Sunday, October 4, 2015

Twitter Nation: The fatal blow to civil discourse?

Twitter is an odd place. I don't think anything of importance should be discussed in 140-character quips. (I've always held disdain for Quippers.) I think it's a wasted place for truth seekers and people who like to argue specifics. Somewhere along the way we became a sound-bite nation. Twitter Nation is much worse.

Nothing makes me wince more than hearing, "the president tweeted..." Seriously? What could sound more undignified than that? I long for the days of, "the White House has released a statement..." I guess I'm just old fashioned, or I like to wade more than ankle deep. 

I've responded to tweets about which the authors clearly knew nothing. I just want to discuss the issues. I've had many responses, but not about the subject, only barbs "informing" me that I'm stupid, uneducated, etc. One personal attack after another, some so specific I wondered why they'd bother because the odds they'd be correct were slim to none because THEY DON'T KNOW ME. 

Typical, but not exclusive to Twitter. I've had painful personal experiences when having face-to-face political discussions with people who disagree with everything I stand for. You know those people. They exhaust the talking points they've been fed, and then it's guerrilla warfare on everything about your person. 

There have been wild assumptions about my intellectual capacity, my physical health, my abilities (or lack thereof), even my sex life. This seems to happen only because, if we were politicians, there would be an (R) after my name and a (D) after theirs. It goes no deeper than that. 

I once had a response to what was a very heartfelt essay I wrote about my father-in-law's funeral, with full military honors, at Arlington National Cemetery. I wrote it to both honor him and to give the reader an eye-witness account of a uniquely American experience most will never see. Not one political statement was in it. Yet some social media geniuses responded: "Nice piece, but it would have been more meaningful if you weren't a Republican." 

Deep breath.

I've lost friends, or those I considered so, because of that (R). I've lost the common courtesy of neighbors because of the signs in my yard. Who does that?

I don't deny that conservatives sometimes originate getting-us-nowhere exchanges. (Donald Trump, are you listening?) But it seems to be a liberal gift, hewn and polished after years of indoctrination by media and education systems that deliberately discourage discourse and encourage skim-the-surface liberalism. Twitter, I believe, was inevitably conceived from this way of thinking. Its products of conception are too shallow to quench anyone's thirst, unless you thirst to belittle others. Things are seldom learned there. Ideas remain unchanged. Users tweet to the choir and bully those in the band. 

I have a few lovely liberal friends who don't hate me for what I stand for, and I feel the same about them. We love each other because of shared experiences and so much more and, frankly, an explicit agreement to never let our politics get in the way of our relationships. We discuss this openly, and we mean it when we say it.

I don't think we have to be the exception. I've seen a marriage of more than 70 years last between a liberal and a conservative. They'd joke that when they went to the polls, they cancelled out each other's votes. This isn't the only such marriage I've seen.

So some of us are capable of much more than just peaceful coexistence. Most want to beat others over the head, and organisms like Twitter would die without them. I would not mourn. 

As the great Joan Rivers used to say, "Can we talk?" I think the answer is:  maybe. We're becoming a nation of bullies and bullshitters cloaked in the the anonymity Twitter provides. That's not talking. We may be a Twitter Nation, but it's not a Twitter Universe--yet. Discourse doesn't have to die, but only if we wish to resuscitate it. I'm hearing whispers of those who wish to truly discuss the hard stuff, but it's not really happening.

I don't want to declare the Death of Discourse. Yes, I'm enough of a hard-ass to truly believe the "low-information voter" will ruin the world. Yet, I'm an inherently nice person, and I like other people, even if they voted for Obama. Maybe I'm just some naïve "Minnesota Nicer" who wants to believe people can learn from one another, and that black and white aren't the only colors.

Twitter isn't the place for me. I'll visit occasionally, but I won't live there. I'll leave that to those who love to listen to the endless echos of their own tweets.