(Apparently dashed off in November, 2014, just after the European Space Agency landed Rosetta on the comet Philae and a scientist wore a naked lady shirt)
Science is complicated and requires quite a bit of knowledge to discuss intelligently. Unfortunately scientific awareness in the social media is about at high school level, often even among super smart people. So thank god that scientist wore that rather “garish bowling shirt“. It allowed a huge news story to be brought down to a level that Facebook could understand. On Twitter even more so. Social media renders all conversation absurd eventually, you have to struggle to keep it from getting there. Every conversation degenerates into good versus evil, no matter what the discussion is about. It’s not the medium itself, though…I suspect in China it’s not like that. But pretty much all of western civilization is built on good vs evil, right vs wrong, light vs dark, it is the template for all debate, all our thinking, really. Blame it on Zoroaster, the Zarathustra who spake thus. About 4000 years ago he reduced the Persian gods down to two forces, one of light, one of dark. Good versus evil. The notion made it way across the ancient middle east–which was a warren of trade and communication, across which news and ideas spread with remarkable speed. Zoroaster’s new doctrine–itself a new thing, a doctrine–was reinforced as law once Persia began creating an empire. It was the first great empire, reaching from the western edge of India to the eastern edge of Libya, from Central Asia to the Balkans. Persian law became world law, Persian religion a world religion. In almost every place the Persians ruled, and beyond, where its influence was felt, Zoroastrianism left a lasting impression, and ancient gods became good and evil, light and dark, right and wrong. It even introduced the promise of a messiah. Christianity and Islam are both descendants, both fit their theologies into Zoroastrian constructs. Indeed, both see each other now in that construct. Good Christianity versus evil Islam, good Islam versus evil Christianity. It’s no accident that a fierce new Islam originated in Iran a few decades ago. Persia has gotten bad press since Alexander the Great destroyed its empire, and we don’t realize just how fundamental the Persian Empire was to western civilization and the western way of thought. But today our popular thinking is more like that of ancient Persians than ancient Greeks. The Greeks were polytheists. Almost anything was possible to a classic Greek. Very little is possible to us today. Something is either right or wrong, good or bad. Light or dark. There is rarely a debate today across the social media that does not boil down to those two points of view. I am wrong, you are right. Even when we agree to disagree, it is merely a truce, leaving me right and you wrong. The pull of right and wrong is so strong that in the social media everything is reduced to polar opposites, even issues that seem to have no possible right vs wrong interpretation will be debated that way. Something will be found–a naked lady shirt, say–that will force a story into the right vs wrong debate. If you look at comments to news stories, you will see an endless series of threads that go off into right versus wrong debates that rarely have anything to do with story and create entire new right versus wrong debates that can go on endlessly, until the webmaster gets bored or appalled and closes comments. It’s all made worse because in person we are able to restrain this right versus wrong tendency because reality isn’t actually so dualist. Spoken language isn’t dualist at all, it’s ancient, pre-moral, and eminently flexible. Written language is not as free as spoken language, It’s riddled with rules–there’s all that right grammar and wrong grammar–and designed for debate. It is much, much easier to take a hard stance in a debate than a measured one. The nuances of spoken communication are lost in the way we learn to write. You can see that in the way people argue on Facebook. Put those same people into a bar and they will talk. Put them on Facebook and they hate each other. Blame it on Zoroaster.