Just Because Something Sucks, Doesn’t Mean it’s Worth a Tweet
Granting slack is a better choice than venting rage

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 14 June 2021

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You’d think the declining infection rates, incremental lifting of mask restrictions, and signs of a more social, physical, and prosperous stretch ahead would do a lot to raise spirits, lighten the mood, and reduce the high level of belligerence that has characterized the public discussion. Yet every time I peek at my social media feeds, it feels as if people are only getting more irate, more triggered, and more entrenched in their positions.

Over the Trump presidency and then the pandemic, I watched as a lot of my friends fell deep into their respective ideological, conspiratorial, or social justice camps. Some were more based on facts than others, but I understood how people on every side on every issue felt hoodwinked, manipulated, or abused by the institutions that were supposed to be serving them.

So, while there may have been no factual basis to the story of Bill Gates putting microchips into vaccines in order to control people, there was an emotional logic to feeling trapped in a cycle of increasing dependency on the pharmaceutical industry. Likewise, the more that authorities denied the possibility of researchers playing a role in an accidental leak, the more that subsequent admissions play into more paranoid thinking about a widespread, intentionally launched infection.

Similarly, I can understand how frustrated people are by our country’s seemingly illogical and inconsistent mask policies. It sucks to have gotten a vaccine yet still have to wear a mask in a store right now. Why? You’re not going to pass Covid to someone, and you’re not going to get really sick if you catch it. I get it. It doesn’t make sense.

But sorry, this is nothing to get so very angry about. I see tweets from people, enraged that they have heard about someone who was forced to put on a mask when going into a store. And others — literally thousands of others — comparing the “vaccine only” section of the NBA playoffs or a vaccine passport to the death camps of Nazi Germany.

I understand: Having to wear a mask in a bakery means a whole lot to some people. It’s a symbol of being controlled by big government. It feels like communism, or totalitarianism, or something from 1984. It makes some people feel safe, but screw them. Why should I have to do something to make someone else feel better? Especially if they’re wrong, which they may be. It’s a violation of my rights, and of America.

The other “side” is no better at this point, still enraged by someone with a nostril sticking out over their mask, when that nostril is outside, across the street, and you’re vaccinated, anyway. Or, actually, you’re really just seeing the nostril in a post on Facebook, but feeling triggered.

I get it. Many things really suck, and some of the approaches taken by the public and private sector have been somewhat lame. Many people are not modeling the very best behaviors, or are changing their policies frequently, or are acting in ways that seem to contradict the policies they’re espousing. But we simply must stop interpreting every action everyone takes through the lens of grievance and victimization.

Just today, I’m looking at tweets from old friends of mine (folks who went fully over to Qanon, so I don’t really talk to them much anymore). The grievance of the week is the way that the heads of state at the G7 are social distancing for the cameras (presumably as a sign of solidarity with countries still in full pandemic), but actually standing and sitting much closer to each other for the actual meetings. This quickly becomes evidence of the propaganda state, and how manipulated we all are. Hundreds of angry, sarcastic replies follow, in what feels to me more like a pep rally for hate than anything else. ( where the pandemic is still rampant or even rising. But I understand, it’s really awfully painful for some people, in other situations, to see these pictures.)

I understand why people want to express rage and hate, and I know it’s naive of me to believe the culture reflected by Twitter should be anything else. But the reason why I’m concerned is that these are my friends and loved ones on these platforms, conducting themselves in entirely hostile ways. Journalists with platforms in major magazines nonetheless show up on my local Facebook parents’ groups to vent rage and sarcasm at every opportunity.

Again, I get it. It’s so hard not to feel sad and mad about being locked down, about having to wear a mask when it might be unnecessary or hearing a politician take credit they don’t deserve for something. I know. I feel your pain, I really do. It hurts.

But the only path to healing is for us to improve the way we engage with one another. We simply must improve our comportment — the bearing we adopt as we move through this world. I really care so much less about what people believe than the way they express themselves. This is particularly true on Twitter or Facebook, where nothing you say really matters, anyway, except for its impact on the other people there. It’s an easy place to feel hurt or to cause pain. But neither of those options improves anything for anyone.

These platforms can also be places where we practice goodwill — where we accept what other people say in good faith, exercise compassion for what they’re going through, and try to really hear. Like watching television with the sound off, try reading social media for its tone rather than its facts. None of us actually knows what’s going on here, anyway. The only genuine tool we have for regaining our bearings is our comportment.

And the only gift we really have to offer one another under such conditions, is slack.