I had a fight with a friend a while back. It was a Twitter-and-Facebook fight, so there’s a pretty good chance it never would’ve happened as recently as, say, 2007. And yes, I realize 2007 is now a decade in the past, but it feels like yesterday to me: that’s how it goes.
It pains me slightly to write those words: “it was a Twitter-and-Facebook fight…” It pains me that I do anything on Twitter. It pains me that there is a thing called Twitter, and that a surprisingly large number of people—including the President of the United States—get in fights on it every day. But that’s how it goes.
My friend had shared some stories that I found objectionable. It wasn’t so much the content, but the sources. I thought it was obvious that the sources were irredeemably biased—that they were, in fact, in the pay of an authoritarian foreign government. (I’m being politic after the fact, not so much to make myself look more reasonable than I am, but because I no longer give a shit about the stupid tweets. How can you stay concerned about something called a tweet? But when I saw the tweets I felt something like surprised contempt, something like “Dude, the fuck is wrong with you?”) I posted a link showing that the source worked for the foreign news agency, a fact which she left off her Twitter profile. I assumed my friend would see the error of his position, and be at least a little thankful for my pointing it out.
Things didn’t work out quite that way.
Looking back it’s obvious that I wanted to score points. It wasn’t my only intention: I honestly thought my friend was misguided. I thought well of him and expected he might change his mind if he were presented different information. But my impulse was at least partially Zing! See what I did?
It was Ego. It was I/Me/Mine.
I’m not all over myself on this. I’m a Buddhist, not a Buddha. I get mad. I say stupid shit sometimes. Oh, not very often, mind you, but…every now and then. I tweet for fuck’s sake: how can I not say stupid shit sometimes?
And just because I call myself a Buddhist it doesn’t mean I’m a very good Buddhist. Basically, my “being a Buddhist” entails being lost in thought 90% of the time, punctuated by brief windows of, “Oh wow—I was lost in thought again. Just look at all this stuff!”
But it also means that when I have a fight with a friend I don’t usually think, “Okay, now I must plot an intricate revenge, to be delayed for years and then served cold. And, in the interim, hopefully, bad shit will happen to him without my even trying.”
In all honesty, I want the best for my friend. I want him to be happy and at peace. And, in all honesty, I want this for all sentient beings. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to feel this way—I’ve no doubt lots of people who have never heard about the Buddha just naturally feel this way. I was going to write “millions of people” but I don’t know if that’s true. I’ve no doubt lots of people do, and I’d even accept that it was millions—but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t. Because humans have evolved with a strong In Group/Out Group module, and although I do believe most people are generally decent, especially to people who look like them and think the same things, it’s also sadly obvious that a great many of us still feel perfectly comfortable—even righteous—despising and insulting people who think differently than we do.
This doesn’t mean that everybody’s on the right track. I’m not a relativist, and you shouldn’t be either. You Relativist, you. Lots of people think really stupid things. We should be judicious in what we call out, but here’s a list of ideas I’m comfortable calling wrong:
1. That a creator God wrote (or caused to be written) a book (or books) that prescribes the rules by which humans should order their lives and civilizations
2. That certain groups or types of people are inherently more (or less) valuable than other people and thus deserve enhanced (or diminished) rights
3. That some people simply delight in doing Evil, and try to do Evil at every opportunity.
4. That one’s religious beliefs are sacrosanct in all situations and immune to rational enquiry or criticism.
5. That one’s children are one’s property and that their care and education are one’s own affair, regardless of how poorly these may be implemented.
6. That the World is Going to Hell in a Hand Basket
7. That there are no differences between people or cultures, that there is nothing to be chosen between them, that all cultural inclinations and traditions are of equal dignity and equally conducive to human flourishing.
8. That humans hold dominion over the earth and its sentient creatures—that we can use non-human animals as we wish, regardless of what suffering we cause them.
9. That humans are weak, fragile creatures who need to be protected from all challenge and adversity.
10. That “Eight Miles High” by Husker Du is not the Greatest Rock Record of All Time
I’m not going to call out my buddy on which of these tenets he was so terribly wrong, but I will grant him that it was not #10.
We live in a weird new age of extreme polarization, when our neighbors are not just people who vote for the other party but dread enemies. It’s difficult because there are important issues to be faced, and because the other side is often so stupid. (Zing!) But it’s discouraging how hostile and dismissive people have become. And it’s not just on the Right: far from it. People on the Right mock people for being weak, and people on the Left mock people for being stupid. As if anyone, ever, in the history of the world, was persuaded by someone telling them they were weak or stupid.
But we don’t always want to persuade people. Sometimes we just want to punish them for being weak. And feel better about ourselves for being strong. We want to show we’re on the good side, that we’re virtuous. We want to show that we’re fit, that we’re okay. That we’re on the right side of history, without stain.
Anyway, I can see why my friend thought I was being a dick. But he came back at me really strong: I was hurt. I hadn’t intended to insult him…really. But what had I intended? I’m not sure. At any rate, he responded with cold hostility, and I was hurt. And somehow we couldn’t get out of it. Maybe if we had been face-to-face it would’ve blown over: or maybe it would’ve gotten worse. Anyway, it got pretty bad and now, even though I truly do wish him the best, I don’t really want to hear from that guy for a while, and I don’t know what was achieved.