Sunday, January 15, 2017

I am here for Imperfect Advocacy.

Donald Trump will be the President of the United States at this time next week. Not even that long. 5 days. Tensions are running high as we build up towards this...well...for lack of a better term..."historic event". Nowhere do they seem to be running higher, post-election, than on progressive social media. No, I'm not talking about some new, secret social media platform that you haven't been invited to yet. I'm talking about the social media you're already on that's already blinding you to the reality of what is actually going on in the world.

Left, right, or center, social media algorithms - Facebook especially - have been learning what you like, dislike, and, more importantly, what keeps you engaged and using their service. If you comment on pictures of animal rights issues most often, then that's what will continue to propagate in your feed. This "Filter Bubble" has helped to further drive a wedge between folks with slightly differing opinions into people with diametrically opposing world views, because we can no longer look at the same information and see it how it happened. We see it in the context of all of our neighboring progressive or conservative leaning material. We see it commented on by like-minded liberals or conservatives who help skew our view.


“We have always surrounded ourselves with people who agree with us [and] sought information we agree with, but there was at least a chance for serendipity,” George Washington University media-studies assistant professor Nikki Usher Layser says, the chance that you’d discover something outside what you’d ordinarily choose to read yourself, even if you spend all day reading content. The big difference now, she told Science of Us, is the “autonomous decision-making” governing what stories you see. While newsrooms aren’t perfect, they can at least have the contextual awareness to offer contrasting narratives of what’s going in the news. “We can’t break out of patterns if we only consume information online, through our social feeds,” she says. It’s like explaining water to fish, this invisible, enveloping filter bubble.
Explaining water to fish.

This also creates bubbles of discord.

There are about 1.8 billion active Facebook accounts. Of those, about 1.2 billion are daily users. So, acting as though it's just social media, as though it were a banal activity, is ignoring reality.

And because of these filter bubbles and this hyperactivity by approximately 29% of us (almost 1 in 3) on Facebook and similar platforms, we've also digitally surrounded ourselves with people of like mind. Fellow progressive/conservative leaning people that basically believe the same things you do. This means that the ultra-liberal political activist who spends their day professionally working alongside others to end the use of horses in New York carriage rides or giving homeless transgender teenagers food and shelter are now running cyber elbows with the stay at home dad of 3 who spends an hour in the morning with a cup of coffee doing what he thinks is right and staying up on current events and engaging in political discourse.

In other words, you have professional/full-time/long-standing advocates conversing and engaging with part-time/layman/possibly new advocates. This latter group is coming onto threads about issues that are either new to them or for which they may be newly passionate after seeing it anew through the eyes of their fellow filter bubble dwellers. And...it's causing some problems.

Folks that are more full-time advocates for a cause, or even a set of causes, know their stuff. They know the jargon, and they know what language and ideology and terms have been forboden by the collective left/right.

Example: Removing politics for a moment, let's just examine the term "psychopath". Someone in the know might call you out for using that term, as it's been updated a few times. First it became "sociopath", and it is now simply referred to as the less-easy-to-say label "anti-social personality disorder".

And, it is here where we are beginning to see a problem. Folks in the Pagan community have seen this problem for year. We judge whether someone is "Pagan enough" by their pedigree, the kinds of books they've read, classes they've attended, or lineage of their initiatory path. Folks that are more advanced in our community oftentimes ridicule those that are newer to their path for getting things wrong or simply not knowing what they don't know. We laugh at ignorance instead of engaging positively and growing our community. Likewise, advocates do the same. If a well-meaning, part-time advocate (a person that might not necessarily drop everything to go picket the inauguration in DC, but who will gladly sign a petition or even make a phone call to their representative) uses a term that's outdated or exhibits a line of thinking that has been debunked or is filled with unexamined privilege, we shoot them down. We call them racists, homophobes, claim that they're gaslighting, say that they might as well go put on a red MAGA hat and attend a Klan rally.

I've actually experienced this a couple times in the last week alone. In the first instance, it seemed a person I'd engaged with multiple times on social media who had, in the past, exhibited a degree of ignorance about pop culture references and a pretty big distaste for off-color humor was incredibly upset at a comment someone made on one of her posts. I tried to provide some context for the statement, saying that it might be a joke from a well-known movie, but knowing her it is still an inappropriate joke to make as she would not find it in good taste. Immediately another of her friends, another progressive, said I was gaslighting and an asshole and...well...it devolved very quickly from there. In another instance, I came upon a thread of people lambasting an article about a well-known actress who, according to the title of the article, seemed to be coming to the defense of Donald Trump. That seemed odd considering some of her past statements, so I read the article. Turned out she said no such thing, yet people were quoting the headline as though it were something the actress had said, when it had actually been clickbait. I was called racist. I was told I was telling black people how to feel, when I suggested reading the article and looking at her quotes. I was told I was policing other's reactions........to a statement that had never been made......and promptly booted from the conversation and the poster's friend list.

Swell.

Lasara Firefox Allen said a while back on social media that she wanted to hold space for imperfect advocates. I second that. I want to hold space for imperfect advocacy, and I want us to stop tearing down part-time advocates, busy people who give what they can when they can and how they can. I want to encourage someone who can only give 40%, 20%, 5% of their time to a cause to give fully and feel welcomed in that modicum of time they can give. Because, if they feel frustrated or unwelcome by those that can give 70%, 90%, 100% of their time to a cause, they might not give anymore time at all, or may stop learning about issues and causes because we were not willing to give them the space to make missteps. We were not willing to correct an improper use of terminology or a blatant logical fallacy. We were, instead, so caught up in being right and righteous that we never stopped to welcome the well-meaning but not-right-yet.

I am 100% here for the 20% someone else can give.

If a straight person wants to be my ally, but is still not quite over the learning curve when it comes to the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ needs and language and ideology...but they are coming to it from a place where they wish to learn and better themselves in order to be better advocates in the future...I welcome them. Even part-time. I cannot tell or demand from other minority groups the same treatment of would-be allies. I cannot tell a black person to hold space for the imperfect white ally who is getting some things wrong. I cannot ask the immigrant or the poor or the body positive advocate to hold space for well-meaning, part-time advocates who aren't quite getting things right, yet. But, I am hoping to be part of the change I wish to see from my fellow liberal-leaning folks. I am hoping that we, as a massively diverse populace with intersections of willingness and privilege and unpacked baggage and un-admitted ignorances and yet-to-be-learned areas of knowledge can hold space for one another.

I am hoping that progressives can stop tearing other progressives down for their imperfect advocacy long enough to meet the challenges faced in our actual opposition. And through that kind of dialogue, we might find a way to have needed conversations with those who fully disagree with us, who oppose our very ways of life, because right now we aren't doing that. We have othered so many groups of people and so many ideologies that instead of recognizing the limitations of the Filter Bubble, we have embraced it as a new boundary and, instead, decided to turn our fight inward.

Let's do better in 2017.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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