Other People’s Words: Sam Biddle Hates Everything

(Fair warning: this is not just a rant, but one of those high-powered caffeinated 3:00am-and-onward rants that I may not even remember clearly in the morning in the mid-afternoon.)

Gizmodo contributor Sam Biddle has the following insights to share in his article, “It’s OK To Be A Hater Because Everything Is Bad.”

The opening salvo:

Almost everything is bad. Usually, really bad, and not even bad in an interesting way. Tech is no exception—if anything, tech might be the worst of the bad. The Internet? Gross. The people who use it? Ugh. And it’s fine to hate it all.

The final blow:

It’ll go on like this forever, because people will never change, but technology will only get faster. Well, we might change, in that technology is turning us into ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics with a thirst for nothing but meme gristle and Internet lists. Before we implode from the psychological strain strains of saying, doing, making, buying, sharing, and generally slathering about the worst ideas and products in the history of humanity, let’s all agree that it’s OK to whine. It’s OK to say that things are terrible, because they are. It’s OK. It’s true and it’s OK. Try it with me. Try it with me and then go to hell, because you’ll probably share a Scumbag Steve pic later today.

In between, he rails against various material goods and kinds of people who buy such material goods and such peoples’ focus on popularity and, somehow, on Internet culture.  The Internet is gross and ugh and bad?  And how, Sam Biddle, staff writer at gizmodo.com!  And how.

But I can’t say it’s an unfamiliar sentiment.

I remember being a kid and seeing how my parents never seemed to enjoy anything, or have fun with anything. And how I wasn’t supposed to enjoy things either, because none of the fun stuff was necessary. They got by without it. So I could, too — whether I liked it or not. (And no sir, I didn’t like it, and grew to cope with being a perpetual alien to my own peers  – not by embracing my own unique qualities, but by resigning myself to the futility and giving up on social acceptance. But that’s another story.)

I remember being a disaffected and misanthropic “tween” and teen, who wanted to believe everyone else was stupid or inferior somehow.  All those normals with their Abercrombie shirts and their iPods and camera phones and their low-cut flares.  What sellouts, what dupes. Despite my virtually nonexistent self-esteem, I still at least wished I were better than them.  In times of more clarity, I just wished that the preponderance of people valued the same kinds of things I did – things like “preponderance” and other cool vocabulary words, for instance – and would value me as a human being to some degree as a result.

All throughout childhood and high school, I remember telling myself that I wouldn’t be like that when I grew up. I’d know how to have fun, and wouldn’t hate myself for doing, wearing, or buying something unnecessary sometimes, if it were still a useful thing that I thought I could enjoy for a long time.  I told myself that I wouldn’t be content with being bored and dismissive of the world around me. That I wouldn’t have a knee-jerk contempt for novelty. That I would know how to separate “squandering” from  “frivolity” from “mostly practical, but also fun,” instead of lumping them all into the same category and turning my back on it all.  I thought there was always something of value, something to think about, something to learn, from everything in our culture.  Maybe I only started to think that because I was seeing it all from the outside, or because I had to maximize the value of whatever pop-cultural fragments I had access to.

But I knew this much: I didn’t want to grow up to hate everything all the time. I hated everything and everyone already. How could I let that same miserabilism, that same stoicism, that same ennui run my life when I was finally an adult, free from the peer-pressure pressure cooker of school life, and finally free and independent enough to make my own choices?

Why would I want to?

Who would want to live with this much bitterness and contempt in them?

I don’t know what the author’s damage is, but it must be something. There could have been a whole article here that said something meaningful about critical thinking skills, about arguments from popularity and arguments from authority, about the apotheosis of the ignorant and the cultural concept of idiocy as freedom.

Instead it sounds like a sad old man shaking his cane at these young whippersnappers and their headphones, and all these newfangled iPads. Back in his day, ain’t nobody needed any iPads. They used a desktop PC and didn’t move their bodies for ten hours a day or walk on the grass but twice. and, by gum, they liked it. It’s not making any argument for why these things, or more accurately these people, or far more accurately these thought processes are bad/faulty/lacking — it’s just I Hate This. Codgery, curmudgeonly I Hate This, with a not-so-subtle subtext of You Should Too And If You Don’t, You’re What’s Wrong With The World.

