Due to the many ugly and divisive posts written during the Republican and Democratic conventions, another one of my real-life friends posted this week that she was signing off Facebook until after the elections. As in my actual life, my Facebook friends cross party lines. But unlike my real-life friends, there haven't been any meaningful exchanges among my Facebook friends of different political persuasions. My real friends have animated and heated discussions about the issues where we enlighten each other about what informs our thinking. As a result of these conversations, more often than not, our political views are not changed and we still remain friends; however, we are less certain about who is right and who is wrong. It is that uncertainty that leads us to new ways of knowing and thinking that could never be achieved by only having conversations with those who think and believe as we do.
I didn't want to miss the updates on my family's and friends' careers, weddings, vacations, births, deaths, and precious family and cute pet pictures that I have come to enjoy on Facebook, so as a way to avoid the ugly debates, I decided not to read or post anything of a political nature. As I have never been one to sit on the sidelines when I could get in the game, my resolve not to post or comment did not last long. With the intent of fostering dialogue and the hope of recreating the kind of informative conversations I found with my real-life friends who crossed political parties, I posted a few political pieces and attempted to post some comments to a friend's political posting. My postings and comments to post were crafted to be facilitative and foster dialogue rather than debate. Needless to say, the only thing I might have facilitated was being "unfriended" on Facebook.
Unfortunately, a powerful tool for social exchange serves as yet another forum for partisan politics. I realize that politics have a long history of being divisive, and conversations about politics among family and friends have often been characterized as uncivil. We are socialized to never discuss politics as proper etiquette. And absent controlled classroom discussions most of us, especially as adults, lack any kind of forum to develop and practice the critical thinking skills that are so necessary to understand the complexity of today's governance issues. As a result, we operate out of a flat intelligence that reduces complex political issues to sound bites swallowed whole and spewed out like stimulus-response actions of Pavlov's dog. We then believe that political parities are monolithic and demonize those of the opposing party. And this display of flat intelligence plays out on Facebook. No surprise.
Sadly, another public forum where the full benefits of diversity of thought and expression could be realized are not realized... even among friends.