~pioneers of the internets frontier~

April 17th, 2009

Today I was unfriended on Facebook. Because the event that lead to this relates to something I have been pondering all week and I’m interested in your thoughts, I will tell the sad tale:

We were best friends for many teen years. We worked as wenches at the Renaissance Faire together; we sun-bathed in her backyard with immortal abandon. We saw each other through the loss of one of our friends in a car accident, and other things I won’t write about here. I never laughed with anyone the way I did with Sheri (not her actual name, but dotted with a puffy heart just the same). I didn’t adore INXS, she didn’t adore The Cure, but we found middle ground and went to both concerts because that’s what friends do.

We lost touch, and about a year ago I found her on the internet. She seemed truly glad to hear from me and before long we were writing like the old girlfriends were were, about joys and disappointments and struggles. This morning I had to go back to those emails, to help make this old friend a person in my mind again, not a “them,” not an idea. I had to remind myself of our history because yesterday I opened my Facebook page and found she had posted this image:

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I am not generally an “active” political person, I think to be alive is a political act, how you move through the world and treat others says plenty on the world’s stage. I am also grateful there are people who choose to make bigger gestures. However, in a moment lacking my usual (aimed for) tact, I wrote to this friend and expressed my dismay: “Is whatever Obama is doing that bugs you actually the same as murdering millions of people? Have you thought about how that suggestion might seem to the families of victims and survivors of the camps?”

I got an angry, shouting response which did not make mention of the supposed Socialist connection between the two men, but instead made some extreme and personal statements I choose to believe were motivated by feelings of defense. What does being “a Christian” have to do with the way one chooses to publicly express political ideas? How does my objection to equating Obama with Hitler make me part of the “THE IMMORAL AND IGNORANT MASSES”? I find that image tasteless, daft, sensational, so I’m immoral?

In the words of my pal E.M. Forster, Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process, a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as possible…Herein I probably differ from most people, who believe in Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses and St Paul. My temple stands not upon Mount Moriah but in that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted.
Avail yourself of his What I Believe for some tasty food for thought.

Faith, according to Merriam-Webster, is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” In other words, I just think this because I want (or need) to.

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Which many of us do, about many things–generally we call these thoughts opinions. Green is superior to blue, for example, or spaghetti is the best food. However, groundless personal convictions have no place in discussions that are empirically based in the world most agree upon, where the earth is a sphere, gravity pulls, and Republicans and Democrats sometimes offend each other. Would-be filibusterers take note: if you’re talking to me about anything other than religion, kindly check your Jesus at the door.

A year ago Sheri wrote: “i have actually become a christian and a republican!!! DON’T freak out and let me explain…..” which is all I can quote in respect to her privacy, but suffice it to say she did not explain, nor did I feel I was owed an explanation. What business is it of mine? I also did not comment on her Republicanism (or mention religion, Maude forbid) when that picture was sitting on my personal homepage and making me wish that in addition to the “thumbs up” and “Kim likes this” options there was also “Kim is appalled”. I simply questioned the sentiment of the image itself.

I didn’t care for being referred to by Obama in his Inaugural Address as a “non-believer,” but that won’t cause me to call the man a fascist. I recognize it as a step, albeit a reductive one. What is wrong with Atheist, Agnostic, Freethinker, Naturalist, Rationalist, Secularist, Humanist? I’m just asking.

I consider respectfully agreeing to disagree part of what we call civilization. In the case of friendship, I’ll even go see INXS if you’ll go see The Cure. But provoking public statements may receive a questioning response. My old friend countered, “As a conservative, I do not impose my views and judgments on others.” But what is posting on Facebook if not this? My favorite movies, albums, social causes, one is constantly pinging and pinged by everyone: commenting, approving, sharing the results of inane questionnaires. In the minutes Sheri had posted it before I saw this image, one of her friends had already given it a “thumbs up”. There is a reason there is no “thumbs down” icon. For most, FB is not a forum for debate, but a place to preach to the choir. That is a social contract I broke.

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Whereas by my sense of netiquette, tossing that image in my path was simply inappropriate. Like the Christmas when one of my relatives gave me a golden brooch in the shape of a tiny pair of feet, an anti-choice statement. Happy Holidays!
I doubt my old friend (or old aunt) would appreciate an I ♥ Abortion! graphic landing in her inbox either. But my netiquette (among other things) would prevent me from posting such a thing and my common sense would prevent me from being shocked if I did and people objected because a. I know hollow rage-baiting when I see it and b. I don’t expect every person (even in my facebook sphere) to think exactly as I do. Knowing they don’t doesn’t shake my core principles, but a thoughtfully posed query (or even an emotional and snarky one) would not cause me to run away, and might lead me to question them from time to time. (Though regarding INXS I stand firm as ever.)

What a weird, wild terrain the internet remains. All over the place–Facebook, Twitter, blogs–we each have to define what is TMI (too much information) and what is appropriate in a public forum, and this is clearly extremely subjective. I spent the morning reflecting on how this exchange might have gone differently.

