Everyone enjoys a good shortcut. At their best, shortcuts get you places quicker and help you complete your tasks with less effort. What's wrong with that? Well, nothing -- if that's all the shortcut is doing. If further effort is wasted effort, then take that shortcut. There's no point in driving an extra 100 miles if there's a road that gets you there in 20. But there are all kinds of shortcuts. The kid who inherits his dad's company at 24 instead of learning the ropes over 25 years? There's nothing good about that shortcut for anyone except that kid. Maybe not even that kid, who's being deprived of knowledge and a feeling of genuine accomplishment.
"Sure, I got the whole company for my 24th birthday, but sometimes I wake up screaming on my pile of cocaine and supermodels and wonder if I deserve it."
So really, when it comes to shortcuts, the question to ask is: Is this shortcut worth taking because it's the smarter, more efficient way to do something, or am I really just being lazy? When you add a modern convenience like the Internet to the inquiry, odds increase that it's the latter. The three shortcuts below, aided by modern technology, are some of the laziest paths on the world wide web, and they simply must go.
Shortcuts To Assuming The Moral High Ground
Sometimes, especially with the crutch of social media, it's too easy to take false steps while proclaiming moral high ground for ourselves. What does that mean? Well, sometimes, the best way to illustrate a point is with a story. I mean, that's what Jesus did, and things turned out alright for him, didn't they? Anyway, the other day, I saw a video of a woman who was educated, articulate, American, and a practicing Muslim. After neither admitting nor denying her support for Hamas, she openly stated that she was in favor of killing every single Jewish man, woman, and child. She made this statement in response to a question posed to her by Jewish conservative David Horowitz. I was horrified, I was outraged, and I posted it to my Twitter, because in the 21st century it's easy to forget that yes, there are people who still hate the Jews with that level of intensity.
As a Jew, I would never pretend that my daily life is filled with the kind of overt racism experienced by African Americans, or even people of Middle Eastern descent in a post-911 world. Quite simply, we're whiter, and when you're whiter, the contempt is typically more subtle and under the radar. Having said that, I thought it was worthy of note that an American citizen would make such a statement shamelessly in public, so I tweeted the article, specifically directing people to watch the video. That was my simple goal -- to say this exists. And I wasn't directing the video to only one group of people. I wanted everyone to see it, especially Jews, because as a people, we are always too quick to not believe this level of hatred. Too many of us believe we can take our Jewish identity off like a coat, simply solving the problem of racism. And I tweeted it knowing I had many Muslim followers as well. I wasn't concerned. Indeed, none of my Muslim followers took issue with the clip because there's only one reaction to suggested genocide: horror. I was confident that any follower I had who saw the video would be outraged.
About 20 minutes after posting, I read the site that was hosting the video. While the video spoke for itself, I did not approve of the site's xenophobic, neocon rhetoric. I pulled the article and then reposted the video on its own on social media. About a week later, I noticed a fellow Internet writer who'd followed me for over two years on Twitter no longer followed me. And when I asked this writer (who's also Jewish) why, he explained it was because I'd posted an "Islamophobic" article. He said it was a shame I'd done so, because he'd always liked me previously. He also admitted that he had not watched the video. Lastly, he let me know he wanted to unfollow me quietly, but I'd made it an issue.
Now here's the thing: while disdain for racism is noble, just about all the actions that followed that disdain were lazy. In his quest to be a good man, he ignored a video calling for genocide to take issue with the xenophobia of the hosting site. Yes, caring about Jewish genocide has become somehow boring, even to certain Jews, and you can get far more liberal street cred caring about other groups. But let's just take a step back again and realize a man ignored a video calling for the genocide of the Jewish people so he could stand on principle about the neocon, anti-Mulsim xenophobia surrounding the support for genocide. That's like taking issue with the non-biodegradable wrapper that contains your shit sandwich.
"How can I enjoy my turdburger knowing what this box is doing to the ozone?"
He also made his point against a fellow writer who defended the "Ground Zero Mosque" on this very site, and then again in video, when not even the Democratic Party had the balls to give American Muslims the defense they deserved. And even a year later, I was still so upset at this basic affront to the civil liberties of American Muslims that in my novel, I took pains to create a positive Muslim character who suffers civil liberty abuses at the hands of the American military. Did this person who unfollowed me know this? Probably not, and he didn't learn it either, because as he said, he made his decision in silence, with no communication to me. But I have to wonder, if someone truly believes a peer is spreading "Islamophobic" hatred to his 25,000 followers, then isn't a silent unfollow inappropriate? If that person is really concerned about this issue, wouldn't it be incumbent on him to set that person straight?
But social media makes it too easy to pass a simple judgment. An unfollow. A tweet. You are against racism -- so against racism that you'll worry about genocide some other time. A fun followup to the story: two other people on Twitter (who'd also followed me for years) starred his explanation that he was against an Islamophobic article. As far as I can tell, these people saw neither the article nor the video, but wanted to go on record as liking people who dislike racism. So y'know, in case you thought they weren't solid folks, their yellow star is proof. I mean, when did giving people yellow stars ever convey anything negative?
