I want to take a little detour. I want to talk about a quaint phenomenon one can still observe in a few restaurants/bakeries or saloons in rural/semi-urban Tamil Nadu. In these places where the local populace frequent and fraternize one was(is) likely to encounter a notice board politely asking customers not to discuss politics. You see the patrons of these establishments are much unlike the suave upper middle classes abounding in our cities. They are (openly) partisan, often likely to be party loyalists and they make no bones about it whatsoever.
Of-course it is a given that when a handful of such specimens gather quite frequently in the same place friendly banter would someday descend into mutual sniping, then into a raucous argument and if one were not careful somebody would have hit his neighbor and we’d have a good old neighborhood brawl on our hands. Glasses would be broken, chairs thrown around, some innocent bystander who had nothing to do with the fight would be slapped repeatedly just for the heck of it – all this is obviously bad for business.
It is not surprising then that owners of some public establishments would attempt to preempt such a possibility with sign boards instructing their clientele from indulging in some casual political banter.
Now about two or three months ago we approached a senior blogger to draft a set of social media guidelines for this website. The idea was that the site being an avowedly partisan platform for like minded individuals was easily vulnerable to accusations of unacceptable behaviour in social media. So by the time we set out to write a document pompously(we like pomp) titled ‘Social Media Commitment’ I couldn’t but help be reminded of the saloon signboards and brawls I had the opportunity to witness. And that was when I dropped the idea.
The nature of the medium is that those running this initiative unlike those running the saloons and tea-stalls cannot really seek to define and impose an ideal code of conduct across the various platforms we all interact on. Besides unlike those hapless shop-keepers we are one amongst the bunch of commentators that enjoy the banter and expressing vehement disagreement – even if they do cross a few lines once in a while. But this website thanks to whatever force that holds it together cannot escape accusations – even outside the limits of this site commentators participating here are identified as ‘Center Right’ (not to put a finer point on it but we are actually Centre Right). Now this does put us in a bit of a fix.
How do we get out of it?
To find out we are going to have to take another little detour and talk about the genesis of groups like this to see if we can find something that may come close to defining our behaviour. A few weeks ago some kind soul had linked to a very insightful write-up on meeting human needs – the author, a British academic, had lucidly enunciated the basic qualities that help make a human life good. Per my understanding he dwelt on three things: building enduring friendships, the uniquely human need for self-expression and the importance of the story of ours lives being part or constituting some meaningful narrative. According to the author, and to the best of my understanding of his arguments we seek the good human life, a fuller life by attempting to build long lasting companion-ships in which we find an audience or vent for our needs of self-expression, these expressions we would like to think contribute positively to some meaningful cause.
This is a set of argument I’m totally in agreement with not because believing in it causes a nice warm fuzzy feeling in my belly. I see its thesis validated in the manner in which casual internet interactions amidst people sharing a mostly common worldview led us to together indulge in that quaint idea of writing – an obvious form of self-expression if there was one. All of us are generally in agreement with or in support or express concern about a set of political ideas in India. To think the above also perfectly explains the formation of any group, association, think-tank, party, religion as much as it explains the presence of some silly sites like CRI does cause a warm fuzzy feeling, if you know what I’m talking about.
What does all this nonsense have to do with a set of social media guidelines?
If it is not already clear allow me to point it out to you: it all starts with strong friendships, relationships that we value and enjoy if not only for the narcissistic pleasure of receiving compliments every-time we put up some 300 word blogpost then to participate or having done our tweeny-weeny bit to a cause we identify ourselves with. Nothing pompous about it this time. This then is the basis that defines relationships within the community. I cannot have imagined I’d make such wonderful friends in the last year and I have no qualms admitting that a good portion of my career in the last two years gains some meaning thanks to these individuals. (If one spends two or three hours a day, seven days a week tweeting, writing, gossiping and sniping at others it better be for something we consider useful. To think otherwise is to admit the time spent interacting on social media is, well, wasted.)
I also believe, strongly, that there is nothing stopping us from considering the above genesis as the basis of our relationship outside the community too. How better than to make more and more friends ? It is a little hard to think of a more earnest social media commitment.
But what of those that we can’t agree with? While I do realize everybody who knows me well is a bit tired of my Lincolnphilia I have a quotable quote that I should very much like to end this discussion with:
…So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one. On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more be able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.
As Lincoln further added: ‘Such is man’.