I Hate This As If Hating This Will Make It Better For Me Or For Anyone.

It occurs to me that this is why people don’t listen to such arguments. Because griping about young people and new technology and other new stuff is Just What Old People Do.  That’s why the young have a knee-jerk contempt for authority: they see them as speaking only about Things or about People These Days, the outward manifestations of which can hardly be expected to stay static, but completely unable to draw parallels between their pasts and the young peoples’ presents.  They’re too distracted by the material differences to recognize the cultural and emotional touchstones.

There are always trendy and useless products.  There are always trendy and ridiculous-looking clothes.  There are always idiots.  There are always cheats.  There are always TV shows that seem to herald the end of all civilization.

There are also always people who overreact to the “threat” posed by these specific products/bands/media or their consumers/fans.

But products are products.  Stuff is not a statement.  If someone buys stuff to make a personal statement about themselves, that’s probably a little absurd. If someone buys stuff because they think it will make them More Like The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, yes, that’s absurd and a little sad.  But if someone makes a moral and intellectual judgment about someone else based on the stuff they own, presuming that the purchase means they bought it because – and only because – they’re trying to be The Kind Of Person Who Has This Stuff, that’s significantly worse.  You are buying into the stuff-as-statement pretense, too.  You’re believing they’re either That Kind Of Person, or that they aspire to be That Kind Of Person, instead of acknowledging that, of the various but still limited options, someone decided to purchase that particular piece of stuff for some reason or other.  Maybe it’s a logically sound reason.  Maybe it isn’t.  But you don’t know what it is just by looking at the person.  If you think you do – positively or negatively – you are just as duped. You are not better for owning different stuff.  You are not better for not owning any such stuff.  You are not worse for not owning stuff.

Stuff, stuff-buying, and even stuff-as-statement, is not the point Biddle is even trying to make, I don’t think.  I think he does have a point in all that ramble, but he’s dancing around it.  Rather, he chooses to rail against these specific currently-trendy products (and the people who own them) and means of communication (and the people who use them,) instead of talking about the timeless but preventable characteristics of shoddy thinking, where the lessons actually are.

Why would he do this?

Perhaps because people don’t want to admit that they once liked or coveted popular and frivolous things, too. Or that they once wanted to be “cool,” and have had to content themselves with the fact that they can now be no more than “pretty cool, for an adult.” If you can look at how ridiculous youth culture is now, you can feel advanced and wise, and can also feel pleased for yourself that you didn’t fall into the trap of looking as trendy-foolish back when you actually had the chance. But for some reason, it’s easier to not only detach from popular culture, but rage at it as you do. It makes the dividing line clearer, for the sake of everyone who cares… which is mainly only you. It makes it a lot more clear to others that you aren’t one of Them. You aren’t one of those people who define themselves by certain things they buy – you define yourself as one of the people who HATES people like them, and who buys certain other things instead!  It’s easier to hate. Easier to hold things in contempt, to waste time and thought and energy on loathing what you can’t change.

That’s why 60-year-old-men and 16-year-old Goths sound surprisingly similar – and similarly wearying – when they talk about mainstream culture.

Biddle is correct when he vaguely, loosely, tangentially alleges that youth culture lacks self-awareness or the ability or willingness to use critical thinking or reason (as implied by his very loose allusions to the arguments from authority and popularity, and the fact that the Monster cables he derides are indeed the homeopathy of the electronics world.)  But it’s not just the youth, and it’s not just the Internet. It’s everywhere.  Hell, by this very emotion-driven and material-goods-focused screed that makes sweeping generalizations, appeals to ridicule and to spite, he’s doing this, too.

He’s not helping.

He is, in short, part of the Bad.

Even if he’d approached his actual complaints directly, the author would have had a hard road ahead of him. Primarily because the youth culture and Internet culture that Biddle so derides has a little phrase of its own:

Haters Gonna Hate.

