I had a thread of tweets on Wednesday this week where kind of complained about, or tried to explain, the lack of traction that positivity and self-improvement can sometimes seem to get. Ever since I started to talk about my recovery from depression and anxiety I have noticed a few things.
If I share an article about how to start your own recovery and try to be better, I will get some shares, RTs and likes. However if I dunk on someone, I will get far more of the social capital that we all cherish so much. This got my thinking.
Now let me first say that I am not saying that I am owed the same response to my tweets being serious about recovery as me trying to be a funny asshole or angry at something ideological, but I do find it odd when I see how people act online while also complaining about all the negative shit that exists on social media.
It is addictive and I am just as guilty as other people. I have had instances were I have seen the worst case scenarios and not acted as tho people have said something in good faith, so I am not pointing fingers at all. This is as much a way for me to get some thoughts out there and maybe even try to figure out what causes it.
Yesterday I saw a podcast with Joe Rogan and Johann Hari. In it Joe and Johann discussed everything from the drug war, opioid crisis and depression, and I think they hit on some key points. Johann pointed out a lot of the ideas around junk values and how it is connected to how they can cause us to be more depressed. He connected this to ads and social media.
While I agree with him that this might be contributing to an age of negativity, I do not think this might be the only junk value out there. Ads can be intrusive and they do prompt some behavior which again can lead to depressive thoughts, but so can constant reminders about being bad people either through race, political opinion, sexuality, etc. Identity politics is, in my humble opinion, the greatest junk value out there. At least as it is practiced today.
Jonathan Haidt has talked about how we could have more inclusive identity politics, and I do believe he has a point about that. There is a way of pointing out problems that certain groups without excluding certain other people. The junk value of excluding certain people from the conversation creates division and it might even make it impossible to find a solution.
I have been just as guilty of this. During what has been called Gamergate, I was guilty of defending what I saw as an attacked group in the form of gamers and I joined my friends in the trenches. That being said, I tried as hard as I could to be objective and not to engage in ad hominem, but I am sure there are instances were I was not the most easiest person to deal with.
I think there is a reason for why we do this. We are savanna creatures evolutionary and we have evolved from tree dwelling creatures that where hunted constantly, so negativity and danger alertness was essential to our survival. We have not evolved out of these tendencies. This combined with our social need to belong to groups has made social media into a trench war that might get worse before it gets better.
Being aware of these biological and psychological facts can make it more clear when you fall into these tendencies, and as many people know I have been working on my own negative thought patterns. I have had problems with spiraling out of control just with a simple thought, like standing next to a tall building could get me to think about jumping off it or being shoved off.
This can be regulated with cognitive behavioral therapy. The thoughts never disappear, but you get better at dealing with it. Social media makes us all into negative thinking creatures and it does seem like traditional media is also playing into the narrative. “If it bleeds, it leads” has us all thinking that the world is far more dangerous than it actually is. Stephen Pinker wrote about this in his book Better Angels of Our Nature.
We are better off now than we ever have been and global poverty is down to the lowest it has ever been along with hunger and other resource connected disasters. That does not mean we do not have problems, but we can spend some time being thankful for where we are and the time we live in. I need to get better at this and I think a lot of people need to get better at this.
PS: I did not make this part of Step by Step as I thought it was more about a trend than personal growth.
JH Lillevik is a writer of sci-fi and fantasy. He writes screenplays, novels and short stories. He also works as a writing consultant for upcoming writers. His specialty is mythology, world building and psychology.