Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trolling For Outrage

A while ago the manager came into my office and caught me on Twitter, as I sometimes am (@jenstrikesagain).  She asked me what in the hell I was doing and I told her I was trolling for outrage.

"Trolling for outrage?" she said.  "Yes," I said. "Usually I can sit down and do my job just because I like what I do.  But sometimes I come in here and I don't feel like it or I'm tired or I don't feel well or whatever.  And that's when I have to go trolling for outrage.  I get on Twitter or I get on Yahoo News and I look for a news story that's outrageous.  It never takes very long to find one. And then I'm outraged and I have all this energy and I feel like smacking somebody but instead I get to work and do my job because maybe there'll be a little less outrage out there if we win this motion or we settle this case or we mediate this dispute.  Trolling for outrage. That's what I call it.  What do you do when you don't feel like doing your job?"

The manager gave me a long, slow blink and said, "I drink another cup of coffee."

Well, hey, that may work for some folks, too.  But ever since November 9 of last year, it's been ridiculously easy to find outrage.  I no longer need to go trolling for it. It shows up at my doorstep daily in freshly wrapped packages.  Here's a sample just from this morning:

  •  Trump fired his acting AG for refusing to defend his unconstitutional order banning people from seven different countries from entering the US.  (In case you don't know this, attorneys can't argue for or defend anything they know is unconstitutional. They can be disbarred if they do.)
  • The entire upper echelon of the State Department has also been fired.
  • Fox News spent all of yesterday and part of today stating that the Quebec mosque shooter was from Morocco. In fact the shooter was a French Canadian university student.
  • The Education Secretary nominee apparently plagiarized her answers to written questions propounded by the Senate.  Let's get this straight, people: Only legal professionals can plagiarize at will, and only from other legal professionals.  Educators must do their own work and keep their eyes on their own papers. 
  •  A Danish citizen has been denied entry to the United States because he excavates archaeological sites in Iraq. Really.
  • A Mississippi lawmaker has submitted a bill that would make wearing saggy pants a crime. I would argue that's double jeopardy, since it's already a crime against fashion. 
You see what I mean?  It's getting ridiculous.  It's almost to the point where I think a long, extended break from all social media would be a good idea, though realistically, I'll probably never do that.  But the whole thing does raise some questions about the role of social media in life, anyway, how we're shaped by our environment and how we may be doing the shaping, without even knowing it. And how Buddhist-y it is, anyway, to deliberately go look at things you know are going to piss you off?  Probably not very.

One argument against spending time on social media, for example, is that it puts you in a bubble. Unless you really like to argue with people, you're probably going to follow people who think the way you do and tweet the way you tweet (or Snapchat, or whatever).  So you're bouncing the same old, tired ideas off people who are bouncing the same old, tired ideas off you, and pretty soon it's like being in an echo chamber, and then when you happen to run into people who disagree with you out in the real world, you're first shocked, and then angry.  How dare they. Which, of course, leads to increased conflict, more arguments and more suffering for all beings.

Another thought: Docs are telling us now that more than a small amount of screen time is bad for people.  Parents all over the country restrict their kids to no more than a certain amount of time on the iPhone or the tablet for fear their eyes will fall out, or that they'll meet predators in chat rooms. Yet, when the kids suggest maybe Mom and Dad should put their phones down, too, a lot of moms and dads find out that they just can't do it.  When a day care center put up a sign about it, outrage followed.  People have become hooked on the instant-information fix. Well, a lot of us have. You are, after all, reading this, aren't you?

(Incidentally, the Thai Buddhist temple here on Dallas, off of Forest Lane, has handpainted wallpaper that depicts, among other things, old Buddhist stories and modern dilemmas.  It's got an illustration of Siddhartha meeting the sick man, the old man, and the dead man, for example,  It also has a picture of a man with a computer, on Facebook, drowning in the Sea of Delusion.)

In Plum Village, the Thich Nhat Hanh hamlet near Bordeaux, France, they have a "second body" policy when it comes to going online (and yes, monks and nuns do go online; it may be a monastery, but it isn't a 12th century one). That means that somebody else sits there with you while you get on the Internet and do what you need to do.  Kind of a pain if you feel like pulling up some good porn, but then I suppose monks and nuns aren't supposed to do that anyway and it's probably great for not getting lost in the clickstream for hours at a time. (It's a little culty, though, if you ask me.)  I don't have a "second body" that I can haul around when I need to get on the Internet, so I installed this little chime thingy that rings once an hour. That at least tells me how much time I've been there, and since I'm on the Internet at work basically all day, it's a good reminder to get up, stretch, walk a little, take a few deep breaths.  You know, interact with the actual world.

I get sucked in by bad news; other people get sucked in by fantasy football, Twitter, the Kardashian sisters or who's winning American Idol (is that even still on?).  We've managed to design a world where it's hard to live without instant tech. In 2010 we had a huge power outage that affected most of the northern part of the state, and besides being freezing and having to cook in the dark, Joan and I were terribly worried about how we were going to charge our cell phones.

Anyway, I don't know what the solution is.  But maybe taking an hour or so a day to unplug would be a start.  Seriously, an hour a day without your cell phone close to hand.  Can you do it?

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