La città che sale [The City Rises] — Umberto Boccioni (1910)

How the Future Helps Me Handle Twitter

by Marc V. Calderaro

Looking at the Bigger Picture

We’re in a transitional time as a society, when it comes to social behavior and ideas. In the last few years, the world seems increasingly split in two. If you’re posting discussion on the internet — tertium non datur, be damned — you’re generally either an “SJW” (“Social Justice Warrior” — a derogatory, sarcastic term) or you’re a free-speech abusing, entitled jerk. These two camps are usually portrayed as diametrically opposed, but that label can apply in issue-specific ways. Though I might be a Reproductive-Justice SJW, I can be an entitled, sexist jerk somewhere else. There are a multitude of social topics discussed on the internet; so don’t worry, everyone gets to be hated for their privilege somewhere.

At the moment our culture seems focused on the individual issues — Is Caitlyn Jenner brave? Are cops shooting black people because cops are racist? Is Boyhood’s racism worse than Birth of a Nation? Does Reddit’s new anti-harassment policy stifle free-speech? Just what is “bullying” anyway?

Elasticità [Elasticity] — Umberto Boccioni (1912)

But I’m more interested in the broader picture — how the landscape will look in the years to come. How will each side act, talk, write, and think? Will there even be two different groups anymore? Though we are talking about all these contemporary issues with surprising tact for a society only recently introduced to them en masse (thanks again, Internet), I can’t help but think the next generation will be much better at it than we are.

I believe the children of the first fully mainstreamed internet age will have a handle on the two perennial issues that seem to needlessly preoccupy both camps’ time and energy: (1) People not recognizing or understanding their privilege, and (2) People not respecting someone else’s view enough to let them speak it without calling for reprimand.

For me, the idea that those problems have solutions makes all the hyperbolic bickering tolerable. Once we all can acknowledge our own privilege, while still providing leeway for people to feel differently than ourselves, it will be an amazing time indeed.


What’s the Deal with the Future?

Jerry Seinfeld’s comments (which caused a minor flutter last week) unexpectedly broached this topic. While talking about comedians who avoid playing college campuses because of political-correctness concerns, and how that hurts comedy, he told a seeming non sequitur that piqued my interest:

My daughter’s 14. My … wife says to her, “Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends so you can see boys.” You know what my daughter said? She says, “That’s sexist.” . . . They just want to use these words. “That’s racist.” “That’s sexist.” “That’s prejudiced.” They don’t even know what they’re talking about.
Untitled (Seinfeld with Nunchaku) — Brandon Bird (2003), originally printed in Las Vegas Weekly. Available at http://brandonbird.com/seinfeld.html

His point was that “kids today” talk about these complex issues without the world knowledge and context to understand the debate. It was framed around the current climate of discussion. But to me, Seinfeld was inadvertantly talking about the future climate.

This current generation of young children will be the first exposed to the wide range of social issues like racism, sexism, religion, anti-religion, fat-shaming, transgenderism, etc. on such a massive scale so early. As these sorts of social-justice and free-speech debates dominate online discussion currently, children are being taught — if not by their teachers and parents, then by the internet — about all these issues while incredibly young. Certainly in adolescence ideas will be misconstrued, misapplied, and generally missed. But once in adulthood, the generation will hopefully view those ideas with more constructive nuance then we do. Even if solely because of prior introduction to the ideas.

Until now, for the majority of the public, college was the earliest exposure to these types of ideas and thoughts. With the next generation, such awareness will come much, much earlier. How will that change the way people interact when they finally get to college?

A lovely Reddit snapshot after /r/fatpeoplehate was banned for harassing content. From Jason Koebler’s Motherboard article available here: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/right-now-reddits-top-posts-are-swastikas-fat-shaming-and-ellen-pao-hate

For example, I was not exposed to the topic of, say, “fat shaming” until I was an adult. I now have my own nuanced beliefs about it, but I wonder how those thoughts would have shifted if I had been introduced to the concept a decade earlier.

I will admit, I do not have my thoughts and beliefs about transgenderism solidified yet — and I’ve been exposed to the idea for a long time now. What other social questions could I be better at answering if I had just been framing them earlier? And how do these individual views influence the societal whole?

