The Days I Don’t Do Facebook
I wrote earlier this year about my first cold turkey break from Facebook. And while it’s true that it was the first time I’d quit Facebook for an extended period of time, what I didn’t mention was the four days every year I avoid Facebook as entirely as possible. So as yesterday was one of those days, I thought I’d talk a little bit about those four days, and why I avoid them.
The recurring theme for all four is the overload of jingoistic masturbation from my American friends, which constitute the bulk of my friends list. And to be entirely fair, the tone has been rather muted this year. I suspect this is due to the fact that about 98% of my Facebook friends think America is going to hell in a handbasket (that was made in China) and thus don’t feel there’s much to celebrate and beat their chests about anymore. I tend to agree, but I don’t feel there was ever very much to get loud and proud about.
I’ll go ahead and lump in the UK’s Remembrance Day with this one, because my issues with them are the same:
We place so much emphasis on worshipping past wars, and so little on preventing future wars.
If this reverence for sacrifice were as close to the surface of our collective consciousness the rest of the year, would we keep sending our sons and daughters off to die? Would we so easily whip ourselves into a bloodthirsty fervor?
There’s also a secondary, less contentious issue with Memorial Day: a national day of mourning has evolved into a start of summer national hullabaloo. I understand veterans’ annoyance with this, but I think it comes down to America’s draconic approach to paid time off. Essentially, if Americans received anywhere near the amount of paid holiday that their peers in the rest of the developed world receive, they wouldn’t have to take advantage of one of the few nationally recognised three day weekends to have a vacation.
I believe this theory is supported by looking at the UK’s Remembrance Day. It’s retained a lot of its original gravitas and reverence. And the country requires employers to give workers a minimum of 28 paid days off. So days that aren’t supposed to be about BBQs and camping, don’t have to be for lack of other opportunities. I could probably dive deeper into this, but this story is only supposed to be personal reflections, so I’ll abstain.
Ah, the one that started it all.
I spent a summer working at a beach resort, in an on-site cafe and gift shop. The girl I worked with, while sweet, was more than a little thick. On the 4th of July, she asked me if the British celebrate the day, too. I stopped, frowning, and then asked if she knew what the 4th commemorated. When she shook her head, I explained it commemorated the day the thirteen colonies that would become the United States of America told the United Kingdom to go do one. With a bemused smile, she asked ‘well, why wouldn’t they celebrate that?’
In general, American Independence Day has become utterly divorced from its historical context. At best, all that’s remembered is that America gave one big screaming eagle of a middle finger to King George, without any of the thought or context that surrounds the event. At worst, it’s just an excuse to take off from work, get wasted, and blow stuff up. Given how eroded American culture is, maybe this holiday is finding a new purpose as an annual release valve for the country’s various pressures.
Get your comments section outrage ready. I’m going for the jugular. Locked and loaded? Okay, here goes:
The terrorist attacks of 11 September hold a disproportionately large place in American culture and thinking. The response has also been disproportionately extreme.
Whew. There, I said it. Now, I do think that part of the reason is that for about 90% of the population, it’s the only attack in living history on American soil. The absence of outside attacks on our precious nation probably exacerbated the impact it had on all of us. However, I think its domination of American thought and culture has turned us into a nation of xenophobic cowards. The case could even be made that 11 September was the beginning of the end of America as it once was, and still likes to think it is. But, again, this isn’t really supposed to be a think piece, so I’ll veer away from those murky depths.
And this one is probably the worst of the lot. My distaste for this particular day stems from a larger bugbear: the way that American political discourse routinely uses veterans as a human shield to protect against having to actually implement social welfare programs to take care of anyone. Let me explain.
Every time the country has to decide on a humanitarian issue, like accepting refugees, or adopting more progressive social safety nets, you’ll always hear the same tired whataboutisms. What about the homeless vets? What about our vets? Well, what about them? Politicians say we can’t worry about needle exchanges or single payer healthcare or whatever the cause du jour is while we still have vets living on the streets.
This line of thinking wouldn’t be so disingenuous if it actually lead to action on behalf of those disadvantaged veterans. But it never does. They’re just a prop to avoid taking action. It’s part of a larger cultural issue where as a society, we worship only the able-bodied soldier in their service. Once they are dead, or discharged, they get only lip service from a country full of people that ‘support our troops’.
A lot of the aggressive, blind, uncritical patriotism is fuelled by a need to virtue signal, to let everyone know they ‘support the troops’ because choosing not to do so is social and political suicide. It’s become cultish and rabid. But actual patriotism means wanting to make your country better because you love it. It means constantly re-evaluating the state of things to see if it can be improved. It’s not the hyper-fervent us vs them that it’s become, as exemplified by the content on Facebook on these four particular days.
That’s all the steam I had for today’s seditious rant. It’s part of a growing fascination and frustration with the relationships between social media and politics, with a particular focus on the United States of America. You can read a similarly grouchy piece about GOP supporters on Facebook here.