Ever get the feeling that social media is trying to piss you off?
Well, that’s a dumb question. Of course it is.
In the mid-’90s we actually debated whether this new internet thing would bring people together or further divide us. Well, a quarter-century later we know the answer.
Pop culture’s unending stream of consciousness is background noise that influences us more than we care to admit.
What do you want?
Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca writes in letter LXXV that,
“Passions” are objectionable impulses of the spirit, sudden and vehement. They come on so often, and so little attention is paid to them, that they cause a state of disease.
This disease of the mind is “a persistent perversion of judgment such that things which are mildly desirable are thought to be highly desirable.” Or, mild irritants are seen as super harmful.
This doesn’t mean, for example, that we shouldn’t oppose separating children from parents who have illegally entered the United States. But outrage over minor things like the latest mean tweet can diminish the seriousness of bigger issues.
Plus, anger and outrage—and the desire for revenge—can cloud our judgement. The irrational behavior that follows fails to achieve justice. In the long run, it might make things worse.
Our reaction to harmful things is often an overcorrection. Street drugs can be harmful, so we throw a pot smoker in prison for 10 years with murderers and rapists. Capitalism someones exploits low income people, so we must turn to socialism—even though capitalism has reduced poverty more than socialism has.
But outrage is loudest on social media. You don’t have to face the person you’re insulting. This incentivizes people to post all sorts of horrible things.
The problem isn’t just that they think they’re doing no wrong. Most do so self-righteously, implying moral superiority. The desire to punish transgressors can create irrationality to the point of causing even greater harm.
Physical or psychological harm may occur, but only we can harm our souls.
Stoics philosophy claims that events don’t harm us. Our beliefs about these events harm us. And we can choose to put our outrage aside and do the right thing.
If we fail to pay attention to the constant barrage of daily outrages, however, we can get caught in a pattern which leads to a disease of the mind—a pervasive anger that never quite seems to resolve.
And paying attention means being aware of attempts to manipulate our outrage. Then we can step back and not take the bait.