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Sunday, September 26, 2010

An experiment that didn't happen... sorta

How's that for an ambiguous post title?

I've mentioned before that I have friends and acquaintances all over the map when it comes to politics, religion, ethnicity, etc.  I've also mentioned that some of them are among my facebook friends, and I've noted significant differences in the behaviours and attitudes from those on the far left of the political spectrum vs those on the far right.

Most of the folks I know are of the "live and let live" sort.  Most don't even talk about topics of substance on public forums, but if they do put forward their feedback, they are generally respectful of those they disagree with, even if they disagree very strongly, or the topic is very emotionally charged.  They might share potentially inflammatory articles or videos, but they do so in such a way that they are asking for feedback, and to actually understand the why behind them.

There are, however, a few exceptions.  I've got the one person on the extreme far right who's also a 9/11 Truther that tends to use foul language and has some rather choice descriptive terms for those who don't agree with his "evidence."  He is, quite obviously, not representative of the political right.

Then there are the others.  These are people on the far left of the political spectrum, and as I've written before, their attitudes are quite different.  Judging from what I've seen and heard elsewhere, they are highly representative of the far and not-so-far left.

Which is rather disturbing, considering some of the things they share and the comments that accompany them.

In the past while, there has been a lot of sharing of stories from this group.  Articles, videos, comments on walls and in groups, etc.  When it comes to politics, they are very predictable.  Basically, they'll share and agree with anything that is anti-American, anti-Harper, anti-Conservative, anti-right, anti-Christian (especially anti-Catholic), anti-Caucasian, anti-male, anti-human, anti-capitalist, and anti-wealth.  The anti-wealth is a bit confusing, though, in that they clearly believe individuals should not have "too much" wealth, and that government should take it from these undeserving wealthy and spread it around to those who aren't wealthy, however they have no objection to those who fall into their acceptable categories to be wealthy, and to use that wealth to try and control our societies.

At the same time, they'll share any story the find that shows how downtrodden their preferred groups are.  Currently, that means any criticism of anything to do with Islam is automatically blasted as being Islamophobic.  Showing any support for Israel causes heads to explode, as is anything said in support of a Christian faith, since apparently accepting Christianity or Isreal in any way is the same as being anti-Islam.  Likewise, suggesting that anthropogenic climate change claims are questionable is met with accusations of being in favor of pollution, or being manipulated by Big Oil. 

There's a major double standard, of course.  They freak out if there's even the flimsiest of connections between the NRA and those trying to get rid of the long-gun registry, but have no problem with Avaaz putting out a petition making wildly false claims about the proposed Sun TV (or, as they think it's named, "Fox New North") channel, for example.  Wealth is bad, but not if it's in the hands of Al Gore or George Soros.   Oil and coal based energy is bad because of pollution, resources used, or they result in the deaths of a bunch of ducks in a tailing pond, but wind turbines are good, even though they kill birds and bats, use a lot of resources to manufacture and ship, are unreliable, may be causing health problems via noise and vibrations, etc.  They'll ignore the environmental cost of building solar panels while decrying the building of a coal plant.  They bemoan our modern lifestyles, painting idyllic pictures of less technologically advanced cultures while ignoring that those lifestyles mean illness, hunger and early death for millions around the world.  I could make a very long list of their double standards.

Of course, there's no trying to respond directly to their claims, because their positions are bolstered firmly by emotion first, then attempts at logic to support those positions.  They are perfect examples of my theory that logic is what people use to justify their emotional responses.  They have their emotional conclusion, and only see those things which support that conclusion, ignoring anything that counters it.  They've actually been the source of great amusement in our household, as we have found ourselves eagerly looking forward to seeing what new way these folks are demonstrating their gullibility, or how far they've fallen into the "useful idiot" category, in their rush to support anyone or anything that agreed with their anti-[see above list] views.

