Social Media: The Modern Samsara

It started as an innocuous post on Twitter. The reaction to it was phenomenal and almost entirely negative. In seconds my post was attacked, I was dragged for the comment, and personal attacks were sharp and vicious. As I watched the comments spread and the negative nature of the comments increase, I made a snap decision: to delete all of my tweets and close my Twitter account. It was the best decision of my recent life.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with social media and the information presented on those sites, I found that, for the most part, the creation of online communities promotes and enhances the constant delusions that we live with and promulgate in our lives. I used my social media as an outlet for my ideas, outrage, and often jumped on a personal hobby horse about one idea or another. The reactions to my posts from friends helped sustain my engagement and I enjoyed the feeling of getting “likes” and “retweets”. It was somehow satisfying to receive positive feedback from people I did not know personally. My ego thrived in this environment and I felt good.

That is, of course, until someone took offense and that reaction spread like wildfire. I was vilified and the positive strokes I had received were now turned into negative attacks. In that moment, I realized the fundamental truth of social media: it is simply another tool of ego and my ego mind. I was, in some ways, addicted to the frenzy and the thrill, and as soon as I recognized the trap, I escaped it….at least for a while.

What I learned about social media and the instant gratification that it can bring is that media posts are an extension of ego and, strangely enough, a kind of balm for our thoughts and ideas. We seek out people who support and promote that ego-centric world and we gain a sense of meaning and purpose that is, to put it bluntly, a dangerous delusion. As the current saying goes, social media is a kind of “honey trap”, a way to spend vast amounts of time and energy on something that has no substance or real purpose. In a very real sense, it represents and extends samsara in ways that we can’t really understand until, for some, it’s too late and we are hooked or addicted.

This modern form of samsara creates a kind of alternate world in which we can create an avatar, a representation of ourselves. We can alter photos, present a more perfect version of ourselves for the world to see. Or not. We can create the worst possible representations of ourselves as kind of alter-egos spewing bile and filth for the world to consume. We can use the format to attack and rage at those who are in the virtual space. It becomes as kind fo hellscape, a place of horror and misplaced identity. We can become the worst versions of ourselves.

I know, sure, online media can provide an outlet for those who have no close connections to those around us; it can be a refuge from the horror that our lives can become. It can be a kind fo balm for the world we actually live in…an escape. That is, of course, the real problem: many of us are in places and relationships that are truly terrible and escape is the one thing we need. Social media gives us that outlet. I guess the question I have is simply this: what is the cost of creating and maintaining an online presence? What damage is it doing to our lived experience?

My lightly maintained social experience, an Instagram photo post, a “like” on someone else’s post, is about all I’m doing right now. Staying connected to friends and acquaintances through these minimal interactions is one way I still engage in social media. That being said, my social media presence is not entirely under my control. With family members and friends posting something about me occasionally, I’m left with a series of questions about what level of engagement I actually have on these platforms. In some ways, all of use are connected to those who post information and ideas about us without our approval. My daughter, for example, will post something that includes me. Do I ask her not to post that photo, idea, or thought? How much control do we really have over the things posted online about us?

Finally, I wonder, too, about the search histories that are collected and processed without our knowledge. What information can be gleaned about our private lives in online forums? Certainly, my life is not influential or consequential so any knowledge gained is limited and not very useful to AI engines processing that data. Actually, I find it kind fo funny to think that some bot out there has scooped up the false references to me online….for a while, I posted absolutely inaccurate representations of myself online. Birthplaces, schools attended, jobs held. I created a whole series of false identities with the intent to confuse and befuddle those nefarious bots online. Who knows if it had any effect on my online profile and I laugh at the idea that someone thinks I’m living in Toronto working at a Subway.

When it comes down to it, I learned a lesson from the Twitter screed I experienced. First and foremost, don’t post your ideas online in 140 characters. Write at length and avoid posting something that you are not willing to support with details and evidence. Avoid reaction; support dialogue and conversation. Those are some of the lessons I’ve learned. At least I think that approach will keep me sane.

May you be happy, May you be well.

