When I was 19, and was the only one of my circle of friends to leave my hometown to go to college, I pined for a way to keep tabs on people and know how they’re doing. Social media, once it became a phenomenon years later, was a dream. Now it’s become a nightmare, in that you know just enough about all of your friends to hate them just a little bit. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and everyone apparently is obliged to tell you every waking thought of every moment of every day.
I’m amazed by the cycle of social media politics amongst my group of friends, 90 percent of whom are in the arts.
It’s the usual echo chamber of support or outrage. You’ll get the melodrama one should expect from creative types: the angry lashing out, the namecalling, the “this article makes some good points” when it’s something ridiculously vapid and lacking in any sort of logic regarding the motives of people or how markets work.
But my absolute favorite is the long screed that is the appeal to reason that is actually an argument in bad faith made to virtue signal. Almost as if they imagine themselves to be in a Frank Capra movie and this is their big moment where they will give a rousing speech, turn hearts and minds, and win the applause of their friends who will carry them out to the streets as the saviors of America.
If politics is Hollywood for ugly people, then social media politics is your community theatre version of Our Town.
Now keep in mind most of these people are either speaking to a relative whose main crime is living in a place with a moderate cost of living and who can’t possibly be as enlightened as they are, or to friends they probably blocked or unfollowed in a drunken post-election rage meltdown. My personal favorite is when a close friend who probably doesn’t realize their statement refers to you says something to the effect of “If you’re not going to vote the same way, you can unfriend me” and I suppose he then expects me to be the one to do his dirty work so that I’m the bad guy when he says “we’re no longer friends because he put politics above our friendship!” in a snitty conversation at a bar somewhere. Stay or go, but don’t ask me to pack your bag when you’re the one who wants to leave.
These missives, which always seem to coincide with some sentiment turning against the Democrat party, first start with the apology “I don’t usually talk about politics” and while this may be true, the 300 Vox articles you’ve shared and tagged your mom in seems to indicate you might have a slight bias, I don’t need to be Encyclopedia Brown to figure that one out.
Second, it needs an attempt at legitimizing what will soon be a bad faith argument “I grew up in a conservative area” “I was raised in the church” “I once thought about thinking about voting Republican.” Left out of those statements, of course, is the “and I couldn’t wait to get away from those hayseeds” or “and then I became a freshman in college, learned that we really need smart people like me to make socialism work, and rebelled against my parents” but I appreciate the attempt to seem relatable. For you parents who don’t know, all the problems of the world are solved at 1 am in freshman dorms at institutions of higher learning everywhere, usually in between asking who can buy alcohol or waiting around for the sock to be taken off the doorknob by one’s roommate.
Then comes the appeal to morality. Something to the effect of “I know there are some of you who really believe in your principles” or “I know we share some common values like honor and integrity and love of country” or “some people have said you guys are greedy or racist but I know there are good people among you.” I always say backhanded compliments are still, technically, compliments. I suppose “I know I’ve called you a misogynist homophobic racist, but you’ve always been nice to me” sounded good in their head.
Then the “BUT” ….so, you know, you can disregard any legitimate nicities. Now listen to the sales pitch.
Now we get into the arguments, a prisoner of the moment “this Republican is a unique threat” stuff, and the call to action to be unified, presumably in supporting someone who has pushed the Democrats further left, but just so long as it’s someone they like or that you pledge to undermine your want to run things.
It ends with a “I can’t respect anyone who says they have these values and chooses to support [name your Republican]” as if every Republican in their lifetime wasn’t Hitler and every Democrat Gandhi. In my more reckless days, a friend once forwarded a group email with the notion that Mitt Romney had given a person cancer and allowed her to die by withholding healthcare, and that was a reason for me not to vote for him, to which I retorted “I think Republican voters are safe from his evil plan, but I’d get a checkup if I were you.” You get the private message from your other put-upon conservative friend “well, I found it funny but she’s my girlfriend’s best friend so I had to say you were out of line.” Self-preservation will always be strong in us, which is why most of choose never to say anything lest it becomes a cavalcade of angry rhetoric and hurt feelings.
Which then brings me to the comments, the whipped cream, and a cherry on top of the new Common Sense complimenting the author on their fairmindedness and reasonable thinking. Usually with a resume to virtue signal *their* legitimacy in espousing the same point of view. I usually get 5 or 6 people sharing it like the aforementioned “this makes some great points” article. It all comes full circle.
I think I’ve grown up in the sense that you just learn to ignore these public displays for your own sanity’s sake. I’d love to say there’s more to friendship than politics but everything about my friends’ social media seems to indicate their day to day lives are dependent on whether they’re winning the #Resistance news cycle. I admit the need to respond remains strong, especially me as a former comedian and one known to have a wit as dry as the Saraha. I’m often inclined to test whether I could get second-hand smoke from burning bridges. Choosing to forego public sarcastic mockery or deconstruction of arguments is probably more important to keeping a friendship than personal agreement on politics, but at the same time when do, I get to celebrate not having to deal with progressive creep into my life? Election day everyone was celebrating “I’m with Her” and the next everyone was saying “out the heretics so we may burn them at the stake.”
I suppose there’s an opposite perspective and people are subjected to angry right-wingers and I should be more sympathetic to the “actors” and “writers” whose parents think going to church will be good for them because at 34 and on year 3 of a relationship where they’re cohabitating but non-committal, family values means being a cat mom. But as Andy Kindler once said, “my audience is people who look like me who are me.”
As I approach middle age, I’ve come to enjoy pictures of families and first days of school that I see from normal people. No one’s ever asked me to unfriend them if I don’t like pictures of their 5-year-old getting on a bus. If that’s middle-class malaise, let me live there, as it’s better than being active and involved.