Cook: Want to fight hate? Quit social media

Cook: Want to fight hate? Quit social media

November 4th, 2018 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Rabbi Shaul Perlstein speaks during a prayer vigil at the Jewish Cultural Center on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The vigil was held for the victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

As we prepare for the president to land in our city, today's column is about hate.

Love.

And the ongoing fight between the two.

Soon after the recent anti-Semitic mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 worshippers, including a husband and wife who died in the same synagogue in which they were married, Jewish leaders here quickly organized an interfaith vigil.

It was held Monday evening, six days ago. The public was invited.

And you came. Hundreds of Chattanoogans packed into the center's main room. And its annex. And its parking lot, as an overflow crowd sang, prayed and swayed as lighted candles flickered in the night.

"I cannot tell you how much it warms my heart to see how packed it is," Rabbi Susan Tendler, of B'nai Zion Congregation, told the crowd.

Pittsburgh is hours away, yet somehow, Monday evening, the distance between here and there seemed to collapse.

"Six hundred miles away, we have people sitting shiva," Mayor Andy Berke told the crowd. "Jews from all over the community come into your home and wrap arms around you and give you comfort and space to grieve."

It feels like we've been sitting shiva in America for several years now. Something good seems lost. Something precious, dying. Our flags seem always at half-mast. Our hearts, so bitter.

Yet Monday evening was a refutation of hate and a confirmation of community, as rabbi and reverend and politician all came forward, lighting candles, declaring two things:

This must stop.

We must act.

"We've had enough of saying enough is enough," declared Tendler.

"While words may fail us at this time, action will not," proclaimed Rabbi Shaul Perlstein.

"The purpose of grief is in fact to return people to the living," Berke said. "And living is about moving forward. And moving forward is about action."

Hate in America is nothing new.

Yet somewhere in the 21st century, hate grew stronger. More intense. Pittsburgh. Parkland. Charlottesville. Las Vegas. Lighting candles won't stop mass shootings and bigotry.

Love needs an updated strategy.

"We need a new rhetoric," Tendler implored.

And where is our current rhetoric the loudest?

The internet.

Most specifically, social media.

And it's time to quit social media.

"Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times," writes Jaron Lanier.

Lanier is a scientist and author who spent much of his career in Silicon Valley. His must-read new book — "Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now" — details the logarithm-fueled manipulation of social media and tech companies.

He calls it behavior modification.

It's turning us into angry Pavlovian dogs.

"Social media is making you into an —— ," Lanier writes. (That's argument three.)

"Social media is undermining truth," he writes. (Argument four).

"Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy," he claims. (Six.)

"Social media is making politics impossible," he says. (Argument nine.)

Two days after the Pittsburgh shooting — just two days! — the New York Times discovered more than 11,000 anti-Semitic posts had been posted to Instagram alone.

"Social media companies have created, allowed and enabled extremists to move their message from the margins to the mainstream," Jonathan A. Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Times. "In the past, they couldn't find audiences for their poison. Now, with a click or a post or a tweet, they can spread their ideas with a velocity we've never seen before."

Yes, light will always be stronger than darkness.

Prayer, meditation. Actively loving your neighbor. Rooting out selfishness. Service. Activism and political action. All these are forever true and beautiful.

Love is large actions. (This week, the Children's Holocaust Museum and Paper Clips Project celebrate their 20th anniversary. For more info on events, call Whitwell Middle School at 423-658-5635.)

And small. ("Is it too late for the paper to print a Star of David for folks like me to post in our windows?" well-known Chattanoogan Pete Cooper lovingly emailed recently.)

But we must match 21st century hate with 21st century love, and that includes a precise and updated understanding of how the Internet and social media are destroying us, wrecking the ancient message that has sustained, upheld and dignified for so long.

"The human soul is the lamp of God," Tendler said.

We are all branches on the tree of life.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Don't follow him on anything.


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