Monday, September 17, 2012

The Problem With Choice and Individuality

Oh what a fascist I am, to even suggest that choice and individuality are anything but sacred… but they aren’t. As with most things in life, when you take something to its extreme, it starts going rotten. Choice and individuality have reached that point in America, and perhaps on the internet at large.

Little choices make little difference, of course. Life in America isn’t eroding because there are dozens of different breakfast cereals and soft drinks. In fact, very few consumer choices are really a problem. If anything, more consumer choices would be nice in some cases, and more political choices would certainly be a huge benefit to all. However, when it comes to media… that may not be the case.

I wouldn’t have thought that a while ago. I would have said, “There’s very little choice in media.” However, this isn’t true. There are literally countless different forms of media, thanks to the internet. Whether you’re a hippie liberal, a staunch Ron Paul support, a right-wing conservative, or anything in-between, there are a lot of options out there.

I’m sure some perspective remains untapped… so if you’re a pre-op mermaid who speaks Russian and can’t get enough of the Beach Boys… okay, I admit, you might have trouble finding exactly what you want. Sorry you feel so left out… but for the other 99.9% of us, there is no shortage of media catering to our every whim.

In fact, thanks to social media like Facebook and Twitter, you can essentially customize your own page to include input from mundane sources like your friends and family right alongside posts by your favorite actors, singers, politicians and porn stars. You can follow your favorite team, “Like” your beer of choice, and retweet what the Shah of Siam just said to Lady Gaga.

The problem is… this is dividing people in profound ways. It would be mostly harmless if it was just on matters of products. I don’t imagine Coca-Cola’s Facebook followers will declare war on Pepsi fans. However, I can already see that happening with politics.

No one has to listen to anyone anymore. It used to be that you watched the news. It showed what was happening in the world, and politicians would react to it. You heard both people speak, and you made up your mind based on what was going on. Not so anymore.

Now, you can expect to get one side of the story, and you’re lucky if it’s even a meaningful side. Through years of friending, unfriending, blocking, inviting and banning, we have divided our virtual selves into isolated cloisters. Even if we have that token opponent on our status update, it’s invariably the most moderate opposition view the other side can muster.

Most conservatives have no idea what Obama actually believes. Most liberals have no idea what Mitt Romney actually believes (though to be fair, neither does Mitt Romney). Each side inundates their fellow ideologues with an endless stream of the same out-of-context sound bytes, creating an echo chamber.

Don’t misunderstand me… I know this has gone on for all of history to some degree. Hell, even high school operates on the principle of cliques that interact with each other in varying degrees of frequency and hostility. It’s not a complex concept, not do I think it’s very controversial or novel. It’s just… sad.

It’s sad because we live in an age when anyone can connect to anyone, but in the end… we still want to close ourselves off. We willfully censor out the opinions of others if they unsettle us, and we forget about those wretched miscreants… even though they still exist, they still hold that opinion, and they still probably vote.

This personal choice that we make is resulting in a more polarized country, and even in a more polarized world. Listening to only those you agree with will never yield good reasons in the long run. Even if you’re correct now, given enough time under those conditions, no group can come out of a long period of isolation and still appear sane.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that most ideologies have cabin fever. They need to get out more, see the world, expand their awareness that which is familiar. And I don’t even mean literally; it would be enough to just virtually expand your horizons. You can connect with more people online than you ever could in person, anyway.

This brings me to individuality. I think this whole behavior may be linked to an increasing value being put on individuality. Everyone wants to be their own person, and I think that’s great, but it’s gone beyond the mere idea of being who you want to be.

Individuality has been taken to such great heights that it’s crossed into egotism for most of us. It’s not enough that we be our own person, we’re constantly told we have to love ourselves. Humility? What’s that? No, you have to know you’re awesome before you can ever truly love someone else… apparently.

Except, this hasn’t been my experience in life. People who live these values are actually full of themselves, and it’s borderline impossible to love someone who loves themselves. There just isn’t enough room in their heart for the rest of us.

I’m not advocating the idea of hating yourself, but remember how your parents told you that you’re special and that you can do anything if you set your mind to it? They were full of shit, you’re probably normal, and you’ll be lucky if you can just eke out a living while doing some of the things you’ve always dreamed. It will be hard work, and it will take more than a positive attitude to do these things; it will take hard work, practice, multiple failures, and a fair amount of paying your dues.

And the only thing you have in common with a snowflake is that you don’t amount to anything unless you’re part of a large group.

1 comment:

  1. In a world filled with facts and misinformation, or worse, the two mixed together, most people find it hopeless to absorb all sides and separate the wheat from the chaff. Thus, they end up gravitating to what they like best, and then, in the nature of human tribalism, draw dividing lines, with themselves on the side of good, the other evil. Still, when push comes to shove, one ends up forced to accept certain principles that, while sometimes logical, they themselves can never hope to personally investigate, One can easily reject outright, baseless, bullshit (i.e. God), but absent being, say, an archaeologist, you must take them at their word that George Washington existed, What do people do in such a conundrum, except revert to the tribalistic behaviors at our core.