If you look at a snapshot of today’s social-media debates, it seems that this gap between the free-speechers and the social-justice-ites will only divide further in the future. But perhaps instead, the two will coalesce.


Bridging the Discussion Divide … and Cylons

Both contemporary camps are mired in reactionism. The Freedom Lovers get triggered anytime anything stops anyone from speaking how they want to speak — which they usually see as an attempt to homogenize thought and censor contrary ideas. While the Justice Lovers get triggered anytime anyone says anything that could potentially be construed as negatively impacting institutional or social views of perceived disenfranchised people.

Neither of these views are sustainable alone — writ large, both principles will fail. Rather, it is a combination that will lead to both groups agreeing on both sides of each topic — or at least coming to a mutual understanding devoid of overt negativity and name-calling. But there’s so many issues per topic, and so many topics! It just takes exposure, experience, and effort; and those all take time.

Untitled (The Last Supper), Battlestar Galactica Promo Still, originally printed in Entertainment Weekly, Jan. 2008.

Though we might be giving our kids the burden of overpopulation, dwindling supplies, and a whole host of other crap, in our egotistical quest to be personally correct on social issues, we might also be better equipping our children to socially empathize, debate, and to think about all these current topics and whatever new situations will emerge in the future — like Cylon-Human hybrids.

Right now, Jerry Seinfeld’s daughter likely knows much less about social issues and concerns than her parents. But based on exposure and experience alone, by the time she’s her parents’ age, she’ll be a social savant compared to them.


Long-Term Change & Framing Future Discussions

I believe in incremental change rather than sudden leaps. I believe that lasting change is created generationally, rather than by one single person, or often, one single generation. Change too suddenly creates adverse reactions that can quickly shift momentum in the other direction, while gradual change makes things inexorable. Though each shame-ridden tweet and each poorly worded analogy might not be bettering the world individually, as a whole we’re setting the stage for a more socially conscious, discussion-ready next generation. They will likely be able to decipher conversations we’re not even ready to have!

A great example of this is occurring right now. Rachel Dolezal, the now-former president of the Spokane chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. was outed as being white, rather than bi-racial, as she had claimed for ten years. Among the internet buzz was a question that had not yet been posed nationally (since the pre-internet, late-era Michael Jackson days). Treated mostly as a joke, people posed the idea of “transracialism” (used differently than its meaning in adoption contexts). And on Tuesday, Ms. Dolezal confirmed that she indeed identifies as black. All-but universally poo-poo’d, the issue is actually rather nuanced. But the culture might not yet be ready to handle its implications enough to decide if our society agrees with its tenets.

Whether someone can identify as “transracial” evokes issues of class, privilege, identity, self-identification, self-determination, heritage, culture, pseudo-chemistry and -biology, and basically everything under the sun. There are myriad reasons why this topic didn’t catch fire in terms of national discussion (chiefly Dolezal’s deception surrounding her choice, rather than proclaiming it), but I think one reason is that we’re not ready to devise a complete answer yet.

Heck, we’ve barely just answered how we feel about homosexuals. And though the movement towards acceptance of homosexuals started a long time ago, and has a storied history, it was really during the last, internet-savvy decade when we could finally say that the cultural tide had shifted. Perhaps credit is due to the mass amounts of internet-driven discussions, allowing us to come to something resembling consensus on a long-divisive issue. Or maybe just time.

I am not saying that transracialism will be something we accept in the future, just that it’s an issue the next generation will be better equipped to give the thumbs up or down, for a whole host of reasons.

Though in the last 24 hours, many strongly-worded, seemingly definitive answers to this “transracial” question have been published, I think there’s more depth to come.


Survival Instincts

Dinamismo di un cane al guinzaglio [Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash] — Giacomo Balla (1912)

I have gone through many periods of hating the reactionary, staunch-minded, no-winner, lecture-fests that can often describe much of the internet discussion about social issues and behaviors. But I believe this demeanor from both sides is what will frame the thoughts, words, actions, and emotions of the next generation, and move the national discussions out of the hyperbolic and into the productive.

At least, that’s what I tell myself so I don’t explode every time I open up Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, or basically any news aggregator. Quite frankly, that’s good enough for me.

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