Leaving The Herd

You come upon a car that is upside down in the ditch. There’s a dead deer in the road. You get out and there are still people in the car. 

Would you check social media in order to figure out what to do next? 

There’s photos of people who have just been bitten by venomous snakes on FB, shortly after the bite, who are asking for advice. 

Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe they found the photo, and are just trying to get a reaction out of people.

Back eleven years ago, or so, when I first started posting on FB, there would be days I wouldn’t check to see what had happened. Once or twice a week, for a few minutes were fine. Slowly, but surely, more and more time was invested, and more and more people were added to the list of people I was connected to on FB. 

The real problem was it was happening to a lot of people all across the nation. Twitter came along, and thought process was linked to brevity. You could only express yourself in a very limited space, and people adapted their thought patterns to this. 

It didn’t take long for advertisers to realize they could tap into social media like drilling for oil. If an acceptable stimulus was offered, people would react in a very predictable manner. This reaction didn’t have to be based on rational thought or logic. In fact, the more irrational the reaction the stronger it would be. You could sell anything to many people, and you might be able to sell everything to everyone. 

The idea that social media was the guide to reaction was sold, and bought, by millions of people. 

Somewhere out there, in the land of both television and social media, and the two are a potent mix, a woman named Carole Baskin was accused of murdering her husband by a drug addict who is in prison. I never watched the show, but Facebook was alight with the unsupported supposition that this woman had committed murder. A television show that featured a drug addict who was in prison ruined this woman’s reputation with half truths and half lies. To this day millions of people believe what they saw on the show, or read on social media, with not one shred of evidence considered. 

The fictional car wreck at the beginning, did you theorize the car had hit the deer and wrecked? Given no evidence or pieces of the story to support that thought, would you have told someone you thought that was what happened? Would you have taken photos of the wreck and posted them on social media, because I can tell you, that is what people do. 

I worked a wreck on the Interstate back in 2010. We opened one lane next to the wreck and nearly every car that passed the wreck had an arm stuck out, with a cell phone held aloft, getting either photos or video of the dying man’s last moments on earth. 

If you will admit that social media causes a strange form of group reaction, like a flock of birds flying out of a tree when startled, will you admit that this could happen to you? Would you admit that something you’ve read on social media might guide you in a direction of thought, not based on real evidence, but based on the fact that people you are connected to are flying off in the same direction? 

If it was not easy, and if it was not profitable to manipulate people on social media the people who own and control what you read and see on social media would not be incredibly rich. The people who own and control social media sell not only your personal information to the highest bidder, they also sell the ability to manipulate your reactions to the highest bidder, and they do so with complete disregard as to the dangers that are inherit to so many people being manipulated by governments, or corporations, whose intents are not questioned. 

It’s possible that the car swerved to miss the deer in the road, and then wrecked. 

Think about how you reacted to the story of the deer and the car. Did you have some idea of what had happened once you read it? The car hit the deer and wrecked. Was that your thought? How did you react to the idea what you thought might have been wrong? 

It’s more likely that the car hit the deer then wrecked, right? 

But this is fiction. Aliens might have been involved. Carole Baskin’s husband might still be alive. There’s no way you have enough information about the fictional car or Mr. Baskin to draw a conclusion, but many, many people have, and it’s purely fictional. 

But given enough support to fiction, people react to it as if it is fact. 

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth”- Joseph Goebbels

But Goebbels never said that. It’s one of those things everyone has heard, but no one can ever track down when he said it and where he said it and to whom he was speaking. You’ve always believed it, but it’s never really been verified. 

Clearly, very clearly, if information, or disinformation is repeated, or reposted, often enough then enough people will believe it, and they will pass it on. The herd grows larger, and as the crowd gets bigger, there are those within that group who become more aggressive in their beliefs. It becomes nearly a religious thing. To question the information is to question God.

How do you think Trump got elected, and by whom? 

Most people in power are early risers. They get to the office before anyone else. Putin gets to his office about six in the morning. Trump late night tweets coincide with Putin’s early morning office hours. 

None of that is true. Not a word of it, except the time differences match. But had I posted in on social media it would have been passed around like a lit joint at Woodstock.

Both theories are very valid, however. Trump was elected by his presence on social media and his ability to reach a target audience and manipulate that audience. To disagree with Trump is to be met with anything but reason. 

At the same time, the theory that Trump is owned by Putin is also a social media thing. Recent revelations by the bipartisan committee without the United States Government give more credence to this theory than most thought possible. 

At some point, rational people have to leave social media. We have to step away from the people who think the deer was an alien and the car was zapped by a death ray. We have to return to critical thinking, researching reputable sources that have been peer reviewed. We have to stop passing on information we do not know is true. We have to learn to disagree without hatred or personal feelings towards disagreement. We have to elect leaders who believe that science is the correct guide to action, not Twitter. 

