As I’ve said before, Facebook presents itself to us as a single person. I guess Twitter does too, but all the messages from all the people and corporations and Russian trolls and everyone else out there blur together in the memory, become a melange of voices that eventually feel like one voice.
And it’s a loud voice. And it’s a voice that knows your buttons and will push them, for good or ill. You want affirmation? You can get that. You feel the least bit inadequate? Then that loud voice amplifies everyone’s good fortune, great achievement, and hard-won accomplishment. All those voices feel like a single voice, and your own achievements feel like nothing in the face of that very loud FB voice.
The one I’ve been noticing is on the political left, and it’s the tendency to amplify the cracks in everyone you might admire. Heck, not just amplify – let’s face it, everyone sucks. Everyone. That person you admired, who gave you a bit of hope at some point? Sucks. Obama sucks. Bernie sucks. Warren sucks. Biden? You’re joking, right? Sucks hard, and also blows. And all of his possible running mates, every last one. If you admire any of these people for any reason, you suck too.
People you admired from the past? That’s no better. Jimmy Carter? Sucks. He’s just Reagan before Reagan, right? MLK? Sucks. Malcolm X? Nope, sucks. Mandela? Sucks. Mother Theresa? Super sucks. FDR? JFK? Lincoln? Nope, sucks, every one of them. Trotsky? Lenin? Marx? Bakunin? Mmmm, nah. Everything you’ve heard about them, every good thing had an impure or mixed motive, or wasn’t what it seemed, or damaged some people, or just furthered all the badness in the world and was a step on the way to the mess we’re in now.
And the message is amplified – any hope you might have is DOA. Anyone you might admire is not just flawed, but you’re revealing your own naivety if you even give them the time of day.
There are two possible results from all this. Either the only truly moral position must be the most radical one possible (thus fetishizing the radical), or in the end we must all give in to despair.
Despair is interesting, actually. It comes in different forms. It can turn inward, to those people you can love and things you can control, at least for now. It can become antinomian – if there’s nothing to believe in, there’s no law and no rules and all bets are off. Live it up, do what you want. It can become fideist – just believe something, doesn’t matter what, believe really hard and with absolute certainty, and hold back the abyss that way.
Or, I guess, there’s one more option, which is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other one, shamble along, keep doing what you’re doing. There’s no one to believe in, there’s no real hope, after all, and so you might as well just keep doing what you’re doing.
Anyway, that big bad united voice that is FB tells us that we need to overturn an existential evil come November, and then also tells us that everything we can do, everyone we might believe in, every possible bit of sunshine is just a fool’s errand.
So there’s one significant problem today on the left – we destroy our own. We take away from each other anything that gave us a bit of hope and energy, either now or at some point in the past. Nothing’s pure enough, everything that looks good is, on closer inspection, tainted or even downright filthy. On the right at least they have fear and hate, which brings a kind of focus to it, even if it is utterly nihilistic. The left’s nihilism is just as corrosive but more diffuse.
What to do? Well, I doubt that there’s anything organized that can be done. Getting off FB is one option, and I respect those who do that, but I’m not there. There are so few spaces where you can talk to and hear from others. Especially in a pandemic, I think we need whatever connection we can get.
We could just lurk, but that seems like all of the bad with none of the good. We still hear that loud voice, but don’t moderate it with something else. We could post memes, lighten things up. We could circulate pictures of our cats. We could put up videos of our morning walks. And all that is fine, but not all the time. We can set the tone we want to be part of, but none of that adequately addresses the corrosive background murmur – everything sucks.
This isn’t a cry for help, folks. No, I’m not depressed. I’m thinking of this as a problem to be solved. How is it that we can build the world we want without turning the existing world, and anything good we might have seen in it, into a steaming pile of manure? FB amplifies, always, and this is what it amplifies these days.