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Facebook-Induced Political Psychosis

Today was a strange day. Donald Trump took the oath of office, and I couldn't seem to get off of Facebook. Normally, Facebook doesn't hold me so transfixed.

Last night I was at a face to face gathering where someone explained that we needed to all make sure our TVs were turned on for the inauguration but tuned to a channel like ESPN that wasn't airing the ceremony. This struck me as curious, but, since I don't have a TV, I didn't ask the obvious question: "Why should I do that?"

I wasn't sure what time the ceremony was supposed to start, and while I would normally tune in if I could, I didn't bother to look up the start time. A little more than 10 minutes after noon Eastern I saw a comment on Facebook from someone reacting to Trump's speech, so I watched it on the NPR website.

As I listened to the President repeat his promises about jobs and putting America first, I noticed that a friend from high school had posted the same instructions to Facebook about having the TV on but not tuned to the ceremony. She also included an explanation for these odd instructions. The point was to drive down the viewership metrics in order to inflict some egoic wound on the incoming President.

"Really?" I thought. That seems particularly small-minded. Whatever. Not having a proper TV, I was in no position to affect the President's rating one way or another.

I continued to read Facebook posts from my friends and acquaintances who reported being so distraught that they were unable to function normally. Facebook doesn't show me any posts from Trump supporters. I imagine it would have seemed a happier day if I'd been granted a window into their social media declarations, but FB filled my feed with the lamentations of the Blue Tribe.

I felt bad for the people freaking out today and wallowing in despair. I think they are foolish to focus all of their rage on the person of Donald Trump, as this blinds them to the systemic nature of the pressures and perverse incentives that have delivered us to so surreal a moment as this, but I didn't see today as any sort of teachable moment. I confined my comments to my own wall and to discussion threads populated by people like me who seemed disconnected from the pervasive emotional turmoil.

For me, the gut punch of the 2016 electoral cycle came in July when Hillary Clinton secured her party's nomination and Bernie Sanders accepted the verdict and fell in line. I've had nearly half a year to get over it, and so now I have the privilege of standing in the eye of the emotional hurricane while the majority of the people that social media connects me to are caught up in the tempest.

I have moved so frequently over the course of my adult life that I was, more often than not, registered to vote in a different state than the one I was living in when it came time to vote. When I did vote, it was always for a third party candidate who had no chance of winning. Consequently, it's never been "my guy" up there at the podium accepting the victory on behalf of everyone who supported him, nor did I ever have the sense that it might have been my guy up there if only... something.

There have been years when I probably would have voted for the person who ended up winning had I been registered where I was living. I might have voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, but I was living in Japan and had no idea how to request an absentee ballot. I probably would have supported him in 1996, but I was a new transplant to Seattle that November, and I was registered to vote in Missouri.

In the next five presidential elections, I voted for the Libertarian Party candidate. Having "thrown my vote away," inauguration day was always a peculiar spectacle in which I had no psychic stake, but this year the emotional disconnect between me and the people around me reached a new extreme. Or perhaps it's always been this nuts and the seeming disconnect is really a reflection of how deeply Facebook's talons have penetrated my psyche.

I think it is true that Facebook has a more comprehensive hold on my psyche than was the case in 2012, but it also seems like the increased connectivity and resulting echo chamber has seduced people into adopting more extreme positions and to regarding the servants of rival ideologies with a more intense hatred than was the norm in the pre-wired world.

It's really hard to say, though. It's like thinking the sky was a deeper shade of blue when I was a kid. It seems more silvery these days, possibly from all the contrails, but there's no popping back to the 1970s to compare the quality of my experience then to that of now.

My peers seem to have mostly gone insane, and even the ones who understand that political turmoil accompanies the arrival of the limits to growth seem to be taking it all way too personally and focusing their anxiety in the form of a beam of purified hatred pointed at the head of Donald Trump, the personification of this tragically absurd historical moment.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 21st, 2017 04:02 am (UTC)
Inauguration day
I don't care so much about the individuals who win the Presidency, as I do for the causes influenced by their terms. (Environment, Supreme Courts, Trade war...)

For myself, it started out as a surreal day, knowing that DJT was about to become our President. Beyond disagreeing with certain policy positions, I am repelled by his apparent ignorance on many levels, yet clearly he has an intelligence that defies many. Now, I'm so vexed I may never uncross my eyes. I'm not taking the transfer of power personally, but the potential of this new administration is beyond worrisome. Look at the effect he's had on international diplomacy before taking office!

KMO, do you still hold to the opinion you expressed months ago, on the C-Realm, that it is unimportant who should win the position of President because of the structural rigidity of the Washington establishment? I mean, it did see us through the George W. Bush Presidency but he was no Donald J. Trump. I feel that this is a very different situation.

Edited at 2017-01-21 04:26 am (UTC)
Jan. 28th, 2017 05:10 am (UTC)
I really don't get it either. Its so strange how people can see the same thing so differently. Like most people I know, I was at work during the inauguration and unable to watch ESPN or trumps speech. But I watched it on c span when I got home (their coverage was awesome - just long, silent shots of what was happening with no commentary trying to scare me or make me angry. It showed it for what it was - a rather dull and excruciatingly slow ceremonial event for the military to dust off the brass). The speech itself was nothing new, only remarkable for the same reasons his talking points were remarkable throughout his campaign. But friends of mine did their best to pretend that he declared war on all nonwhite, nonmale humans and tapdanced by the big red button. What eyes are these people seeing with? After reading the first post over at the well of galabes, it makes a little more sense to me. Things that are plain as day to one culture are alien and literally unseeable to others. The strange thing about our time in the werold is that this division isnt happening across miles or millenia. Its happening in real time, right before everyone's baffled eyes.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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