A “hater” is, in its original usage, someone who, for whatever reason, won’t allow another person their own happiness or success, and instead must cut that person down. Someone for whom nothing is ever enough. An irrational grudge, generally. But although it started out specific, as a way of brushing off hostility and unwarranted criticism, “Haters Gonna Hate” has developed into a brushing-off of not only hostility but also virtually any kind of reaction other than agreement and encouragement. It’s an automatic and unthinking dismissal of virtually any unpleasant response. Yes, it also gets applied to people making well-reasoned arguments. But it goes further than the similar “Everyone’s a critic,” in a way that is symptomatic of the greater critical-thinking problem Biddle so very tangentially attempts to sort of allude to (I think.)

“Haters Gonna Hate” recontextualizes any criticism, critique, correction, or even any comment into an emotionally-driven argument. Its persistent use evinces the fact that people, especially young people, are not equipped to diferrentiate a rational argument from an emotionally-driven attack. Moreover, it implies a difficulty in rationalizing other points of view.  It presumes that the criticizer must feel jealousy or actual hate – that nobody would possibly have any other reason to give anything but praise.  Therefore, “Haters Gonna Hate” speaks to a deep-seated sense of self-entitlement. A strain of “I’m okay just the way I am” that’s somehow been bred for aggression, becoming “Fuck you, I do what I want.”

To such people he describes – presuming, for a moment, his sweeping generalizations of selfishness and immorality and inhumanity were actually founded – Biddle would be seen and dismissed as a hater. He seems to embrace the idea of this – or at least he would embrace it, if his joints weren’t acting up and if he weren’t fresh out of liniment. (No, he isn’t even old, but he speaks as if he wants a head start.) He welcomes hating.  In more than one way, he invites contempt. Because, intentionally or not, Biddle IS making only an emotional argument. He’s not actually calling for discourse. He’s not calling for reason. He’s not calling for anything but whining and hate, not realizing that his semi-strawman targets are already well-prepared to dismiss it.

Another related concept among that so-despised youth culture and Internet culture, “drama” generally consists of somebody doing something emotional and irrational, then refusing to acknowledge the consequences, the irrationality itself, or the legitimacy of any complaint. It’s sometimes a result of the inability to contextualize or to plan, of an underdeveloped sense of empathy, or of difficulty accepting and recovering from unexpected hardships.  Sometimes it’s intentional attention-seeking.  Regardless, the “drama queen” seems to thrive on such conflict in lieu of almost any other kind of interpersonal interaction.

Biddle’s screed is no bold dramatic monologue, addressing conflict, reasoning through problems, making difficult choices, reaching a conclusion, and taking a stand.

It’s just drama.

(And possibly even trolling.)

Drama is also not exactly a new phenomenon, and its spread has only been easier as communication has grown more pervasive.  There are scores of avenues to spread gossip, rumors, and general unsubstantiated crap, most of them with ever-lowering barriers to entry.

However, it might be argued that the self-entitlement mentality and lack of critical thinking skills that spur drama (and therefore spur the “Haters Gonna Hate” defense mechanism) seem to be more pervasive and more shameless now than in the past.  Which is also not a new sentiment.

But is it any wonder that it seems true now more than ever?

Advertisements don’t just talk up their own claims and run the viewer through a gamut of fallacies and appeals to emotion – they also bash the competition by name. No more “Brand X,” no more “the leading brand,” no more slightly-different spoofs.

In the 80s and 90s, talk shows featured histrionic freakshows of namecalling and chairthrowing; from the 2000s to the present, it’s “reality TV.” Both purport to demonstrate how people respond to criticism or to conflict. Both tend to rely on subjects with a disproportionate sense of self-worth who cannot acknowledge their own shortcomings, no matter what.

And then there’s the 24/7 cable news quandary, where a lack of verifiable information is no longer an impediment to continuing coverage. Where user comments are reported with the same authority as journalists’ observations, because  opinion, speculation, and hard data are rendered virtually indistinguishable – it’s the attention that matters.

Anyone can write anything on the Internet, and one can easily pick and choose one’s own news sources to get only the information with which they’re already inclined to agree.

It’s not just the media, either.  Good sweet unmerciful crap, don’t get me started on political “discourse.”

Or on parents who simply don’t know how to teach their children, give them guidance, set an example, or otherwise help a child learn any sort of structure, self-discipline, empathy, or understanding.  Possibly because they don’t have those skills, either.

It’s all added up to teach people to value attention for its own sake.  The more undeserved the attention, the more it becomes a grotesque point of fascination.

