In Regard to Free Expression, and its Limitations on Social Media

Time to sit down with a cup of coffee and write. Good coffee makes for good writing, I believe, and better coffee makes for better writing. But writing is different now and I have lived to see a couple of changes in the way writing is done, and how reading is done, too. Rolling with these changes can be a bit tricky, and it is not enough now to know your audience, but you also must know the medium as well, for now, the medium in which you express yourself will define the audience that you reach, and most importantly, how that audience will react.

Twitter is the fifty word novel of social media writing. A writer is constrained from deep explanation or meaning and instead goes for the sound bite and the punchline type writing. Twitter is superficial to the point of being nearly meaningless, and before you rise to defend this site remember most commercials on television are make for an audience they know they can reach in thirty seconds, with ten seconds of that being staccato fast disclaimers being spoken in a near whisper. The level of dishonesty and deception that can be delivered very quickly is amazing and is it simple. Writing deeper requires your audience to think about what has been offered, and often it requires time to consider the level of veracity. Also, there are these thoughts:

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

There is a lot to unpack in this quote. Rarely, very rarely, on social media are there those who will consider deeply those opinions they do not themselves hold and hold dearly. Entrenched positions are defended from any thought or idea, or words, that might not perfectly match those being held as the one word of truth.

Humans, particularly those who were raised by television while their parents were preoccupied, were trained to think of good versus evil, all issues black and white, and this is to the detriment of gray areas where both sides meet and build compromise for the greater good. One team scored more points, or killed more of the other side, or had more weapons, or goods, or food, and that side was the one who won the argument, irrespective of the truth. Our American culture reflects this quite strongly in our past, first with the Natives who suffered genocide, then the other colonists who were on the same continent, and finally, the enslaved people who were freed suffered the fate of those who lost. Only great political and cultural upheaval has forced change upon those in power who from profited from this system.

Now, on social media, anger is the weapon of choice. It is not preferable to debate an issue, to look upon all sides of it, no. Now, only anger will do, and once again, those who express the most power, who get the most reactions in their favor, have “won”. No issue is decided by anything short of brute force in the form of the cyber version of pitchforks and torches.

It’s important to remember the users of social media have decided to join a culture where anger is the weapon of choice in interaction between members who disagree. It is entirely within their power to commit to change.

The ability to chance will be drive by the desire to change. The emotional feedback loop, of a group of people continuously agreeing with one another, and reacting in anger to all others, will grow stronger and more resistant to change. Moreover, it will become refined, stronger, with those in the group who are less fervent being attacked by those who are more radical, and the process will continue until what was once seen as fringe beliefs become mainstream.

Compromise and loyal opposition are eliminated quickly in this process, until nothing is left to talk about.

In closing, this is a cultural phenomenon. It can be changed, not without some conflict, and it will require an effort. But as the use of anger as the primary means of communication spreads, we will all become human beings, caught in traffic, impatient to get to where we are going, readily blaming someone for getting in our way, blowing our horns, raising our middle fingers, and still going nowhere.

Take Care,

Mike

Deliquescent

The show is over.

Years spent defining a man are spent.

Now, the time is less, more important than work

And the smell of Death is faint but growing

So much to see with fading eyes

So much to feel in shallower times

But to become liquid, is to know solidity.

Lightning in a Wire

Photo taken during the storm, right as lightning lit up the world

Before the storm moved in yesterday, I spent most of the morning digging out the compost pile, doing the work I could before everything was flooded. My plan went off without a hitch as the compost pile area is now super saturated, after three inches of rain. Another inch and there will be a compost island. But a tree fell on top of the fence, this meant cutting it into pieces, and removing it so the electric fence keeps zapping.

Not large, as far as trees go, but this one was covered in vines, which I assume led to its demise. Vines create a pull on the trees, and they also keep it from swaying with the wind the way trees do naturally, so this one broke in half, and landed squarely on my fence. A cut here, a cut there, another over there, and ordinarily the tree could have been removed easily. But the vines had it tied up, so first I had to cut through a green squid of vines, with tentacles reaching out to grab a blade or foul the cutters in some way. Into the compost pile this will all go, eventually, and the tree and the vines will return to the earth, as we all should.

