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I Know Jah Never Let Us Down
Welcome to Weed Church. All Are Welcome.
This week we’re starting with some announcements. First: I’m going to be putting my thoughts here instead of Twitter, for reasons I’ll get into with this week’s post. I’m off Twitter. If you want to stay in touch and got here via Twitter in the past: here’s where you find me. If you used to follow me on Twitter and made your way to this post and want to keep up with me, here’s a subscribe button, because I’m gone, papa.
I wrote a good piece for Defector this week about Henry Clay Frick and the Industrialists who are all in Hell. If you aren’t a subscriber or can’t get it, email me and I’ll send you a PDF unless one of the editors there yells at me. Not my company, not my problem.
Okay. Onward to this week’s post!
His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"
Jesus said, "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'here it is' or 'there it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."
-Gospel of Thomas, Saying 113
Sometimes I think the only people who understand American society are addicts.
I deactivated my Twitter account earlier this week, but not for any of the reasons that people usually cite. I’ve read so many “Why I Quit Twitter” articles from overpaid hack writers at The Atlantic or in various op-ed pages over the past few years about the site’s vitriol, and that’s before considering the sabotage by the world’s richest try-hard, Elon Musk. I don’t mind any of that too much. The world is vulgar and Twitter is merely a reflection of that vulgarity.
Most pieces of writing about quitting Twitter tend to center on the platform and its myriad problems, or the type of harassment it enables. The site has a well-earned reputation as the place where wit outweighs substance and full-blown morons can earn dangerous levels of influence. That sounds like most institutions in America, to me. Maybe the problem isn’t Twitter, but what Twitter shows its users about their own psyche and its fragility. Most of the complaints about Twitter sound a lot like the complaints addicts make. Why is this thing I like causing me so much pain?
Twitter stopped being enjoyable for me sometime over the past year, though I can’t pinpoint an exact inflection. It wasn’t the Musk decision to allow far right accounts back on the site, nor was it the ongoing autofellatio that corporate journalists perform about their mediocre and impotent work. These things contributed, certainly, but as a lifelong class clown it didn’t bother me. More material for jokes. That’s why I joined the site in the first place: as an outlet for making fun of stuff. There’s not a lot of places where you can do that these days, as Poptimism and consumer culture and “let people enjoy things” style critical thought became the de facto state religion post-9/11.
Instead, I quit because I’m an addict. I’ve been addicted to things before and could recognize it — the cycle is the same regardless of the stimulus providing dopamine. There’s the initial high from whatever you find that stimulates your psyche. There’s the constant chase, the occasional reclamation, even the rare experience that surpasses your initiation. And then, very gradually, it becomes something that you feel; part of you rather than an experience. It occurs to you in the grocery store or the pharmacy that you haven’t used it in awhile. Your day starts to be shaped by your addiction — not necessarily taking priority over your other responsibilities until you hit rock bottom, but an ever-present part of your daily decision set.
When I smoked cigarettes, it was a running inventory and subconscious calculation of my next trip to a convenience store or gas station. How many cigs are in the pack? How many more am I going to have today? Speaking of which, it’s 11 AM, and I haven’t had a cig since my morning coffee, better step out for a quick one here while I’m calculating how many I’ve got left.
Twitter was the same way eventually. I’d catch myself wondering if someone that I hadn’t even met before took a joke the right way, or if I’d failed to convey sarcasm in my words. I wondered whether people who unfollowed me were upset with me, despite the fact that I quite literally didn’t care about or know about their personal lives (nor they mine). It’s healthy to be concerned about the wellbeing of all human life — I’m a Unitarian, after all, and that’s one of our core principles. It’s not healthy, however, to be so concerned about the wellbeing of strangers that their opinions cause you stress.
That’s the real poison of Twitter that I’ve found. Not the dogpiling or the unsubstantiated news stories that spread like wildfire or even the banal cruelty. It’s like market testing for your own ideas; a sort of let me put this thought into the ether and see if I find some people who pick up the frequency practice. There’s value in that, certainly (nobody wants to be a babbling kook), but if one isn’t careful they can talk themselves out of some really good thinking just because a handful of strangers didn’t reward their dopamine centers by dropping a “like” on it.
As a practical example, I’ve been doing enough work to know that I’m onto something with Ethiopia and The Cold War, but nobody on Twitter ever engaged with that content when I posted it. This inherently good or bad — Americans, even the smart ones, usually are more familiar with the imaginary Wakanda than they are with Haile Selassie — but a byproduct of cultivating an audience to that point that wasn’t really into pan-Africanism and liberation theology.
Original or esoteric ideas don’t garner fanfare. And if Twitter is meant as a town square where new ideas can spring forth, the fact is it’s poorly engineered: it’s quite literally impossible for a “niche” or original idea to take off on a site that elevates the populist position. Just like with the last “virtual town square” in reddit, it’s just a forum that can be gamed, and even when it works it produces the opposite of what it advertises. It’s a paradox! Good luck with that one.
I could point to a million things wrong with Twitter that drove me to leave the platform — maybe permanently. But all of those things are things that bother me about conventional thinking in general. Every shortcoming of the platform is a reflection of our own intellectual and moral shortcomings. The “platform” itself is an illusion: it’s you! It’s me! It’s not like an imaginary force is putting the words into the box and making you read them. The words on Twitter that are upsetting so many people are just the thoughts and opinions of their fellow citizens. They vote, too.
Despite that, continued usage of Twitter is about the user. Addictions are real illnesses — I’m not one of those goofballs who deny addiction as a disease — but they can be treated. They always say the first step is admitting you’re an addict, but I’ve found that a more accurate first step is recognizing your time is valuable enough to spend elsewhere. When I think about the time I spent in bars doing little else but waiting for my next drink, I feel a deep sense of shame not in the behavior itself, but in the knowledge that I could’ve been improving. Progress takes time, and that time can’t be spent performing last rites.
That’s also why this also isn’t meant as some grand proclamation. I don’t think there’s any moral superiority in quitting social media or continuing to use it as a vice. Shit, when I quit cigarettes, it took me a few relapses and 11 PM packs before I finally kicked them for good, so I might even reactivate a couple times before finally kicking the habit. I’m just going to replace it with something else, and cross my fingers that this time it’s something healthy. If not, I’ll start over. All part of the process.
One thing I can guarantee: this is the last fucking time I ever write about Twitter. Lord help me if I become Caitlin Flanagan, in any capacity.
Thank you for reading and supporting my work. I’m excited about what’s coming this year, and hope you’ll come along for the ride.