trolling the aged peers of my youth
Wednesday, December 4 2013
As you know by now, I consider Facebook something of a trolling paradise. I troll issues from all angles and at all states of intoxication (occasionally waking up the next day bewildered at the incoherent things I've posted on a "friend's" page), always with the hope that I can shake someone out of the torpor of their ignorance. Over the years, having surrounded myself with so many people with open minds and good critical thinking skills, I've come to have high expectations of the capabilities of the human mind. Facebook, though (particularly the way I use it) lays out the pittiful wattage of the average American's cognition. It's not just the right-wing crazies with their unexamined hatred of Obama (one that even causes them to hate policies they might otherwise have liked), it's also the religious kooks with their dismayingly uncritical view of their particular medieval religion. (Really, you sincerely believe that you just happened to have been born into a family practicing the one true religion, and all others will pay for their misfortune with an eternity of torment?) I troll both kinds of idiocy constantly, having signed up for updates from pages such as Doomsday Economy, End Times Headlines, and Conservative Right Angle (I've been signed up for others, but I always drop my subscriptions as soon as I am banned for trolling). But I'm also friends with some people from my old high school (Riverheads High School near Greenville, Virginia), and they tend to have the same religious and political attitudes as the people posting on the Facebook pages I troll, though (infuriatingly) my old high school classmates tend to be even more ignorant even than those people. Most of my old high school classmates are stereotypical "low information voters," the people who react in their gut based on a grim mixture of prejudice, scientific ignorance, religious fundamentalism, and a desire to "do the right thing." Usually when such people aren't playing Farmville and bemoaning the arrivals of Mondays, they're using Facebook to share vapid religiously-tinged pleasantries such as, "Learn to accept the place where you are. God is directing your footsteps. You are exactly where you are supposed to be." and "If you want to strengthen your relationships, give people room to make mistakes. You don't have to correct everyone all the time. Love overlooks an offense." Sometimes, though, their posts stray into the political, and they'll forward some brain-dead declaration that it's "Merry Christmas" and not "Happy Holidays." I usually don't troll my old high school classmates, but occasionally in response to their more infuriating shares, I'll post something mild in hopes of provoking a little more thought, hopeless though the cause might be. It's only when I'm hopped up on vodka and ambien that my posts are incoherent and belligerent enough to cause them to wonder if there might be something wrong with me.
All of this describes the Facebook relationship I've had with RM, the girl I used to sit next to in 10th Grade biology class. She and I were good friends back then and, despite her 80s hair, she was cute enough for me to have sexual fantasies about. Thirty years later, of course, RM looks like a meth-addicted Walmart Greeter, but, despite the low-wattage of her Facebook presence, it's been good to reconnect with her.
Of late, I've been tweaking RM a little about Obamacare, which she reflexively hates because (presumably) she was told to hate it by Fox News and the other places she uncritically assembles her worldview. After RM lost her job, I encouraged her to look into Obamacare so she could at least have insurance. Given her age and socioeconomic group, I assumed she would be suffering from multiple health problems by this point. In response, she complained that Obamacare didn't provide dental or vision, and that she was perfectly healthy and had no need for insurance except for dental & vision. This sounded a little like a typical Republican statement of, "I got mine, Jack!" which didn't comport with my experience of her as a kind and compassionate person. As with everything else stupid she says, I figured it had been said more out of ignornance than malice. Though I myself do not yet have insurance, I told RM that not having health insurance is risky.
A few days ago I noticed my Facebook newsfeed had a sudden dearth of cutesy-pie animal pictures, forwards of the inane wisdom of John Hagee, and protestations of the day of the week. On further investigation, I found that RM had unfriended me. Other than a little good-natured reminiscing about the Appalachian language patterns I'd heard in my youth (which, in RM's low-information way, she took mild offense at), I hadn't recently done anything worthy of such a harsh reaction.
Now that I'd been unfriended, there was no way to see RM's updates to determine whether something had happened in her life. So I did something a little extreme: I created a new Facebook profile. I needed this profile to effortlessly slip into rural Augusta County culture, so I chose a name generic enough to have possibly been an obscure student at Riverheads: Tommy Shifflett. Though in the rest of the country Shifflett is not a common name, there are more Shiffletts in the Shenanandoah Valley than there are Smiths and Joneses combined. After 30 years, it would be hard for me or any of my classmates to be sure that someone named Tommy Shifflett had not gone to Riverheads High School. It certainly sounds like the name of someone who had gone there. Further elaborating the illusion, I chose a picture from a Google Image Search of a dumpy middle-aged man proudly holding up a Crappie (a smallish fish) he just caught. From that profile, I immediately began sending out friend requests to all my friends from high school, including a number I'd completely forgotten about. (Nearly all the classmates from my high school who are friends with my main Facebook profile friend-requested me, not the other way around.) By the end of the day, Tommy Shifflett had over 40 friends, including RM. This allowed me to read her recent posts.
I was immediately struck by the oppressive religiosity of all her recent posts, which had completely elbowed the cutesy animal pictures aside. This seemed to reflect a heightened superstitiousness, perhaps caused by something new in her life. And then I found it: she'd found masses in her breasts and would be going to a doctor soon for biopsy. Unsaid in all of this is that she would be doing all of this without the benefit of medical insurance; a job she had as a forklift operator vanished a couple months ago. I wondered now if she'd unfriended me because she couldn't face someone whose ominous prophesy had so quickly been fulfilled. It's also possible that she thinks I worked some evil magic against her; she's repeatedly told me that I'm the smartest person she knows, but she also knows I'm atheist and therefore (on some level) in league with Satan. Her worldview assumes magic and spirits as logical spackle between the few things she actually understands, and I wouldn't be surprised if she assumed there would be a better chance that her prayers about her health would be answered if she distanced herself from the known demons in her life.
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