“All lives matter!” says the meme.
Some of the most widely shared memes on Facebook are the ones that create dichotomies while sporting a cool photo. Usually, these memes have to do with the latest ambulance bloggers are chasing. I want to sit back a bit and look at the way such dichotomous memes play out their logic.
The logic goes something like this. Why are we crying out about Cecil the lion when lions in fact kill REAL African people? Why are we crying over the suicide of Heath Ledger when hundreds of thousands are killed everyday everywhere? Why do we lament the overdose of Whitney Houston when many of our troops are being injured and killed every week? Why are we crying “black lives matter” when “all lives matter”? The list goes on.
The problem isn’t that these memes aren’t bringing a message; they do. The message however stops us from thinking. Instead of seeing the angle that comes from both sides, we are forced to choose sides by being outraged for at least 5 minutes. Perhaps both sides of the issue have legitimate points, but social media have forced us to think in terms of “either-or”. Is it okay to be upset at both the deaths of celebrities like Heath Ledge or Whitney Houston and the lost lives of our soldiers or innocent children? I can’t imagine my readers saying “No.” Is it possible to think that black lives matter in a society whose narrative seems to cheapen black lives at times while seeing that people of all colors deserve justice and fair treatment? No one can say “No” to that. See the problem?
Sometimes, these artificially created dichotomies aren’t even logically compatible, but are deliberately framed by the meme creator to set illogical fire for his or her own cause, and we feed into that fire with our thoughtless “likes” or “shares.” What we need isn’t dichotomies these days. What we need is the ability to think independently, issue by issue. What we need is the destruction of such unhealthy binaries. The problem with social media is that we often are so reliant on them that we lose our ability to think independently or to create our own categories. Then, there’s the additional problem of visual appeal. Many people don’t even think through some of the updates and hit “like” and “share”. Why? It’s because the update has an appealing photo attached to it. Even if we’ve read the update, we probably didn’t think too hard on it. We aren’t ruled by our clear thinking; we’re ruled by images and false dichotomies. In so doing, we’ve lost the precious ability to use our brains. The worse thing though is that we’ve lost our ability to be tolerant even in our apparently civil and free society.
In our seemingly tolerant era, social media like Facebook and Instagram have taken away our ability to have “both-and” thinking by creating a hegemony of “either-or.” This phenomenon cheapens thinking the way selfie sticks cheapen professional and artfully constructed photography. There’re a new global colonialism. It’s no longer bound by ethnicity or nationalities. It’s transnational. Social media have become king.
How does the above affect Christians? I think it affects Christians tremendously. Many Christians these days are activist ideologues. In favor of activism, many dismiss deeper and calmer thinking. In favor of ethics, many dismiss the importance of what’s the right thinking before the right doing. In favor of jingoism, many no longer want to discuss what the true meaning and implication of any given jingo. More importantly, if social media are the rulers of our lives, we’re no longer ruled by scriptural reasoning and theological thinking that make God our King. In our claim for more of a global Christianity, we’re more local than ever with the think tank being the computer screen in the comfort of our bedrooms. We think that the virtual reality of this global faith in the microcosm created by our screens is the only reality. Instead of thinking about why we “like” or “dislike” certain ideas, we’re ruled by our own feeling of “liking” something. We’re in grave danger of losing the intellectual essence of our faith.
A further negative impact that social media have exerted over our faith is our ability to tolerate different ideas. I’m not talking about cheap tolerance of political correctness but real intellectual tolerance that allows different ideas to exist. Once we “like” something, we are committed to the original writer’s ideology. We’re temporarily committed to the whole idea. The “like” button forces us to choose ideas because there aren’t too many other alternatives such as “I like this part but not that part.” The problem is, intellectually vigorous reflection requires all sorts of alternatives. Real thinking doesn’t force us to mindlessly like something because the image was nice or certain phrases were catchy. It searches the “why” and “how” of each issue. In other words, the “like” button is potentially anti-intellectual. If our intellect is part of our spirituality, we can also say that many times, that same button is anti-spiritual because it blinds us from more nuanced thinking. Thus, I will always insist that social media, like our TV or movie screens, will never be a place of serious intellectual inquiry. Such media are purely for entertainment. If you think I’m wrong, think about the last Facebook update you liked yesterday and how much of it you remembered. The same goes for hundreds and thousands of Facebook or Instagram updates and hashtags. I think my point will be proven without any doubt.