Is Everything Okay?

Why I Started Posting My Political Views on Social Media

A couple months ago I broke the unwritten rule about not posting political views on social media. Given that I’m a pretty right-leaning person living in a pretty left-leaning city, I got the typical range of reactions—anger, amusement, some agreement, confusion, and concern—but mostly, just silence. It’s not the anger I worry about about—it’s the deafening, unsettling silence. It’s what I‘ve been worrying about for some time now. Many close friends privately messaged me with their concern:

“Is everything okay?”

Is everything ok? Yeah, I think so. I mean, I used to think so. Or maybe I’m not sure I know anymore. Is it me that’s not ok, or is it everyone else? That can be difficult to determine when you’re surrounded by people who see reality very differently than you do. Some of my friends genuinely think I’m just trolling. After all, no reasonable person would hold such views.. would they? And up until now, they’ve always known me to be a reasonable person. So what gives?

I’ve been a contrarian my whole life. It’s hereditary. I already see it in my 2 year old, like the time she touched a hot pan on the stove just because I told her not to (and then stubbornly refused to let herself cry after realizing her mistake). It’s been a point of pride for me over the years, but also a source of embarrassment at times. I think there’s value in taking up the unpopular opinion in the face of consensus, but I must acknowledge that sometimes unpopular opinions are unpopular for good reason (just ask my daughter).

Contrarianism is a hard line to walk.

Luckily I’ve had the same core group of friends since as far back as grade school. The trust we’ve built up over the years has allowed me to explore and discuss pretty much anything, no matter how controversial it may be. They‘re used to my shenanigans and know not to take too much of what I say to heart. This trust has allowed us to become much more open to new ideas and controversial opinions than most people are.

If you’ve heard of “safe spaces”, this is more like a “chafe space”—where instead of censoring ideas that could potentially traumatize other members of the group, all thoughts and perspectives are welcomed, no matter how offensive or distasteful they are. It was in this crucible that my debate style was forged. There’s no better way to thicken your skin, improve your patience, sharpen your wits, and develop a sense of humor than to regularly articulate your thoughts and defend them against public scrutiny.

In recent years, however, we’ve been interacting on less frequent basis, due to the craziness of kids, careers, and well.. life. It has left me feeling a bit lost. A contrarian without a chafe space is like a jester without a court. Having gone through one of the most transformative and difficult times of my life over the past few years, I found my need for honest and open conversation was beginning to outstrip my friends’ ability to provide it, and so I sought it out elsewhere. That has gone about as well as you might’ve expected it to.

Most people bristle at my debate style. Turns out there are certain topics that simply cannot be discussed with some people in a civilized manner, and that there are hard limits on the amount of dissent most people are willing to stomach. I’ve always believed that there’s no value more sacred than the free and open exchange of ideas, and I took it for granted that everyone else thought that way as well. But now, more than ever, I am starting to realize just how valuable and rare it can be.

Donald Trump’s presidential victory highlighted and greatly exacerbated a growing rift between Americans. It’s as large as it’s ever been since perhaps the period leading up to the Civil War, only this time, it isn’t between northerners and southerners—it’s between cities and small towns, christians and secularists, leftists and conservatives, ethnic minorities and white men, women and white men, LGBTQ+ folks and…. white men. There’s always been tension between these groups, but this time around it feels more.. severe—more volatile.

It’s as though we woke up from an eight year entertainment and technology induced coma to find that while we were binging on Netflix and posting selfies on Instagram:

In other words, half the population had gone completely insane (you know which half 😉).

Or maybe, it was just reality smacking us all across the face… hard.

At the time of the election I was working as a software engineer for an up-and-coming tech startup here in Minneapolis. It was the second of such gigs I had taken after leaving a 7 year career as a freelance developer, and a gig I was about to leave having realized that full time work was devastating for me.

I was used to the tech world being inhabited by very left-leaning individuals, and frankly those are the types of people I prefer to surround myself with anyways. Liberal minded people tend to be more open to new ideas, tolerant, and empathetic than people on the right, which are all traits that I’m attracted to. The tolerance exhibited by your average tech company, despite the many claims to the contrary from the media, is about as good as it can get. Or so I thought.

My colleagues were tripping over themselves to accommodate for anyone who fell outside the norm and appeared to treat everyone with equal respect. The company was quite proactive when it came to their diversity and tolerance policies as well, and as a result I had the good fortune of being able to work along side people whom I might not have otherwise. Sadly, that attention to diversity was limited to very narrow domain, as many diversity initiatives are these days.

While the company was quite happy to promote diversity of gender, gender identification, sexual orientation, and skin color, there was no attention paid whatsoever to diversity of age, political viewpoint, or personality type. It was this type of inconsistent application of the progressive ideology that led to me reassessing of some my most deeply held beliefs.

When Trump was elected, I knew people would be upset, but I had no idea just how upset they would be. The next morning I received a company-wide email offering condolences and solidarity by allowing people to take the day off if they felt the need and setting up a safe space for people to “mourn” should they decide to soldier on and come into work.

