Social Media and Illusions of Granduer

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Social media is a great tool. We can connect with old friends and meet new people. It’s a place to interact and it’s nice for moms like me who are a bit isolated as they raise their children. I have observed and experienced a rather disturbing trend, however. That is, because we have our own social media pages and interactions, our opinions and feelings on a specific matter either must be voiced or must be submitted to without discussion.

When I read an article by someone who is formally trained or who works in a specific field, I take into account their expertise. It does not mean that I agree with them, but it is something I consider. Whenever I read an article or blog, I always read about the author so that I can get a feel for their background and knowledge. If I am going to disagree about something, I want to consider the source of the first argument.  This is not how most people see it, though.

I have tried to discuss articles or issues with various people and it always devolves into ad hominem attacks. I try to get people to stay on topic and they won’t or can’t. This is a universal problem. It is not just “liberal” or just “conservative” it is also throughout the Church. There is a very strong anti-intellectualism that has crept into our culture and into the Church. Instead of being knowledgeable on any given subject, we believe that we can make uneducated opinions at will based on our emotions. The evidence or arguments, no matter how sound, do not matter.

This is a break down in an understanding of how truth is conveyed to the senses and in its essence. Once mind-object agreement is no longer the norm, it becomes perfectly acceptable to live in a dictatorship of self. What I mean is that when we become the ultimate source of truth and not reality, things become incoherent and irrational. Unfortunately, what this has turned into is an inability to discuss things rationally and logically. It also creates an environment that is suspect or hostile to intellectual pursuits and within the Church creates a breeding ground for either clericalism or relativism depending on the situation.

First, we need to accept and know our own limitations. There is a vast array of subjects that I do not know enough about in order to form an opinion or share any insight. There are certain subjects, even theological subjects, in which I struggle with emotionalism. Once again that is a limitation within myself that I must accept. If I cannot control my emotions on a specific topic, then I need to avoid a discussions on it until I can. I have improved a lot in this area, but I still do it every now and then.

Feelings are not a sound reason for forming an opinion. Feelings are tied to the passions and can result in automatic, not rational, responses to specific items. When confronted with, let’s say, a theological argument that is formed by reason and that is based on acceptable theological tradition, we cannot respond with I don’t agree because I “feel” this way. No. Feelings are not a valid response to reason. In order to disagree with say, St. Thomas Aquinas (which is perfectly acceptable on certain matters, but I would do so with humility), we need to be able to provide another theological school of thought in response. Your feelings and my feelings do not change reality or a sound argument.

When feelings become the deciding factor in policy decisions, theological decisions, or other areas of our lives, things get ugly. When we are no longer ruled by reason and correct thinking, our feelings become a force of power that subverts those who do not agree with our particular emotional state. This is happening at an alarming rate in our culture. Decisions are being made that have nothing to do with sound or right judgment, but have everything to do with how people feel. This is not just a problem in our culture, it is an issue within the Church.

In the past couple of years, I have encountered a very destructive form of anti-intellectualism within the Church. People say we should move towards Protestants, well yes and no, but anti-intellectualism is something that we cannot borrow from certain (not all) Protestant sects. The Catholic Church is where faith and reason are united on their journey to God. A Catholic told me yesterday that theological study was pharasaical. I was flabbergasted, but not surprised because I left a group recently that focused on a false sense of piety in place of sound intellectual understanding within the Church’s tradition.

The problem with anti-intellectualism is that it works hard to control those who have intellectual strengths. A strange power struggle erupts. Not everyone is called to study theology or philosophy; however, we are called to respect and understand the gifts of other people. Anti-intellectualism comes with an overinflated pride and sense of self that is based on emotion and not study. It is the opposite of the person who has vast knowledge, but uses it in the service of self. Both are inherently wrong.

The individual who referred to me and another friend as Pharisees because of our theological knowledge had no business being on a thread that was discussing Thomistic thought. Rather than accept their own limitations they decided to engage in emotionalism that devolved, as it always does, into ad hominem attacks. They could not respond theologically, so they attacked the people who could. Once again, we need to know and accept our own limitations. If we do not know Thomistic theological and philosophical arguments, then we shouldn’t respond until we do. This is common on other threads as well. I see it often in comment sections.

Here’s the reality, just because we have an opinion does not meant that we should or need to offer it to people. If we, myself included, cannot add to a discussion with insight then it is better that we stay quiet. The Internet is not the place for us to share our ignorance with the world under the guise that we have a right to share our opinion. The Internet is not where I go to have my feelings validated.

I got myself into a discussion last week that I knew I should stay out of. I could not argue the position with sound reason, because of my own personal experiences that still have an emotional hold on me. I also have little patience for presumption. When we are discussing issues with people, we need to stay on topic. I do not know many of the people who I discuss ideas with on social media and that means that I cannot assume anything about them as persons. That is why it is crucial for discussions to keep to the topic at hand. The minute they go off track, I leave.

There is an amazing amount vitriol and venom that we spew at one another on a daily basis in social media. A lot of it could be avoided if we accepted our own limitations, control our emotions, and work on humility. The world does not need to know all of my opinions, especially the ones that are not properly formed by reason. This goes for me, as well. I need to accept that there are certain topics I need to stay away from at the present.  Can you imagine how our interactions would change if we focused on humility, intelligent discussion, and charity? Social media does not make us gods of our own domain. Rather, it is an opportunity to connect with people all over the world and to share sound ideas. Not everyone is expected to engage in discourse at the doctoral level, however, any person should know the difference between the topic at hand and personal attacks. Let’s all consider how we interact in social media as we go through this Holy Week. God bless.

One comment

  1. The need for more edification and less noise on social media extends to all topics. I write about the life issues, and I’ve recently had a courteous private email exchange with a reader who disagrees with me on nearly every point. I’m pretty sure she used email because she was afraid that an open comment on the blog would bring forth snarky responses from other readers. (That makes me wonder about her previous encounters with pro-lifers.)

    You’re one of the edifying voices. Thank you.

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