At the end of the day, it was a stupid Twitter squabble, but I think it does illustrate how easy it is to make lazy, uninformed decisions with the click of a button -- especially when you're rewarded with a pleasant, if unearned, feeling of moral superiority.
Shortcuts To End Debates
Although this can certainly happen in real life, the Internet is also really good at helping people not have real discussions. A current expression that's really good at enlightening no one? "Nope." For example, you could explain your opinion and invite debate on whether or not A.I. is a good movie, or you could just say, "You'd think I'd enjoy a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, based on Stanley Kubrick production notes, but nope!" Now obviously, statements like that are said for comedic effect. I get it: the whole setup of a big discourse, only to follow it with a terse rejection. But what does that get you? First of all, it's barely a joke, and more importantly it teaches nothing. It shares nothing. It's a comedy cliche used to express an unsupported opinion
And clearly, Haley Joel Osment is so upset about your diss that he's eating his feelings.
"Not so much" is another catchphrase that, again, just closes down conversations while teaching nothing. Y'know, it would go something like, uh, "The Sixth Sense has a fine sense of dramatic pacing and storytelling. The Village? Not so much." Yes, I get that in the example, the speaker is giving short shrift to a movie that doesn't deserve much explanation, but that's the problem with shortcuts. They get kind of addictive. Pretty soon, we start attaching these "nope" or "not so much" conversation enders to important topics, thinking we can save ourselves the burden of an informed debate. Falling short of explaining opinions is not a big deal when we're just talking about stupid movies, but that is not all we discuss online.
And that's what I was getting at a couple of months ago when I attacked the use of the very popular discussion-ending online phrase "check your privilege." That article was not meant to deny the existence of persistent forms of racism, or to dissuade people from self-reflection to understand how their background has perhaps made them blind to forms of injustice. The article attacked only the spouting of "check your privilege" and nothing more as a form of social change (some critics of the article insisted no one does that, as if they'd never been on Tumblr, or had eyes, or had spoken to someone who dubbed themselves a social justice warrior unironically). I think the aspirations behind the check your privilege movement are noble, but as a catchprase, as a shortcut to change, it is lazy. It is ineffective. It serves the purpose of shutting down speech instead of inviting discourse. Any catchphrase does that. Twitter may have a character limit, but our ideas, especially in debate, should not be confined or bite-sized.
"You know my idea is important because it's only this big!"
Shortcuts To Express Grief
If you've followed me on Twitter or Facebook over the years, you'll notice that I do this thing where I often make fun of dead celebrities. It's not very nice. Many people don't approve. I don't always do it, and when I do, it has to be something funny to me. I wouldn't tweet, "Haha! You're dead. You suck." I mean, unless it was about Cracked's Felix Clay.
I've often thought about why I do this. Sure, there's the obvious answer: I'm a terrible, terrible person. That's probably true. And sometimes, I have nobler aspirations, as I've written about before. Sometimes the death joke serves some larger satiric purpose. Or sometimes the joke doesn't actually mock the death, but something surrounding it. But ultimately, I think it's a reaction to so much false sentimentality. The web really invites bullshit condolences even more than the greeting card industry. Let me be clear: I'm not saying there is a right or wrong way to express grief. It is an intensely fact-specific and personal experience. There are some people we don't know, some people we don't care about emotionally, but who should still be recognized, so I'm sure there are times when a mere #RIP is not an affront to common decency.
Honestly, I'm sure there are all sorts of well-intentioned and helpful posts that people leave on social media, ones that can help them and others heal. For the most part, I'm not going to tell you which are the good ones and the bad ones, because a lot of that is subjective, and who the fuck am I? Let's just say there is a lot of bullshit out there, and when Robin Williams died, there were some posts that were so clearly designed to sell the attributes of the griever, rather than pay homage to his memory, that I felt actively sick. And then of course, there was this piece of stupidity tweeted by the Academy.
Yep, much to the horror of the psychiatric profession as well as anyone who isn't a fucking idiot, the Academy likened life to a horrible struggle, encouraging all to be free from it by killing themselves. Yes, who would have thought that one sentence and a picture might lead you to inartfully express your feelings of grief. But that happens. We get too turned on by a pun or a simple idea that we think would look great up on our wall or page or whatever, and we forget that we're accusing people of racism, that we're shutting down important debates with buzzwords, or that we're encouraging suicide while trying to pay respect.
We are still new to the Internet. It has changed our lives and made living easier in so many ways. But as we endeavor to be good people, to change ideas through discussion, and honor the dead, that same ease and convenience can lead us down some unfortunate paths. Some shortcuts save you time only by taking you to the wrong place.
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