Why people only post kitten pictures and videos

Cute kitten!

If you express any kind of serious opinion about anything on Facebook, you bring out the trolls and the disagreements.

This is ironic, since Facebook tends to only show you posts that you have shown an interest in. Maybe Facebook with its unlimited post lengths draws people who are more into argument. In other words, maybe some people see the posts they see because Facebook has figured out they like to argue.

Sometimes, I don’t want to post anything except kitten videos because, for me, Facebook is about friends, not arguments, or even advocacy (except for advocating for more effective communication).

Not so much in Twitter, maybe because of a) 140 characters, and b) you tend to follow similar interests as opposed to friends. In that way, Twitter may be more of a silo, and also more of a service that points to deeper articles and discussions as opposed to hosting discussions.

In any case, here’s why I’m opting out of any further political discussions this election season on Facebook. Please note that whatever political opinions might leak into this post, they are incidental. I’m really talking about how we communicate about our political ideas.

I know there have certainly been acrimonious campaigns in the past. At least current ones generally don’t involve dueling with actual, physical weapons. But I can’t remember one that has been more depressing. I am depressed for a lot of reasons, not least being the poor quality of the candidates that are being paraded before us, and the increasing likelihood that people will once again base their voting on the least evil as opposed to the person they actually support.

It’s not even “the lesser of two evils” any more. Increasingly it is appearing that the Libertarian candidate has a fair chance, but the biggest problem I, myself, see in this election is that the Republican isn’t really a Republican, the Democrat isn’t really a Democrat, and the Libertarian isn’t really a libertarian (big L or little l). There are other parties out there, of course, but these three are the only ones who have a shot, it’s likely to once again come down between the candidates representing wings of the One Party (Demopublicans), and they are all shams.

So now you know what I think about the whole thing.

Still, my depression with the current election is not why I’m exiting the circus. The main factor for me is this: nobody is truly talking to each other.

“Oh,” you say, “I think the problem is that everyone is talking. Nobody is listening.”

Yes and no. I agree there is no exchange going on. Nobody is listening, but much of that is because no one is saying anything worth listening to. Most of what seems to pass for discourse about politics on Facebook consists of people talking about how stupid supporters of the other candidate(s) might be.

I don’t engage in too much political conversation face to face, but the few conversation that I do have often involve people who feel very differently from me, but who listen to what I have to say, and who explain to me why they support whom they do without insulting me for supporting someone else.

Intelligent people disagree all the time. Matt Zwolinski does an excellent job of laying out some of the reasons that happens. He says,

This is especially true when our political views are based on moral views. If we think that universal health care is a good idea because we think it’s likely to result in more people getting the medical treatment they need, then we might be open to changing our minds if evidence comes forward showing that it doesn’t. But if we think that universal health care is a mandate of justice, then we’re often much less willing to listen to the other side. After all, being against universal health care means being against justice, and why on earth should I waste my time listening to someone who’s against justice?

The result of this mindset is that political discussions are often frustrating, unproductive, and hostile. We often assume the worst about those who disagree with us on matters of political morality. Either they’re too stupid to recognize the obvious truth of our claims, or they’re too evil to care. And you don’t deal with stupid or evil people by rationally engaging with them. You deal with them by subjecting them to ridicule, vitriol, and shame.
[Emphasis mine–DK]

It is claimed that Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” (I can’t find a source verifying he said it, but it’s an interesting quote, even if the actual author is unknown.) I believe open-mindedness is valuable, but more than that, I believe it is valuable to listen to people with whom I disagree, even if I don’t change my mind.

However, I consider it a great waste of my time to listen to people simply call each other names.

This goes along with the increased likelihood of someone stating an opinion, and then inviting those who disagree to unfriend them–or else stating they will unfriend anyone who thinks X.

How sad. How close-minded. Ironically, such statement often come from those who consider themselves open-minded.

This is self-reinforcing. “I will happily listen to any intelligent point of view. Of course, anyone who thinks X is by definition stupid, so I can just write such a person off.”

For clarity: I will listen to any point of view that is politely presented. I may not agree with it, but I will listen. I will be happy to politely share my own point of view, but I may not think it the best use of my time to convince you of it.

Facebook doesn’t really lend itself to this, for a number of reasons. I won’t unfriend people who disagree with me, but I will certainly be discriminating in how I spend my time, which is not an unlimited resource. I’ll bet that makes a lot of sense for you as well.

So for that reason, I am henceforth no longer publicly commenting on political matters. (If you see such a posting from me, it indicates I have put you in a list of my friends whom I think would like to see such posts. I still won’t spend time trying to convince anyone I am right.) You’re welcome to such, and I won’t unfriend you for it. It’s just that I’d rather spend my time on things where I think I can make a positive, actual difference in the world–which is going to have something to do with more effective communication.

Or kitten videos. The world needs more of those.

Photo from wikimedia user Saving Public Ryan under a Share-Alike Creative Commons license.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.