I am a conservative professor, which is almost an oxymoron (no, not a “moron” but an “oxymoron”), so, even if I were not so inclined, I have to be cordial to those with whom I disagree.
The vast majority of professors classify themselves as liberal. In a survey of 1,643 at 183 American universities, 72 percent labeled themselves as “liberal” and 15 percent “conservative.” Fifty percent labeled themselves as Democrat and 11 percent Republican.
I could not survive as a university employee if I began calling my colleagues foul names any more than a liberal could survive in most business environments flinging similar language toward his conservative colleagues.
Nonetheless, that is the kind of language frequently exchanged between so-called “friends” on Facebook and other social media. Recently, on the very same day that a liberal professorial friend lamented being called an insulting phrase by one of his online friends, a conservative Kennewick city councilman shared that he was receiving similarly abusive language from his “friends.”
I exchanged some ideas as to why this is occurring with another professorial colleague. She conjectured that it is because social media shields us from immediate negative feedback (perhaps a punch in the nose). We aren’t even looking someone in the eyes and seeing the hurt that such a statement causes. Perhaps online friendships are too cheap and easy to discard and replace.
I added my hypothesis that the fragmentation of large traditional media into millions of small, specialized information sources — including Facebook itself — has allowed people to mostly surround themselves with information sources with which they agree.
And it’s never been easier to selectively expose ourselves primarily to sources that support our perspective of life. That does not seem like such a bad thing. Indeed, as a conservative I celebrated the growth of conservative talk shows and then Fox TV because previously there were very few conservative voices among the media.
However, sociological theory shows that when people are too insulated by a group of people who share their own ideas and perspectives, they can develop a problem called “group think,” in which they perceive that almost everyone in the world whom they respect agrees with them. Therefore, anyone who disagrees with them must be an idiot, intellectually retarded, and lacking in common sense.
The rancor between the far left and the far right has spread more recently to include a much larger portion of the population. This has led to name-calling between candidates, violence between followers and hateful rhetoric between social media friends and even family members.
Jesus taught: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew [KJV] 5:21-22).
Perhaps civil language and simple courtesies are not so simple or unimportant to the Lord.
Ken Harvey is a Tri-Citian currently teaching at KIMEP University, Kazakhstan. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.