I mean, I get it. Trump is a divisive character. He makes Obama look like friggin’ Jesus. I’m not even necessarily opposed to the idea of creating support groups to deal with difficult news. What bothered me was the lack of self-awareness demonstrated by management. I’m quite certain that it’d never so much as crossed their minds that someone within the company might hold political viewpoints that ran contrary to their own.

This experience was a byproduct of what is now recognized as the liberal media bubble, and I started noticing that most of the people I knew were living in it—myself included. When I was a wide-eyed left-winger myself, I remember hearing complaints about how bias the media was against conservative viewpoints by right-wing pundits and I brushed them off as petty and baseless. It wasn’t until this past election cycle that I came to slowly discover that those complaints actually had merit. Now that I’ve seen it, it’s become impossible to ignore.

In many ways I felt betrayed by the institutions and people I respected. Objectivity was always held up as a virtue of the left and I’d grown comfortable believing I was enlightened and on the “right side of history”. So comfortable that like many people I felt perfectly justified in looking down my nose at uneducated rural conservative voters. When McCain picked Palin as his running mate 9 years ago, I was part of what I now realize was an embarrassingly hateful mob of left-wing bullies.

The past eight years were a period of great change for me. I launched my software development career, got married, bought my first single family home, had kids, and went from living below the poverty line to the upper middle class. My political views shifted as well, moving more to the right as is typical for people who undergo these types of changes.

At the same time, the past eight years have been a period of great change for the political landscape in the US. Both the left and the right have swung away from the center, with the country as a whole having obviously having moved left as a result of Obama’s policies and executive orders. So while I was slowly shifting to the right, the world I inhabit was quickly shifting the opposite way, leaving me in unfamiliar territory as a political outsider in my own social circles.

Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to me that any of my views might be controversial. I’d always felt I was fairly moderate, albeit with a libertarian bent, yet many of my friends and colleagues have been shocked to find out what my beliefs actually are.

Which brings us to the question of just why I’ve broken my silence and started posting my thoughts on social media. It’s a question I’d intended to answer from the start and one that likely needs to be answered soon in order for some of my friends to justify remaining so.

The experiences I‘ve had discussing political issues since the election have been incredibly disheartening and troubling for me. One of my closest and oldest friends became increasingly agitated over discussions with me about politics, particularly any that involved the topic of he-who-shall-not-be-named. Even though we’d been debating about pretty much everything for more than 20 years without it affecting our friendship, our disagreements over politics contributed the ending of our friendship.

In a Slack chat forum setup by my fellow ex-coworkers to help us keep in touch, politics inevitably seeped into the general purpose channel, with the standard assumption that everyone was politically aligned on the left. Me, being the person I am, wanted to provide a different perspective and chimed in with my take on the election and other topics surrounding it. I admittedly was a bit insensitive to people’s emotions about Trump’s victory when I tried to downplay what seemed like hysteria over the outcome, but I only wanted to provide people with some perspective that might temper their fears.

A specific channel was created for those who wanted to discuss politics, and for a time it served as a decent outlet for me and others to parse what had happened and what to make of it. While I don’t mind being ganged up on, at times I‘d be fending off as many as 6 or so people in very heated and emotional debates. But I enjoyed it and learned a lot about other people’s views and where exactly I stand on mine.

Sadly, however, people began to remove themselves from the channel—always in exasperation to something I had said. One by one they trickled away until all that was left was that same deafening silence I mentioned being so troubled by earlier. As a parting shot, I was asked to provide a list of my views that had been changed by the group. When I couldn’t come up with one, their assumption that I had been trolling them from the start was all but confirmed.

I’ve been called a “misogynistic piece of shit”, a “traitor who should be deported along with all the other Trump supporters“, a person who “can’t be argued with”, a troll, an asshole, and all manner of *-ists. Maybe some of that is accurate, but maybe it’s just another sign that our ability to communicate with each other has broken down.

It was then that I decided I wanted to try and do something about it. Posting my thoughts on social media over the past two months has been phase one of a deliberate plan I’ve devised to try to help bring people back down to earth and learn how to communicate people they might disagree with. The goals of this initial phase were as follows:

