“Whenever you find yourself on the side of majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain
It has been a week of strange invective. Some Medium writers are rising up against Ev Williams, seething over what they describe as “tactless and shameful usury of talent.” Seems Ev didn’t explain his membership program very well, which essentially asks writers to pay five dollars a month to become “partners.” Well, we’ve all been hit with the “pay a little now for big rewards later,” but maybe we’re too quick to judge here. Hopefully, it’s just a little harmless monetizing and Ev will straighten things out.
I wrote a piece on Donald Trump, and how he reflected America more than Americans realized. I showed him holding an overweight beagle. A woman wrote me saying, “Don’t diss the beagle, please.” Another — actually an American friend— accused me of dissing most of America. So, today, I’m apologizing for dissing America and that woman’s beagle (sorry, Barney).
I should apologize to Ev Williams, too, for following an angry mob. I’m not much of a follower. I’m also a lousy partygoer. I can’t seem to get with the program. Not that I don’t want to get with the program, but I find myself quoting Mark Twain who said “I don’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”
Last year I accepted an invitation from Autumn Cote over at WriterBeat. I found myself being attacked the first day. I fought back, enjoying it to some extent, but I’m no better at invective than I am at parties. Autumn wrote me saying, “Admit it, you’re only interested in people reading your stories, not engaging in other people’s work.” That really hurt. I enjoy other people’s work. I just don’t enjoy invective if that’s all it is. Autumn considered that a stupid excuse. She still sends me notes, but I’m not her kind of writer. I think she knows I’m a wet rag at parties.
Another angry blogger posted on LinkedIn, accusing beBee of usury. He’d been a Brand Ambassador, rising in the ranks, until he started getting emails, allegedly telling him what to write. It was a very public and seditious display, one that earned him considerable reproof from other beBee Ambassadors.
Now, I don’t kick people when they’re down. I prefer to kick people who kick people when they’re down. The brief but rancorous words that flew about (bee analogy) from the beBee Ambassadors demonstrated a unity that seemed both heartfelt and a bit “mob-like.” As Javier, beBee founder, said, “We can always say good-bye to a few people who are not good for us and our well being but disrespecting the beliefs of a community…”
Believe me, I’m all for “beliefs” and “community,” but the various quotations that followed, like, “We’re all the sum of who we have met” took me a little by surprise. This is social media — not a bad thing — but not our homes, our family, our centre of friends. We’re here to express opinions. That’s not to say we can’t be friendly. What it does mean is we can’t be too friendly.
What I saw directed at that former beBee Ambassador wasn’t so much anger as indignation. How could someone be disloyal. The mob grew, the venom grew. Instead of insightful blogs there were speeches, confessions, tears. People wanted to kick this traitor like the mad dog ingrate he was.
Well, here’s what I mean by being “too friendly.” Forums were never created for popularity. They were created originally to express new ideas. Sure, a few like Socrates got killed, some were tortured, but you get what I’m saying. Ideas don’t come by currying favor. They form and grow by accepting that they’re new and won’t be liked by everybody. If nothing you say is ever challenged, or disagreed with, you don’t have ideas — you have popular notions.
When Twain wrote “I don’t want to be part of any group that would have me as a member,” he wasn’t being facetious. He was simply wary of acceptance, of joining what he knew would eventually form a “lemming mentality.” We agree, therefore we’re acceptable. We kick those who don’t agree. Maybe that makes us “good for the community.” What it doesn’t make us is individuals.
When I say I’m not a good partygoer, I mean it clouds my judgment. I’ve seen what happens when the party gets going. We want to join hands, sing, be a friend among friends. It’s in these moments that the worst kind of symmetry, human symmetry, forms. This is when we disengage from ourselves. To be a true party player, you have to take one for the team.
Since I’m a storyteller, I’ll relate something that happened a few years ago. Some friends decided to have a 70s party up at a lodge on a lake. Everyone showed up in their John Travolta suits, the women in flashy sequins. There was a disco ball hanging above the living room and a big dinner laid out. For dessert, we were offered brownies, not knowing that the organizers — in true 70s tradition — had laced them with pot.
All of us were children of the 60s. We’d done a few drugs that weren’t exactly on the menu. Unfortunately, one woman was allergic to pot. I found her surrounded by women trying to cram an antihistamine the size of a peanut down her throat. Being a medical writer, I knew something about allergic reactions. I also knew about anaphylactic shock. I suggested calling an ambulance. Nobody was so inclined at first. I was ruining everyone’s buzz.
In the aftermath, she was taken to hospital. The postscript was that I hadn’t thought like the crowd. I’d acted on my own, I’d introduced an opinion that wasn’t in the best interests of the group — or the party.
Lemmings follow and drown, Jimmy serves Kool-Aid, the raucous are served notice. It’s normally not that severe, nor that incestuous. Getting along, being a community has its advantages. But the common phrase “A good time was had by all,” doesn’t always produce independent thought. Serving the needs of the many is political. It pushes noses in one direction.
So I’m neither a defender nor a server. I accept what social media is — and isn’t. We need it to express, to write, to inform. But when someone says, “We don’t need people who aren’t good for us,” I take issue. I’m not against the community or the notion of community. I’m against believing that we’re nothing without the community.
This isn’t about friendship, it’s about exchange. If that causes the irk and ire of social media, its founders and participants then, believe me, we’ll all disappear eventually. Parties end, people go home, they nurse hangovers, they reflect and realize it was just a party.
I’m always reminded of a picture in Life Magazine, showing bedraggled hippies hanging around Haight-Ashbury, long after it died. The 60s died when the ideas died, when the Keseys, the Grahams, the Joplins and Garcias died. Even the tour buses stopped going past the Fillmore West. Without someone forming structure, there’s only façade. Social media will learn that, too. Maybe not today or for some years to come, but it will die under weight of compliance and complacency. Then it won’t matter if there’s a community or good friends. It’ll all happen just as Don McLean said in his song “The Day the Music Died.”
Let’s hope we don’t end up like those hippies on Haight-Ashbury, everyone expecting a party, but nobody knowing how to start one. It’ll be a sad day for all of us, but mostly for those who only wanted parties and friendship.
Robert Cormack is a freelance copywriter, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Yucca Publishing or Skyhorse Press for more details.