Friday, May 24, 2013

Deleting Friends: Politics, Friendship, and Facebook

1:48 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
Facebook, besides being a fantastic tool for stalking old friends and acquaintances, also seems to serve quite well for destroying old friendships and acquaintances.

In particular, the political rhetoric of Facebook seems to be the most caustic and least reasoned that I can find. This is part of the reason that I tend to assiduously avoid such discussions on said site, because, even if you are engaging an individual of upright character and great intelligence, everyone has a few friends who have more opinions than they have brains or courtesy.

Perhaps it is because I am surreptitious, but I have never been unfriended for an opinion I have expressed, nor have I ever unfriended someone for stubbornly insisting that conservatives are neo-Nazis, although I may have had to filter posts from some people as things got closer to the election.

The thing is, I know those people do not think that I am a neo-Nazi. They know that I try to be kind and generous as a rule, and they would never think to say such things to me in person, not just because they are being polite, but because they know it simply is not true. The evil of internet politics is that you can say terrible things about amorphous groups, to which some of your friends certainly belong, which you would never willingly ascribe to those same friends singly. Not only that, but you can say those terrible things, and then believe it. And if your friend raises an objection to that internet proclamation, the challenge is public; the friend in the wrong cannot back down and apologize--as they almost certainly would in private amongst friends--instead, they need to prove their grit and conviction to their friends of the same political persuasion. The love of their friends is subordinated to their self-love and desire for reputation.

Moreover, when the others jump in, all parties lose sight of the fact that this is a spat between friends, and instead mistake it for the last great debate in defense of political principle. And in digital format, everyone forgets that they are arguing with real people. A profile picture is not replacement for the changing emotions of a human face, particularly one that you are hurting.

Does that mean that political disagreement has no place on Facebook? Of course not! Friends argue about politics. It happens. However, I hope I would not say something about a friend online that I would not say to his/her face.

Can I understand ultimately deleting a friend for repeated vitriolic attacks? Yes. If those attacks are general, it is my custom to send a message asking the friend to tone down the rhetoric, and to remind them who exactly they are denigrating. I have no problem with political disagreement, but when great evils are imputed to my character based on my convictions, I do ask the offending party to reflect on what they are saying.

There are two extremes. One, posting things of such a caustic nature as to demonize your friends--directly or indirectly--and damage your friendship. Or, second, being so obdurate in your politics that you cannot reconcile yourself to having friends who disagree: simply, deleting those who disagree. Both ways are immoderate and childish.

I have not yet needed to remove anyone, but if your internet philosophy is more important than your friends, you probably do not deserve them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shallow Irony.

9:40 AM Posted by Patrick 2 comments
I wonder if I am not actually just another hipster? I apparently dress the part. I flirted with keeping a beard. And I do try so very hard to find merit in folk music, essentially devoid of virtuosity, for the sake of its organic, homey, and therefore unassailable, pure form. Alas, to no avail. I make it through about 5 songs before I begin to suspect that I have actually only been listening to different lyrics set to the same tune, which consists of four repeated guitar chords.

Perhaps I am a failed hipster, or an odd hybrid creature which exists on the outer edges of hipsterdom. Irony is fine, but is often cloak used to distract us from the fact that there is nothing much deeper behind it. I remember Lee once talking in class about how badly modern Germans abuse irony, to the point that its subtle use is almost lost amidst the crass sarcasm and lower forms. I appreciate irony, but to take it to heart as a defining characteristic--to mold oneself to a more contrary nature--seems a bit odious to me. I do not think it makes for a genuinely pleasant person.

On the other hand, the chill attitude which so many try to cultivate is a natural reaction to the sustained excess and vulgarity of the culture. Postured diffidence when thrown up as a bulwark against exorbitance might just be interpreted as a conservative reaction. And here I am not referring to a negative cultural reaction to something new based on its newness, but rather, a reaction tied back to an older ideal of moderation. Conservatism as an instinct not to use up or cast aside what is beautiful or good, or perhaps just not consuming for consumption sake. It is not good that we should cast away Bow Ties into nothingness, and we thank the hipsters for saving them. The fascination with a return to a natural more conscientious lifestyle is also a positive hipster trait.

