Sunday, October 28, 2012

OMG, It's Election Terror: 2012

So it’s election season once again. If you hadn’t noticed, then I’d love to be you. This isn’t a typical political post. I won’t talk about any candidate. Pinkie swear. This post is about boundaries, manners and common sense. 

Every four years, Americans are browbeaten, encouraged, coerced, promised, threatened, warned and roused into either solidarity or discord. This manipulation is not always at the hands of some nameless stranger nor any ruler. More often, it’s inflicted by people we normally consider friends, at least when it’s not an election year. 

Elections do strange things to otherwise rational, civil people. 

First, there are so-called news articles that are easily found online. Sadly, some people tend to believe anything (and everything) that they read, especially if it supports something that they desperately want to believe is true. If it’s accompanied by a byline, then it’s all the more a trustworthy source, right? Hardly. In this age, almost anyone with an opinion and a reasonable grasp of the English language can snag a byline somewhere. 

Next we have Facebook. Facebook is loads of fun for socializing without actually have to be in the same room with another person. This is fantastic for people who live in remote areas, and it also works for people who prefer a wide margin between their person and another person’s... um... person. Facebook is also a colossal source of unsubstantiated rumors, misinformation, propaganda and good-old-fashioned soap box tirades. Anyone with a computer and an opinion can write up the lengthiest collection of words that they can muster, and then post it for all of their friends to read. If they post those words publicly, their friends can share them with other friends. 

Then there’s the old standby, email. Email is a wonderful invention, and it’s another gargantuan carrier of propaganda. In an email forum, a group of words that would otherwise be harnessed by character limits and a handy “report post” or “block user” button has the freedom to continue on and on and on. Randomly typing IN ALL CAPS and using BOLD, COLORFUL FONTS and *BULLET *POINTS is highly encouraged. For emphasis, of course. Gotta be sure that people are paying attention, right? 

Blogs are another source, but I’d wager that the vast majority of bloggers would agree: A blog post has about as much chance of reaching a huge audience as the post’s writer has of obtaining a book deal with a major publisher. 

So what’s wrong with sharing opinions? Absolutely nothing, when they are presented as opinions, and not hard, indisputable facts. Momma always told me, there’s your side and there’s my side, but the truth is usually located somewhere in the middle. Wanting to believe it’s true doesn’t change anything, except, perhaps, the intensity and persistence of the delivery. The problem is that the anonymity of Internet brings about the 10-feet-tall and bulletproof sensation. Most of us are guilty of typing out something that we would never say out loud in polite, flesh-and-blood company. At least those of us with a reasonably-developed sense of what’s rude and what isn’t, and those of us who actually care whether or not we are behaving like a temper-stomping child demanding attention. During an election season, it seems that the Internet makes many of us forget important social skills: Manners, tact, and simply behaving like a decent human being. 

Candidates will never stop coming. With them come policies and ideas that we agree with, and others that we don’t. In well over 200 years, America hasn’t yet collapsed on its foundation, and it’s not likely to do so anytime soon. I know that at this point, some folks are likely shaking their heads and thinking that I just don’t understand how important this election is. How America is doomed, I say, doomed if so and so is elected into office. 

If you believe that current issues are so much more important and potentially life-altering than the issues of the past, think again. There was a time in America when a person couldn’t find a job simply because of his heritage. And this issue still exists in many places. How important would an equality issue be if you were an Irish immigrant, as my ancestors were, and had to change your name in order to secure a job to feed your family? What if you were a woman whose sex (not brains) only qualified you to wash a well-off person’s dirty laundry, sew in poor light inside a garment factory that was doomed to burn and kill you and your friends and family, or perhaps pluck feathers off chickens to feed the mouths of other people who could actually, you know, afford chicken for supper? 

What if your entire family, from the elderly to infants, were owned and eventually worked to death, often literally, by a person whose local policies agreed that such an arrangement was ok? Lets imagine that you’re in a married couple living in America, and the government had the right to decide whether you were allowed to use contraception. Or maybe you are living in a fledgling America, and another country had the right to take your money and possessions. 

Do you believe that any of those issues were critically important to the people who had to live in those times? Then it’s not a far stretch to imagine that the issues of today aren’t likely to make America crumble. Important? Absolutely. Remember, there were people on both sides of each of those problems that Americans faced. There were people who were just as opposed to or in support of each of them, just like you may agree or disagree with others about current issues. Thing is, America is still here. If a person believes that current issues are the highest pinnacle and can bring about the downfall of this nation, maybe it would serve them well to consider just how egocentric that really is in the broader sense. 

There is nothing new under the sun. Naturally living in these times means that current issues have a greater influence over our lives. But time will march on. One day, these things will be buried under thousands of newer ones. You will die. I will die. Just like generations that came before us. And once you and I are nothing besides a memory to some and a file at a courthouse to others, which would be a better thing to have left behind? Would it be an addiction to the ease of passing on as much caustic misinformation as possible, trying to change someone’s mind? Or would we be better remembered for behaving online the same way that we would if we were standing in front of the person we were trying to reach? 

Encouraging others to agree with our opinions is natural. What isn’t is resorting to scare tactics and outright lies to strong-arm or frighten people into believing what we have to say. If we can’t make a point without blindly grabbing at every mean-spirited, Photoshopped image and rumor, is it possible that we don’t have a real point to make in the first place, and are just inebriated with the ability to talk and be heard? 


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