Author’s Note: I’ve been siting on this post for a while, so some of the articles or issues mentioned might be a bit dated. However, the sentiment is still very much the same; I’m just too lazy to go find new and current examples to discuss.
Sometimes it feels like the world is too much to handle.
Everyone’s angry about something. Everyone’s protesting and yelling and shaking their fists. There’s so many things that I’m supposed to be mad about. Oil drilling, fraking, GMOs, vaccines, politicians, war, women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, minimum wage, unions, race, standardized testing, the economy, religion– and that’s just what I see on my Facebook page on any given morning. And within each of these issues, there’s countless sub-issues for me to be mad about; it’s not enough to just be angry about women’s rights, now I can also be mad about women’s reproductive rights, women’s pay gap, women’s rights to stay at home with their children, women’s rights to work after having kids, women’s rights to breastfeed in public, women’s rights to not look like a Victoria Secret model, women’s rights to not get raped on college campuses, and women’s rights to wear flat shoes on the red carpet at the Cannes film festival. Each one of these issues fighting for my eyeballs and my outrage, begging me to take up the cause and fight for change.
Not that some of these things don’t make me angry. There are a few of these issues that really do make me fume and spit and want to swing a burning bra above my head, regardless of the issue. (Because when you swing a burning bra above your head, people tend to listen to what you have to say. Or at the very least, stop what they’re doing and look at you and say, “Holy shit, is that a flaming Body by Victoria Secret? Does she know those things aren’t cheap?”) Issues that I hold dear to the tenderest part of my heart because I can see the direct affects on myself and those that I love.
And then there’s other issues that I try to learn about. Not because I’m particularly attached to them or their ramifications, but because I feel that as a member of a community, a country, and humanity in general, it’s my responsibility to not only strive for changes that I feel will better my life and the lives of those I love, but to understand the hardships and concerns of others. Maybe I don’t agree with the changes that someone else would like to see, but I need to at least understand the circumstances that has driven them to seek such change, what changes they would like to see, and how those changes might affect other members of society. Maybe I’ll form an opinion of their particular issue and take a side, and maybe I won’t, but at the very least, I feel that it’s my responsibility to have a working, subjective knowledge of the issue, and what both sides have to say.
Basically, if I want to have an opinion, I feel like I have to earn to right to do so.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when things get overwhelming. I try to learn. I read as much as I can, from as many resources as I can. I try to ensure that the resources that I’m reading are as unbiased as possible, or, if it’s an opinion, that it’s framed as an opinion and keep that and their potential biases in mind. But it’s so fucking hard to know who to trust! As Kyle often says, “The internet has given everyone a bullhorn, including people who probably shouldn’t have one.” At best, I find myself reading the poisonous ramblings of a passionate, but uninformed wackadoo, who took the time to put word to the anger and hate they feel in their chest, but not the time to understand the full context or complexity of said issue. These people are unhelpful and detrimental to a small, easily influenced few, but they’re relatively harmless to most of us. They’re pretty easily identified, and equally easily avoidable.
No, the ones who cause the most damage are the ones who frame their equally narrow views and out-of-context ramblings as journalism. And not because they’re that passionate about this particular issue, but because they want as many clicks and as many shares as possible. They know the concerns, fears, and passions of their readers, and they feed off of and into them. Dangling ridiculous, shock-inducing, “You won’t believe whatever bullshit we’ve dug up, probably because it’s complete bullshit!” headlines for the reader to clamp onto and shake like a dog with one of those limp, dead carcass toys.
For example, the other day I noticed an article posted to my Twitter feed by someone I’ve never met. “Push to court-marshal general for mentioning God!” it read. Posted on a “news source” that despite it’s claim to be, “America’s Independent News Network,” couldn’t be bothered to hide it’s blatant bias towards opinions that were so far right that I’m sure they make Glenn Beck squirm with embarrassment. (Need proof? The headline below this one was, “‘Slavery is over’: Hired Ferguson Protesters Demand Pay.”) The article went on to say that a civil liberties group is demanding that a general who spoke at a National Day of Prayer gathering and mentioned the part that God plays in his life be court marshaled, that it was an atrocity for a member of the military to mention religion at a military gathering. Except that if you read the article closely, you would see that by “demanding,” they mean “posting an open letter to their website.” And if you went to said group’s website, you would see that this “civil liberties group” is a small collective of left-wing tinfoil hat-wearing nutjobs taken seriously by exactly no one. For all its relevance, the conservative article’s headline might as well have read, “‘Heroin makes a nutritious and delicious breakfast!’ says guy on the corner with no shoes!” And yet, this Twitter-er was aghast, lamenting the demise of Christians’ religions freedoms!
Now, obviously this particular headline was pretty fucking conspicuous to me as nothing more than fear-mongering link bait. But other articles from other news sources aren’t so evident, especially when said news source is one of the big publications that supposes itself to have journalistic integrity. (I’m looking at you, Huffpo, MSMBC, and Salon. [I realize that the list of media sources that have relied on or succumbed to link bait and fear mongering at one point or another is long, and also probably all of them, but these are the three that I find myself falling for most frequently.]) So I find myself questioning everything. Who published this article? How trustworthy are they? How many resources or studies did they themselves cite? Are those trustworthy? Who funded them? What biases might the author have? What does the opposite side say about this particular subject? Could there be more to the story that this writer isn’t including?
And then, once I have decided that perhaps I have a basic understanding of an issue and I dare to begin to form an opinion, that in itself can make my head spin. Because, sure, I can go with my initial gut reaction. My instincts are pretty okay, I can usually trust them. Except that my gut doesn’t see the grayscale of the world. Living as a bunch of creatures together in a society that has evolved beyond the need for mere survival, we now have to concern ourselves with how our actions will affect every single other thing on and including the entire planet. A question as simple and seemingly straightforward as, “Should California desalinate ocean water in time of drought?” becomes a multifaceted discussion of economics, environmentalism, agriculture, socioeconomic class, and a million other factors, until it seems like there’s no possible way that we can ever come up with a solution that works for everyone because IT’S FUCKING COMPLICATED. Nothing happens in a void. In the name of acting as a responsible member of society, we feel compelled to constantly be looking in all directions to see who we could possibly be hurting or offending with our actions, until it feels like our heads are going to twist off and bounce on the ground.
This is what goes through my head every time I read the newspaper or see news (and “news”) on my Facebook feed. It feels like it’s all too much for me to handle. I don’t even have the energy to be irrationally and unjustifiably angry at all the things that the world is begging me to be upset about. And when I do try to get angry, get involved, have an opinion, I find myself dizzied by all the different sides, all the aspects to the issue, all the infinite ways in which the world is labyrinthine. And in the end, I’m left with no clear idea how I feel about the issue or what a possible solution could be, only the unwavering knowledge that the world is fucking complicated.
Now if you need me, I’ll be in my couch fort, watching Adventure Time.