preceding statements is true, no matter how much it financially benefits those who will be making the claims.
Unfettered capitalism leads to unfettered greed and exploitation, and tends to create a society of only winners and losers without a middle ground.
Unfettered socialism diverts so much of the nation’s capital into taxes and services that personal initiative is difficult to execute.
The answer will not lie in establishing one while destroying the other. The answer will be finding intelligent restraints on both that will permit a robust economy while providing basic social safety nets.
When Social Security was established in 1935, Republicans called it creeping socialism. Now, aging Trump supporters aren’t lining up to give their monthly checks back to the government. At least none that I know.
Just like social media, which reduces all discussions to unhelpful, black and white screaming matches that in their knee-jerk simplicity are incorrect on all sides, the coming political discussion is not likely to be productive. Balance, nuance, and an understanding of complexity is what we need as a nation and as individuals. For now, it’s a talent we seem to have lost. This is not to our credit.