The Unfriending

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This morning I scrolled through Facebook and unfriended everyone that I saw who had posted something about getting the economy going again. It wasn’t very hard. Their posts usually went something like this.

“I don’t mean to sound insensitive to anyone who is suffering currently, but enough is enough. Let’s get our lives back. Yes, it sucks for people who are dying, but this is just the flu, and people die from the flu all the time. It’s time to get the economy going again, or we’re all going to be sunk.”

But, you say, unfriending someone over their opinions is kind of ridiculous. And generally, under almost any circumstance, I’d say you’re right. I’m being childish and don’t want to hear what someone else has to say.

Even knowing my own mind on this, I proceeded to click on each profile, looking at their face and remembering where I met them. The realtor who helped us find a house, a childhood friend, a former colleague.

For the briefest moment, I realized I wouldn’t see the pictures of their kids each year on the first day of school or their next holiday meal. Then I clicked the unfriend button and kept on scrolling.

And here’s why.

Opinions are great. They allow us to take a whole bunch of different thoughts on a subject, offer them up into the ether, or the feeds of other people, or, traditionally, speak them out loud in each other’s presence. Debate them, toss them around in our mouths, in our minds, and combine them or refine them into something that gains agreement, momentum and ultimately becomes a thing.

That is no longer the way of our world. Now we grip our opinions, often taken from our own echo chambers, and hurl them at each other with all the force of a fastball from a major league pitcher.

These fall, usually, on deaf ears. They are not picked up, chewed on, refined and lobbed back for further editing. Instead, an ice-hard counter opinion, read talking point, is flung back into our face

And on and on it goes.

I see this every day in the work I do as a social media professional.

If the definition of insanity really is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, then we are all well and truly insane.

Am I insane to unfriend these people who may just be suffering under the additional mental weight of a global pandemic?

I may be insane, because I’ve certainly hurled my echo chamber opinions at people from time to time. I may be insane, because I wake up every day thinking we may have finally reached that point where we will realize that the thing that supports us, that gives us life, is unsustainable under the burden of us.

But no, I’m not insane for unfriending those people who would so willingly abandon all the human lives they cannot see, that do not personally impact them, for a return to what they consider normal.

Out of one side of their mouths, they say let’s not live in fear of some invisible monster. Let’s get the economy going again so we can get back to the business of living.

And out of the other side of their mouths, they are silently mouthing their fear of the loss of income, the loss of status, the loss of a way of life.

What’s worse for me is, they are often attributing their courage, their lack of fear, their brazenness, to their faith.

Not, mind you, a general faith in our American ingenuity and know-how to get us out of this crisis. Nor just a basic faith in humans to do the right thing.

No, theirs is a faith in a higher power that will protect them if they continue to live their lives in specified manner. It’s a faith, in the truest sense of the idea, that is a complete trust in the unknown.

I’m not here to bash on the faithful, the spiritual or the seekers. Each person holds their own personal beliefs close to their own heart. Some speak them onto other people, some keep them quiet and reacquaint themselves during times of crisis and some watch carefully the actions of others to determine their own truths.

But putting faith in the unknown to protect you from the known is more than just stepping out into an abyss, it’s a slap in the face to all who came before. To the faithful, the spiritual and to the seekers.

Did these not exist in 1346, the faithful, the spiritual and the seekers? Did the faithful not put their faith in the unknown, did the spiritual not light a candle or clutch a cross close to them, did the seekers not run to the places of worship to watch and see if they were spared from the black death?

I have to think they were there. Humans have come a long way since the black death killed up to 200 million people, carving a dark gorge through human history that took nearly 200 years to recover from.

But we haven’t come that far yet. Not far enough that we trust in the known and do what we can with what we know for the sake of all lives. Science, as it was then, is merely on par with the wisdom of our elders. Science, after all, doesn’t give answers, not willingly at least.

Faith and science are like oil and vinegar. At times, they are shaken violently and mixed, but over time, they will separate.

Faith’s central tenant eschews science. And science, in return, describes the holes in faith.

