It’s a Friday.
This week alone, the United States experienced its deadliest mass shooting, Puerto Rico continued to grapple with apocalypse-level destruction followed by gross neglect from the U.S. government, House and Senate Republicans are conspiring to push a bill that would illegalize all abortions after 20 weeks, the Affordable Care Act is growing dangerously close to repeal, each day one must rise and reckon with the fact that the country is governed by a sentient leather glove, police officers regularly slaughter unarmed black men in the street, ICE is conducting proto-fascist roundups of immigrants, and Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.
Seemingly each day, one is pelted with sickening news from elsewhere in the world. One can’t help but experience the chilling realization that these sorts of large-scale disasters are becoming more deadly and more frequent. There’s a not-unwarranted sensation that as soon as one is able to come to grips with a situation, a new, fresh hell arises.
Very few seem willing to acknowledge how positively surreal it is to be alive today. As the aforementioned tragedies swirl all around us, we are experiencing them with a level of unprecedented intensity and immediacy.
Social media makes it easier than ever to access information and participate in discourse on current affairs. Because the content of social media is not particularly streamlined, the conversations one finds themselves exposed to are all-encompassing. It becomes an experience of scrolling through an endless number of cries for help and you, the scroller, left genuinely helpless.
The lack of conversation around how overwhelming it is to simply exist today is not rooted in a lack of compassion — but a presence of guilt. Far more than we often acknowledge, humanity is good, humanity is giving. It is in our fundamental nature to help others whom we see suffering. How many people, in some small way, yearn to make a difference in the world?
When one browses their Twitter account and is struck by tale after tale of woe, hot take after hot take on how one should properly respond to X situation — our responses no longer come from that compassionate place, but from a place of looking to appear in a particular light to others with whom we interact on social media.
Social media is primarily a reward-based system. The likes, comments, re-tweets, and engagement is what fuels us to continue using these platforms. This is dangerous, though, when our political lives are drawn into the mix of validation. Rather than enact our fundamental beliefs, we perform them in a far more superficial way, which furthers the helpless anxiety we already feel.
What’s more, we openly (or silently) ridicule those whom we feel have not given an adequate response to the latest global news. We allow ourselves to make judgments on the level of intelligence, awareness, and care others have and use these judgments as fuel with which to feel better about our own reactions.
The social media-based consumption of news does have benefits — particularly for those in danger. It allows the world to become aware of, and remain updated on, situations that mass media websites and television channels (willfully) neglect. Social media has certainly inspired many to make calling their representatives a regular part of their routine.
To step back and reassess one’s role in the insanity of it all should not be a guilt-inducing activity. It is a responsible way of participating in the mess that we call life in the 21st century. No individual can be in Puerto Rico and Syria and on Capitol Hill at the same time, and attempting to do so expends precious energy that could be used to make a more concentrated, tangible effort.
This is not to say that one should fail to educate themselves on significant matters of the day. Awareness is indeed key. But an attempt to perform a specific persona in response to knowledge is futile in comparison to a more focused course of action. Current international crises do not properly fit into the container of a hashtag, and attempting to squeeze them into these disposable displays is a disservice to any so-called activist, as well as to the many suffering who said hashtag is likely in reference to.
Anyone who hopes to make the world even a slightly better place must, even occasionally, remember their own mental wellbeing. It is easy to fall prey to the self-involved traps of something that could otherwise be a powerful tool. Sometimes logging off gives one far greater understanding than one might think. Well-rested idealists will always better fight the good fight.