Sunday, June 27, 2021

We no longer read, we react.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly from the series Tanaklogia

We no longer read, we react.

I found that to be very true lately. Which is why I stopped writing comments on Instagram, something I actually enjoyed. Several times people reacted to my comments without fully understanding them, isolating them from the bigger picture of who I was, or what my blog always preached, simply for the pleasure of some self-righteous justification they feel they deserve.

Let me give this example. A certain person on Instagram contacts me privately, either with "Tarek?" or without even a message at all. Just a picture is attached. The idea would be to locate where that picture was taken. Several minutes later the answer would be "Bhamdoun, look at the photo of the elections candidate, his name is so and so, and he was a prominent politician in the area at the time", or "oh too easy, this is two streets away from AUB, the building is still there right now". Which is why I feel it is a pleasure to write public comments on his posts.

In one of my comments I used the word "nawar". A girl replied schooling me that they were an actual population of "roma" whose name was abstracted to mean certain kind of people. In return I thanked her and said that her using "roma" was incorrect as they are now rebaptized as "travellers" (for those who do not know "roma" is a newer name for gypsies). I thought the exchange ended there...

And then all hell broke lose. I had tens of people scolding me for being ignorant, racist, this, that, in the end I deleted my original comment because it was not worth it to be subjected to a trial by people completely ignorant of the facts.

Here's another story. Again, Instagram. Will not bore you with the details. But in a private exchange with someone I mentioned that Robespierre was himself a victim of the guillotine he so long operated and sent people to - as a way to tell them to tamper their enthusiasm about how they were labelling people online. Next thing I know they were tagging me and the Internal Security Forces in a public story that I was threatening them with "death". How this lead to that is still beyond me in terms of logic - if there ever was one.

But still, it was but one of the many examples of how people are taking up arms for - well, nothing. Just twisted imaginings projected onto other people. But these instinctive reactions people are having are truly perplexing. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it perfectly in her essay "It Is Obscene" (which I wholeheartedly invite you to read here): "People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself (...), while not being able to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’"

And complexity and nuance are really what are needed (see here), I read it somewhere online that if you say you like apples, does not mean you are "preaching" you hate mangoes. Chill people there is enough space and tastes for everyone to cohabitate on the internet. In a scientific book published in 1929 the author wrote (sadly did not keep the book) "peaches are the tastiest of all fruits". Can you imagine learning that as a student and realizing your prefer - heaven forbids - bananas? Thankfully, social media was not invented in 1929. Can you imagine what it would be for someone to "cancel" bananas?