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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

“Disposable people,” social media, and the future of government

Homeless_person_leslie_may

It’s classic movie narrative: Quiet, obedient, trusting wife. Confronted by cheating, lying, backstabbing husband. Wife turns murderously angry, loud and vengeful.

 

It started, literally, in The Beginning.

 

Though it’s not in the Bible (Torah), there is a Rabbinic text, “The Alphabet of Ben Sirach,” that talks about Adam’s misadventures in marriage. For when G-d created Adam, a wife was created for him too - “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) – but he and Lilith did not get along.

 

Adam: “You are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be in the superior one.”

 

Lilith: “We are equal inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.”

 

Adam: “Can’t accept that.” (That’s me, imagining.)

 

Lilith: “The hell with you.” (Still me writing this script.)

 

She calls out G-d’s name and flies away. Yes, flies.

 

In her place there is Eve. Created out of Adam’s rib. Literally, a body part. So the two are one, right? He is the “main part” and she is “subordinate.”

 

Not so fast.

 

In the Torah, Eve is called “Ezer Kenegdo.”

 

Meaning – if Adam does good, she is a helper (ezer).

 

If he is bad, she will fight him every step of the way (kenegdo).

 

To this day, the genders are caught in this dynamic over equality. There’s a lot to say, but one thing is clear: We see many examples of women bringing men to task when they act like pigs. When they are treated like disposable people.

 

(I have always believed that the liberation of the most degraded classes – by gender, race, and money - would harbor the coming of the Messianic age.)

 

We can debate theology and quibble about gender roles, and be sitting around all day.

 

The deeper message is much more vital (though no less important) than “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

 

What G-d is saying in Genesis has to do with the role of the leader and the led. Because the fact remains that we definitely aren’t all chiefs. In fact, most people around the world are poor, dispossessed, and routinely degraded.

 

Yet despite all that, I would posit that there is a persistent desire, among all people, to find and follow individuals who are strong, good leaders with integrity. Countervailed by an equally strong desire to take the bad ones down:

 

·       Ezer: If the leader is good, the people will follow. Will help actively and willingly.

 

·       Kenegdo: If the leader is bad, the people will oppose them. Just as actively and willingly.

 

In the past, “the masses” couldn’t do very much to overthrow a bad leader. But social media has restored their ability to not only fly the coop but upend it.

 

History, if you think about it, isn’t really in the past. We still see evil leaders, official and not, rampaging through innocent people’s lives. People who seem “disposable.”

 

Because the leader asks themselves, always, “Who’s going to tell? And if they tell, who’s going to believe them?”

 

Of course, those who did tell were quickly escorted to prison, the labor camp, the loony bin, or simply killed. Their families too often suffering a similar fate.

 

Social media has changed this power equation forever - in particular, the rise of Facebook.

 

I think of this as “Mark Zuckerberg’s Tikkun Olam.”

 

Shorthand for my belief that Zuckerberg’s primary contribution to repairing this flawed world is the empowerment of the masses with a free and simple-to-use microphone.

 

(Tikkun Olam is the belief that the human effort to alleviate suffering is the purpose of our being here.)

 

Think about the awesome power of Facebook. As Joel Osteen says, “When G-d wants to speak, the only voice He has is your voice.”

 

Facebook made social media usable for the average person.

 

My mother can’t figure out what a “Tweet” is. She says it sounds ridiculous.

 

On the other hand, she just loves Facebook.

 

Zuckerberg expressly intended for FB to tear down the wall between the private self and the public self. Because if you are a good person, you should have very little, if anything, to hide.

 

Let me be clear: I have my reservations about the way that Facebook eliminates personal privacy.

 

But overall the company has empowered the masses, because it has made it normal for the average person to speak out. To boldly tell truth to power. To say, outloud, “There is no such thing as a disposable person. That person you disposed of – was ME!”

 

This is a weapon we never had in the past.

 

So it’s not so easy to divide people into “disposable” and “significant” anymore.

 

Women are too often thought of as “disposable people.” So are poor people. So are people of color. And religious people of every faith.

 

I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that people will use social media for the good. Yes it is true that people can use it to steal things. To disrupt life. Even to make it impossible to govern.

 

But given how badly people want to believe, and how passionately they support good leaders, I think they will use it to weed out the bad apples and put the good ones in power.

 

In the end, with G-d’s help, the wisdom of the people will win out against their ignorance, anger and greed. I do have faith in that.

 

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

 

 

 _________


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