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Thursday, March 9, 2017

The road to hell is paved with good intentions: a call for face to face discourse

Orangutans are pretty interesting even without tutus.

Today I saw something on facebook and I came very close to posting a message about it, an orangutan in a blue tutu. But a recent post by another friend gave me pause and made me realize that no matter what I said about this photo it would be taken in the wrong way.

What I wanted to say about the picture had to do with the back story and the function of non-domesticated animals in human ecosystems.

Where did that orangutan come from? Does this animal belong in this environment? Should this animal be used for our entertainment?

I wanted to say that most orangutangs are taken as babies from their mothers. The mothers are typically killed and the baby's fingers pried from their dead mother's bodies. Then they travel from the jungles of Borneo, trafficked to countries like Thailand where they are sold illegally on the black market.

Orangutans are an endangered species. If you could witness one in person you would see how amazing they are; never in need of a tutu to dress up their personalities. They are so human. I have spent hours watching them, entranced.

But to write anything in the space below the picture could be construed as shaming the person that posted it (for those that share my perspective) and enraging others who'd say, 'Hey, it's just a picture, what's your problem. It's funny.'

It would not be my intention to shame. It would be my intention to discuss the facts behind this seemingly innocent photo. A photo that might bring some laughs to someone on a bad day.

Some things we just don't think about until we have experienced them first hand. I have always had an interest in orangutans, studied some primatology, and have lived in the prime trafficking area of these animals. It is something I know about. There are lots of things I don't know about and I'm open to learning more.

But I don't think any posted comment would lead to a constructive interaction. Some things need to happen face to face.

I am not hostile towards the person that posted the photo but I can't imagine anything I wrote would be received in the manner it was intended.

Which leads me to the comment that stayed my hand today.

A friend recently got raked over the coals on facebook by someone who did not like that she posted a photo of her son fishing. The irate person let her know that as a person professing to care about animal welfare, my friend, was a hypocrite for letting her son fish.

Clearly this was not constructive. I am not sure what the irate poster wanted to accomplish but an assessment of the situation would have quickly lead any rational person to conclude that this attack would not lead to any change in the situation.

Here's the thing, I don't think the irate poster wanted to accomplish anything other than to vent her rage. These days people just seem to want to let their anger run rampant, they don't actually want to have a conversation about what they are angry about. You don't change people's minds by yelling at them, or posting vitriolic diatribes on your target's facebook wall.

But this is what it seems to have come down to on social media-- everyone is yelling their opinion and no one is listening.

When I was in high school I was on the debating team. I went to the Provincial Championships. I don't see debating clubs these days. And that's a serious loss. It does not seem that people can respect another opinion or offer a reasoned argument anymore.

A debate, a discussion of points of view, cannot happen on facebook. People become more entrenched and more enraged as the comment section fills up below any provocative post.

Part of the problem is the medium. The medium is the message and the message on social media is impersonal. You can say whatever you want to whoever you want because on social media neither party in the correspondence seems real. They are ephemeral. This type of discourse serves to heighten our silos of exclusions.

To debate ideas you need to debate people-- in the flesh. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing and it can be done without vitriol. It is something we need to do more often.

A few nights ago I watched a news report on the InkedHuntress, a woman who has both her supporters and detractors on social media; her detractors often issue death threats. I watched an interview with her and I thought, 'I don't agree with her but I can understand her perspective.' I would guess that for many people who watched that interview the issue was more black and white. The reporter surely did not hide his incredulous opinion of her actions.

In truth, life is often grey. That does not seem to be a colour that plays well on facebook.


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