Wyatt Earp (age 33)
(Looks remarkably like my grandfather at the same age)
I prefer living in a cave most of the time. If you’ve read Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus you will recognize the origins of that statement. I find it incredibly tiring, and increasingly futile, to attempt social interaction with my fellow human beings. That probably says more about me than of the human condition in general. I am often chided for refusing to own a telephone—usually by the fairer sex. I am a private man, and in this day & age that makes me somewhat of an oddity.
I was born a century too late. My time on earth should have been spent in the 19-Century (and maybe in a previous life it was). I think I would have been well-suited for life as a mountain man, explorer, cowboy or wandering soldier of fortune. Maybe that’s why I’m now attempting to recreate that persona in the form of an itinerant expat photographer. Just my fantasy, or a new reality? Am I simply a poseur, or am I finally offering my allegiance to the true me? Only time will tell I suppose.
I am not completely opposed to periodic social interaction, but selfishly I now want it on my terms. In fact I insist upon it. For too many years I’ve had social interaction imposed on me, rather than invited by me. No more. I recently told two new friends (yes I can still make the occasional new friend) that: I don’t play well with others. I intentionally isolate myself, and because I don’t have a mountain to retreat to, a new land to discover, a prairie to ride or a war to fight, I do it by physically and emotionally distancing myself from my fellow human beings. A shrink, or Dear Abbey, would probably have a lot to say about that.
I distance myself physically by not having a telephone. I do not want uninvited intrusion into my world. Limiting myself to email communication (and begrudgingly FB messaging) I can filter input to some degree. I am not a participant in the expat party scene, and I attend very few social engagements. When I was the staff photographer for The Yucatan Times I could attend those functions as an observer and not as a participant. One of the distinct advantages of being a photographer—the camera provides a physical barrier between the photographer and society at large. I distance myself emotionally by embracing a gruff, uncommunicative exterior combined with an ‘often inappropriate’ sense of humor. With age and a certain genetic disposition my face has morphed into an habitual frown that says: Stay away. And with all of that I then have the audacity to wonder why that special woman out there hasn’t searched me out.
So what does all of this have to do with the title of the post: Freedom of Speech and the Internet? Social media pisses me off. Most would ask, and rightfully so, then why in heaven’s name would you (an antisocial creature in the extreme) subject yourself to its many frustrations? Part of it is to stay connected to what family (and few friends) I have left, part of it is for business reasons and part of it is my lame attempt to not evolve into a complete hermit. Even 19th-Century mountain men needed their annual rendezvous. Human beings are after all social creatures, we all need some social interaction—it’s the degree that’s in dispute. Some need more than others, and others like me need very little at all.
But back to social media and freedom of speech. Facebook, in particular, illuminates the baseness of the human species: Intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, hypocrisy, jealousy, narcissism, cruelty and pettiness all come to the forefront. And the three main pivot points seem to be: Religion, Politics and Control. I have no use for any of them. Social media are all about provocation, and that includes blogs. So that’s my provocative statement: I have no use for organized religion, organized politics or control freaks (no matter the form). Call me an anarchist or libertarian if you will. I am very selective about what friend requests I approve, and I deliberate long and hard before I unfriend anyone. But I have done so, and I will again. I make an effort not to exclude people just because they have a differing point of view, but I tend to get really pissed off at the behaviors I witness as outlined at the beginning of this paragraph.
Everything seems to be a flash-point these days. There is no reasonable discussion, no civility, no logic—there is no tolerance. There is no respect. I find myself taking an occasional hiatus from social media, because it is so depressing most of the time. I think social media is a leading indicator, a bellwether, that our technology is increasingly outpacing our ethical and moral evolution as a species. And people are afraid. And fear promotes reactionary behavior—those negative behaviors I keep alluding to. I learned in Vietnam that men kill not from hate, but from fear. Almost every negative behavior can trace its roots back to fear. Our politicians preach vomitous rhetoric from a perspective of fear; our religious leaders polarize their communities with the same fear-mongering, strong-arm tactics and corporate abuses of power are running rampant. It’s no wonder that people are afraid. But fear breeds intolerance, abuse and violence.
