Early Christmas morning, when I should have been asleep with sugar plums dancing in my head – I wrote the following on a spiritually oriented website called En*theos. https://www.entheos.com/ I enjoy participating regularly on this site because I feel it time well spent, rather than a timesuck, which I find Facebook to be. Facebook is everything, just like YouTube is everything, and you can encounter the good with the bad. These days, I spend so much time on my own, which is fine with me since this is what I have chosen to do. With a dietary restrictions placed upon my social life, I figure if I am spending any sort of social time with people in real-time or virtual time – it has to be productive and/or positive. So I consciously choose the company I keep in the virtual world … and I prefer the consistency of spiritual substance, not religion mind you, but conversations and explorations into “How to make the best of one’s life holistically.” But I am not interested in being insulated from the world within a “good-vibe-bubble” … I know the world is a many-flavahed thing … both sweet and sour, sticky and smooth, stodgy and swift, spinetingling and serene. … And I can’t help but dive into the messiest of messes, just to truth test the spiritual wisdom I gather and the life perspective I have been cultivating more intensively in the past year. The messiest of messes on the internet? Political/cultural debates in YouTube comment threads are the ultimate free-for-all. The last post I wrote here, was on Elizabeth Warren and her viability as a candidate for President. Because I had invested a fair amount of time writing and editing the post which was inspired by a particular YouTube video, I was, of course, curious about other people’s views as well. And this is the context for the following –
A few days ago, I wrote a positive comment to a stranger on the greater internet. This guy was acting like a troll, and rather than take him to task, I encouraged this person to try to unite their perspective (which had some truth to it) with a more positive/productive approach. The response I got was a heartbreaking revelation of how hard his life had been thus far and that the trolling activity was more an expression of his existential nihilism (my words – but you get the idea).
The message was shockingly authentic and vulnerable … and it was written several days ago, but I just got around to reading it tonight. I hope that the fact that I wrote my response on Christmas – early morning – makes up for the delay. Internet can be a place where people are their most false or true self … and in the span of a week … I saw these two sides of a stranger, who may become a friend. I have to say I am grateful, I got the opportunity to lighten the heart of a stranger today. We should never underestimate the power of good intentions bound with positive action : ) Merry Everything to Everybody today! —- Christmas 2014
The highlights of the conversation which follow this main post are example of the social phenomena that is occurring across the internet: dangerous conversations transforming into a civilized accord. Strangers battle with words at first, fiercely determined to proclaim one’s truth or to discover that of another. We slice away at difficult issues until all that is left is a sincere connection of humanity. Why would two strangers, who have already revealed their worst selves, have actively misunderstood the other, insulted each other’s intelligence, or aggressively challenged each other’s identities, not hold onto hate with all their might against their internet adversary? Connection … the foundation of internet is energetic connection. And anyone that participates on the internet intuitively knows this. Even if one intends to make a nuisance of oneself … it is to connect to others in a way that makes one feel significant. Man or woman doesn’t want to be an island unto themselves , they want to matter – even if that mattering means they are known as a pain in the ass on the internet. But if one really wants to matter, one drops one’s shield and sword and offers an olive leaf. The enemy that becomes your friend will always matter, because the friendship was hard-won.
In spite of our cultural mythology about the excellence of the individual over the collective, since the internet has come into being, the generations that have grown up with the internet have created the virtual social revolution – there are more social media entities than you can point a mouse at. Why? Because of the ever-present yearning longing for connection, and not just ONE type of connection to others, but a great cornucopia of connections – connections via words – WordPress, blogger; videos – YouTube, Vimeo; Pictures we take – Instagram; Things we like – Pinterest; Ideas – Reddit, StumbleUpon; to rattle through the tried-and-true methods of virtual connection. In the following video by UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner emphasizes how the majority of humanity is driven to share in community.
Humanity didn’t get this far on the evolutionary path as lone wolves, but as partners, families, tribes, states, nations, and continents, all different versions of the collective that challenge the primacy of the individual. But if we look back to the origin of the “excellence” of the individual, of the renaissance – the men, or women, but mostly men — women were occupied with children more often than not —- who individually defied the collective religious oppression that stifled their artistic or scientific exploration and discoveries – this is not the individualism that is encouraged by our mainstream mythology. Nor is it the individualism of the American or French Revolutions that encouraged free speech and political action by individuals as an essential component of the creation of new states. These types of individuality where you harness your inner spirit with actions you make in the world outside yourself are unifying. Your essential self drives you deeper into life, rather than separating you from it.
What is the modern individualism? It is the commercial manipulation of our most rudimentary instincts to consume as many products INDIVIDUALLY as possible. This type of individualism where each ONE of us is encouraged to buy a car, a house, furnish that house, partner up but at the same time be so dissatisfied with your body, your life, that you always want more for yourself and your kids and your kids, kids … so existentially dissatisfied that you are driven to question, challenge, devalue or attack the one’s you are supposed to love and be loved by, including most importantly, yourself.
Due to the commercialization of individual impulse – where one’s identity is supposed to be expressed externally via your body shape, your clothes, your car, your possessions … modern capitalist men and women have become alienated from their essential selves and further have become socially alienated – not so much because they ARE weird, but each of us is MADE to feel weird, until of course we buy the right product or pursue the profitable path of buy-buy bliss.
And I believe that this flourishing of social websites is the natural outcome of a society of individuals who are trying to find their way back to community, after being lost in a wilderness of commercialization that drove them to hate their bodies for not being beautiful; hate their spouses for not being sexy or successful enough; hate their jobs for not being glamorous enough;hate their neighbors for having too much or fearing them because they might some of what they have; hate their towns for not being the hub-of-the-universe. Sure we can want more as human beings, but at what cost?
Comedian Bill Hicks brilliantly points out this existential crisis in this bit – It’s All a Ride –
On the side of media nihilism is Fox News, Rush Limbaugh et. al – that imply that Armageddon is following the next commercial break, on the other side of pure unadulterated media appreciation of life – there are millions of hits daily for quirky cat videos, inspirational quotes, national/international petitions advocating justice or decrying injustice on a whole slew of matters. The future and our place in it, is an ever unfolding mystery. But because so many of us can’t stand the suspense, we play mind games imagining we can control it with our fantastical visions.
And in the sea of misinformation, world-citizens must struggle to find out what the “real” political truths. We are the polis, after all. In our confusion, we wander or seek debates in order to hash through the contradictions of the American political landscape – asking ourselves – Shall we dare to hope or shall we succumb to doom?
To be Continued –