Tuesday, February 12, 2013

[SOC] Fat Tuesday, the Gossip Rule, Taming the Internet Beast

Today is Fat Tuesday aka Mardi Gras aka Shrove Tuesday which is basically Binge Day before the big purge of Lent. This means that I am going to get some cheesecake tonight.

I have never done Lent before, but I am taking it seriously. I think it is vain to brag about various mortifications undertaken for the season, so I will keep those to myself. But there is one thing I am repenting of and that is the nasty habit of gossip, calumny, and slander. I have a reputation for damaging the reputations of others, and I repent of it all.

In trying to eradicate the habit of gossip, I found it helpful to formulate a rule. This is my gossip rule. Do not say or repeat anything that would damage the reputation or good name of another person. That's it. Since practicing it, everyone says that I am now thoroughly boring in conversation. This is because I don't dish the dirt anymore.

St. Francis de Sales said that slander was a form of murder because you are essentially ruining the social life of a person. One consideration of the sex offender registry will show this to be the case as being on such a list is virtually indistinguishable from the death penalty. You can't live anywhere, shop anywhere, or work anywhere without falling afoul of the law and/or the stigma of being a sex offender. Whether this is a fitting punishment can be debated, but we cannot debate that it is a punishment. In similar fashion, it is also why we call it "character assassination."

When it comes to gossip, people try to make the distinction between whether the gossip is true or false. For me, it makes no difference. The effects of dishing both true and false are the same. You are destroying that person's reputation. Homicide is justifiable in certain circumstances, but it always behooves us to avoid it as much as we can. Similarly, there are few if any justifiable reasons to dish the dirt on someone else.

There is an exception to the Gossip Rule, and I call it the Whistleblower Rule. Sometimes, you have to tell the truth about someone to prevent a greater evil from occurring. For instance, if you know a company is dumping toxic waste in the water supply, you have to become a rat. So, the Whistleblower Rule states that you must rat out someone to prevent evil and to do it as anonymously as possible. That last part is to spare yourself the fate of someone like Bradley Manning who has suffered tremendously for his part in giving information to Wikileaks. If you must rat, be Deep Throat.

I don't care about ratting out someone who smokes weed or downloads copyrighted material off of the internet. But I do care if they are trafficking in child porn or cooking up crystal meth in their apartment. So, I have a moral obligation to rat in those circumstances where others could be harmed.

Those two rules should serve me well. I tell everyone that I am now a gossip cul de sac because I can't help hearing it as it circulates around me. But I abstain from spreading it. It takes a lot of discipline to do that. So, I try and point out people's positives. If I refrain from commenting, my "no comment" probably says it all. I either say something good, or I say nothing.

In other news, I am learning to tame the internet beast. This is that deluge of information overload that comes at you daily. I have already shared a massively important tip which is to nuke your Facebook account. The second tip has to do with your feed reader. If you don't subscribe to RSS feeds, you can skip this part entirely. But for those who do, here's what you need to do. Go to Google News and let those people do the work for you.

I am a news junkie, and I follow a lot of what's going on. The problem is there is so much of it. I would subscribe to feeds from numerous outlets from the New York Times to the Washington Post to various partisan websites, independent news, etc. The problem is that you can't keep up with all of that stuff. So, I am reminded of something Leo Babauta talked about which is that you are going to miss some things, and it is OK. Just let it go. You can't read it all.

Google News aggregates the entire news output of the internet by story. It also supplies RSS for that aggregation. Just subscribe to all of it and add the local news feed for your area as well. Then, fuhgeddaboutit. Since doing that, my news consumption has become way less beastly and gluttonous, but I don't feel that I am missing anything. I actually get to a point where I run out of stuff to read. Toss in NPR in the car and at the desk with CNN the rest of the time, and I am on top of things.

I admit that I miss the New York Times, Drudge, Instapundit, and the Huffington Post. But it is when I add those feeds to my Google Reader that I can't keep up with the news anymore. I'd rather take the trickle from Google News than the full blast from the fire hydrant of the rest of the internet. In this case, less is more while more is less.

I don't know if I can accomplish the same thing with taming all the subscriptions I have to various blogs. I read a lot of blogs. I don't know if I can tame the blog beast. But that news beast is slain.


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