After seeing my newsfeed filled with these posts, I figured I'd try an experiment.  I'd start sharing stories and videos that countered theirs.  Unlike them, I would not make any personal comments on these stories, or give any direct sign that I agreed or disagreed with what I was sharing.  If they were posting stories about how wonderful liberalism was and how evil conservatives are, I'd share stories showing the damage those liberal policies had done, and the benefits reaped by conservative policies.  If they shared another story about how Americans are evil, I'd share stories showing the evils perpetrated by other countries that they'd have to ignore to maintain their illusion of how Americans are the worst of everything.  If they went on about how Christianity is so terrible, or how rife Islamophobia is in the US and Canada, I'd share stories about the horrors done in the name of Islam or how Christians are being persecuted in Muslim nations. 

At least, that was the plan.  I was simply going to share these stories.  I would not comment unless it was to respond to something someone else had said.  I would also be careful about the sources for what I was sharing.  Not because they were any less reliable than their sources, but because these sources might have an obvious bias. ie: if I found a pro-Christian story on a Christian website, I wouldn't share it from that link, but if I found the source of that story from a major news organization, I'd share it from there. That sort of thing.  I was going to show the other side of what they were claiming, and see how they responded. These stories would also be interspersed with all the usual interesting stuff I like to share, like new scientific discoveries, interesting photo collections, humorous quotes, etc.

I quickly found a problem with this plan. 

There were simply too many. 

For example, when the hullabaloo was going on about the weird preacher that wanted to burn the Koran, and the uproar about the "Ground Zero Mosque" had them going on about evil Christians and Islamaphobes, I was going to share stores about Bibles being burned, churches, synagogues or temples being destroyed, "victory Mosques" being built, and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists being persecuted and killed by Muslims.

I was finding hundreds of them - and not just different versions of the same source story - without really even trying.  Many of these stories were incredibly horrifying.  I'm actually still rather traumatized by one particular youtube video I watched almost a week ago, and it takes a lot to disturb me.  It was far too graphic and disturbing to share.

If I were to share all the links I was finding, I would have inundated my feed with just that one subject.  On top of that, I do have Muslim friends.  Even the few stories I did share, I was concerned that they would see these stories as an attack on them and their faith.  Since the experiment was to see how people responded, if at all, to the sharing of these stories, I couldn't explain to them why I was doing it. 

Which led to another problem I had.  While I may disagree with the opinions and conclusions of people I know, I respect their right to hold those opinions and, unless there is a reason to discuss these things, I have no desire to contest their views.  I'm more interesting in understanding why they think the way they do, then convincing them to think otherwise.  I'll share information I find interesting and share my own point of view, but if they disagree with me, they're welcome to it.  Heck, even when some of them get all pissed off and insulting because I hold a view they disapprove of, that's their prerogative. I find that sort of response very interesting, from a psychological and sociological perspective.  Because I was finding so much so easily, however, posting them all would have seemed like I was on the attack; like I was deliberately trying to persecute individuals and their beliefs, when they had nothing to do with the behaviour I was trying to counter. After all, most of them aren't even seeing the shared stories and comments I have been, since the people sharing them are not mutual friends.

It got to be so very strange.  I was finding story after story from around the world that was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for to conduct this experiment, yet I couldn't bring myself to share most of them as part of the experiment.  These leftists on my list might not have any problem sharing stories that are offensive or antagonistic to those who disagreed with them (or just plain BS conspiracy theories), but it turns out I have a problem with doing that sort of thing myself.  I've found myself self-censoring, even though I'm looking to share them in response to people who don't self-censor themselves.

So now I'm at a bit of a loss.  I still have an interest in sharing these stories that I'm finding, as they would counter a lot of misinformation that I'm seeing spread around, yet I don't feel it's appropriate for me to share many of them on my facebook.  Even a lot of the mildest stories would be far too antagonistic for me to share on my own page. 

One thing's for sure; my attempt that this experiment has been an educational experience for me, and not in the way I expected.

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