On November 1st I sat down at my computer and attempted to just write until the words came to their natural conclusion. What follows is the result:
First day of the month; first stab at a free write. This is a total coincidence, this “first try on the first day” thing, though it’s the kind of anecdotal coincidence that’s sure to have some nimrod droop their head knowingly askance as they nod in some smug affectation of understanding, as if to imply that FATE BROUGHT ME HERE. I wouldn’t call it fate. Though, I wouldn’t necessarily call it deterministic; I’m fighting against a wall of apathy, of laziness, of a desire to just turn away and do something else.
This shouldn’t be so hard to do. Just sit, write, lay it out, let the words go go go and take you onwards and onwards to the next thought or idea, be it dialog between two (or, heaven forbid, more) characters, or interminable dissections of competing belief structures. Invariably I’ll get inward looking – The Age of the Personal Essay and all that – and it all becomes so immediately trite, so painfully unnecessary. I’m not yet convinced these words hold much value to you, dear reader, even as I am convinced that it’s probably good for me. What’s good for me doesn’t, it seems, have to be good for you.
But to hell with it. If I continue to question the worth of this exercise any longer, I’ll abandon the whole enterprise (and my own free-wheeling thought structure along with it).
Given the amount of dialog I’m seeing sludge forth from the internet I become increasingly aware of how censorship is not the dreadful future-state we all should have been afraid of. I’ll not be the first to say it, but context is everything, and I find myself increasingly astray of context every time I step outside. Every minor subcommunity is so relentlessly self-reinforcing that one could reasonably fall down a billion rabbit holes and be wholly convinced that their particular area of interest was meaningfully worthy of everyone’s time. No one is censoring anyone from saying anything; if anything, the reverse is true.
At a cursory glance, I’d imagine you could find thriving communities devoted to the evolution in packaging of Crayola-brand crayons, Belkin smartphone case fetishists, devotees of Linux so fierce they’d make an Apple fan blush, lifelong fans of certain central-african made styles of toenail clippers, writers so introspective they create entire webpages filled with their own writings which are then completely locked off from the public, conspiracy theorists who think with all heartfelt sincerity that the civilized world is a puppet-show which is soon to come crashing down in a fiery blaze of righteous brimstone.
Any belief you want is supported, validated, honed, attributable to years of writing and fellowship and online camaraderie, and every voice suddenly becomes valid in accordance with the sacred and necessary dictums of net neutrality. Every page is equal, we’re all citizen journalists, no one should trust anyone, and suddenly we realize “fake news” has been proliferating ever since the first angry letter to the editor was ever sent into the local newspaper.
We’re juggling countless arguments with ravenous bands of aggressive strangers and we all think we’re smarter than each other and literally no one is able to provide us any guidance.
On a recent trip in the States I ended up tuning in to Fox News each night before bed, trying to get a taste of what the ‘other side’ was watching. To it’s credit, it was not holistically bullshit – there are some banal points of reporting for which no degree of political spin can be effectively applied – but there did exist an overbearing tone to the content that invariably validated the beliefs of a presumed right-leaning audience. We’re used to nighttime talk shows lambasting Fox News for their unsubtle reporting style, but more worrisome were the small details: the little facial ticks; the knowing nods to the camera; the glances between agreeing hosts as they silently commiserate over the “absurdity” of a guest who disagrees with them. Fox News was providing a context, and it was fulsome and ever-present. It said, “We’re seeing the same world you’re seeing.”
I’d love to trash it to the hilt, but I get the same vibe watching MSNBC, with the tilt merely skewed towards progressivism. This dovetails nicely with my beliefs, but it doesn’t mean I can’t see the context at play. When progressives criticize Fox News they rightly do so as a matter of principle, fighting against their manipulations, but honestly, that argument cuts both ways, and it leaves both sides tattered.
I find myself in search of middle ground, essentially unable to find it. I don’t know where to look for it, nor who can provide it. We’re searching for steady voices in the crowd – the way our parents used to talk about evening news anchors – but those traditional voices aren’t loud enough to overcome the wave of dialog that the internet has brought us. I read more on Twitter than I do from newspapers (shamefully), and lo and behold, Donald Trump leveraged that Twitter-first to speak loudest of anyone in the room.
It’s a broken system, then. We need leaders, and cannot find them. We need balanced context, but find it lacking.
Perhaps the case is this: That you choose to live around a lot of other people, or you choose to carve out your own little kingdom. You hang in your backyard, or you go to a park. You drive an SUV, or you take a streetcar. Either you integrate your daily routine with strangers, or you work to segregate yourself from others as much as possible. The only context you’ll ever feel most at home is nestled within one of those two groups of ideologies; living with strangers, or living apart from them. This is not a value judgment on either way of living, merely an observation on how countries and societies tend to speak and vote.
People can break free of these routines or ideologies, but it seems absurdly self-evident that the socio-cultural conditioning you achieve by living and working around strangers feeds into a direct and specific set of beliefs that run contradictory to people who live and work with fewer people around. I can watch Fox News all I want, but I can’t put myself in the shoes of one of their lifelong followers, nor can they reasonably presume to step into mine.
That we have so many ways to talk at each other, while conversely so few ways to actually interact, is disheartening. The internet did such an immensely effective job of bringing our multitudinous sub-communities to the fore, and yet has done so little to allow them to talk to each other.
So, there. The first free write. Let me know what you think.