Last week, my two sons and I embarked on a journey I hadn’t envisioned for ourselves prior to this year — traditional homeschooling. We started on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and the jury is still out as to whether or not this journey is sustainable.
The good news is that my children do not seem mutinous (yet) and that I get to be a partner in a shared learning experience.
The experience of being so wholly connected to a human being in such an intimate manner — the personal facilitation of their education — helped put the atomization we experience from being “online” into perspective. My older son and I began reading a fable titled “The Wolf and the Kid,” originally told by Aesop. The story spans only a paragraph, but immediately we began to make connections to the lives we lead each day.
Put succinctly, a kid (either a human or goat, I’m not sure) is on the roof of a house as a wolf stalks past below. The kid immediately begins to hurl verbal attacks at the wolf, insulting him and telling him to get lost. In response, the wolf says, “Curse away my young friend. It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”
My son is not on the internet save for some Minecraft and Legend of Zelda YouTubers. He has no phone, no social media, no access to the increasingly factionalized world of online. The same cannot be said for me. As a millennial, I am very well acquainted with the goings-on of online culture for various reasons, both personal and political. So much so that often it feels like my life is in a constant state of consumption — podcasts, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.
Even the books I consume seem to be geared toward crafting a worldview. I am fully aware of the upsides to being connected online both from an organizing and personal standpoint. However, this is not the column to explore those merits because the discourse online has truly morphed into a place where human connection is traded for fear and political propaganda. In some way, we have all occupied the role of both the wolf and the kid. We have all felt the comfort of hurling insults into the ether with no real repercussions. It’s time to explore a different path.
There is no better current example of this than the hearsay that Antifa has been starting wildfires in Western Oregon. As someone whose life was turned upside down by arson when a single disturbed man decided to torch my father’s store and my family’s sole source of income, I understand the severity of the charges leveraged.
Have there been instances of arson and opportunist theft? Absolutely. Could our crumbling infrastructure, unhealthy forests and climate change be a part of the equation? Also, absolutely. But as America’s material conditions decline and as we turn to increasingly conspiratorial sources to make sense of the chaos, it is easy to see why people turn to boogeymen in black rather than question the legitimacy of our institutions or connect the historical dots.
I am not naive enough to think that “logging off” will provide some sort of panacea for the pressing matters of the current moment. After all, our country is no stranger to unrest — much of which has been erased from our collective memories due to the historical negationism rife in our education system. I am also fully aware that I am entrenched in my own personal ideologies and that I do not intend to give up the premises of my arguments. At the risk of sounding trite, however, I believe the present dour realities of everyday life call for an entreaty into real human connection once again.
What if, rather than peddling online propaganda, engaging in intemperate Facebook comment battles, or willingly giving away our psychoprofiles to corporations and political consultants via “likes,” we attempt to engage in good-faith discourse as we navigate the maze that we’ve built for ourselves?
I ask this because to me it is clear — we are repeatedly being told to see wolves wherever we go and fail to ask ourselves what’s in it for the people telling us to look for wolves.