For all of the decent impact that I think the trend could have on society, I have never really felt like I was actually one of them. I believe the way I do based on a rudimentary but hard won knowledge of philosophy and theology. It happens, then, that I am Descartes, and insufferably wish to drag things back to first principles.  Unfortunately, I might be a little too earnest to be ironic. I will try not to let that turn me into a prat. But I question whether much of what I have seen and heard comes from deep ideological belief and knowledge, and therefore might enjoy staying power, or if it is just another fad which will define this generation and be forgotten with the next.

Hipsters make better neighbors, and good friends, but I wonder if it is not still devoid of a deeper tether, and I worry that it will not last.

I, on the other hand, fully intend to be around for awhile, becoming more colorful and ridiculous with age. Bow Ties will cease to be cool. Folk music will fade with dissonance back to bars from whence it sprang. People will stop trying to pretend that they are consuming less. And yet, new things, both good and beautiful, will rise to replace them in due time. The world, even this garrulous society of ours, is never devoid of good things when you look for them.

I suppose then, that what I hope to mold myself to do is to find the beautiful things as they come, and perhaps not let them so quickly when they fall out of vogue. What I want, then, is good taste. But it must go a little deeper than that. I want grace. Without grace, even something beautiful may be rendered coarse. I just want the grace to do justice to that which is beautiful, good, or true.

So, yeah, I guess I'll get right on that.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Sleepless Mind.

2:23 AM Posted by Patrick No comments
Nights like these are simply not made for sleeping.

Granted, the bed is never so welcoming as when the room is well chilled by the crisp night air. But the air is invigorating. Energizing. Vivifying. The sweet scent beckons me outside, so that is where I go. The cool is bracing, bringing out gooseflesh on the backs of my arms, something that feels like adrenaline follows. The peace, the isolation, and the darkness leave the senses sharpened. A heightened state of awareness and a feeling of restless vitality stir up discontent, perhaps because I seldom have this sharpness, and now I have nowhere to apply it. I settle down to read. There might be adventure out there somewhere, but probably not the kind I am hungry for. Books will have to do.

I act like I do not get cold; that is all show. On nights like tonight, I linger constantly on the edge of discomfort, not putting on my jacket for the sole reason of feeling the discomfort. It is not pleasant, but it is an interesting sensation and strong. You can never push the sensation from the mind entirely, but you can master yourself in spite of it. The cold is pushed to the back of the mind; it is a challenge, an art. Stupidity? Yes, probably some portion of that as well, but there is also discipline involved.

The quality of my work is always so much better when it is conducted in conditions like these; I do not read books, I inhale them, even as I inhale the scent of a juniper sprig that I just shredded into teeny-tiny pieces for reasons unknowable; not a labor, nor an effort, but natural. Perhaps it is the lack of distractions?

No. Heavens no. The books are just about all that can distract me from my thoughts on nights like these. The internet is ok, but simply does not have the power to sustain my attention span for any length of time. I am finding that blogging seems to perform a similar function, although it deals mainly with voicing my fumbling attempts to understand my own frame of mind. It also serves only as a distraction from the heavier concerns that weigh on the mind.

Unfortunately, nights like these--gorgeous, solitary, and all too brief--are perfect for attempting to contemplate issues like school, work, the future, and other things that are scary to contemplate while sober. Not that any one of them is to be dreaded, but rather, they are scary because I am young and still relatively inexperienced. I do not want to let anyone down, and naive though this sounds, I should dearly like to remain happy; a goal which seems to allude many with time.

I sit in the breeze and wonder whether the discomfort I feel comes from the coolness that is slowly creeping into my arms, or from the reality that money is much more important than I like to pretend it is, and that I do not want to spend my life fighting to keep it from feeling like the center of that life.

I walk in the breeze and beat myself up over could haves and should haves of years, months, weeks, days, and hours of yore. I forgive myself and pep talk myself into doing better next time. I pray. I was not always much of one for praying, but nights like these are good for reflection, for discovering what is wanted and needed, and realizing that there is no shame or childishness in asking our Father in Heaven for it.

 And for all of that, the mood is not nearly so somber as it sounds. The clearheaded sharpness remains with me the whole time. The sense is not one of impending doom, but of anticipation. So I might fret a little is something particular is bugging me. I push it down and try to re-approach it from with some perspective. Does this always work? No. But I don't pretend to have all the answers here. I just try to sort things out.

 So I take my time, turn things over in my mind. I think, worry and fret, reflect and remember, plan and plot, give rein to my imagination, and sit down and read a book so I don't drive myself insane. In the end, there is at least one thing that I have figured out...

Nights like these are simply not made for sleeping.