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Part 2: In Praise of Rudeness and Unity

For part 1 of this post, please go here.

I’ve been exploring this quote from Priscilla Shirer:

“Unity does not mean sameness. It means oneness of purpose.

It’s interesting, how a one-line quote can trigger so much contemplation and so many questions.

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

I’ve had two conversations with two different friends in the last week about how hopeless we feel to bring about positive change in the current political and social climate because people in general seem unable to unify and work together. A clear leader has not stepped forward. We are increasingly split into factions and too busy with in-groups and out-groups to step back and consider the whole picture.

This is not an accident. Unity is a distinct social advantage and a powerful strategy. It’s also apolitical, which is easy to see on the nightly news. Traditionally large groups are fragmenting into smaller and smaller units. Small groups, by means of forced teaming and other manipulations, are usurping power from established organizations. Current political leaders on both sides of the aisle are losing their followers. As traditional boundaries and frameworks dissolve, chaos and confusion sweep us into a new national and political reality, and it is not unity.

And then there’s capitalism. What we all have in common is an assault on our personhood, the subsummation of a human being into a cash commodity. In other words, how much money are we worth? Can we be manipulated into spending money or persuaded to prostitute for marketers and algorithms, politicians and bloated corporations?

Here, let me bend over and pick up that “free” soap for you.

For years, various people have told me I will never be “successful” if I don’t get on Facebook.

For years, I’ve resisted that assertion. Who made that rule? What is the evidence for that? Who benefits from me being on social media when it’s something I absolutely do not want to do?

I am fortunate to have a central pillar of support for my writing in a close relationship. That person is on FB and consistently, week after week, posts links to my work on his page. A couple of weeks ago, upon posting links to my latest Substack posts, FB threatened to suspend him. Why? Because the image that happened to be grabbed with one of those linked posts was a black and white picture of a nude pregnant woman. Nudity. Horrors. (You can go look at the pic here. Scroll down. You’ll know it when you see it.)

So, here’s the thing. An algorithm did that. It was instantaneous.

I’m not writing for algorithms. I’m writing for people.

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

The hypocrisy staggers me. One can spread whatever mis- and disinformation one likes on FB’s platform. Stalkers and doxxers use it. Hate groups and insurrectionists plan to overthrow the government and kill people on it. Ideologues of all stripes churn out toxic poison on a daily basis. Bots and bad actors, both overseas and home grown, are free to roam, and every single keystroke users make is carefully recorded and mined so everyone can receive exactly the information they want to hear along with advertising they’re most likely to respond to.

The platform has grown and grown, become richer and richer, more and more influential, and less and less about connecting people on a healthy individual level. It’s now a sprawling, unmanageable mess. Users are leaving, and the company cannot adequately police and monitor itself or the activity taking place on the platform. So they look for ways to get even bigger and make more money (by making it more addictive and persuading the culture at large everyone needs an account to be “successful”) and write more algorithms to deal with “inappropriate” content (as defined by the company).

Nudity has been judged as inappropriate content, and because of an image grab over which neither the person posting nor I had any control (there were several other non-naked images in those posts), links to my content were deleted and suspension threatened.

That’ll teach us.

What it taught me is I’ve been right all along. Right to create my own blog and website. Right to find a platform like Substack that does not censor my work. Right to write for readers rather than clicks, stats, and algorithms.

My friend on FB has undoubtedly done much to get my work out there and find readers. No question about it, and I’m grateful every week for his efforts on my behalf.

On the other hand, if the price of “success” is participation on FB, it’s too high. I’m not interested. Not even a little bit. In fact, I feel vaguely I must be doing something absolutely right in order to be banned by an algorithm. I tried to squeeze out a tear of fear and self-pity, but I couldn’t manage it. There’s an ever-growing club of thoughtful, intelligent, science-based, talented people who have been suspended or banned (or both) from FB. I’d be proud to hang with them and I’m glad to read them elsewhere.

