We know too much about one another, and it’s causing conflict. Should we blame social media? Yes and no. It’s analogous to blaming TV for violence in our society. Does the problem lay within the technology, or within ourselves? The answer should be obvious.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Have you read F. Scott Fitzgerald? I don’t mean have you watched a movie derived from his writing, I mean have you actually read him—his literature? I have. Everything. And I don’t find him a particularly inspiring or gifted writer, and I question the hoopla surrounding his notoriety. However, he and his wife Zelda were [the] social darlings of the 1920’s, and I suspect their fame and fortune were more closely connected to this fact than actual talent. Though having said that, the one book I’ve read more than any other book over my lifetime has been: The Great Gatsby. The book remains the same, however my perceptions of it, and the message it imparts, continually evolves as my life evolves. What I once thought of as superficial and shallow, has subsequently changed into something profound and deep.
“The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
To practice Zen-Buddhism is to embrace this quote from Fitzgerald. To embrace the paradox, the dichotomy of life. It can make you crazy, and in so doing make you wise and tolerant. I have not arrived yet, I’m neither wise nor tolerant. It involves knowing—knowing that between black and white there is a vast and unknowable gray area. And it’s within the gray area that life exists.
Technology, or rather man’s use of technology, promotes black and white thinking. Black and white opinion does not constitute critical thinking. For man to survive his technology critical thinking is of paramount importance. Am I optimistic? No. As sound-bites and opinion supersede linear (and even abstract) thinking, our ability to operate within the gray areas of life is diminished—and with that reduced capacity comes ignorance, intolerance and eventual social suicide. We polarize to the right and left, and to the black and white. Yet reality still resides in the vastness of the gray.
Social media (man’s technology of black and white) promotes, or at least facilitates, polarization. There is no critical thinking on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. Objective news reporting has also devolved into the social media formula. Network news is as biased and non-objective as cable news, and blog opinion now carries as much weight as our deceased American free press. Rumor and Yellow-journalism now pass as fact (and truth), sound-bites as in-depth reporting, fear-mongering as reality and biased [filtered] opinion as intelligence. Reality TV is anything but. Social media exacerbates the problem, but it is not the problem.
Friedrich W. Nietzsche
The following might not be [the] exact quote, because there appear to be many variations, but it is close enough to warrant quotation marks and it certainly states the case:
“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you” – Friedrich W. Nietzsche
The meaning seems self-evident to me, but paraphrased it might also sound something like this: Don’t become that which you hate. A modern example might include: When fighting terrorism (The global War on Terror) don’t become a terrorist.
Do you dislike (or even hate) what you see posted on Facebook and Twitter? Have you, yourself, been guilty of posting ignorant, biased, bigoted, inflammatory and provocative posts? Or have you engaged in ignorant, biased, bigoted, inflammatory and provocative rebuttal to such posts? I am guilty on both counts. Facebook and Twitter are not forums readily associated with critical thinking, however they could be. In fighting the monsters have you become a monster? I suspect that most of us have, at least on occasion.
Facebook and Twitter (all social media really) allows me to know too much about you, and you of me. Rather than conversing from a place of mutual curiosity and investigation, we all too often go to war (so to speak) over flash points and triggers, and our own internal filters. Provocation and conflict seem to rule the day. I, for one, am trying to excise the monster from within—to purge that bad boy from my psyche. Simple, not easy. I will try to embrace the buddhist invitation to: do the least amount of harm.
Yin and Yang
The Tai Chi ball containing the opposing forces of Yin and Yang. Within the white there is the black, and within the black there is the white. Neither is pure in its content. The Whole contains all. We all (along with everything else) embody the opposing forces. Within good there is bad, and within bad there is good. Holding these opposing realities within our mind, and still functioning, is a sign of intelligence, critical thinking—and enlightenment. Operate in the vastness of the gray, and do the least amount of harm as possible. Simple—not easy. I invite you to process every major social issue you can think of through the Tai Chi ball of Yin & Yang (Pro Life vs Pro Choice, Gay vs Traditional Marriage, Religious vs Secular, Left vs Right, and on and on). Within each truth you will discover a lie, and within each lie a truth. When you blend the black & white of Yin & Yang you get gray.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
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