Sunday, January 12, 2014

13 thoughts on Facebook and being good company in the face of evil

1. I grew up in Adelaide, where there were only two nightclubs to go to when I was a teenager. Everybody who went there complained about them, but we went there anyway, because that's where all our friends were. Facebook reminds me of that. We're aware of its shortcomings, but we come here anyway, because that's where the rest of us are.

2. A bunch of its shortcomings stem from it being a massive entity run by people elsewhere who don't care about us. We can't do much about those. Any others come from how we, collectively, use it.

3. My theory of Facebook is that it's a dinner party. All your friends are in the one place: hooray! At a dinner party we share what we've been up to and entertain each other with funny bullshit that happened or funny bullshit we just made up or interesting things we heard about. You can complain about your job and such, but you should keep that to about 10 percent or less of your contribution. Dominating a dinner party with your woes is bad form, no? Better to be good company.

4. Until about a year ago, that's how I used this thing: to share funny or interesting malarkey. It seemed to work out OK. The world is full of interesting things which I was curious about and entertained by.

5. About a year ago I quit drinking coffee and, weirdly, a bunch of my defences against the world vanished. Things I'd previously been able to glide past in my pursuit of interesting things, i.e. that while I was doing that our biosphere was starting to choke on our collective vomit, say, or that my country was getting enthusiastic again about prison camps for the most powerless, started jabbing me, hard, in the chest. The world pried me open and left me always raw like freshly-grazed skin. And then the way of being in the world I'd cultivated - that way of using the privileges I'd been afforded by the sacrifice, often unwillingly, of others - suddenly seemed untenable, and I couldn't keep doing it. I became uneasy.

6. The things that started getting to me were all problems of collective action, problems of how-to-be-together, of who suffers so that others can live a certain way: political problems. It made sense to talk about them here, given Facebook is a crowd. I did this two ways.

7. The first was to do what I'm doing now: to use Facebook as a place to try and articulate something, to publicly work out and publicly state what I think about something confusing. A bunch of people have told me they've appreciated these things, which is very kind of them, because I find this kind of writing scary to do. I have no political education except for being alive and I have to make up my language as I go. Politically I am a tiny child. It has the advantage that I can ask stupid questions, and the disadvantage, no doubt, of making me look a little stupid to people who have been doing this for longer. Oh well.

8. That bunch liking it is also frankly a bit bizarre, because a lot of what I've written has been aimed, one way or another, at generating a productive uneasiness. I want it to be hard for the people around me to relax while there's still time to fight. I know that's arrogant - one friend used the word 'pompous' - but it's how it is. I can't see an alternative except a life of quiet desperation as things I could have done something about with my privilege go to shit, and frankly that option can go fuck itself. I can't do that and live with myself. I would rather be annoying because I love everything.

9. The other thing I've done since then, which a lot of my friends do, is to share bad news about political problems as I come across them. This is a problem if Facebook is a giant dinner party, no? There's a lot of bad news, and once more than a few of us do that, the party is all about How Shit Things Are. This'd be one thing if it was empowering, but often it isn't. I have many friends who love this stupid beautiful heartbreaking world, and many days, especially since the Liberal minority government took power, it's almost wall-to-wall shit when I open this thing. Sometimes we add a sarcastic or cynical comment, which has the benefit of reminding us we haven't succumbed completely to evil, but the detriment of adding to the downer vibe of the whole shebang.

10. When said shebang above happens it ends up like broadcast news media. Broadcast news is profoundly disempowering: 'Here's ten horrible things you can't do anything about. Oh, and these guys kicked a leather ovoid more accurately than those guys. Have a nice day!' It's good to know things about the world, but it's bad to feel hopeless. The worst example I've found of this so far is the news on Radio National: I want to curl up in a ball when I hear that shit. Somehow reading isn't as bad: I feel like I have more control when I read. So I do that instead, mostly.

11. It's especially bad to disempower people with our education and freedom and access to tools and information, because most of us are in the rare position, historically and geographically, where we could actually do all kinds of shit if we weren't curled up in a little ball and genuinely felt like it was worth trying. We get hypnotised by the scale of evil and our complicity in it, but if instead there was some way of making privileged people like myself feel hopeful about using our privilege constructively and collectively, shit could get all kinds of real.

12. I am not yet sure what that way is. For the time being I will try not to share bad news unless I have an idea about what we can do with or about it or a good way to think it: I think enough other people will do that that I don't have to. Also, coexisting with the evil news are people trying to collectively solve some of those problems, and they could generally use a little attention, no? So I will try and find and share more of that. And if I can find some way of publicly cultivating a more hopeful and determined way of engaging with evil news, I will start doing that too.

13. Anyway this thing I'm talking about is part of a bigger question, which is how to be good company when evil exists. One way is to ignore evil and let it happen around you without comment while you have a good time because What To Do? I empathise completely with the impulse behind this, but it has the problem of letting evil happen unimpeded, which I don't want to do. Another way is to care but to lose the ability to laugh; another is to laugh but to lose the ability to care. Each of those seems like a different kind of soullessness to me. The world with us in it never stops being tragic or comic, so I think if we lose the ability to wince at the tragedy or to laugh at the comedy we are living somewhere other than this world or being something other than ourselves. x


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