“Pusili hominis et miseri cum est repetere mordentem,” Seneca writes, in his essay on anger. “It is a petty and sorry person who will bite back when he is bitten.”
That’s a little strong. While I hesitate to disagree with the master, I have to. Yes, smallness and sorriness define retribution, as they define much of the anthill we call human existence.
But there is also a strength to biting back. Someone flips you the bird, you automatically return the gesture. Laudable? No. But it does show pride.
Standing your ground is a reflex, no doubt traced back to baboons on the savanna fluffing their fur to look bigger. The question is: Is it a reflex we can afford to indulge in our social media age? Because we certainly do, big time. The biters and the bitten, toe-to-toe, blasting away.
Consider how much human effort, brainwork, emotional frisson, not to mention typing, is spent in online disputes. Billions of times a day, total strangers conducting their snarling, personal-yet-anonymous broomstick sword fights.
Toward what end? Are we debating? Having a conversation? Or merely flailing at each other?
Who benefits? Twitter, Facebook and the social media companies certainly do. We, not so much. We are unpaid gladiators performing our tiny verbal combats for their profit, so others can read the advertisements between our spats.
Writing for a daily metropolitan newspaper, I receive blowback continually on all platforms. Letters and phone calls, Facebook posts and email and Twitter.
That’s good. I want reaction. I used to read them all, reply to them all. But lately that practice is starting to seem antique, like a 19th century president meeting with whoever turns up at the White House and asks to see him.
My motto used to be Warren Zevon’s line, “The name of the game is be hit and hit back.” Now my mantra is: Don’t let the poison in. Don’t read negative emails, never mind react. Bail out as soon as the language sours. Block and forget. It isn’t as if the person writing is open to persuasion. That’s so 1980s.
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