I have a lot going on these days – parenting is a demanding vocation, and I’m doing other stuff, like writing this blog, besides. And there’s so much to write and think about! But I also worry a lot that I’m an obnoxious troll.
I’m hoping to get the next part of my Piketty project up by Tuesday night, and that it will pick up some momentum as I move along. In the meantime, I wanted to think about some articles I was looking at today. Both Frank Bruni and Ross “I would do anything for love but I won’t” Douthat wrote columns about Facebook. I read a pretty nice piece about the backlash against bell hooks after she wrote critically about the new Beyonce record. And there were a couple of neat little pieces on Vox about hyper-partisanship in this years election. Also a delightful think piece exploding Bernie Sanders as Messiah.
If you spend much time on Facebook, you’ll see articles about how some person “destroys” (or some other way does violence to) something someone else said or wrote or tweeted or whatever. It’s a very stupid way to describe criticism. For one thing, if you could really destroy someone else’s argument, then doing so would force them to recognize their folly. If Elizabeth Warren destroys Donald Trump on Twitter, liberals cheer, and conservatives grimace, and that’s it. Donald Trump does not admit to being wrong. (Ever.) And I would love it if it were possible to argue in such a way that somebody with some entrenched view of the world would suddenly and radically change their mind, but in my experience, it’s not possible.
So what are all those arguments and counterarguments about then? Its all part of the sorting process. Social media helps us find our communities and thereby to define ourselves. That we do this by interacting with a machine, sitting alone somewhere, is kind of disturbing. It’s great that I can find people who are interested in the same stuff I’m interested in – although that has generally not been my experience with social media. I still only know a handfull of people who like Stereolab as much as I do. And I know they’re out there somewhere, because somebody had to buy all those albums and attend all those shows. They’re just not people I know. And that’s fine.
It’s also not great to know things on the internet, because there is a temptation to criticsm. I once wrote a super harsh criticism of some well-meaning Chinese person’s writing on economics, on an economics Facebook group I belonged to. He kept using “the economic” where he should have used “economics” – I suppose an easy enough mistake to make when your primary language is Chinese and you’re writing in English. But for some reason I just dug into him, and it felt good, but it didn’t get me anything but a heap of scornful comments. Which I deserved.
On the other hand – sometimes, I realize, I long for forceful authority. Like, when I hear someone say something like “Those homeless people chose their homelessness” or “the National Debt must be paid off” or “man made climate change isn’t real” that a giant hand would reach out the sky and smack them, over and over and over, until they would finally admit that those things simply aren’t true, and that they need to think differently about poverty and national accounting and global warming. And in some sense, that’s the “invisible hand of the market” – if you try to get paid doing something or making something that has no value to society, you will fail. Not that the world works that way.
What am I doing on this blog? Am I babbling incoherently? There are no authorities to answer my question. Which is great, because if there were, they’d probably tell me to give up and go back to working in restaurants. And maybe it would have been better for everyone involved if I had just stayed in kitchens. But I didn’t. So here I am.