First Amendment vs. Facebook

A long, long time ago in a faraway land known as Colorado lived a girl who was worried about what we now call “the environment.” The term wasn’t in use yet and it always kind of bothered the girl, anyway. She went away to college — to a woman’s college in Denver that was funded mostly by the American Baptist Convention. They had given her $25k to go to school there. It paid for housing, food, tuition. Everything.

She wanted to be an artist when she grew up (against the advice of the US gubmint [who picked up part of the tab for her schooling] and her mom). Their advice to her was that she become a journalist.

Being a freshman, just 18, right out of high school, she knew practically EVERYTHING and had COMPLETE confidence that before she graduated she’d have fixed most of the major problems in the world.

Her sculpture teacher assigned an “earth” sculpture project after they had had a fieldtrip to the big state University in the next town and saw a lot of earth sculpture. The girl was VERY happy. She had a plan. She was going to get some cedar fenceposts, some plastic flags like were used at used car lots and a real estate for sale sign. She would erect it by the art building. She sketched it, and planned it, and hornswoggled the guy who wanted to get her in bed to drive her out east of the city (probably where DIA is now).

So the night before the project was due, she dug the postholes. She planted the poles. She acquired the flags. She got the For Sale sign and scraped off all the words, but it still looked like what it was. She did her project, never, never thinking what it might mean to passers by and not knowing that the school was in big financial trouble and THAT’S why it had lately changed its name from Colorado Womans College to Temple Buell College. Temple Buell had money, but also an ego the size of the buildings he designed.

When morning came, all that remained were three holes. She was called into the office of the President and lectured. No one asked her what she had meant; it didn’t matter to them that her sculpture was a representation of the last open land on the earth, a small triangle of open “space.” The president asked the young woman, “What on earth were you thinking?” And explained the financial situation of the college and told her that people had called asking if the college were for sale.

She’d raised a big problem for the college because of a situation about which she had NO idea. It was — for her — the first glint she had of her comparative size in the universe.

What we don’t know, probably at any time in our lives, is that we DON’T KNOW, but this is especially true at that juncture in our lives. Teaching post-adolescents for as long as I did, I got to witness thousands of examples of a kid being one person at age 18 and a completely (almost) different person at age 21. This is a time of rapid brain development and awakening in a lot of young people. Unfortunately, many of us freeze in that moment. For whatever reason — hating school, not having had the chance to further our education, not having a basically inquiring mind, maybe a million reasons — we don’t grow past that point of strong, adamant and ignorant opinions. We BECOME our beliefs and don’t ask questions.

I didn’t do that. I know I didn’t. Does it make me “better” than other people? I don’t know. It does make me different than some. Mental and intellectual flexibility matter to me, partly because of my — oops — that young woman’s experience with the post holes, the cedar fence posts, the plastic flags, the sign and the college president. I loved my college. I didn’t want to put it in any danger, but I was a kid and the big picture was not yet open to me.

Yesterday, on Facebook, in one of the local groups to which I belong, a photo was posted of a work of art at the nearby university, Adams State. It’s a piece of protest art. It stimulated a LOT of noise, but I see it as the kind of thing EXACTLY a young person would do. People generally seem to have their minds made up about things and their “responses” are knee jerk reactions, but it did stimulate a few thoughtful responses. The work ITSELF is pretty bad. It was a response to this topic from a critical thinking class:

…make something that challenges ‘the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, especially when concerned with power and status in a society.”

So a teacher challenged students. The piece displays ignorance, passion and a LITTLE knowledge. (Sorry I don’t know know and couldn’t find the name of the artist.)




My comment on the thread was:


Of course, there was reaction against what people THOUGHT I said (normal for social media) but there was comprehension, too.

It is the work of a post-adolescent who feels strongly about the direction politics in this country is taking. It really pissed people off, and showed me, again, what’s wrong with social media. NONE of these people would even have KNOWN about this work without Facebook. It would have done its job on a university campus, maybe have been written about in the campus paper. Unlike the young woman in the story above, this student is going to imagine his/her size in the universe is pretty big, that his/her feelings are very important, that he/she has said something meaningful and worth fighting for. The “artist” might think he/she is finished with the idea and has mastered it. That’s not the best lesson.

I hate social media because it brings out the worst in people. It makes people defensive and aggressive. A complex topic like this one deserves more than just, “I’m not sending my kid to ASU!” or “Disrespecting veterans,” or, the worst, “This is why China euthanized an entire generation.”

But the paradox of America that I will never understand is Freedom of Speech. People love it, want it, value it, until someone says something they don’t like.

