Essays on Heresy and Cognitive Dissonance

Unclean!!!

“Creed sucks! I hate you, and I hate the band you like!”

Red vs. Blue: Real Life vs. the Internet still maintains a punch. Despite being ancient by our standards, this one exchange depicts a core problem I’ve run into when reading blogs by authors, photographers, and other members of the creative community. When a big film, say The Avengers comes out, people naturally wish to talk about it. Authors are no different. They’ll go on their blogs and write up, usually with great style and aplomb, how they felt about the film, its good points and bad, its ups and downs, as any other person would.

But a funny thing happens when words are committed anywhere. They gain weight, especially if coming from a person with any kind of authority. (Or, as Joss Whedon would have put it, ‘my precious quasi-fame.’)It becomes personal. Folks read this and a rush of emotion comes flying out onto the comments section. Nuance is lost, especially when the author or artist’s feeling conflict with your own. Everything becomes personal.

A simple, “Here is what I think about this…” gains a rider: “… and if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong! Moreover, you’re a horrible person to boot!” I’ve noted the effect is more intense, the shorter the comment. Facebook posts are a magnet for this phenomenon. Twitter feeds boil over with supposition and misinterpretation. And all is made worse because you lose basic verbal and visual clues to a person’s stated intent.

And then, we get the response. “Hey, this person is attacking something I like. He must be attacking me. How dare he? I have every right to my opinion! You’ve no right to look down on me. Time to give this person a piece of my mind!”

Thus, flamewars are born. And no one has actually said anything horrible or out of line. It’s simply read into the gaps in the text. I fall for it myself. I read a blog site where the editor has a very firm opinion about an author I enjoy, and is quite open about expressing it. But at no point has the editor crossed the line and denigrated anyone who enjoys said author’s work. Yet, because of the simple authoritative gesture of putting words into print, even electronic print, the words gain weight. They sink into the brain and, like a sculpture falling into jelly, our minds fill in the cracks between the words.

Is there a solution? I think we may need to look back and invest in the art of essay writing. When a friend of mine said, “I’m starting a podcast” for his birthday, I gave him a copy of This I Believe: Personal Philosophies of Remarkable People as a guidebook. The simple essay, with its clear structure, often ridiculed in school, gives us a clear key to creating a bridge of understanding, in my view. I think it might be time we all invest in contemplating the grace it provides.

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