Obit for the Golden Rule

A mystery is afoot.  The Case of the Missing Golden Rule.  Now I make no claims about being a detective, but you must admit there’s a suspicious lack of decorum.  This stretches from recess hair-pulling to politics (like there’s really a distinction anymore).  Where I’m a proponent for getting into the occasional argument or even fight as a method to build character, it seems the modus operandi of this culture lacks the sufficient foresight to develop a goal.  A goal such as, say, learning something about oneself.  We mudsling each other over the basest remarks.  I myself am no stranger to this, being also a product of current times.  I mean, just ask my opinion of Zooey Deschanel and receive a stream of uncontrollable vitriol.  It’s an inconsequential topic, but it manages to boil my blood.

There is, of course, a difference between opinion and platform, but “difference of opinion” has reached a point where difference isn’t taken into account in regards to respect.  Take, as an example, an event The Daily Show lambasted.  In Tuesday, January 17th’s episode (the 3:30 mark is a good place to start), Jon Stewart highlighted audience response to two distinct points of view.  When Senator Ron Paul expresses a need to return to a global Golden Rule, the audience boos.  It is perfectly acceptable to disagree with, well, whatever you choose, but when such an active verbalization against the most basic foundation of civilized living occurs, it calls to question to state in which we live.  The suggestion that we need to rebound to the Golden is shocking in and of itself, as if to suggest this view fell to the wayside.  From my point of view, the reaction to such a proclamation is rude: unfounded hubris, a national pride built upon the notion that we are the best.  At everything.  Refer to a shocking statistic from Waiting For Superman wherein American students placed very low against 17 or so other developed nations when it came to tests, but ranked number one in self-confidence about their scores (before said scores where posted, of course).

This attitude isn’t a blanket, national notion.  Whether it’s causal or symptomatic, the inflated self-image extends all the way down to the individual.  It goes from “we’re right and you’re wrong” to “I’m right.”  None of this mentality appears to stem from research, foundations of facts or anything other way to effective prove the point.  It’s simply over-confidence.  And it has some catastrophic results.  Exaggerated self-confidence can lead to a bully mentality.  It’s the reason we now have the term bullycide – spellcheck doesn’t recognize it, but we do as a society.  Bullycide is the distinction given to suicides occurring as a direct result of bullying.  (There is a bevy of documented cases, if you can stomach what appears to be online suicide notes.)  Many of these cases are examples of the larger cyberbullying category, which points to a notion of anonymity granted by the internet.  And the internet is nothing but a large crowd, much like the audience at the North Carolina primary.  A comparison can be drawn between the mentality of both (but I stop the correlation there so as not to demean or undermine the implications of teen suicide).  “I’m right and unknowable.  I have the advantage” has become a mantra of the Broadband Generation.

This generation (to which, some say, I belong – the distinctions are fuzzy) is reared by the rise of technology.  But with new technology comes new discourse, most of which hinges on an attitude of anonymity.  And anonymity breeds a lack of respect and, moreso, of accountability.  To be held accountable for one’s actions, there’s an inherent viewer involved, one who can impart judgement to the equation.  Remove the viewer and you remove what you might call guilt from the situation.  Without the viewer, you can say anything you like and the only true compass is yourself.  But if we’re surrounded by like-minded individuals, where are we to learn the behavior of culpability?  Through the lens of cyberbullying or even methods of online education, many turn to parents and teachers.  It’s an optimistic thought, but I can’t wholeheartedly agree as it’s Herculean to assume the outnumbered can police activity of an increasingly obstinate group.  Instant gratification is their goal and such a goal leads to an increase in impulsive behavior.  There’s no denying, however, that the older generations have come to rely on the internet in much the same way.  (Again, causal or symptomatic?)  Though a sort of fluffy generalization, this short article demonstrates the divide between the Broadband Generation and their parents as such: we’ve come to depend on Google to answer our questions for us.

Can we trust the answer, though?  With the profluence of information, some of it is fudged for a platform, some facts avoided or even completely falsified.  When I was in college, it was expressly prohibited to use Wikipedia as a cited source.  For good reason, as it is a user-generated content site, but does the Broadband Generation know this?  (I’ve encountered many people that don’t so I could be over-stepping the assumption.)  A knowledge with falsified foundations leads to dangerous illusions of power.  Many times have I been involved in a conversation with an unwilling participant, in such he or she refused to remotely listen to a differing point of view.  As I said above, I’m all for argument, but when the “opposition” stands resolute even in the face of fact, frustration reigns.  And perhaps this is the malaise.  Listening does not come as second nature in these times.  Note again the North Carolina primary: before Paul can fully finish his sentence, the disapproval begins.  And in internet culture, one doesn’t even have to listen at all.  Make a statement and filter out everything that occurs after.  If you think you have something to say and desire recognition for your proclamation, shouldn’t you then expect someone else to have the same desire?

Isn’t that the Golden Rule?

What we’re finding at the core is a lack of respect.  And as this NPR article points out, the threat of it could go further.  With examples such as Joe Wilson (the “You lie!” Representative) and the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at George W. Bush as a tangible metaphor for the American attitude toward the president, it’s clear this attitude is everywhere.  And being promoted through positive reinforcement (Rep. Wilson apparently received millions in campaign funding after the incident).  As far as accountability, the Arizona governor story has a sadly humorous beat: “I didn’t know when that photo was snapped” being her response to a documented accusation of disrespect.  Perhaps this is the future.  “Every man for himself.”  This truism was designed for times of survival during times of duress.  Maybe that’s where we are, just in a different sense.  Seeking out and destroying via rude remarks under a blanket of zero accountability because we feel threatened by modern times.  All we can ask for is a return to the Golden Rule, however difficult it may be.  Altruism, like policing a younger generation’s internet activity, is a pleasant idealistic theory, but a theory without proof all the same.  Kind of bleak, but I can’t say it’s incorrect.