It started several weeks ago when I came across an article from the site Mother Jones entitled:
A shocking title for sure. It caught my attention not just for the abundance of vitriol it seemed to convey but also because two years ago I switched from cows to almonds as far as liquid dairy consumption was concerned.
I was worried I had become an ignorant hipster without knowing it.
I won’t summarize the article for you here as I’d rather you form your own opinions on it if you are interested. You can also read the writer’s follow up to the backlash here:
But I will say that after I read the article I was angry and frustrated for reasons that felt more visceral than I could have anticipated.
My main frustration came from the fact that the article was written with a tone of what seemed tremendous snark and condescension. It presupposed many things, which I debated addressing one by one, but after weeks of thinking about I decided not to.
Regarding the article I will say just this:
I don’t drink almond milk because it’s trendy, or I think it’s healthier for me. I drink almond milk because drinking any more than 6 ounces of cow’s milk causes a reaction in my digestive tract I can only describe as volcanic insurrection.
My feelings about the article aren’t really about the specific points, the article itself, or even the author. They are about something I’ve been having all kinds of feelings around for some time. This piece merely crystallized them for me.
You see it’s really part of a greater frustration that deals with several things.
1. Critical reading, or at least reverence of it, seems to be in great decline.
I was not an English major, I have not read most or even a substantial portion of the great literature in our culture. But I do read regularly, and I do think. And what I find most frustrating is how easily individual articles sway people to concrete opinions.
When I was a child my mother used to call me out for defending things I wasn’t necessarily sure were true. I eventually realized it was because I was and still am somebody who wants to believe. Fantastical stories, astounding facts and figures, they all help to firm up my resolve to defend something I have no vested interest in outside of being a staunch advocate of something I was proselytizing as truth.
As I got older I met people who looked at everything the complete opposite of me, one of my close friends specifically didn’t believe anything. He approached everything with a significant degree of skepticism, which also did battle with my worldview.
Eventually those two coalesced to help me form the approach I take today. Healthy curiosity with as much objective critical thought as I can muster. Sure it doesn’t always work, but it is at least a conscious attempt.
Our willingness to accept any single thing as gospel truth (perhaps even the piece you are reading right now) is dangerous as it leads to lazy thinking, which lead to lazy actions, which I fear, leads to a general disinterested inaction.
2. Snark is everywhere.
This is not a new observation. But its perpetuation as a means of attracting attention, gathering clicks, or just standing out has become so prolific that it feels suffocating. I have become less and less likely to read articles with deliberately controversial headlines as I’ve come to realize it’s simply a way to hook me into something that rarely delivers.
I understand that as the collective voice of the Internet approaches a deafening roar it is harder and harder to make your own voice known. But I wish we tried harder. Instead of making accusations, telling people the 10 things they have to know, 20 things they never knew, or that they won’t believe what happens halfway through this video, I wish we worked harder to come up with accurate titles that summarized quality content.
Yes it is hard to be creative, but that it is why it so treasured. I wish so much that people would showcase their vulnerability and their honesty in their writing instead of their fear and their anger.
We are all gods and we are all hypocrites, we all have the potential to exist as everything at any time. But presuming to know why anybody is anything and then taking a strong public stance as such gets us nowhere.
3. Our language matters.
There are so many words I wish were currently no longer part of our society. Nerd, hipster, yuppie, etc. Anything that is niche becomes hipster, anything requiring technical knowledge becomes nerdy. Continual blanket use of these words fosters a perception that is so far from reality that they cease to have true meaning and instead become replacements for actual well thought out statements.
Few amongst us would loudly celebrate being pigeonholed ourselves, and yet, we continue to do it to others. Categorization helps us to understand the world. But lazy categorization perpetuates stereotypes and fosters the lethargy that prevents people from actually learning and understanding how our culture and we continue to evolve.
I am as guilty of it as any of us. But we have to understand and believe that there is more to people than whether or not they code, drink almond milk, and live in Brooklyn. It is the same thing that creates sub categories which some might say are more accurate but I feel are no more necessary.
Just as the backlash occurred for describing ourselves not only as the job that we do, I wish for us to not describe us only as the interests that we have.
We are so much more than the sum of our parts; we are more nuanced and intricate than we are allowed to showcase. And it is in that, in our personhood, our very substance, interest, activity, expression, thoughts, and behavior that who we are exists. We are not titles but people, and I feel the more we look at each other as such the better off we will be.