For me, Facebook is a lot like a school reunion, which has been for the most part surprisingly lovely. Hatchets have been buried, and perspective gained as a result of reconnecting with and seeing into the lives of my peers. It’s a perform-y world, but one I embrace, especially as I am so geographically isolated these days. Sometimes a little ping of contact is all you need.

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Still, it can also be strangely blithe and impersonal: this rift would never have come to pass in person, or even over the phone. And the immediacy can bring with it a lack of filter that is not so refined. We could all stand to grant a little grace to each other as we figure it out.

As for Sheri, I sincerely apologized for my regrettably hasty email and not surprisingly, received no reply. Hope springs eternal. In hindsight, I’m not convinced that she is convinced by much of her off-topic rant–but perhaps the first line: “We’ve OBVIOUSLY taken different roads.” In fact we have always been on different paths. It’s never been a requirement of my friendships that they mirror me. It’s far more interesting that they be with those who are curious and take pleasure in occasionally hashing it all out. Unless, that is, you don’t share my deep and abiding faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, in which case I’ll pray for your soul, but don’t call me.

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5 Responses to “~pioneers of the internets frontier~”

  1. Angelina says:

    This is a great discussion of the new social landscape we are all navigating on line. I had to unfriend someone who constantly ecstatically talked about god in her status on FB so that every time I opened my page there she was just lovin’ Jesus. I don’t care that she loves Jesus but it was like opening a prayer session in my own nonreligious home every morning and made me really unhappy.

    I was shocked to see that picture here on your blog and I admit to briefly worrying that you and I were too many ideas apart to be friends but couldn’t really reconcile that picture with the person (you) that I’ve been getting to know. So it was with relief that I read this story.

    But I am sorry that you had to receive it from someone you were actually really pleased to be in contact with again.

  2. kim says:

    yeah it’s actually awful to have that image here, and somewhat ironic as i was so stunned and heartbroken when I saw it on my fb homepage i didnt know what to do (except post it here)!
    the image of your involuntary laptop prayer session made me laugh. thank you kindly.

  3. Izak says:

    I have been loving facebook, but I find it funny that some of my most entertaining facebook friends are not close friends in real life.

    I have had to use a filter in some of my posting, but mostly to weed out my initial snarky reactions or to not post too much information about my children (they like to have their secrets).

    The only thing I would have done differently would have been to take the opportunity to explain Godwin’s law or what a Reduction ad Hitlerum argument means (invoking Hitler is usually a good indication that you have lost the argument). I may have responded humorously: “Hitler loved dogs too,” “Hitler loved health food too,” “Hitler wore khakis too.” Or maybe taken the opportunity to explain that a Christian lifestyle (following the teachings of Jesus and not those of Paul of Tarsus) is completely incompatible with the Republican platform. I probably would have thrown in some good tea-bagging jokes as well.

    I run into this situation in real life too. I had a workmate, whom I love, complain than someone asked him to join some “hooray for gays” facebook group. Turns out it was “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who are pro gay rights.” And during our conversation, he fairly inarticulately explained that he would prefer that the gays stay in the closet. I was appalled. And my other workmate and I discussed this on the way home. We concluded that he just needs more gay friends.

    Well maybe I wasn’t appalled. After the last eight years, nothing really shocks me.

  4. Painterof blue says:

    Kim,

    You really write so beautifully! You have elucidated so many of the lights and darks of FB so clearly. I always say FB is a labyrinth for my neurosis. It is so easy to protect your own feeling and hurts onto other people in person, but especially when you are just reading their words. We read between the lines things that were never intended and take offense at hurts unmeant. It is almost as if the emails received become mirrors into the darkness we carry inside. Your friend, perhaps, is responding to an older, deeper hurt than your comment. Perhaps her family or other close friends have not accepted her political choices? She has been hurt and refuses to be hurt again. Many scenarios are possible. Most people are deeply unaware of how they project onto others and the pain it causes. I know I have caused pain this way. Politics is yet another way we project our hurt onto the world.

    This is my long-winded way of saying don’t take it personally. You engaged, she ran.

    Beyond that, it is beyond me how anyone could in good conscious mean what is said in that image. I feel it is a great failing in the educational system of our country that people lack the skills to distinguish between a truly evil man (Hitler- just so there is no confusion! ; ) and a man who they disagree with but has spent his life as a public servant.

  5. kim says:

    Hey painter of blue, that was you I was (mis)quoting about facebook neurosis! I think you are on to something regarding “the emails received becoming mirrors into the darkness we carry inside.” It’s hard to write about this without betraying my old friend’s confidence, but this is why her response made my heart ache a little. That, and clearly it pushed a few of my own buttons in regards to righteousness.

    A well made point, Izak, sometimes my earnestness gets the better of me. I missed a whole teabag/one testicle joke in there somewhere… To Reductio ad Hitlerum, or Argumentum ad Nazium (ouch) I would add my personal least favorite, Reductio ad Jesus™. For the curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_Hitlerum

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