In the wake of recent developments in Supreme Court law, the rise of Wendy Davis, and the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, I watched in discouraged horror as my news feed — which is constituted largely of very well-educated people — degenerated into a damagingly reductive, more or less intellectually vacant, brazenly politicized mess. Ultimately, it was all too much for me. So I left.
I want to be clear: I don't presume to speak prescriptively here. I'm just offering my thoughts about a website that I believe has done incalculable harm to social discourse.
The amount of uninformed grandstanding that has been taking place on my news feed over the past week has been shocking. I think I always knew that so many could know so little about so much. What I didn't know was that so many would feel comfortable broadcasting their lack of knowledge to so many others, and would on top of that feel comfortable presenting it as reasoned analysis.
It's not at all comforting to see how major developments in American law, or big news stories, or tragic, isolated events are distilled down to self-righteous, reductive, Twitter-ready sound bites. That notwithstanding, it happens every single day. I have read innumerable different (purportedly descriptive) accounts of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident. None has been convincing. Few have been well-researched. All have been blatantly biased and have ignored material facts or failed to acknowledge inescapable uncertainties.
Nothing is as simple as the people on my news feed seem to believe. George Zimmerman is not a compulsive hunter of black people — he was an overzealous, meddling idiot. Trayvon Martin was not some bodybuilding, thieving, stoner thug who had it coming — he absolutely should be alive today. It was a horrible event. There are innumerable things that none of us will ever know about that night. You can draw your own conclusions. I've drawn mine. The jury drew theirs — and they were probably right on the law (though the law may well benefit from a second look).
The problem I've had is with so many people writing about how the jury was "wrong," without any knowledge of the law.
With people writing that George Zimmerman is a bigot, while being egregiously selective with the portions of his life history they present.
With people using George Zimmerman as an avatar for modern racism, even though I can assure you the real face of modern racism is far more insidious and far uglier.
With people asserting that people like George Zimmerman are the biggest threat to the black community, when 93% of the 8,000 black people killed annually are killed by other black people (which works out to about 20 a day); when failing schools continue to perpetuate the achievement gap and the culture of failure; when the federal government continues to imprison black men for marijuana offenses 400% more than it does whites.
I was disheartened by how many people cheapened this tragic event, reduced it, boiled away essential parts of it. And for what? So it would reinforce their weltanschauung? When did tragedy become this malleable?
More broadly, my news feed had become a hotbed of hypocrisy. I saw people wax apocalyptic about how "our justice system is irreparably broken," but only when it yielded a result with which they disagreed politically (it was broken in the Shelby County v. Holder case and the Trayvon Martin case, but it was a well-oiled machine in Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry).
I wondered: Why have people tethered their evaluation of the justice system to whether it comports with their political beliefs? The answer is pretty obvious. Because it's easy, and because we're lazy. It takes more time to evaluate every case on the merits. It takes more time to weigh the impact of every decision. Our generation is used to having everything instantly. It's anathema to our way of life to have to take the time to reason through gray areas when absolutism offers instant gratification.
Given the free flow of information these days, our generation has grown uncomfortable with uncertainty. We want to know everything, even before it's known. The door is closed on all discussion before it ever opens.
It all ties back to this lingering suspicion I have, that our generation doesn't have anything more than 140 characters in length to say. We've become so attached to our multifarious modes of communication that we've forgotten how to actually have a conversation. It's become so easy to talk, that we don't need to bother to wait until we actually have something to say. In fact, many of the people with something of value to say are so fed up with the whole enterprise that they've stopped bothering to use Facebook as a venue on which to air their political views.
The traditional response to this has been, "Well, if you hate it so much, if it bothers you that much, just get off Facebook." And while that is kind of the rhetorical equivalent of sticking out your tongue and making fart noises, I came to think: Maybe there's something to it. Maybe I wasn't born for these times. It certainly doesn't feel like it. So I quit Facebook. Cold turkey. And you know what? I don't miss it.
Facebook managed to reduce my regard for my generation. It provides a platform that provides massive exposure to anyone with an email address, and it successfully promulgated a new cultural norm: brevity trumps substance. I decline to witness to my generation's choice to embrace immolation by procrastination.
I quit Facebook in favor of sites like this, sites that provide forums for civil, informed, reasoned discourse between the precious few people who have an interest in it. Slowly but surely, one thoughtful conversation at a time, the denizens of this website are restoring my faith in our generation, a faith that has been eroded by nearly a decade of ceaseless exposure to the vitriolic hordes of intellectually bankrupt social networking addicts that swarm all our news feeds.
Oh, plus, I don't need to see pictures of my ex-girlfriend with her new boyfriend anymore now that I've quit. Which is kind of a nice added bonus.