  • Provide some solace for those who’ve been affected by some of the more extreme ideas coming from the far left by letting them know they’re not alone like I felt I was. I only focus on the left because focusing on the right would have been preaching to the choir.
  • Plant a seed in the heads of people who haven’t yet been affected by these regressive ideas so that when and if it happens they can recognize it and perhaps even reach out to me to discuss it. If you’re one of those people, please message me to talk about it—I will never divulge the contents of our conversations.
  • Provide an opportunity for people to discuss these issues with someone who has an opposing point of view—someone whom they know to be a kind, honest, and tolerant person. There are progressives out there who I’m sure are tired of being misrepresented and who would find it cathartic to cut through the bullshit and explain what these ideas really mean and dispel whatever notions people like me may have about them.
  • Break the eery silence surrounding these topics. There has been a disturbing trend not only of people being attacked for having the “wrong opinion” on whatever the progressive issue de jour is, but of people avoiding the topics altogether for fear of exposing themselves as an accidental heretic. I’ve witnessed countless occasions where people have clearly been too afraid to broach these topics in public or even in private.
  • Find out how many people agree with me so that I know whether or not I’m alone. It can be incredibly stifling to live in a city, be surrounded by friends, and work at companies that hold viewpoints that run contrary to your own. It makes you feel like you’re an alien, and when you do finally meet someone who shares your point of view it feels, like you’ve been thrown a life-preserver.
  • Test the waters to see how much backlash I would receive by posting my honest thoughts, in order to gauge just how serious some of the problems around discourse have become.
  • Most importantly, figure out if I’ve gone crazy or not. Sanity could be described as largely a function of how aligned your view of reality is with the rest of your peers, and by that metric I was starting to feel as though I might need to be committed.

There were limitations to this phase of the plan. Namely, 140 characters is not nearly enough room to provide the proper context for my thoughts, some of my points got lost in translation because they ended up sounding more inflammatory or vague than I hoped they would, and Facebook isn’t the best platform for political discourse to begin with.

The truth is, I’ve felt as though I’ve been slowly suffocating. I began to get paranoid that all my friends were slowly distancing themselves from me. The world seemed to be coming apart at the seams and I was powerless to do anything about it. Most troubling, though, was that my new worldview was clicking too regularly, making far too much sense, and coming together too easily. Without people whom I respect to slap me across the face and yank me back down to earth, I knew I was at risk of floating off into some extreme perspective.

We need people who disagree with us as much or more as we need people who affirm our beliefs.

I’d like to think that this first phase of my project was at least somewhat successful. I met a lot of new friends whom I never would have imagined shared my views. Quite a few people actually did chime in and put me in my place, as it were. My poor mother-in-law is utterly confused, but she tells me she loves me all the same.

It has been, no doubt, damaging to more than a few of my relationships. That is my greatest regret by far, but in the end it has all been done in an effort to bring people together to get closer to the truth.

Truth seems to be in short supply these days. Gone are the days of unbridled optimism our parents enjoyed. The cynicism of the 90s were merely a prelude to what can now be most accurately described as a sort of nihilistic mania. The future has failed to live up to the promises of our parents and we have meekly accepted that there is no greater purpose to life beyond that which we can squeeze out while we’re young.

We’ve lost track of our north star. Half of us are staying the course while the other half is adjusting their compasses. I want to do my part to get us back on course. In phase II of my project, I will be diving deeper into the topics I touched on in my many posts. By putting my interpretation of reality out there for all to see, I hope that it inspires discourse that will help us all move closer to the truth. The topics will include:

  • Explaining why I don’t hate Donald Trump and think he may actually be good for our country.
  • A full treatment of how postmodern philosophy has influenced academia and how it is starting to affect our daily lives.
  • How I was wrong about religion and what caused me to abandon atheism.
  • An explanation of why I think the panic over global warming is overblown.
  • What hyperreality is and how it’s distorting the lens through which we view truth.
  • The way in which politics has corrupted science and the challenges that must be overcome to restore the institution.
  • An exploration into the history of socialism and capitalism and why the debate over them continues to rage.
  • Strategies for filtering through bias and getting to the truth behind the news we read.
  • Why people lean left and lean right politically, and what the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of each side are.
  • The nature of truth, reality, and morality.
  • Where the concept of political correctness came from and how it is affecting modern society
  • Analyzing controversial concepts such as cultural marxism, critical theory, intersectionality, and post modernism.
  • Unpacking the many complicated reasons behind why Donald Trump was elected president.
  • Understanding nihilism and how it represents the single greatest threat to humanity.
  • Examining the ethical and logistical challenges presented by the increasing pace of technological advancement.

I also plan to launch a handful of initiatives to help tackle the problem of fake news, alternative facts, and confirmation bias. I’m interested in coming up with unique and innovative approaches to reporting, parsing, and analyzing news. If you want to help out, please drop me a line.

I’m not going to sit back idly and watch things fall apart, nor should you. I don’t have all the answers, but I know discourse is the only way to find them. Articulated debate is the only way to attain truth. Contrary to what many people believe about me, I don’t want to just muddy the waters and obscure the truth by trolling or relentlessly playing devil’s advocate. My goal is to put our commonly held beliefs to the ultimate test to see whether or not they can stand up to scrutiny. The truth lies not in the middle but somewhere between any two given extremes, and we have to work together to map out exactly where it is.

If I’ve offended you in the past six months or so, please believe that it was not my intention to do so. If you’re done with me, I understand. If not, reach out to me and let’s move forward together. It’s up to us to make the world a better, more informed place.

Oh, and in case you’re still wondering — yeah, I think everything’s okay ☺️