The Bonfire of Vanity

“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”

Are you spending too much time on social media? Here’s a quick fix: Ignore anything that didn’t originate with the sender. My incomplete, biased and unscientific study of the matter predicts that this would eliminate 95% of what you see on facebook or twitter, and free up an astonishing amount of time.

Memes are the easiest to ignore. Occasionally they are thoughtful or funny, but often their true purpose is not to promote humor or thoughtfulness, but to support a political or social narrative. Few people realize how much of what they assume is generated by private individuals actually has institutional backing and an agenda behind it.

Need to make deeper cuts? Ignore the videos people send you, the ones that arrive throughout the day, the ones that seem to suggest that our friends and acquaintances must be permanently attached to their phones. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Is any work being done in offices throughout the land? Apparently there are hordes of unemployed or freeloading people, judging by the volume of material circulating.

Who has the time to watch one video after another? I don’t even have time to watch the ones people I know send me, much less the ones that seem to appear everywhere pixels travel. I also don’t have time to read the scores of articles people post and share, and I’m a very fast reader. The exception to this is becoming increasingly rare, and that is when the sender has actually read the article (or wrote it) and wants to have a discussion about it.

Discussion is becoming scarce. We participate in discussions when our intention is the discovery and sharing of truth. When we think we already possess the truth, as too many do from one side of the partisan divide or another, then discussion becomes narrative. Narrative eliminates the need for discovery, in fact, it insulates us from it. We participate in narratives in a modern day bonfire of vanity where everyone is urged to contribute fuel to the fire. Click “like.” Click “share” and fan the flames!

Consider the recent Dr. Seuss narrative. From out of the blue, an insignificant event became a viral narrative complete with memes and a side of outrage. A mere half dozen books out of a vast body of work including more than sixty titles were taken out of publication, and all of the books selected had sold very few copies for some time. It happens every day in the publishing world, but someone decided to frame this as another attack by “woke” culture on traditional American values.

Who decided to make this into “news?” Who propagated the headlines and generated the memes which kept the anger and agitation going? What might the intent behind these actions have been?

The narrative consumer has already begun to forget Dr. Seuss. Fresh offense has issued forth from the narrative controllers as it always does. The truth seeker, however, might have learned something new from the old, established facts which have been part of the public record for decades. Here are a few facts that the narrative for outraged conservatives missed: Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, once worked for a New York daily tabloid which promoted communist propaganda and aggressively lobbied the Franklin Roosevelt Administration to shut down conservative media which opposed his agenda. Geisel lampooned the opposition as racists and anti-Semites. Ironic, isn’t it?

A more recent narrative focuses on our own state of Georgia which, despite helping elect a senator and a vice president of color, still invites stereotypes of racism because of the solidly republican state government which reflects the vast majority of the state outside of the cities. The current target is Georgia’s new voting laws which, when all is said and done, still make it easier for minority voters to cast their ballots here than in New York, Virginia or Indiana, to name a few. The full story has little chance of piercing the narrative when mainstream media parrots the same headlines, “Georgia Strikes Out,” from local news to nationally syndicated websites.

Few outside the corporate media narrative and those posturing token submission to that narrative have acknowledged the passive or implied racism in the assumption that Black people are not capable of carrying picture id’s, navigating websites or finding a polling place on a map, and therefore need the benevolent hand of the privileged to rescue them. But no matter what we believe about the new laws, is baseball the place to arbitrate the disagreement, or are we content with corporate personhood (as per Citizens United) calling on other corporate persons to join together in accomplishing political goals?

The ideal consumer/partisan does not question the narrative, does not need to, because by either aggravation or validation the narrative supports firmly entrenched opinions. The right issue, when properly wielded, inflames and galvanizes opinion and perpetuates the divide which prevents reasonable people from discovering truth. We might consider that before we forward that next meme and throw another stick on the fire.

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