Hello, and welcome to SMPJA (Social Media Political Junkies Anonymous)
My name is Eric, and I’m an SMPJ.
I guess it all started in college for me, back in 2006. A friend introduced me to this new platform called “Facebook”. It was fun at first. Sharing pictures of past experiences, reconnecting with childhood friends, you know, the good stuff we all hooked on. Eventually I moved on to Twitter, Instagram… you name it, I’ve been on it. And, I gotta admit, it was a rush not only had I not experienced before, but still haven’t since.
Then I started really experimenting. I realized so many people didn’t know really know me, and surely if they did, they would see it my way. I started posting on edgier topics. Life events. Personal struggles. I’m sure you can see where this is going. Eventually I even mixed in the big one – Politics. I mean, what could it hurt, right? Politics are an essential part of our human culture, something that is a part of human nature. And if it’s natural, it’s good right? Yeah, that’s the lie I bought, too.
Politics is made of two basic ingredients – ethics and human interaction. And like sodium chloride, or salt, while essential once combined, isolated they are toxic. Ethics without human interaction leads to dehumanization of society, which eventually leads to dehumanization of self. Human interaction without ethics leaves us at the whims of emotions, which at any moment may take a turn for the worst. As an SMPJ, I struggle with the former.
I began to say, sometimes even do, things I at one point would have never dreamed. I don’t think I’m ready to admit everything I’ve done in that circle. And then, one day, I took after a particularly bad tweet…. I don’t remember much right after it, but when I next took in my surroundings… I realized where I was, but couldn’t remember how I got there. In that moment, I finally realized the hard truth.
Posting political commentary on social media is a hallucinatory drug with prolonged exposure leading to side-effects that border on psychosis. We get all the emotional highs of confronting our opponents and the comfort of companions without having to interact with either, oblivious to the reality that, though much verbiage has been spouted off by all participants, no actual movement in discourse in either direction has happened. The only movement for all of us is we have retreated further away from the other, meaning we have further to travel before we can actually meet to have meaningful discourse while simultaneously weakening ourselves to the point even basic conversation becomes exhausting. Yet, we cannot stop the social instinct that compels us seek catharsis of interacting with both those we agree and disagree with. Thus we are stuck in a cycle of addiction, and now we find ourselves shocked at the enormous gulf that separates us from so many of our fellows. When we disagree with someone, whether in a personal relationship or politically, we need to speak with people on such matters in person. It forces us to actually listen, rather than merely scan for quotes we can use against each other, and our need to be heard by someone who can walk out at any time will drive us to respectful interaction. We may both be surprised at how human the other is. It doesn’t mean we’ll agree in the end. But most of the time it does lead to more understanding, which is necessary to work together toward an outcome that is at least bearable for both of us, though rarely ideal for either – though do not give up hope for that, because when working together, humans even at times achieved even that lofty ambition.
Are you ready to detox with me? It’s going to hurt, but perhaps one day we’ll all be able to look back and see the drug for what it is. Much like any other addict, we will likely slip and fall, but we must get back up and get clean yet again. And then one day, when our strength has recovered enough we can be out in the real world safely, we can find the meeting places of those we disagree with, go up to them, listen to them, find what they truly want, and see if there is a way we can both address each others’ biggest fears. And when talks stall, perhaps we can meet with those who agree with us, share our insights we learned about those we disagree with, console each other without dehumanizing the opposition, and renew our strength to meet with them again and try more discourse. Once that starts happening, the effect on our minds will be akin to the effect of a child that begins eating nutritional food after years of indulgent parents letting them eat junk. Even if the food isn’t as sweet, we’ll feel healthier – and even start to grow, allowing us to be fit to face the even bigger challenges ahead. I hope you all will help me, and I’ll try to help you as much as I can too.