This is a follow-up from an entry I made in 2012, before Trump’s presidency, before fake news, before Russian interference in our democracy, before doctored videos that made Nancy Pelosi seem like a drunk, from a time when, nevertheless, half way into Obama’s two-term presidency, a vicious kind of divide was taking place, exacerbated by and made manifest in all social media platforms. In that moment, I was writing about a facebook fight that ensued between myself (a public classroom teacher) and a “friend” of mine who posted that school shootings were somehow the direct result of Americans falling away from religion.
I thought I had learned my lesson. I have, since 2012, been in the habit, when facebook friends of mine post something that makes me angry, rather than engaging in the faceless debate, of simply ignoring or de-friending them. It’s easy enough. But yesterday, when a facebook friend (who is not a close friend but a former peer from high school) posted a meme with the image of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accompanied by text seemingly attributed to her, text that she clearly has never uttered, text that, nonetheless, made her sound like an idiot, I felt compelled to respond. I responded. I said something to the effect that the meme was bullshit because AOC had never said the words the meme attributed to her: “Yes, we can land on the sun; we just have to go at night.” So, to unpack this a bit: the message, of course, inherent in the meme is not necessarily that AOC said this–but that if she were given the chance, she would have–because, you know, she is, after all, just a stupid waitress. This is unfair and inappropriate on so many levels, but that, I believe, is the gist of it. And there are lots of mouth breathers out there who would just mindlessly accept that the sentiment here is true. Additionally, and even more troublesome, there may be a number of slow-thinkers reading this meme who believe that AOC actually said these words, and thus, believe it provides proof of her lack of intelligence. This is the fake news–this is the propaganda so perniciously and easily spread throughout the web by an ideology that has no respect or regard for truth.
So I called out my high school friendly-acquaintance. He wrote back: it’s just a joke. I wrote back, how is this funny? He wrote back: get a sense of humor. I wrote back and thanked him for the sage advice. He wrote back: go ahead and unfriend me, then. Okay, but then, a couple of his buddies chime in. One says, to confirm the veracity of the meme, “AOC is a dumbass.” And then, some other guy, after calling me “bitchy,” says this: “Mike, I’m close. Come find me.” And I’m like, what the fuck does that mean?–but I didn’t post that. In fact, at that point, rather than unfriending or blocking the friend or any of his brilliant pals, I just decided to turn off notifications to the thread. I don’t know what that guy meant, but it seemed to me potentially threatening. It’s the grade school playground all over again. Someone disagrees with you? Threaten to beat them up. And here’s the thing that I would like these guys to understand, even though I have refused to further engage with any of them: I don’t care what your politics are. I DO care that your idea of political engagement is to post insulting and blatantly untrue memes about your opponents. I DO care that you take the time to articulate your criticisms of policy and politicians with substance, thoughtfulness, and above all, honesty. I went back to this thread today to see if anything else had happened there, and this is as substantive as it got: “Three words: green new deal. How stupid can you be?” Wow. I’m convinced, aren’t you? This guy has deemed stupid the green new deal–and me into the bargain. I am sufficiently put into my place. I can’t even begin to unpack the ridiculousness of this comment.
So the question, again, is this: is dialogue possible in this format? I am almost completely convinced that it is not. There’s a part of me that feels responsible for calling out bullshit when I see it, because that’s the ethical thing to do, and yet there is another part of me that does not have that kind of energy to invest, that believes that ultimately, any effort I make to ask people to explain their insane ideas will fall on deaf, dumb, and hostile ears.
It’s all kitty and puppy pictures from here on out.