20 thoughts on “First Amendment vs. Facebook

  1. First, yes, you ARE better because you started thinking early and never quit. In that respect, I believe you, me, Garry and a bunch of us are really better. Our opinions are better because they are not knee jerk reactions but thought out responses based on not only our opinions and education, but on research and appropriate sourcing. Does that give us better souls? That isn’t a question for me to answer but as thinkers, we are way ahead of the pack.

    I suppose I am lucky (and I also didn’t have to teach, for which I remain forever grateful) that none of the people I know and care about threw out their thinking processes during late adolescence. I do have friends/family who have receded into one or another form of dementia and all of them went from being reasonably normal people to being right wing nutters.

    How come demented people become Republicans? I have never seen anyone recede into greater liberalism as his or her mind slipped. Just a thought to ponder.

    • I don’t consider Trump a Republican. I consider him a fascist, and I don’t understand the connection between Republicans and fascist “Christianity” but otherwise, I don’t think being Republican is necessarily regression. I think some of it depends on where you live and how you’ve grown up. I now live in a place where — if the US gubmint vanished over night — we might not notice for a couple of years. I don’t know what to call that, but when the people around here vote, they vote out of the reality that each individual can improve the world (which is geographically large with a tiny population). It’s a reality very different from Southern California’s crowding, refugees, competition, rapid population growth and a desperate need for government programs because, in a way, individuals don’t even exist out there.

      What bothers me is the lack of curiosity and the almost instant rejection of “outsiders” which is the dark side to this kind of world. Still, what they have and do is adequate to the necessity of life as they live it. I keep going back (in my mind) to the bell curve and putting my little IQ score on it and looking it and remembering that I got something extra. Of course, it depends what you DO with that extra bit, but I believe it’s real in terms of intellectual possibility and abstract thinking. And I’m lucky that it was nurtured.

      My comment on the “art” piece didn’t even take a “side” in the Liberal vs Conservative “debate,” and that made it interesting to read the reactions of other people. They assumed because I didn’t go “Yay Flag! Yay Veterans! Bad art!” that I am a liberal. One man wrote, “Would you allow the same kind of work from a Trump supporter?” I answered he’d made assumptions about my politics with no evidence to support them. He agreed. We ended our debate with a handshake. I just went into this resolved to be civil and generous in my discourse.

      I read an article recently that explained why “demented” people become Trumpublicans. Fear. It makes sense. Here’s the article:

      • But you see, demented people really DO become Republicans. Serious right wingers when before they got dementia, that were sort of middle of the roaders as most of us basically are anyway. I simply want to know why “right” and not communist? Or believing their backyard rocket will take them to Mars? If you are going to lose it, why lose it rightward rather than in any other direction? Is there a law about that?

        I can’t read the Washington Post. They stamp everything with a “Pay or Too Bad” label. It’s probably personal.

  2. very interesting.
    And yes, anytime we think we’re finished, we are in error, unless its our own memorial service that is the next day. (and that’s open to interpretation as well).

  3. I agree with your conclusion. And I also think that social media might give young people that Warholian “15 minutes of fame” in relatively short order. However, it is so fleeting that I doubt the artist will be able to let it go to her/his head and stop thinking critically from this point on.

  4. As I was reading your response to the art, I was impressed with how balanced and fair and accurate it seemed. But as you said, there are many ignorant people out there who just don’t have that intellectual flexibility. This might be why I don’t have a Facebook page. Sometimes I weep for humanity, but at least there are still enlightened souls out there like you Martha.

    • I just don’t have many Facebook friends or post stuff to all my friends that I know some are going to react to. Facebook is pretty useful where I live, so I’m there, but I have 75 friends, most of whom really are — on some level — real friends. I was unfriended during the election by someone I care about very much — and the irony is that we don’t actually disagree on much. He’s just easily triggered. He “came back” around Christmas time and I was glad. He’s one of the kids I used to hang out with when I lived in the “hood.” Sterling guy, but reactive. Then he thought about it and (told me) he thought, “I KNOW Martha. Wow. I was an asshole.” Lots of times people don’t realize that we all ALREADY live in this world together, most of the time we do OK. 🙂

      • I can definitely see how Facebook can be useful. Ted wants to get one so he can help out a local rescue organization with fostering and transportation. I told him I’d thing about it.

        • I have Facebook pages for my books. I think that is kind of necessary these days not that they get much action. To have them, I have to have a Facebook profile. It does offer really efficient communication and Facebook Messenger works better on my phone than my phone company :O

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