What does this have to do with unity? Well, FB was originally about connection, yes? First it was a dating hub. (All right, a getting laid hub. Whatever.) Then it was a way to maintain connections over long distance. Then it grew into a monster that presented every user with a way to maximize a “friends” list while allowing bullying, silencing, stalking, deplatforming, identity theft, hacking, and other behavior people feel they can get away with behind the privacy of their screen and keyboard.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Where is the unity now? What is our oneness of purpose? Oh, right. We’re unified in being income streams for FB. Lucky old FB.

FB lives because we animate it. Never forget that. We’re the ones who decide no one can be “successful” without it.

Oneness of purpose is a great phrase, but what does it really mean, and how do we get there? Is there any such thing as oneness of purpose anymore? Is our world too complicated for that? Can we come up with a simple overarching statement of purpose, or are we too tangled up in our ridiculous labels and ideologies, too distracted by our outrage and all the people wrong on FB and other social media, to raise our heads and look at the bigger picture?

Do we want our culture to be run by entities like FB that pay lip service to “friends” and “connection” but in actuality work to make money off discord, fear, and disconnection? Do we want our country to be run by authoritarians and corporations? What’s stronger, a handful of small sticks bound together or a handful of splinters? We the people are not powerful enough to make sweeping change individually. Our power, the power of democracy, is in unity of purpose. If we lose our ability and willingness to unify, we’re at the mercy of whatever bloated, narcissistic, moronic, power-mad, lying clown and his train of minions and hangers-on comes along.

And that’s worked out so well.

What I know is I’m writing for you, whoever you are, reading this page. I’m sitting in my green suede chaise with a cat above my right shoulder on the back, the blinds drawn against the heat, the laptop in my lap, writing for you. I’m not writing for FB or an algorithm. I’m not battering you with advertising. I’m not collecting your data. I’m not writing clickbait. I’m not thinking about success, beyond writing a good post, editing it, and publishing it today. Because that’s what I do on Saturdays. I’m not thinking about the money I’ll make, because all my content both here and on Substack is free at this point.

I have no interest in what you’re wearing, what color you are, to whom you pray, how you vote, if you’re vaccinated, what your biological sex or gender expression is. I don’t care where you live. I don’t care how much money you make or have. I don’t care who you love, but I hope one person you love is yourself. I don’t care how old you are, or what you eat, or what your health status is, or what language and culture you were born into.

If you’re reading this, I’m writing for you. If you find anything of value in my work, I’ve succeeded and we’ve made a connection.

There’s no need to hit a like button for an algorithm.

On the other hand, if you find an artistic black-and-white photograph of a nude pregnant woman offensive, you might appreciate FB’s censorship of “inappropriate” material, and you probably won’t enjoy my work.

And that’s okay, too. You won’t find me polluting the pages of Facebook with my obscene pornography.

Those of you who come to me through C. Leo’s Facebook page may want to consider subscribing directly through Harvesting Stones and/or Substack. I don’t know if he’ll continue to try to post links to me and risk suspension or not.

I’m going to continue to write what I write and use the images I like. I’ll let other people worry about whether I’m a “success” or not.

My oneness of purpose: To connect, to think critically, to explore, to question, to discuss, to create, to make a positive contribution.

What’s yours?

Photo by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash

Censorship

Now that I publish my fiction on Substack, I read regular content from the platform, and a few weeks ago the platform runners wrote an essay about censorship titled “Society has a trust problem. More censorship will only make it worse.”

I’ve read and reread that essay.

I’ve been trained as a librarian, and one of the most important tenets of professional librarians is freedom of information. One of the things that drove me out of my job as an elementary school librarian in a public school system was pressure to take Harry Potter off the shelves. I told the school board I wouldn’t do it. If they had to fire me, so be it, but I wouldn’t take the books off the shelves. I asked if any school board member had actually read one of the books in question. None had. Surprise, surprise.

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash

Freedom of speech and freedom in general have been hot topics since the 2016 presidential election and COVID. I’ve written before about freedom of speech, which is not all-inclusive.

In the last six years, cultural censorship has increased enormously, but it’s failed to silence anti-vaxxers, proponents of the election Big Lie, COVID naysayers, and people who believe men cannot become women, or vice versa. It’s also failed to address increasing civil violence, disconnection, and unrest.

Does censorship work? Is it a useful tool?