Ivermectin, Hydroxychloroquine, and Anti-Intellectualism in the United States: A Path to Compassion

The origins of anti-intellectualism in the United States can be found in the distant past and in the modern present. In Puritan societies established in the 17th century, fear of intellectuals was baked into the societies established in New England. Ministers in the Puritan church decried intellectuals as individuals who promoted the ideas of “Satan” and equated intellectuals, scientists, economists, philosophers and other scholars, as potential threats to Puritan society. John Cotton, a member of the Puritan clergy in Massachusetts Bay colony, was considered a scholar of the church until, in later life, he decried the transformation of the Puritan church in the colony and lashed out at those he saw as a threat to the community. These people, often referred to as “learned individuals”, were part of a conspiracy to undermine the Puritan church. He claimed, “the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee…” His anti-intellectualism represents a movement in American society and continues to impact society today.

Fast forward to 2021 and Cotton’s antipathy toward intellectualism and, in this case, science is widespread. Distrust of current vaccinations for COVID-19 represent modern examples of the fear of and perceived threat of intellectuals. Logic, reason, and research have been turned on their head as people claim secret cures and alternative treatments for prevention of and cure of COVID.

A casual visit to a grocery store last winter is testimony to this strange approach to research and reason. I entered the store, masked, following the requirements of both the community and the store. The store limited the number of people who could enter, and I quickly walked through the eisles grabbing what I needed. As I went to check out, a family of six were unmasked, an adult woman coughing loudly as she scanned items at the self-checkout. Around her, people stared and one person spoke up, “put on a mask to protect us all, please.” This request promoted a tirade, “DO YOUR RESEARCH! I’ve had COVID and I’m immune as are my family! We are not a threat to you!” The phrase “Do Your Research” is often shouted by supporters of groups like QANON as a kind of threat to those of us who might question their approach. Of course, the research and data always reveal their particular delusion. As I listened, I heard the rage and the undercurrent of fear that comes with not knowing what is going on in the world and how to navigate it. I walked away wondering at the complexity of talking to folks who are driven by these kinds of emotions and decisions.

The truth is, we are all subject to some form of delusion and folks driven to avoid vaccination are subject to pseudo-science passed off as factual information. As many folks are aware, that false narrative and false information is nothing short of delusion.

The most recent examples of such delusions are the use of off-label prescription drugs to help fight off a COVID infection. The fascinating thing is that fear of a vaccine is trumped by acceptance of unusual and bizarre claims that some drug or chemical is equally effective.

The use of Ivermectin, an animal dewormer and anti-parasitic drug, represents one of the more extreme and strange currents. It’s easy to find people hawking these so-called “cures” and this acceptance of “alternative therapies” speaks to the long tradition of people making money off of another person’s misery. Snake oil salesmen at the turn of the 20th century were a common sight in towns and villages. My own great grandfather was one such vendor, claiming that his particular solution combining alcohol and cinnamon was a cure all. In fact, all he seemed to do is invent Fireball, a whiskey drink in modern American society.

I’m raising these issues and this topic on this page because it has become clear to me that many people are living in fear. COVID is a terrible virus and as new variants take hold, they worry people who might, in another situation, make a more rational choice (like taking a vaccination as opposed to chomping on a Horse Dewormer drug). Compassion for those individuals who seek out these alternative therapies is one key to overcoming anti-intellectualism. Some people are trapped in their own delusions and the only thing we can do is offer our support and suggest actions that are based in rational thought.

This bit of analysis and perspective leads me to reflect on the words of Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. He has said, repeatedly, that compassion cannot stop with just those people who makes us feel accepted, welcome, or proud. Compassion must extend to those individuals who challenge our perceptions. He famously said that we have to extend our compassion to people like Donald Trump even though many folks find the man offensive. Similarly, reaching out to those refusing to aid in the end of the pandemic is a huge challenge and a worthy cause. Recognizing that all beings are deserving of our compassion is one way to unlock the fear that many of us experience.

So, when you find someone taking horse dewormer, ask them to explain the reasons for their actions. Listen carefully without applying our own perspectives. Simply put, reach out to those in need. That approach remains my goal in combating anti-intellectualism in COVIDland.

May you be happy, May you be well.