I recently removed someone from my Facebook friends list because I saw he called the President “a piece of human excrement.” I find comments like that fundamentally disrespectful and arrogant, and they are not something I will tolerate. I’m not the only one; I’ve read a number of columns over the years expressing this same dismay and disgust at the incivility of the internet.
Here are some broader thoughts on this event.
Comments like these are not only disrespectful to the President (even one with whom we disagree), they are disrespectful to our nation and democracy itself. Additionally, this kind of uncivil behavior is undignified and paints us as viciously angry animals, not concerned citizens.
One thing that amazed and annoyed me about this is that people actually unfriended me for saying this. They were offended by my calls for respect and restraint. They were offended by my belief that we should treat each other like human beings. How dare I ask them to be civilized adults.
They don’t want debate. They don’t want discussion. They don’t even want democracy. They want to hate. And I find it particularly disconcerting that they are so eager to hate someone or something (like certain cultures) based on easily dismissible lies.
So why don’t I stay in touch with these people and become a latter-day goodwill ambassador? Maybe I could change their minds through kindness, politeness, and the exchange of rational, reasonable ideas? Because calling someone, anyone, vile and vulgar names is, essentially, a form of violence. If someone gets drunk in my home and starts smashing the furniture, I’ll kick them out. The internet is an intellectual home, and the violent are not welcome. Add to that the fact that very few true ideologues, left or right, can be disabused of their absurdities, and I just don’t see the point to their presence.
If there is a bright side, and you have to look really hard to see it, it’s that when someone describes the President or your next door neighbor by some unpleasant expletive or vituperative, they are not labeling their target, but themselves.
If you are an ideologue on the left or the right and you are filled with such hatred, ask yourself why. Why are you so angry? Why are you so violent? Why are you filled with this poison? Are you poor? Oppressed? In pain? Dying?
It turns out that despite those who didn’t see things my way, many others did, and I thank them for their support, or at the very least for sticking around a while longer.
Some comments on this Facebook thread…
“Sounds good to me….Horrible disgusting things I have never seen in my life said and written and drawn about the office of the President. ..I feel ashamed these people call them Americans.”
“Thank you Richard!! I thought I was the only one left from our class that felt that way. I didn’t care for Bush, but, I didn’t disrespect the office and title he held.”
“I agree…unfriended. It was beyond ugly.”
“I have started unfriending them too! I am shocked at how vile people are.”
“I don’t just unfriend these days, I block. Somebody that far gone isn’t any fun anyway.”
“I’m tired of the bedlam football mentality…where did this country’s common sense go? As far as Bush goes…the hatred was nowhere near the level it is now. Why do I say that? Because, there were very few adults on social media back then. I remember because I was quite the fb minority in our age group…my friends were all teens and college aged kids!”
“Where is this hatred coming from? Even at my Rotary club meetings someone said out loud to the group ‘he’s not my president’ and another gave recommendations on how to shoot him.”
Exactly how much does “unfriending” mean anyway? We add friends to our Facebook friends list very indiscriminately, like introducing ourselves at a party. In our daily web experience, it probably has no effect on our lives at all. Still, as shallow and ironic as it seems, I very much dislike it when people I hate hate me.
Your fourth paragraph (“One thing that amazed and annoyed me…”) is the crux of this issue, I think, and something that has bothered me for years. Why is it so difficult for people to have civil discussions? It’s not a new phenomenon, from my reading of history — it seems many people have always been easily angered, easily prompted to violent speech or actions. The existence of such a large number of them eats away at the notion that we live in a civilized world.
Several places I’ve worked had unwritten policies about not discussing “politics or religion”, mainly to avoid explosive arguments, on the assumption that most people can’t discuss them without getting upset.
My own Facebook friends list is less easy to cull. The majority of are family members. Of the few who aren’t family:
* former classmates from Bible college
* former coworkers
* former fiancee
* Richard R. Barron
(In more than once case, there is overlap between these categories)
If I’m not mistaken, the only two I’ve “unfriended” were former Bible college classmates who had become radicalized by their faith. I honestly worried that they might be under some kind of surveillance and didn’t want to get rounded up with them.
It’s interesting to me how President Obama has somehow pulled off being Big Brother and Goldstein simultaneously.
I keep coming back to this post, as my own Facebook newsfeed stays full of hateful bullshit. I’m now at the point of cutting family — even close family — off my friends list. I didn’t want it to come to this, I really didn’t.