I plugged the fence back up and got the whisper of a heartbeat of energy in the wire. There’s nothing to be done but walk the fence and hope the mosquitoes and ticks do not devour me before I can find the problem. Quickly, it becomes clear there’s more than one issue with the fence, and it’s only been a week or so since I cleaned it out. But that was seven inches of rain ago, and the jungle has returned. There’s a small limb pinning the wire, a broken insulator that was hit, and a few more small branches are removed, along with any vines that are creeping too close. The wind caused one section of the hot wire to get stuck on the fence, but all in all, there’s nothing horrible or time consuming. The mosquitoes, however, are truly terrible.

Ticks were not always a problem here at Hickory Head. I would pick one or two up a year, the dogs might get one on occasion, but two years ago, all hell broke loose and now I cannot go into the woods and not get a couple, if not three. My neighbor and I noticed them about the same time, so it’s not just me, and not just my neck of the woods. I can give the dogs medication to kill the ticks that attack them, but that doesn’t keep the ticks from hitching a ride into the house.

Walking the fence line, and cleaning it out means I am now lunch, no matter how much repellent I spray on my clothes and body. The vegetation near the line is covered with rainwater from yesterday and the ground is soaked. I’m drenched within minutes.

But this is old work, something I’ve done since fencing this area in, and putting a charger on it. I know how to do it, know how to get it done, and it must be. There’s no other way, and there’s no one else, so into the breech. About three quarters of the way through, in the area that’s not as wooly, I pick a small branch off the wire, that’s grounded it, and I know the limb grounded the wire because when I removed it, I was touching the wire, and had my other hand on the fence.

Now I am perfectly aware the fence is live again. The shock tears through my body like a physical blow, and this is the result I want when a dog touches the fence, and why no dog has gotten out in over three years.

Wow. That will wake you up in the morning, says I.

My left arm feels woozy, but there’s not much more to go. My shoes are soaked, as is the pair from yesterday. I am running out of work footwear. The pond is up higher than it’s been in a while, and it’s a good thing; too much water is a lot better than not enough.

But the fence is up and running, a hot shower and clean clothes are in order, and the dogs are safe again.

Take Care,

Mike

Blocks and Bushes

Back when I started a tiny six by eight garden over ten years ago, the timbers that were shoring up the ditch in the back yard seemed a good idea. Then when I expanded the garden this year, so about twenty by fifteen, I used all the timber I could find, and still needed some cinder blocks to fill in the gaps. The real problem was the timbers were in terrible shape, and honestly, they needed to go.

Doug, my good friend and master electrician, said he might know someone with cinder blocks for free, but bring an axe.

And away we went. It took us a while to locate the blocks because they were deep in the brush, but I brought a bush hook, and some insect repellent, and went in.

I’m five foot ten. And it’s amazing we had problems finding a stack of blocks that were higher than I am tall, but I cut a path, and the removal of the blocks began.

Once we got the forty-five blocks loaded, I trudged them back to the garden, started digging up and removing the timbers, and realized I had no idea what to do with the timbers once I removed them. Part of the garden, the original section, the timbers were deep in the ground, and infested with fire ants. But once again, friends save the day! My friend Mark came over and offered to haul them off for me.

The garden is now enclosed in cinder blocks, as the plot expands each year, this is going to be easier than moving timbers, and the ants will be easier to control.

But here’s the cool part. After we loaded all the blocks, I put two more in, just in case. This is what we had left.

Good planning and good friends save the day! Now I have to work towards a great harvest so I can shall the fruits of my labor with those who helped make it possible.

Take Care,

Mike

Back Roads, Back Home

Sunday was one of those days that just primed me for a night full of odd dreams. I saw it coming. I transported two puppies from a drop off at someone’s house to the next leg of the ride, which began in Ohio and ended in Florida. It went so smoothly I couldn’t believe it.

On the way back, I took the long way home, off the Interstate, side roads, and side roads of side roads. I listened to Natalie Goldberg narrating “Writing to the Bones” on Audible.

An officer in the military once told me if the Cubans and the Russians ever invaded from Florida, they would advance north, until they would run into the “I-10 Line” which is where Florida broadens out, and it would be there the southern part of the United States truly begins. A few million heavily armed, and pissed off, rednecks would pour into the area, making it impossible for the military to get in or out, but hey, they are heavily armed, and they are pissed off.