Its been my experience that any power base abuses that power. Lord John Dalberg-Acton (1834-1902) famously said: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” One only needs to view current events to bring that point home loud and clear. From organized religion, to the halls of Congress, to the corporate boardrooms of American business there is the unholy stench of corruption. I have no use for any of it. My idealism burns strong, but my pragmatic intuition tells me it’s all for naught. I had a blog subscriber counsel me recently to continue the good fight, and not to give up. Maybe I haven’t given up (entirely), but I’ve certainly scaled back my ambitions—my circle of influence.
It’s more personal these days, and less idealistic. I still have my righteous anger (born of fear), but my actions are limited to self-preservation and the protection of my family and loved ones. Don’t mess with my family. Don’t mess with my friends (I have too few these days and I value them highly). And, by God, don’t mess with me. Enter my cave uninvited and suffer the consequences. Am I now radicalized? Yes. Hope you picked up on that NSA. I will now probably get a visit from one of the alphabet agencies. So be it. You can hear the anger in my words.
I am an educated man. Not University trained (indoctrinated), but mostly self-taught. I’ve studied (in-depth) most of the world’s wisdom traditions. I’ve read the Bible (cover to cover) a number of times; I’ve read the Koran (cover to cover) more than once; I’ve read the Tao Te Ching (by Lao Tzu) my favorite by far and I’ve read and studied the holy texts and scriptures of most of the major world traditions. I was baptized and confirmed into the Christian faith and I forsake it. I studied prodigiously and followed the tenets of Taoism and Buddhism for years and I forsake it. I studied the traditions of Islam and the Jews—and I forsake them. I was political and I now forsake it. I was corporate and I now forsake it. It all reeks of corruption. I am now one with God (although my definition is probably much different than yours), and that is enough. I could have been friends with (or even followers of): Jesus, Mohamed, Lao Tzu, the Buddha or many other enlightened beings—but I can no longer follow the so-called religions that have sprung up around their informed teachings. I was once a Democrat, often voting Republican and more recently a Libertarian. Consider me A-political these days.
You might say: Poor Stephen, a lost soul. But you might also more accurately say: Hoorah Stephen, a self-realized being. Your judgement call. My contacts are so diverse—some of you agree with my point of view, some of you are unsure, and others are vehemently opposed to my viewpoints. I get that. And that is absolutely your right. I support that 100% now and forever. And, as always, I encourage and value your input.
I know that this a strange post for the Christmas season. But we are, after all, heading into the new year—2014. My resolution for this new year is to reduce my personal frustrations. In that regard I will ‘probably’ be reducing my contacts on social media (spelled Facebook). Freedom of Speech is everyone’s right (including Facebook), but my right is to exclude those whose rhetoric or point of view I find offensive. I welcome (as always) intelligent, insightful, helpful and positive dialogue; I no longer wish to entertain religious dogma, political dogma (left or right), narcissistic Selfies and comments, intolerance or bigotry. I don’t expect, or even want, you to always agree with me—but going forward (in 2014) I am going to insist on tolerance, civility and respect. To that end I will probably be un-friending a few more contacts this coming year. And I would expect the same from you.
As becomes clearer each and every day, life is way too short to fill it with aggravation. Many of you have differing religious and political views than me (which is the way it should be), so I am going to make an effort this next year not to engage in religious and political debate. A wise man once said that Religion & Politics should not be discussed at the dinner table. Your religious views are between you and your God (and mine are between me and my God). I will vote (or not) at the ballot box, and you can do the same.
Having said all of that, I do wish you a very Merry Christmas (because it is a Christian celebration—even though I don’t consider myself a Christian any longer), and a very Happy New Year. Live it to the fullest, without fear, and with tolerance for those with differing opinions.