There’s a lot of noise in the world. Could we agree on that for a moment? Yes? Good.
I don’t just mean whitenoise, either…the useless, background throbbing that becomes simultaneously non-sensical and remarkably intrusive into our subconscious. Aside from the occasional podcast, I’ve never been overly given to that. I wasn’t the one who would have the television on in my dorm room while I was doing homework. It just didn’t take.
I don’t just mean whitenoise, I mean an overwhelming onslaught of real things that simultaneously demand our attention while leaving us powerless to do anything about them, at least anything substantive. So far, the start to our new decade has been full of these sorts of events. A pandemic, blood in the streets, political farce, the growing uselessness of social media. And, partially because we care about these things (because they impact us even if they’re not knocking on our door directly), and partially because so many people have been shut inside for so long and are going crazy with the need to have something to do…we jump onto a cause. We want to do something, not just let it go by. Haven’t we all been told at some point, after all, to be part of the solution and not the problem?
The issue with this is that, more often than not, these issues are of such a huge, national or global scale, that we really can’t do anything about them. We can’t do anything that would really make a difference, in any case, no matter what the pundits would have you to believe. This isn’t like the family problem that just caused chaos in your living room. There’s generally something that you can do to impact that directly and positively. These are things that have spun up outside of our control. They were never in our control. They exceed our control by definition.
Sometimes, we’re told there are things that we can do to “do our part.” These things range from the practical to the completely useless, from washing your hands to yelling about something on Twitter to draw awareness. Sometimes those things are valid, and more often they are completely devoid of effectiveness. Still, though, we have to do something, right?
This is when the mob mentality begins, and most of our society, having never been educated in the ability to think critically, runs like lemmings off of the cliff in a desire to exert some control, to right a wrong, to correct the evil, whether that evil is perceived or actual. And, generally, that’s when well-intentioned gestures that are in actuality quite futile begin to happen. We’ve see a lot of these lately. Removals or the vandalizing of statues, changing flags, changing logos, fleeing one social media platform for another in order to further exist in a silo. None of these actions do anything to actually contribute to a solution to the very real problems to which they are reactions. Often, in particularly insidious examples, these are the moves of marketing departments wanting to draw customers by appearing to take a stand when their company, like most, actually couldn’t care less.
The vast majority of the tweet storms, riots, monument removals, and social media shifts do absolutely nothing constructive. They are sound and fury, signifying nothing.
And that’s not even me being cynical. When I’m feeling particularly cynical, in fact, I don’t attribute these gestures to groupthink and desperation borne of feelings of powerlessness. I attribute them instead to the fact that we do these lesser things because the work of making actual change…of loving our neighbor as ourselves, of listening to and respecting opposing points of view, of considering all life as beautiful, and recognizing that we have more in common than we do different…that this work is just too hard, or something in which we actually have no interest.
That worries me the most, because that is a disease from which a society cannot recover.
Image of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch, 1893, taken from Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain.