Perhaps, for years, I was prejudiced – too prejudiced to see real value, even beauty, in a mighty phenomenon transforming the world.
I say that because, for a long time, I mainly saw the negatives in Facebook. True, I maintained an account, but, regularly, I wished to delete it. And the only thing holding me back was a desire to get a (mainly lurking) sense of a few old friends’ lives and (more disingenuously) I wanted to promote my weblog writing.
Still, I struggled. I saw how Facebook changed me – and I imagine was also changing others, indeed our entire society.
Moreover, it changed me in ways I did not like.
For on the rare occasions, I did get more actively involved, I saw how easily my attention got sucked. Sucked by superficial curiosity, sucked by desire for attention (‘how many people liked what I said?’) often sucked by sheer trivia. All of which robbed me of consciousness.
I imagine I am not alone in such things. Thus, I worried about the world becoming a place where over a billion people are likewise having their attention sucked in just the same way, not to mention ‘debates’ where people hardly listen to each other.
For, broken and fallen as we are, the art of real listening is a tough act for anyone in the natural and ordinary world, let alone our brave new cyberworld of pixels with people typing behind screens thousands of miles apart. Even for the best of us, true listening, I think, is even harder on Facebook.
Then, to add to this litany of woes, there is an effect my Facebook friend and remarkable writer, Michael Martin, once described as talking in ‘a jungle of parrots’. He referred, of course, to the tendency of Facebook to isolate people into tiny communities who all think and say the same things to each other – repeatedly.
Now, I remain concerned by all these things – and many more I can barely touch on here (e.g. the well-known criticism of Facebook for promoting social envy, immersing even children in this, etc.). However, given my very tentative Facebook experience, I feel to naive to comment on these, as yet.
But despite all these serious concerns, I am grateful my vision has expanded to better appreciate other, far more positive, dimensions of this world-changing phenomenon.
Now, this began happening last year, when, at last, I dived into Facebook more fully than ever to promote my first book The Gentle Traditionalist. Truly, I have been deeply struck by the warmth, kindness, supportiveness coming to me, often from quite unexpected quarters. My thanks go out to friends I did not even knew I had who touched me – and thus I must thank Facebook, too.
Moreover, I am grateful that, likewise, Facebook gives me the capacity to make even small gestures of affection and support. (And for me, they often are very small – often just hitting the like button. For, among other things, I type very slowly and still feel a need to limit my time on this platform.)
Yet the last few days have been different. I have spent more time on Facebook and learned a lot, as my Wall witnessed unprecedented storms.
Storms, this is say, bringing together people coming from extremely different walks of life and evidently bitterly divided.
These included dear people from my old Secular, New Age and Anthroposophical stomping grounds – and Catholics horrified by their perspectives.
I did not mean to provoke such storms. It began innocently enough I think, after the recent final debate by Clinton and Trump. For it was only then that I fully registered the sheer casualness with which people were speaking of the horrifying prospects of killing babies close to birth.
I was jolted from my sleep and felt it viscerally – as though hit in the guts. With rare impulsiveness, I simply typed a single line onto Facebook:
I am beyond horrified to hear people talk of a ‘right to a late term abortion’.
And yet my horror of sheer casualness only increased when a young woman, known to me almost since birth, wrote back asserting such a ‘right’ … ‘whenever and for whatever reason [women] want one.’
For whatever reason … the emphasis is mine, not my young friend’s.
My own horror was, I think, reciprocated by others who then entered the fray. And so began my very first Facebook imbroglio.
And yet through it I learn, I am forced to reflect. (Perhaps then, I thought, Facebook need not diminish consciousness as much as I feared, but sometimes heightens it?)
I want to muse about the paradoxes here. For I could not help but wonder if my young friend inhabits her own secular ‘jungle of parrots’ where it is repeatedly asserted: ‘this is a right’, ‘this is a right’, ‘this is a right’ and wherein many folk may not even know, really, what a right actually is.
Lest this sound disparaging, let me hasten to add some things. First, there are most certainly Catholic jungles of parrots, just as there are secular jungles of parrots, capitalist jungles of parrots, socialist jungles of parrots and so on.
Second, my point is not to disparage my young friend. No, because for twenty years, I have felt not only real love, but real respect for her, seeing in her unusual depths of sensitivity and compassion.
No, my real concern here is the consciousness-lowering effect of parrot-like reiterated assertions – with many people not really knowing the true basis on which they make these assertions.
Again, people asserting ‘this is a right’ ‘this is a right’ ‘this is a right’ (or indeed ‘this is not a right’ ‘this is not a right’ ‘this is not a right’) without in so many cases having any clear concept of what a right is.
Now, I do not know about my friend. She is a serious persion and perhaps has made serious enquiry into the true nature of rights.
Nonetheless – in an unusually spontaneous burst for me – I wrote back to her in the Facebook thread:
A question I would put to you is how much have you considered what a “right” is. What is its true basis?
If we go into it, a right obviously has do with morality. One cannot have a right to do that which is wrong. But then how does one determine what is wrong or not, moral or not?
What is the basis? Rationalist? Religious? Epistemological?
The more I look at it, the more it seems we cannot get away from an ultimately religious basis here (emphasis added).
It follows that, for me, your morality, dear [X] is inevitably determined by your own religious system, even if you yourself do not think of that system as religious.
So what are two individuals, like you or like me, to do when we have different religious systems?
And what is society to do when different religious systems – e.g.rationalist secularism vs a trans-rationalist religion such as Christianity or Buddhism or whatever.
It seems very difficult to avoid the possibility of one religious system competing with another or seeking to overpower the other …
Now, I did not invoke the jungle of parrots image here. However, it would not have been irrelevant.
I see more and more tribes out there, tribes asserting various moral doctrines and dogmas of what people should or should not do. Herein lie often nascent religious systems – frequently quite fundamentalist – which depend on continued reiteration, all largely unconscious.
The Catholic Church of course likewise reiterates her doctrines and dogmas. However, in the case of the Church, these are based a two thousand year history of profound intensive reflection, often by men and women of genius. In terms of questions like: ‘What is a right?’ one can find sustained, profound enquiry.
Very few other tribes can claim anything like the same vigorous pursuit of philosophical and moral clarity. Indeed, many of them seem largely based on what the media says – and moreover only rather recently, at that. (Say: circa 1968.)
However, we are in danger of digressing into multiple territories far, far beyond the scope of this blog post, including the appalling post-68 abortion culture, the horror of media propaganda, the true basis of rights and the nature of religion. More on such things must wait till another time.
(Although I have recently addressed the largely unconscious nature of secular religious systems in recent posts that I have now archived here under the label New Secular Religion.)
Today, however, the real point is the tremendous paradox of Facebook. For reflecting on the above has, I hoped, served to heighten my awareness, not diminish it. And, again, I remain grateful for the great possibilities in terms of sharing human warmth.
Yes, I now realise my need to better acknowledge the great value and beauty of Facebook. And yet I also remain very concerned about its capacities to reduce consciousness, sometimes, it would seem, to almost nil.
To Be Continued …
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