April 19, 2021

The Internet is anti-Stoic

The internet generally, and social media specifically, actively works against the main principles of Stoicism. It rewards immediate response vs. reasoned, careful thought, and emotionally-laden "clickbait" articles used to lure the viewer into exposure to ads for products they didn't know they wanted and weren't looking for.

The internet also has the illusion of personal interaction, as if the comment or article or post is coming from a person in your living room. This triggers the "immediate challenge, must respond" instinct. For a Stoic, however, that line of text, however provocative, is not a challenge. The writer is not necessarily a person worthy of respect, or capable of appreciating a reasoned response. (They could also be a script bot, or a dog.) It's one thing if the comment or post comes from a rational individual who is genuinely curious and asking a question in order to learn. But if the intent was to stir emotions and shut down questioning, any response is like bailing the ocean with a teaspoon. They don't want to learn, they don't want to change, they want YOU to change and to shut up while you're doing it.

Trying to force everyone in the same narrow opinion-box is ultimately counterproductive. If it is really true that "everyone thinks x" then why is the article written at all?  And what if someone dares to disagrees with x? Threatening them doesn't change their mind (it might actually convince them they were right all along, given the behavior of people who support x). At best it makes people hide their true opinions and refuse to listen to any arguments, even for important topics that need to be discussed.

The internet is not all bad, of course. (No doubt distant galactic civilizations are analyzing our transmissions, completely convinced we all worship cats.) It has made communication blossom everywhere that has access. But that applies to persons of ill intent as well, so be aware and on guard for anything that is attempting to sway your emotions, especially to the side you favor. As Feynman once said, "you are the easiest person to fool." Hold yourself to the highest standard of evidence, then, in self-defense.

A Stoic values their own reasoned choice as the only thing truly under their control. Your body is subject to illness and genetics. Your life is affected by other people's choices, geologic phenomena, and luck.

Only your mind, your opinion, is yours alone. Don't let anyone take that away from you.