Non Fungible Thoughts
I don’t know how we all feel about John Mulaney these days (if I had to guess, due to some combo of perceived centrism, normie popularity, and leaving his wife for noted Bad Newsroom Actress Olivia Munn, not great), but he has a joke in some old special of his that I think about all the time. It’s a throwaway joke, really, but the gist of it is that if he’s alone with someone else, and they say basically anything, he will just believe it.
I will believe anything. I know this about myself; I have a set of pretty deeply imbued bedrock principles that mostly center around nonviolence, but everything else is pretty much up for grabs. I change my mind frequently based on what I’ve read most recently. In fact, I find myself more and more convinced that my critical faculties are somehow broken, because most of my opinions are hardened, but very slippery, like a giant bar of old soap.
Online opinions seem immutable, carved deep into the digital rock face, immune to erosion. Everything said on Twitter is said with the most forceful conviction possible, no caveats, stark and bare, contextless. It all serves to create multiple versions of reality, all of which seem to be held in perfect focus by a number of people that I think are smarter and more educated and more worldly than I am. It’s, frankly, confusing!
Is that embarrassing to admit? Does it make me stupid? I’m a little convinced that most people are like this; I certainly hope you, dear reader, are. One of the worst feelings imaginable is really getting into a specific opinion or niche, then finding someone who points out an obvious, but unseen flaw in that opinion who is more subversive or smarter or funnier about that topic.
I’ll give an example. In 2017, when I was still in college, I read this article in Current Affairs about contemporary architecture. The article, which is very long, basically states that the influence of capital has made all modern buildings quite boring to look at because they’re reduced to their base parts and stripped of ornamentation in order to be profitable. I understood, on some level, that the piece represented the author’s personal aesthetic preferences, but because they sort of aligned with mine, I was happy to accept the basic idea behind it and move on. I had never spent time thinking about architecture before, nor had I assigned it a political value, but after reading, I began to notice it more.
Sometime in the next three years, I started following some architects and architecture critics that I thought were interesting on Twitter. They seem to accept it as a given that the article and the sentiment behind it are fundamentally reactionary and against the collective interest. They make fun of it in a really incisive manner. I am left with a pit in my stomach, realizing that I had bought into something that was stupid and facile and fundamentally intellectually UnCool. Then I feel stupid for seeing things this way, because we’re all adults, and these opinions aren’t a popularity contest, they shape our reality, and in the end who cares what I think about this; I don’t work in architecture and I never will.
The contextless-ness of Twitter, is, I think, what makes the platform so exciting for many. It feels like a giant mass of conversation, and there’s pride in being “in” on something, especially if you’re like 6 levels of irony deep and understand the exact level of discourse that someone’s roasting mercilessly. But the sense of superiority, the smugness, the irony; it’s all funny, but it makes it nigh upon impossible, if you’re an outsider, to penetrate the wall of what people are actually talking about, or what they actually believe. You need the context to know what’s up, but the context is unavailable to people who aren’t already part of the discussion.
But it’s embarrassing to admit that, so the discourse ends up being 50 layers of people parroting vague cruelties at one another because of some perceived opinion that one of them might hold. It’s exhausting, but sort of thrilling, and certainly entertaining, but mostly tiring.
There are so many personal, internal dramas about ideas and thoughts that play out every single day, and they’re never represented online or in the discourse at large because people aren’t willing to admit that they’re Not Sure about something, that they don’t know what to think, or that they fundamentally can’t grasp the complexity of something. But, dear reader, I am here to rest your mind at ease: I am Not Sure of most things I appear sure of, my opinions are almost completely fungible with other non-explicitly-evil opinions, and I, too, feel a sinking pit of shame any time I’m introduced to a new level of discourse that spends its time making fun of the previous level of discourse. You are not alone. I am very dumb, and very gullible.
A fun exercise when you read or watch anything that has to do a little too much with Twitter / social media is to imagine your parents doing the same. Imagine my mom reading this. Imagine my mom watching Ziwe. She’d be like wtf