As a general rule I do not discuss politics, current events, or things that fall under the broad yet somehow predictable category of “news” outside of my own home. While I do slip up occasionally, most of the time I think about what I say before I say it, question myself before I hit send, and usually end up going back and deleting anything that I post or any comment I make shortly after I’ve committed this breach of my own rules. This has less to do with my own personal commandments on social media or blogging. This is a separate category entirely, which I’ll call Berin’s Rules on Zealotry.
Why I Don’t Believe
The reason I don’t participate in discussions about the news on the internet is because they don’t exist. There are no discussions. There are echo chambers and stone walls, and they look very much the same. In the echo chamber everyone agrees with you, and repeats the same things that you’re saying. Everyone already agrees, and are there to get some validation and make themselves feel good.
The stone walls aren’t going to be affected by your words, so you’re really only talking to hear your own voice, or to convince yourself that you’re doing something positive and useful. They may actually be there to scream their opinions at you, without listening to any point you’re trying to make. Either way, no one’s learning anything new or having any actual impact on whatever it is we’re all babbling about.
Does This Put Me In Danger?
Some of you will look at this question and think I’m being ridiculous, and some of you automatically understand and are probably nodding in agreement. Even if I’m being ridiculous, I’ve learned that it’s always better to err on the side of caution. I don’t want to be yelled at, threatened, doxxed, swatted, vandalized, hacked, robbed, beaten up, murdered, folded, spindled, or mutilated. Therefore, I don’t do things that draw the attention of the sorts of… I’ll be polite and go with “people”… who would do me harm or place me in danger in any way.
There’s a broader definition of “danger” at play here, too. I suffer from depression and anxiety. Is having to interact with those sorts of creatures (okay, “people” was a one-time thing) going to throw me into a downward spiral? Is that going to affect my ability to get work done, which in turn impacts my ability to pay the rent and keep groceries on the table? It’s not worth it. I will stand up for causes and put myself on the line when it’s warranted, and I have the scars to prove it, but to put myself at risk in order to argue with a figurative pinhead online? No.
Will This Make a Difference?
I think that I already hit on this above. Before we all started changing our avatars and attaching hashtags we put bumper stickers on our cars. Save the Whales! Free Tibet! Vote for [Whatever]! We put them where people would see them. No bumper sticker ever saved a whale. Tibet is still a part of China. I’m pretty sure that no election was ever swayed by a banner glued onto the back of a car. No more than an avatar has stopped terrorism or a hashtag has won someone the rights they deserve. What does work is science and research, diplomacy, and actually voting. Change doesn’t happen sitting down, not in your car or in front of the screen of your choice.
It is entirely possible for me to support the things that I support, in heartfelt, sincere, and effective ways, without drawing attention to the fact that I support them. While I understand that people need to feel supported, I think it’s more effective to talk to them directly, rather than to simply give a public shout-out to them, the group they identify with, or the cause they fight for. I also understand that people need to be made aware of important causes, and when I feel that I can call attention to an issue I will, but simply saying “me, too!” doesn’t typically accomplish that. I kind of want to refer everyone to read the entirety of Matthew 6, whether you’re a Christian or not; it speak to me as a Buddhist because it’s really about Right Speech and Right Effort.
What Else Could I Be Doing?
If I want to make myself feel good, there are more constructive ways of doing it. I create things for a living, and that brings me joy. The things I create make me money, and that brings me joy. There are lovely, intelligent, compassionate people in the world to interact with, and there is a great deal of happiness to be found there.
Because I want to improve things, I refuse to feed the trolls. I don’t offer myself up for them to snack on. I will engage with the people who are doing positive things, and I will try to put positive things out into the world myself. Rather than telling people what I stand for, I try to live my values and lead by example.
If I want to change the world, I can do things like support specific causes. That might mean throwing some money in that direction, doing volunteer work, or finding some other way to take action that will yield an actual result. Doing actual work is more satisfying than posting a hashtag.
Berin’s Rules on Zealotry
What the world needs are fewer zealots, not more. You can be passionate, but the connotation of zealot, going back to the original, historical group, is that of people who are far too passionate. If you stand by your cause to the point that you’ve abandoned all reason, are willing to adopt violent language and actions, and think that your righteousness makes all other considerations moot, you’re a zealot. You’re not worth engaging with, and I refuse to play your games.