A pandemic lockdown is probably not the best time to consider turning off Twitter for good yet here I am considering just that.
I also admit at the outset that I’ll probably fail…
Even when I try not to read Twitter, my Twitter shortcut is the first thing I reach for whenever I open my browser. I’ve deleted that shortcut countless times, yet it always reappears without my apparent intervention. I’ve tried to give myself Twitter rules, but I always break them. I just love reading about the people I follow. I like reading their tweets about the ordinary stuff of their lives. From my pretty lonely spot behind his keyboard, Twitter gives me a sense of living in a bigger world.
And if only it were just that, I’d be happy. The problem is all the other stuff…
It’s easy to describe the worst of it. We all know what it looks like. For me, it’s the anti-science Trumpian bollocks that it’s impossible to escape. Often, it’s being quoted simply to debunk it, but the effect is the same. It’s like mental indigestion where the brain is in a constant state of churn. I can’t decide if it’s something that social media has created or something that’s always been with us but which we’re only seeing through the lens of Twitter and Facebook. Is this that very same war against ignorance that Galileo witnessed at first hand, that saw Einstein flee Europe, and now turns epidemiologists into figures of public hate?
I usually avoid war analogies – or, at least, the Second World War – but war seems right. These are individual battles we fight but the reality is a prolonged conflict between two completely hostile ideologies. To frame it crudely but fairly: it’s the war between feeling and reason that probably as old as we are; the difference between standing upright and walking on all fours.
There’s no reason for those of us on the science side to doubt our arguments. The world is demonstrably better in many respects, even if the politicians sometimes let us down. Tomorrow SpaceX aims to fly two astronauts to the International Space Station. Whatever the outcome, the company have already reached some impressive milestones which we should celebrate. It’s should not be diminished by the reality of how that came about, through the rise of Paypal (Elon Musk’s first big payday) and on to the bigger problems we have with oversized corporate capitalism.
Yet, unfortunately, there are too many entirely reasonable people that look on our world and think we have problems with our enlightenment values. Most of Twitter’s nonsense can be ignored completely but the worst of it is when it creeps into places where you’d think people have more sense. It produces a scepticism towards science that isn’t entirely superstitious but it’s leaning that way. These are the people who, deep down, desperately want the validation that religion would give them even if they can’t entirely find it within themselves to go that far. They instead gloat a little in those moments whenever they think that science has failed. “Oh, see, science doesn’t have all the answers,” they’ll say before reaching for some pseudo-religious take on the scientific method. These people end up as the half-believers; those that take the sceptical nature of science to turn it against itself. They become anti-vaxxers or herd-immunisers, people who pick and choose the science where it fits their political, social, or emotional narrative.
The mistake they make is that they don’t fully understand what science properly is. They assume it’s another endpoint like religion. They treat it as the full stop beyond which they can stop searching for answers. For them, perhaps, replacing “answers” with ongoing hypothesising is too exhausting. Yet if they gave science more attention, they might begin to see how even science can encompass a religious sensibility, closer to deism than atheism. If they’d stop thinking of “God” (or gods) as some divine will that’s somehow sentient and external to them, they might begin to see that God could quite simply be the organising rules of the universe. How much more deep and complex is that theology compared to apples in Eden, flaming swords, or cosmic eggs.
It might seem like I’ve strayed from where I began but not really. What I dislike most about Twitter is the absolute moral or factual clarity that people display. There’s never much humility about problems and this is as true about those on the left as it is about those on the right. The result is a bullying schoolyard mentality, of snide remarks, crap jokes, and bitter verdicts. It’s rarely about the process of being open-minded, sceptical, and interested in the truth. It’s all about endpoints: verdicts rendered, judgements made, and loyalty decided.
I don’t like to be told what to think. I like to think, which, perhaps, why it’s all so bloody exhausting.