As humans, it can be a dangerous thing to permit ourselves to be divided into divisive camps. One of the great legacies left to us is that the individual matters and that, provided the right educational and financial opportunities, she or he can progress and build strong societies through generosity, knowledge of human law, and entrepreneurship and talents.
On the other hand, to be part of a group that offers support, systems of values and beliefs, and identification, is fundamental to our existence. The danger comes when that sense of inclusion comes at the price of demeaning or limiting the opportunity of others. Twitter, and other forms of social media, provide us with the capacity to go either way, based on our own personal conduct. To be excluded from Twitter because of gender, race, economic level, or personal opinion would be an outrage. But to be banned because the basic code of human ethics has been violated is a sign that an inclusive community also wants to be a respectful one.
As politics becomes overly partisan, the “us” versus “them” scenario can divide communities along artificial lines that can actually destroy the human code. We know it; we’ve seen it. But such partisanship took decades, even centuries, to develop. In such a context, Twitter is just a baby. We have the capacity to shape it while it is still malleable..
What makes Twitter unique is that it is essentially ours; it becomes what we make of it, what we make of ourselves. It wasn’t passed on to us by the elites, nor do they run it. It is a gift of remarkable potential, but if we continue to maintain that anything goes when it comes to tweets, then we shall all soon tire of the fallout that occurs whenever someone attempts to blow democratic progress to smithereens. Should the vigilantes who merely desire chaos for their own benefit overtake the app, then progressivism will have to look somewhere else for a place to spread its wings.
Human movements, especially those of the revolutionary kind, have always utilized novel tools to achieve success. Martin Luther took the scandalous approach of nailing his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenburg. Thomas Paine, following the example of his French revolutionary counterparts, published his Common Sense in the innovative form of a pamphlet. For Martin Luther King Jr. it as the expansive view of the scriptures that paved the way for the civil rights revolution. For Mandela it was the smuggling out from jail of his inspired writings that led the movement against Apartheid. All of these tools existed prior to such use; it was the innovation and passion for democracy of those that crafted them that made the difference. We can permit Twitter to descend into chaos, or we can “block” or “unfollow” others who merely seek to destroy. Twitter’s strength isn’t in its tolerance for everything, but in its capacity for citizens to pull together innovations and communications in their desire to build better communities.
We are still human, emerging from centuries of elite control. Our consent over the last decades has been manufactured as opposed to deliberated by citizens themselves. As political consent continues to erode, we are growing impatient and alarmed. But we are new at it and we make mistakes. Nevertheless, there is a clear sense of maturity among those who stick with it and desire that citizens and communities take on their respective roles with their political representatives as the legitimate heirs of democracy. Progressives have no desire to overthrow government, but to complement with vital citizen input and oversight.
Our progress becomes impossible as community if we continue to say we seek the truth when in fact we believe we already possess it. No one is that smart when it comes to community engagement – we are in process and in such a state we should be searchers instead of dogmatists.
There is a moment in Shakespeare’s Henry V where the young king is attempting to rally his people to do the right. He speaks of believing in the honour of serving his people and ensuring the survival of the nation. At last he declares, “If it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.” If it is a sin to fight against the prevailing political system in order that we have a say in our own democratic birthright, then so be it. There is honour in that. If we seek to utilize Twitter as a great tool for our peers, then we become honourable in that pursuit. What authoritarians label a sin, we call rightful participation. Let’s not demean this present opportunity to stretch our collective wings by moving into divisive camps. Those seeking to plant IEDs in our path (Internet Explosive Devices) we can easily ignore. We are struggling to find our way and its best to do it with the two most important ingredients of the human code – respect and cooperation. We acknowledge our divisions best by seeking to find common ground, not by merely defending our turf or degrading others.