But this is to fundamentally misunderstand both faith and science. In the same way we anthropomorphize everything in our path, we ascribe general characteristics to systems that cannot necessarily take on human traits, emotions or intentions.

Science is a system for looking at the natural state and gleaning knowledge from it.

And faith is a strong belief in a deity and the doctrines of a particular set of beliefs based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

Yes, by definition they are diametrically opposed. Thus the oil and the vinegar.

But not, in my opinion, by application.

Neither have been fulfilled. We have not reached the end of science, and neither have we reached the end of faith. That means by application, both may still apply. If you hold only to the tenets of science, you may simply believe that the faithful are insane. If you hold only to the tenets of faith, you may think the scientific are insane. But neither is some wholly formed entity capable of persuasive thought as we sometimes imagine them to be.

They are not in some cosmic dispute. A clash of the titans. Where there can only be one winner.

They are simply systems which describe the known or the unknown.

And what troubles me about what I see repeatedly on social media, is the teaching that one is somehow more permanent than the other. We’ve conjured these two enemy combatants, and we play them against each other like characters in a video game. A video game with a per-determined end. An inevitability that makes us latch onto our ideology like it’s our own skin.

Theories are formed by the best available science. They’re tested using scientific methods. They’re re-tested constantly with a mind to disprove them. They are under constant siege.

In a global pandemic, one in which we have observed the past and understand this episode to be dangerous, we trust the best available science to be the starting point in solving the problem. The best available science tells us, through complex modeling, that X many people will die. The best available science tells us that social distancing may slow the spread until a vaccine can be created, which will also be developed using the best available science.

The crazy thing about the best available science is that is changes from day to day. Not the principle of the thing, not the practice, but the direction we take, the narrative of the thing, shifts with each new discovery.

This is the power of science to provide a way to understand the natural world around us. To understand a virus, which is also part of the natural world around us. It is not to answer the question why. It is to answer the question how.

Faith in all its good intentions, is also not capable of answering why. But it does answer the question what. What can be done about all of this?

Even armed with the best available science, the first responders, the medical workers, the nurses and the doctors all rely on faith to take that first step out the door and into the chaos.

I have many friends and family members who put their faith in God first. But they also abide by the orders to stay home to protect the people who are most at risk. Their faith in God does not supersede a scientific approach to solving the problem of a highly contagious and dangerous virus spreading around the world. It sustains them through tough times and sacrifices.

I have other friends, colleagues and family members who put their faith in science first in a crisis like this. They have a complete trust that science will ultimately figure this thing out and we will come up with a solution.

Neither of these is a bad approach to a worldwide pandemic. One is not better than the other. It is only a matter of priorities, and as long as both approaches lead to a positive outcome then we are all better off for it.

But if your faith in either God or your own personal science only sees your existence, your experience, your income, your way of life as threatened in such a way that you decide that listening to people who are informed by the best available science is less important than the status quo, then you are the reason we can’t have nice things.

Those who do not see the sick and dying or the way this virus moves about from the obviously sick to the health care worker. From the asymptomatic to the unsuspecting. Those who would put their rights to participate in a normal life above any potential waves of new infections. Those who would say that a low risk to them is all they need to carry on with normal life.

You’re not part of the problem, you are THE problem.

Faith and science should not be politicized and pitted against each other on social media. Each plays a role within the complex constructs of our society. Each is a piece of the fabric of it. And if we destroy both, then the fabric is gone, and so are we.

It’s for this and man other reasons that I’m unfriending those who out themselves as scared, angry, selfish people more concerned about what they had than what could be.

It took 200 years for the world to recover from the loss of 200 million human beings in the last black plague. The Coronavirus is not the black plague.

It has changed our lives.

How we respond to it will characterize our species for a long time. But life will never return to normal. Our understanding of the natural world is constantly changing because of the best available science. Our faith leads us to make powerful sacrifices that save lives. Our faith sustains us through difficult times.

They may be oil and vinegar, but in times of crisis, they are blended into something powerful.

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