It doesn’t appear so. I’m irresistibly reminded of the “Just Say No” drug campaign for school kids and sexual abstinence programs for teens. Do they work?

Not so much.

It seems to be a human character trait that the minute we’re forbidden to do something we move heaven and earth to do it. Look at Adam and Eve. Look at Pandora. Dozens of old oral stories from around the world are about people who broke their promise not to look and suffered the consequences.

I’ve never thought to ask myself what problem we’re trying to address with censorship.

Is it cultural trust?

Possibly. Trust is an easily manipulated quality, because it’s a belief. Belief, as we’ve seen demonstrated over and over during the last years, is more powerful than facts. People will die for their beliefs. They’ll kill for them.

Are beliefs strengthened or weakened by access to all kinds of information (facts) or opinions? Are beliefs strengthened or weakened by censorship?

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

I’m not sure trust is the root problem, though, or not the entire root. Perhaps the deepest root is education and, paradoxically, freedom. Authoritarianism is characterized by blind submission to authority. One of the tools of authoritarianism is censorship, including limiting the rights to vote, read, write, report the facts, speak, and teach.

Censorship implies people can’t be trusted with a full range of information. They are unable to make the “right” choices, according to the authoritarian(s) at the top. Thus, the public is spoon-fed only that which supports the authoritarian power. Asking questions is not allowed. Challenge is not allowed. Discussion and debate are not allowed.

Don’t you worry your little head about substance abuse. Just say no. We don’t talk about sex and our bodies in this house. It’s dirty and shameful. Just abstain from inhabiting your healthy young body.

The subject of censorship is tricky, because I suspect we’d all like to have the power to censor certain voices on social media, on radio, on television, in the bookstores, on YouTube, and on platforms like Substack. Some of the propaganda and opinions out there, the lies masquerading as facts, are horrifying. However, my lie might be your fact. Your heart-felt ideology about eating meat may be in direct conflict with what I need to sustain my health and quality of life. Should one of us have the power to censor the other?

This is where the trust problem comes in. We don’t trust one another to make the “right” choices or believe the “right” people. I think many don’t trust themselves to make the “right” choices. They rely on someone they have faith in to tell them what to do.

The “right” choices imply the possibility of “wrong” choices, but this is black-and-white, overly simplistic thinking. Perhaps you need to be a vegetarian in order to sustain your health. Perhaps I need to be a carnivore. We’re both right. Does that mean a full range of diet and nutrition information should be available to all? Can we, as a culture, agree to live and let live?

I have my doubts.

The current specific issue on Substack is the subject of COVID. Evidently, there are writers on the platform spreading dis- and/or misinformation about COVID. Scientists on Substack sending meticulously researched, linked, and data-driven information take issue with that and want Substack to censor such writers for the sake of the public good.

Substack, in response, wrote the above essay, maintaining their position against censorship and explaining their thoughts about it.

I’m in sympathy with both sides. I, too, am frustrated with the sheer volume of unmitigated bullshit out there. But I never forget many people would say my sources of information are bullshit, and I would fight hard to maintain access to those sources.

Maybe the problem is not how deep the bullshit is, but how bad we are at recognizing it. And that’s a product of our broken education system and our inability to think critically. Both these cultural trends make us increasingly vulnerable to authoritarianism.

As I’ve discussed before, choice goes hand-in-hand with responsibility. If we want optimum freedom to choose, we must accept the consequences of our choices.

Taking responsibility for our choices is not humanity’s greatest strength at this moment in history.

If I was Supreme Ruler of the World (God forbid), I believe I would vote with Substack on this issue of censorship. Silencing people does not address the root of the problem, only a symptom. We need to figure out a way to fix our educational system so we all learn critical thinking at every stage of education. Not only does this empower people to make their own choices and recognize the difference between lies and truth, opinions and information, it allows public access to a full range of viewpoints.

We are never going to silence the liars and manipulators. They will continue to try to obtain power and money, and they will continue to aggressively work to silence those who disagree with them. The best weapon against them is to firmly empower ourselves and others with education and the ability to think critically. We don’t need to be protected. We need to be armed.

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash