Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Let's Talk About Reality Tunnels


Turns out there are some benefits to being in a relationship with someone who is really into philosophy. For example, I am glad that I was introduced to the idea of reality tunnels. Or really, to the term, because I had already formed the idea myself without know that someone had come up with a name for it already.

Basically, the theory of reality tunnels says that reality is in the eye of the beholder. Two people could look at the same situation and, because of the way they were raised and the beliefs that they hold and the influences that shaped them, they could each see something completely different. I look at a homeless person and see an individual failed by society, while a conservative might look at the same person and see a failure of the individual.

I think a lot of us have experienced confusion and distress when something happens, usually something highly emotionally charged, and our view and interpretation of the thing is wildly different from someone else's. It's disturbing and frustrating. We might assume that the other person is lying for some reason. It might seem like they live in an entirely different reality. Talk to people with significant enough political views and you'll probably experience this.

Maybe, in a way, they are living in a different reality.

Let's apply this to a particularly annoying aspect of 21st-century politics: online arguments. I think becoming skeptical of electoral politics in general has resulted in an ability to step back a little because I am less invested than I used to be in any particular candidate. Every current Democratic candidate is flawed. Some are less flawed than others, but you'll never find anybody who is squeaky clean.

And yet, finally making the decision to "officially" support Bernie seems to have made it easier for me to be drawn back into the same bullshit, wanting to argue with people who attack him. Isn't that interesting?

Anyway, a common complaint about Bernie is that his fans, or at least some of them, pile onto anyone who criticizes him in any way online to the point that it's harassment. In response, some Bernie supporters have claimed that these "pile-ons" have often in fact only been a few people responding in somewhat sarcastic tones.

So which is true? Both, of course. I've seen people get piled on by hundreds of people on Twitter for making reasonable complaints about Bernie and his fans and I've seen Bernie fans say horrible, fucked up things to and about these critics. I've also seen people throw some pretty wild, bullshit smear at Bernie, get like 90% supportive messages and a few people being like "dude no" and then claim that they were getting dog-piled by the mean Bernie Bros.

And I've seen both situations play out with critics and supporters of Elizabeth Warren. And let's not pretend that both Bernie and Liz supporters are shitting on Mike Bloomberg all day every day. He deserves it, but I mean, we are doing that.

I wish we could talk in a more productive way about our "bubbles." Bubbles are related to reality tunnels but the only time they come up is usually when some alt-right fuckoff is telling you that you're just living in your liberal bubble or echo chamber or whatever the fuck without having a shred of self-awareness about the fact that they have their own bubble/echo chamber that they're about to retreat to and declare victory to their like-minded buddies after getting blocked yet again.

We all surround ourselves with like-minded people. It's completely natural and expected human behavior. Every one of us has a bubble and an echo chamber, and if not, you're probably extremely lonely. Humans have been doing this since we started existing, and then suddenly we invented the internet and thrust ourselves right up into each other's business and we're all baffled and angry all the time now.

I'm in a position right now where I'm definitely left of liberal and connecting with more and more people who are the similarly leftist or further left while still maintaining a lot of connections with and admiration for people who are actually liberal. So I a lot of what's going on in both of these groups. But if you're totally enmeshed in either group, you have to go out of your way to see what's going on in the other. And I am still in a bubble, just like everyone else. We can't see all of Twitter. It's too big.

If you think Warren fans never attack Bernie fans the way vice versa, you're wrong. If you think Warren fans are lying about Bernie fans ever piling onto them, you're wrong. Who does it more? I don't know, I think it would take some kind of software or tech thing to figure that out and clearly I would have absolutely no clue how to go about making such a program. But until such a thing exists, we can't know which fans are worse.

But we can all acknowledge that our perspectives are limited by what we've seen. I think that would be super-duper healthy and beneficial to all of us. Knowing about reality tunnels has helped me to step back and resist the temptation to butt in with my every thought.

That's another thing I think we need to acknowledge. It's a very human thing to want to express one's opinion and be heard. Again, the internet has given us the ability to do that as much as we want at any time to a massive potential audience, but there are downsides. You'd be hard-pressed to find a human who has never seen something online and felt the urge to give their opinion on it. We all feel that urge all the time, especially when it's about something important to us. And politics are important to all of us whether we want to admit it or not.

That's why these pile-ons happen. I mean, sometimes there are coordinated attacks, but these are from 4chan and other right-wing cesspools. The vast majority of the time it's that you either have a large audience or are boosted by someone with a large audience and so hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people see what you said and an opinion or clever bit of bullshit pops into their heads and they all want to share. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it can be overwhelming when so many give in to the urge, often without thinking much at all, and the one person who said the original thing wakes up with 500 notifications.

Yesterday I saw a fairly prominent feminist with 92,000 followers freaking out a bit and trying to claim that that thing Bernie wrote back in 1972 about gender roles and their impact on people's sex lives represented sexual fantasies that Bernie actually himself has. He of course did not admit to any such thing, he was just being too edgy in his attempt to catch attention to his essay -- a mistake made by just about every dude in every one of my creative writing classes in college.

I responded to one of her tweets pointing this out and she was not receptive to the idea. Her response also indicated that I was not the first one to make the point I made, which I should have assumed. I then struggled quite a bit to resist the urge to continue replying to her tweets. I felt she was wrong and spreading disinformation that could even harm Bernie's chances at getting nominated (and most polls still suggest Bernie has the best chance of anyone to beat Trump) but I had to tell myself some key things. A) Chances were slim that anything I could say to her would be something she hadn't heard before and B) she was not currently in a state of mind that was at all receptive to other ideas.

And that's okay. Maybe it's not ideal and if you're always in that mode then that's a problem, but I've absolutely been in that place. The subject was about rape fantasies, which is a highly-charged subject. Being emotional about that subject is never wrong. I don't even blame her for being furious that Bernie wrote what he did. He was still using rape for shock value, which is something I hate. Maybe if I hadn't already known about his old writings and had a negative opinion of Bernie, I would have been saying the same things as this woman. It was clear that some people were shocked at the idea that anybody has rape fantasies, and I don't blame them for being upset.

I just wish that more people could put their egos and their hero worship aside and practice a little more empathy. Not with fascists, but we can do it with people a little to the left or right of us, yeah? C'mon.

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