Saving the world v8

So my latest plan to save the world (or assuage my liberal guilt, or something) is a little bit of Corrymeela, this brilliant project that a lovely Facebooker posted a little while ago, and my general despair about the increasingly polarised political camps of the world. It’s quite simply getting people of diverse, or indeed completely contrasting, viewpoints to talk to each other in a safe, respectful, non-deterministic atmosphere.

I particularly like the way the Alabama-California project used online discussion to do the opposite of what it usually does–namely to get people to think seriously about how they interact, to word things carefully (and then delete them and try again), to keep asking questions because there are no time constraints, and to keep on going because at no point is someone going to decide who is right or wrong.

Last night I was very keen on this idea and was trying to find the above link on Facebook and thinking I would start a Facebook group with all my willing friends from both extremes right then and there and how everything would be wonderful. Not being able to find the link and having to get up early in the morning sidelined me rather. But what really deflated my little balloon was a post from one of my opposite pole Facebook friends. I had glanced and promptly ignored it the first time, but later had thought to myself ‘if I really want to know what people who disagree with me are thinking, I’m going to have to read it’. So I did. It wasn’t one of these ‘these three words will annihilate Liberals’ or anything like that, and it was just a repost from someone else. But the effect on me was profound. Part of it must have been that I’m in a slightly wonky emotional state, but mostly it was the same feeling I always get when someone declares something on social media.

I use ‘declare’ with intention. ‘Declare’ is a speech act–you are doing something when you declare. And the problem with social media is that everything is declarative. It is a sea of lecterns, pulpits, soapboxes, judicial benches, executive orders and Words. It is newspaper headlines that anyone can write and shouting opinion-as-truth in people’s faces. (NB photos of babies and pets would be the former, not the latter.)

Okay, that’s how I see it. Maybe you don’t. The point, though, is that on social media real discussion is not encouraged. Another interesting word is ‘feed’. The Facebook and Twitter and Instagram feeds constantly churn out item after item that we barely have time to process before another one comes up. Personally, it makes me more vulnerable to emotional reaction to see someone’s newborn baby and a xenophobic cartoon in the space of two seconds. So while you might craft a long and thoughtful response to the troubling image your friend carelessly posted, it’s not likely that either the friend or yourself are really going to engage in a mutually respectful and eye-opening discussion about the issue. (I do think part of this is the culture that has randomly developed around the platform–had different social rules developed, or been actively encouraged by the platform, perhaps things would be different.)

Back to the declarative. The pace of this input also means that I have a positive emotional response when people I agree with Declare things on social media. Yes! I think, My tribe IS right, and nice, and lovely good people! This is something I need to break out of just as much as the helpless anger and hurt that come from opposing declaratives.

So I still think my idea is pretty damn good. The questions now are:

  • how in this universe could I pursue it?
  • could I myself handle it?

Which I will leave for another day…

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One Response to “Saving the world v8”

  1. Carl Grant Says:

    Public humility is in short supply – thanks for setting an example!

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