Many people search for moments where an epiphany might reveal something to them that they hadn’t previously been privy to. All the more rewarding when that epiphany is perceived to have psychological, sociological, spiritual, or political implications. This desire is so prevalent that we’re inundated by it countless times every day through various social media outlets–particularly that of Facebook and the notorious Tumblr. A wash of graphics are posted and reposted, ad nauseam, until tracing the source of whatever statistical information may be present on the graphic is a convoluted act of futility. And yet we still post them. Why? Because we need conflict, and we’re so desperate for it that we’re willing to sacrifice our credibility to experience that euphoric sensation which comes with putting “them” in their place.
So, who is the “them” in the “us vs. them” dichotomy? I won’t go so far as to say no one, but “they” are far smaller a percentage of the presumed opposition than the attacker would be willing to admit. “They” are a collective, a hive mind borne of an exaggerated and idealized version of whatever it is that the “us” stands against. And this isn’t only with the obvious battles, like politics or religion, liberal or conservative, republican or democrat (or libertarian, now). This is every day, down to the smallest event. When someone gets your order wrong at a fast food restaurant and you berate them for their presumed idiocy, you’ve created an us/them dichotomy based on an assumption about what that person must be like by nature of opposing your expectations. When you lean over to a friend and whisper a snide remark about another person’s fashion choices, you’ve created an us/them dichotomy. When you complain about the government. When you whine about the youth. I could name a number of rising conflicts right now that do this, such as cops/citizens, liberal/conservative, hipsters/everyone else. That last one was a joke, but we do still recognize the humor of it, which does still bear an example of that sort of mentality.
This isn’t to say that criticism and judgment is an evil that ought to be driven out of our cognitive processes, but it’s about perspective. Criticism and judgment are remarkably important cognitive processes, very closely tied to reason, but when we abandon the ethical exercise of such cognitive activities, we’ve lost the reason and gained pretension. We’ve buried our credibility and filled the chasm to mountainous proportions with hedonism. It is pleasurable to feel as though you are the smarter of the dichotomy, or the more caring, the more moral, the more open-minded of the dichotomy. And so you forgo fact checking, you let strangers with undetermined credibility do the research for you, if they’ve done any at all, and then you present the gratifying information to the public, directly or indirectly aiming your cannon at “them,” and you cloth the image of yourself in it. It now boldly represents your beliefs on the topic to which it belongs. And inside you smirk, satisfied, until a retort comes along. If you can return fire, you smirk again and the gratification returns twofold, and if you cannot, you engage in various other unreasonable social tactics, because the truth isn’t what is important when you feed the dichotomy. Only victory.
You have reduced yourself to a billboard representation of who you are. You wear a suit of advertisements that appeal to those with whom you agree on any given topic. You merge yourself with a homogeneous communion, an invisible spokesperson, an inaudible voice of your people. You engage in group-think. All of these graphics, all of these tongue-in-cheek remarks and snark-laden social graces, they’re all little advertisements that brand you. You’re packaging yourself and fighting for top-shelf prestige.
It’s us vs. them. People complain about war and in the same breath make vows against those with whom they disagree. I am more tolerant than you are, I know what this country needs more than you do, check your privilege, and so on and so on. We’ve come to accept the idea that social warring is more acceptable or somehow more noble than physical warring. We don’t see arguments as violent. The irony of this is that ideas have infinitely longer lasting effects than individuals. A person dies, but the image remains. What they stood for doesn’t fade with them, it hides in the viewpoints of those whom they had intimately affected. Social warring is, in a number of respects, more devastating than physical warring. Every punch starts with an idea and every missile launched begins with a thought. Social wars plant ideals, and ideals drive action.
When you brand yourself, you take a side in a social war. When you plaster graphics on your Facebook feed, you lacquer over your image and seep deeper into the slurry of a generalized set of ideals. That slurry is marketed by people with agendas, people that profit off of the social war that you help wage. Your outrage is profitable, particularly when you’re willing to abandon reason and embrace every facet of an ideology rather than dissect it and truly find what you agree and disagree with. And before deciding whether you agree or disagree, check your facts. Search for sources, margins of error, biases.
If you want the truth, you’ll take the time to search for it. If you don’t, you will continue to value ideologically gratifying misinformation.
– The Bastard