Posted by: Harold Knight | 03/13/2012

the oxymoron of “social media”

“social media” is an oxymoron

true —
“social” comes from a Latin word meaning “companion;” but the sense in which we use it comes from one of the patron saints of American materialism, John Locke, who wrote in 1695 that it is “pertaining to society as a natural condition of human life.”

The word “society” was first used c. 1630 to mean “a group of people living together in an ORDERED community.”

“media” is a word used only since1927, following “mass media”  from 1923, a technical term in ADVERTISING, which means “of intermediate agency,” a sense first found c.1600.

Society and advertising are not congruous. In fact, they are totally incongruous. Advertising is intended to foster coveting, which is, of course, destructive of living together in an ordered community (see Deuteronomy 5:21).

I assert that an “intermediate agency” — that is, something that stands between two entities — cannot be “social” by reason of the obvious fact that it creates space, that is, it separates entities [in this case, people].

You will argue that it is an “agency,” that is, it acts to intermediate between people, so it brings them together to form society. That is the logical fallacy of “false cause” which involves assuming that because B comes after A, A caused B. Of course, sometimes one event really does cause another one that comes later. But sometimes two events that seem related in time aren’t really related as cause and effect. That is, “correlation” isn’t the same thing as “causation.”

A correlation may exist between “media” and “society,” but no one can demonstrate that causation exists. On the contrary, if you are in Oakland and I am in Dallas, and we are friends on Facebook, that doesn’t mean we are in an “ordered” community. We are not in community at all. When I tag my sister  in a Facebook message, it is because we are already in community, not because Facebook causes community.

On March 9 I posted a piece on Facebook in which I decried the reality that, of my 51 privileged and cream-of-the-crop first-year university writing students, only one could name the five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment (can you?). That’s important to me because my students learn to write arguments using the First Amendment as their subject — Oh, yes, and it’s peripherally important because I’m quite certain that a people who cannot name the freedoms they are guaranteed cannot protect them (to wit, the end of the right to Freedom of Assembly that Barak Obama asked Congress to pass and which he signed last week–in a prodigious moment of almost unanimous bi-partisanship).

One of my favorite people anywhere, responded to my angst saying, “Are we as knowledgeable about our county’s founding documents as we should be? No, we are not. I could not answer the questions you put to your students either and I consider myself fairly intelligent.” She is, to set the record straight, much more than “fairly” intelligent.

So here’s my claim in this little essay: Unless Americans stop playing at being community and start paying attention to the rabid Christian fundamentalists in our midst, unless we become staunch and immovable Jeffersonians, we are doomed to become (and that sooner rather than later) a tyrannical theocracy that will make the Puritan theocracy in early Massachusetts look like the Arab Spring—and all the while think we have created “community.”

After he wrote the Declaration of Independence and before his ideas were incorporated into the First Amendment — in 1779 — Thomas Jefferson wrote “The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom.” IMHO, it is the most important document in American history. It was passed by the Virginia legislature in 1787 under the watchful eye of James Madison (and it is to this day—almost word for word– part of the Virginia Constitution).

I’m now going to copy here the Jeffersonian manifesto. (All of the UPPER CASE emphases are mine.) It is, of course, probable that eyes will glaze over as they try to read the 18th-century language.

Mr. Jefferson says:

Well aware that Almighty GOD HATH CREATED THE MIND FREE;

that ALL ATTEMPTS TO INFLUENCE IT by temporal punishments OR BURDENS, or by CIVIL INCAPACITATIONS, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and ARE A DEPARTURE FROM THE PLAN OF THE HOLY AUTHOR OF OUR RELIGION, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do;

that THE IMPIOUS PRESUMPTION OF LEGISLATORS AND RULERS, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such ENDEAVORING TO IMPOSE THEM ON OTHERS, hath established and maintained false religions over the
greatest part of the world, and through all time;

that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money FOR THE PROPAGATION OF OPINIONS WHICH HE DISBELIEVES, IS SINFUL AND TYRANNICAL;

[got that? SINFUL  AND  TYRANNICAL!!!]

that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind;

that OUR CIVIL RIGHTS HAVE NO DEPENDENCE ON OUR RELIGIOUS OPINIONS, more than our opinions in physics or geometry;

that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right;

that IT TENDS ALSO TO CORRUPT THE PRINCIPLES OF THAT VERY RELIGION IT IS MEANT TO ENCOURAGE, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;

that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

that TO SUFFER THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE TO INTRUDE HIS POWERS INTO THE FIELD OF OPINION and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, IS A DANGEROUS FALLACY, WHICH AT ONCE DESTROYS ALL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, because he being of course judge of that tendency, WILL MAKE HIS OPINIONS THE RULE OF JUDGMENT, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

and finally, THAT TRUTH IS GREAT AND WILL PREVAIL IF LEFT TO HERSELF, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, UNLESS BY HUMAN INTERPOSITION DISARMED OF HER NATURAL WEAPONS, FREE ARGUMENT AND DEBATE, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.


So here’s an example of why this is so fundamentally and ultimately important.

In “THE IMPIOUS PRESUMPTION OF LEGISLATORS AND RULERS,” the Virginia legislature has passed a law “ENDEAVORING TO IMPOSE [their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible] ON OTHERS.”

That is, for purely religious reasons, the legislature has mandated the physical and mental violation of women by forcing them to undergo “medical” procedures they do not need or want.

This is obviously a case of “fallible and uninspired men [assuming] dominion over the faith of others” and imposing by “BURDENS, or by CIVIL INCAPACITATIONS” their beliefs and religious opinions on women.

It is a horrendous miscarriage of justice to demean, abuse, and violate women physically. However, the Virginia law (and others like it in many states including Texas) is even more heinous because it is a direct violation of the American principle of Freedom of Conscience (“. . .nor prohibit the free exercise [of religion]” – US Constitution, First Amendment).

Jefferson would say that forcing a religious view on people (women) who do not agree with it is “restrain[ing] the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency.” And that is “A DANGEROUS FALLACY, WHICH AT ONCE DESTROYS ALL RELIGIOUS LIBERTY.”

Here’s what I don’t get. I don’t understand why those who oppose the anti-abortionists, the prayer in the public school(ists), the put the Ten Commandments in the court houses(ists), the keep Muslims in their place(ists), the anti-gay marriage(ists), and so on and on and on, don’t see that they are simply in a crusade to make their religious “OPINIONS THE RULE OF JUDGMENT, AND APPROVE OR CONDEMN THE SENTIMENTS OF OTHERS ONLY AS THEY SHALL SQUARE WITH OR DIFFER FROM [THEIR] OWN.”

Anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, anti- health-care reform, anti-immigration – all of these are attempts to impose theocracy on the rest of us. We need to stop being so nice? or naïve? or asleep? or timid? or – whatever it is – that prevents us from defending our freedom of conscience.

To quote another one of those difficult-to-understand 18th-century thinkers:

The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.

[James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments: To the Honorable General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” 1785; the writing that won the adoption of Jefferson’s “Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom.”]

It’s time for the “socials” in the “media” to think about the tyranny into which we are allowing ourselves irrevocably to plunge.


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