SPIRITUAL SOAP: Weird & Güd - Deep Fears Not Fakes
"Woe unto them that seek deep to hide..."
Before we were The Black Sheep, we were a newsletter named Spiritual Soap. Please enjoy this article from our history!
I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.
Today is all about you. What you like. What you don’t like. What you might like and what you might not. You are special — and by special, I mean profitable.
Your interests interest me because an interested-you is a scrolling-you. Why should I show you what you won’t like? You might close the page, you might unsubscribe, both of which leave me click-deprived.
It’s my job to show you what you like, isn’t it? You wouldn’t linger on social media or rely on Google if every time you opened them you had to sort through a random array of results. Dog pictures for cat lovers, a Thai restaurant in Australia when you’re in Canada, political news from two opposite sides of the political spectrum?
No. It’s my job to show you what you like.
Aren’t we lucky there’s no reason to look at things you don’t like?
— A love note from your favorite algorithm.
The internet is no longer the cold mass of motherboards and cables we thought it was. Today, algorithms let the internet pay close attention to everything about you — what computer you’re using, where you live, what you’re enjoying, and what you’re thinking of buying.
We use the internet but the internet uses us too; it’s a symbiotic relationship where we influence each other’s actions. The internet can influence you more than your own friends — biased search results can sway undecided voters by 20% or more. Our newsfeeds have become confirmation bias on-demand by design, not by accident.
Our friends and community can act as filters too; most of us gravitate towards people that confirm our biases rather than challenge them purely out of comfort. The workplace, our family, and the world itself have historically given us plenty of opportunities to balance those biases. Yet today, over half of Americans (62%) get news from social media.
The time we spend in our echo chambers has now far surpassed the time we spend outside it.
That online echo chamber is also called a filter bubble and is the result of your algorithm’s undying affection. Eli Pariser coined the term filter bubble and uses this concept to warn against an internet that shows us only what we want to see:
“A world constructed from the familiar is the world in which there’s nothing to learn.”
The algorithm that creates our bubble does what any bad parent does — it gives you everything you want in hopes of keeping you happy, never showing you anything that might upset or challenge you. Just you and your algorithm in codependent bliss. That is, until the inevitable occurs and your algorithm fails to hide that upsetting information you never learned to tolerate.
Clutch your ideological EpiPen.
Before filter bubbles, there was a time when almost everyone received their information from the same few sources. Television started burrowing into American life in 1941, but the 1,000s of channels with constant media we have today wouldn’t take hold for several decades later. Early TV offered only a hand full of channels until 10 PM, at which point you could test-screen-and-chill until 6 AM.
The lack of options meant that when breaking news happened, nearly everyone in the country received that news in the same way. There weren’t 10 different camera angles and hundreds of journalists putting out articles in real-time. You couldn’t refresh your feed and find 1,000 different opinions from pundits, bystanders, or even those directly involved. Instead, there was a TV host everyone in the country knew delivering the news that everyone in the country would receive.
Having only a few sources doesn’t provide nuance or the value of contradictory reporting, but it did provide a communal experience we lack today, like Walter Cronkite’s announcement of Kennedy’s assassination:
I might’ve broken my Instagram explore page by liking too many pictures of dogs, but that’s okay because I don’t depend on my Instagram explore page for anything besides waiting room support. The risk of intellectual isolation comes from the corners of the internet we do depend on for the information we build our worldview from.
When we look at Twitter for news and first-person accounts, that information influences our interpretation of events and sometimes, our beliefs about entire groups of people.
In a culture that devalues dissent, the radical act isn’t digging your heels in where you stand, but stepping into the unknown territory of what you oppose to see it with your own eyes.
We’ve belabored the dangers of groupthink before. The unthinking, quick, and aggressive qualities of group mentality grow like a beautiful sprig of belladonna within a filter bubble.
There’s nothing a poisonous group mentality thrives in more than an echo chamber.
The violent distress we see when those beholden to a belief encounter the diversity of thought that contradicts them is partially a symptom of our sheltered minds. Having your imagined reality challenged by the messy complexity of true reality is a painful process. When reality threatens to destroy the world we built from our filter bubble, sometimes retreating deeper into the bubble offers the safety of home.
When you find yourself living in a world that gleams conspicuously bright with the gloss upon a worldview that never cracks, just remember what a boring movie The Matrix would be without the pursuit of truth above comfort.
The only way to burst a bubble is with a sharp edge. Seek out a little intellectual discomfort so you don’t suffer the torture of a life forever lived in complete agreement with yourself.
Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra, 1875 by Gustave Moreau
Can you call yourself a courageous person? The way you test your bravery will be different from the way I test mine — we must face different monsters. What scares you may not scare me and it’s only out of your own fear that courage is born.
There is no bravery without danger. Humans are unique in our bravery; no other animal can show bravery because no other animal can anticipate and vividly imagine the pain of failure.
Courage doesn’t wear the same skin it once did for our ancestors. I wrote about the change in what courage means to a modern society that has no arenas or lions to prove itself against:
The courage we need in modern, currently apocalypse-less life is less dependent on our external world than our lion-dodging, tribal-warring ancestors. Today, the courage we need is internal, it’s existential courage that calls more upon the mind than the body.
Today, we must find the bravery to be.
We see so easily the lack of courage in others but conveniently await for our ever-pending moment to prove our own courage. That moment has changed from the lions we once fought with crude tools into its modern equivalent — a fight that still feels like a threat to your very life.
Most of us can avoid such an unpleasant experience and that is today’s tragedy; where you once proved your claim to the ground under your feet, today we’re given that ground at the cost of ever knowing if we truly deserve it.
The story of Siddhartha’s temptation reminds us that courage can be as silent as simply sitting with your fear. In the Buddhist story, Mara is the king of demons who comes to tempt the would-be Buddha away from the path of enlightenment. Siddhartha is presented with the three beautiful daughters of Kama (Lust), named Desire, Regret, and Fulfillment, but he remains undisturbed. Kama then transforms into the demon king Mara, who unleashes an army of demons towards Siddhartha.
There is no battle, no bloodshed, and no retreat — Siddhartha only faces the army of demons and each attack transforms into a flower and falls at his feet.
Bravery must be redefined for a world where warring with enemies and surviving predators no longer offer us the fear we need to know our courage. We need fear, whether it’s fear of isolation, fear of intimacy, fear of injury, fear of shame:
What scares you?
We turn towards whatever lets us yell in anger, but courage isn’t born of anger and courage rarely yells. What you fear is sitting with you right now, like Mara tempting Siddartha; rather than ignore the fear, face it and define what courage means for you.
I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.
I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.