As a military commander, you haven’t lived until one of your senior officers is killed by a sniper, who turned out to be a fourteen year old girl, using her grandaddy’s 30.06 from a hidden tree stand, and on her you find ammo, food, water, and a Barbie Doll, who is also dressed in camo. There’s nothing but death north of I-10 because north of I-10 is South.

It’s pretty country out here, north Florida, that’s part of the south. Giant Live Oaks, lots of water, more history than the locals know what to do with, and it’s just about the part of the country where freezing weather doesn’t happen often enough to scare farmers. Close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to catch a sea breeze, and knock off some of the heat in summer, but that means close enough for hurricanes, too.

 There’s Blue Springs in this area, a place once known as a hang out for the party crowd, but they’ve clean it up nice and respectable, and now it’s more a family place to go. The cut short from Valdosta to the springs wound in and out of fields and down nearly forgotten lanes, but all of that is fenced in now, and GPS will get you there quicker, much quicker, but the journey is more than half the fun.

But now I am in Greenville, where, I am told, is the hometown of Ray Charles, who was born in Albany Georgia, according to the people there. I pull over to check on the puppies, and they are on another leg of their adventure, their last one before they arrive home. I too, take a right turn, and I’m heading back to the house. The ride has been good to me, and idea float around in my mind like so many flashes of lightning, or gnats, depending on how hard I work on them.

Take Care,

Mike

The Good Dirt

It feels good to work with dirt, with soil, and to see material that might have gone to the landfill now returning to the Earth as all things should. Sweat is my salary now, sore muscles my vacation from sloth, and sitting too much to write. My arms ache with the heat of work, hard work, physical exertion that will provide the garden with its food, so it might provide me with mine, and enough to share, I hope. Years ago, I discover there is very little that will cause as much joy as giving away produce that is home grown.

Rain is supposed to come in later in the day, but clouds scud and drift, blocking the sun, providing shade, and I looked up. The photo up top is what I saw, and the picture was taken, stored in my cell phone camera, and I sat down, looking at the photos taken this very day, of fog, dogs, spider webs, of the sun, and clouds. How many generations of humans had no cameras, no way of sharing the wonders they saw except with joyous outbursts of words and facial expressions, and how many people have listened to these descriptions of wonder, and knew they would never see it, but it was enough that the sight made someone else so happy?

Sixty-one years and a few months slow me down now, and I hesitate before returning to my toil. The earth around this area of the world has been tilled before. This was part of the nation where slavery thrived, and enslaved people were worked for generations, doing very much what I am doing now. I wonder, my mind goes back to the days men and women night have, on the very spot I sit, been forced to work long hours, longer years, with no hope of knowing any other life but hard labor. Were there those among these poor people who would look up at the sky, see some marvelous cloud, and were told to get back to their task? Would an enslaved person hope for such a sight, for some rare treat in the day that might offer some beauty in a world devoid of anything resembling anything but misery?

Look back at the last 400 years, at the music composed, the inventions, the works of art, the poem, the books, the wonders humankind have created, and then see the shadow the light of that creation has cast. Those who were enslaved, and those who were descended from slaves, have lived in this shadow. First as kidnapped workers, and then as second-class citizens; Jim Crow and Red Lines, Peonage and Lynching, the light still withheld, the freedom and justice still denied, and it still goes on this very moment.

Yet given rain, and not too much, given warm weather without scorching heat, given luck and some skill with plants, the earth will provide those who farm a bounty, regardless of the color of their skin. Mother Earth will receive a body, if it is allowed to rest in a natural state in the dirt, and from this life will begin anew, such as it always had, and such as it ought to be. Kings and dogs, slaves and statesmen will all turn into soil, accept seeds, and grow whatever is tended, or not.

The wind blows now, the sky grows dark, and I am inside, clean from a hot shower, and writing the words you see before you. I hope you liked my photograph of a branches and sun, and clouds. I hope the photo stirs in you some sense of wonder and beauty. I wish for you to remember not everyone has ever had this, some were denied it, and some still do not have it. It is luck, chance only, that you and I do.

Take Care,

Mike