Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Of Character Attacks and Echo Chambers OR Welcome to Facebook
I recently retired my trusty old notebook and replaced it with a Surface Pro 4. It has been a while since I have addressed this blog, so I thought now was the perfect time to break in the new keyboard/cover. You may not think so after reading this, but, there you go.
It is an election year, and that always brings out the worst in some people. Conversely, it rarely brings out the best in anyone. I am not immune from this affliction. I battle it, but I know I will let an unnecessary disparaging comment fly too frequently. It is admittedly difficult when you see people take a position that you “know in your heart” is wrong.
I want to take a moment to address the phrase “know in your heart”. Personally, I have always interpreted this to mean that you have a belief that may not be rational, but it is a firmly held belief. You may have different musing on the topic, but for this treatise, my interpretation frames my thoughts shared here.
When attempting to influence someone to embrace a position because you “know in your heart” it is correct, it can be difficult to articulate the benefits of that position in contrast to opposing positions. This brings me to the title of this piece, “Of Character Attacks and Echo Chambers OR Welcome to Facebook”.
Many of my social media active neighbors here in Costa Mesa share their opinions freely on a broad range of topics. These topics include entertainment, health, family, faith, education, the list is almost endless. It isn’t rare that two or more of my friends and neighbors will find they have conflicting viewpoints on a topic. While the discussion in that cases can take quite a few different trajectories, the one most fascinating is the one that gets downright personal. We have all witnessed them. Some of us have found ourselves embroiled in them.
Why would a grown, mature, established adult devolve into behavior that they should have left behind in junior high school? There are many reasons, I am sure. You might have to consult a text on psychology to fully document them and their causes. I will propose, however, that the concept of advancing or defending something you “know in your heart” to be true is at the root of some of these disagreements.
Many of us cringe as soon as they start. Sometimes they begin as the proverbial snowball rolling down a snowy hill, gaining girth and velocity as they roll along. Others are flat out nuclear in nature. One big boom! Before you can say “remember what you mother said, if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”, you have a raging war of character attacks.
But there are other dynamics that can improve the odds that these types of skirmishes will be birthed and thrive. One of those is the “Echo Chamber”. This is the place where many like-minded individuals, and usually a few less like minded who strayed in accidentally or were dropped in by “friends”, gather to agree with each other and lament how anyone could disagree with them. Should an opposing viewpoint find its way into said “Echo Chamber”, it is quickly identified and neutralized. Should the opinion attempt to persist, the neutralization efforts escalate, and soon you have full blown character attacks.
I will leave it as an exercise for you dear reader to identify those echo chambers that you have encountered, or perhaps participate in and the instances of character attacks you have witnessed or perhaps been a participant in on either side.
What are the benefits of these “echo chambers”? Obviously they are a “safe place”. If you prefer not to be challenged by opposing viewpoints, they are comfortable places to be. They can also be great locations for opposition research. Drop an opposing viewpoint in and see what arguments take shape in opposition. Try out a new angle here or there and see what that produces in rational replies. If that is your goal, descending into character attacks is generally non-productive, but on occasion I have seen them artfully applied to provoke responses. In almost all cases, opinions are hardened and it is clear that feeling can be rubbed raw.
My recommendations? I know you are dying to know. First, never post under the influence. Second, sit back and enjoy the fireworks, if that is your thing. There is one blogger in our community that makes no bones about the entertainment he derives from “stirring the pot”. Third, examine why you engage in these echo chambers and the discussions that fester in the walls of their silos. Forth, remember what your mother said…
Welcome to election season and Facebook!