The fate of this nation hangs in the balance these days. Without an adherence to truth, facts, and reason, most certainly we will be lost. A country whose people are hesitant, waiting for some cue from the larger group, and looking for leadership in a Tweet, are going to be easily led in whatever direction the highest bidder decides. 

Take Care,

Mike

All You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Response You Can Learn in Traffic

I worked in traffic for over twenty-seven years for the Georgia Department of Transportation. There were many times in my career where I had a lot of be proud of, with the bridges and roads that I helped build. There were times I was nearly hurt, seriously, because of traffic, and usually it was because someone behind the wheel of a car or truck wasn’t paying attention, or was speeding, or was drunk.

2018 was my last full year with the department, and 2017 was the last year I spent most of my time in harm’s way, and on I-75 at that. Night work on I-75 was enough to convince me that getting out while the getting was good might just save my life.

 

Traffic is different these days. People are more determined not to yield the right of way, not to surrender what they consider “their” lane, and they’re more distracted. People have gotten more aggressive, and they’ve gotten a lot more rude. They’ve become dangerously infected with the idea things on the road have to be the way they think they should be, at all costs, and that cost is paid by people like me, and the men and women under my management. In good conscious, I could not tell new people it was worth the risk, because I stopped believing it was. The traveling public became too dangerous to work with anymore.

 

Social media has created the idea that all opinions have real worth, and that worth has to be defended. People have become aggressive about what they believe, and it’s gotten dangerous in many ways. Drivers believe what they read online, and they believe it’s important enough to be engaged online while driving on the Interstate at speeds that can kill in an instant. That’s reality. What someone says that you either agree with or disagree with isn’t worth your life.

 

It sure as hell isn’t worth mine.

 

In the last few years, I’ve witnessed more people blocking traffic by positioning themselves to the left, and behind a slower vehicle on four lane roads. They’ll let other people get clogged up in traffic, back up a dozen cars, and they’ll maneuver so no one can get past them. This is new to me. I’ve never seen it until a few years ago, and to pull something like that on the Interstate is insane. But it speaks to the idea that someone wants to be in control of other people, other people must fall in line with that drive thinks is funny, or give that person power or purpose, I have no idea. I do know it is exceedingly dangerous.

 

Sometimes, on social media, I wonder if some people actually have a point, or an idea, or if they’re just getting in the way of other people because it’s their idea of fun. I asked for a recommendation on FB and got a half a dozen people who tossed out stuff that had nothing to do with what I asked. It wasn’t mean, or malicious, but it was a knee jerk reaction to get in the way because they could.

 

I think social media asks that we respond. We can be creative, or obstructionist, or we can even be angry. But we are trained to respond, not think, or consider, or even simply read and move on.

 

Those emoji buttons aren’t there to express thoughts but to give us some way to respond, and feel like we have made some sort of contribution, like screaming at a character in a television show.

 

When Covid-19 began to creep into the American consciousness, I assumed this would play out like it did in 1919. People would do the right things for the right reasons, and eventually, we would come out on the other side, more united, and stronger. But the dialog was driven by politics, and there were far too many people who say the plague, and the response to it, as political. The deaths and suffering of those who were infected, their families, and those who might succumb to the disease were not relevant. Any action, no matter how small or how large, was met with screaming and hostility, because it wasn’t about life and death, it was about politics, personal or national. It was about opinion and what was repeated in the echo chamber of social media posts. People became even more dangerous to other people than they had been in traffic, and for the very same reasons.

 

Americans have become a splintered collection of self-centered, selfish, uneducated, ignorant, self-righteous and highly opinionated self contained media centers that puke out whatever each of them feels best about, once they hear that two hundred and whatever many characters that can be tossed out in less than twenty seconds of typing.

 

The elderly and the children be damned. Social media is the new family now, and it is driven by nothing more complicated than a chicken pecking at a button that delivers a snack.

 

Over the last three years or so, I’ve watched people I thought I knew, and thought I respected, become seething bodies of hatred and mistrust, believing conspiracy theories that are downright laughable. These people will attack in mass, and viciously, anyone who dares ask them to cite a source, or to produce an honest source for what they preach.

 

The reaction to the plague, how people drive, and how they treat other people has become a nearly religious event. The right to a lane, the right to an opinion, and the right to treat people poorly is given to them by the Gods of social media, the support of like minded responders, and the never ending belief that if it can be repeated often enough, it must be true.

 

Can we honestly be surprised the Nazis are back? This is their playbook. People are recruiting themselves for the most assertive groups out there and what they actually stand for is totally and utterly irrelevant because it’s the response mechanism, not the philosophy, that counts these days.

 

And it’s getting people killed.

 

Take Care,

Mike