We have more sources of information than ever before.  More choices, and more freedom to remix, satirize, recontextualize, and otherwise augment that information.  Short of some revolution that annihilates the Internet (and with it most of our economy and social structure,) that’s not going to change.  It does not have to turn us into, as Biddle says, “ever-stupider, ever-strunger-outer attention anorexics.”  It will require – already does require – nuance and the ability to parse multivalent statements.

Information can’t all be taken at face value – that makes you one of the literally unbelievable people who can’t distinguish an Onion article from a non-satirical article.

Information can’t all be dismissed out of hand – that makes you one of those people who thinks they’re always right in the face of all evidence.

Contrary to Biddle’s insults, regular Internet users are probably more likely to navigate this information successfully, out of familiarity and necessity.  Learning how to identify trolls, detect sarcasm without intonation or gestural cues, recognize reliable sources of information, and identify common hoaxes requires a certain kind of information literacy.  Moreover, it’s been among the Internet culture – which is rather more broad than Biddle acknowledges – that I’ve personally found the strongest reactions to mainstream media culture.  Before denouncing memes entirely, Biddle would have done well to observe what kinds of content are given the “I Don’t Want To Live On This Planet Anymore” reaction.  Intolerance, vapid pop music, idiotic statements, poor grammar, Twilight, and other offenses are all given this summary rejection of not only the post itself but of the mainstream culture which created it.

So, the problem is not “information overload.” It’s not the Internet. It’s not technlogy. It’s not the media; it’s not consumerism; it’s not capitalism.  It’s not the kids or the adults, the democrats or the republicans, left or right, high culture or low culture, elitists or idiots.  The problem starts and ends in the three pounds of matter within every individual skull, which processes that information, processes other information around it, figures out how to perceive the world, and figures out how to act upon it.  The problem is – always has been, and always will be – a lack of or willful suspension of critical thinking especially when such thought would create cognitive dissonance with one’s sense of self-entitlement.

There have always been those who thrive on conflict, outrage, attention, and fear, in lieu of empathy, acceptance, humility, and wisdom. No matter how much you whine, no matter how much you hate, your contempt and your loathing will not challenge or change them.   It will not change you, either, except to make you more of the kind of person who can’t stop thinking and talking about how much you hate everyone and everything and how everything’s gone downhill.

Yes, this will make you sound more like an adult.

No, It does not make you sound more mature.

It certainly does not make you sound more wise.

It might make you feel better though.  And that’s okay, though I question the mechanics.

Refusing to acknowledge large swaths of unpleasant or inconvenient reality might also make you just as detached as the people you vituperate.  And that’s okay, too – if you’re going to make rude and sweeping generalizations, maybe you’ll be happier keeping to yourself?  But I suspect that, if you feel this angry, it’s not because a bunch of young dumb brats have somehow displaced you, but because you’ve let yourself grow so estranged from what you value, and maintain such a tenuous hold on it yourself, that you’re able to perceive a total stranger wearing expensive headphones as a threat.

Maybe what you really want is for your intellectual values to be shared and reaffirmed.

The funny thing is… these strangers don’t have to share any of your intellectual or moral values.  They really don’t.  They’re okay with making what we might see as mistakes all the time.  They’re okay with looking stupid.  Or being stupid.  Or not even being able to acknowledge their own stupidity.  And they’re probably happier than us.  Remember, they probably don’t even care what other people think, as long as they’re happy.  And there’s not much we or anyone else can do to change that.  Even if we – individually or culturally – did a better job of equipping them with the intellectual tools, and the knowledge of how to use those tools, and even a social structure that better rewarded people who used those tools and used their intellects, it would still be up to the individual to actually use them.  Do they owe it to themselves to think well and wisely, spend well and wisely, live well and wisely?  Sure.

But they do not owe it to you.

If you acknowledge this, and you’re ranting anyway, maybe you’re really trying to reach out to other people who are already like you. Smart, angry others.  Frustrated, disaffected others.  Others who are tired of feeling all the shame and humiliation that these materialistic simpletons refuse to feel.  Others with whom you might commiserate, here in this dystopian world-gone-mad of Monster cables and Honey Boo Boo Child and swag, here at the end of all days.

I don’t speak for anyone for myself, but I’m tired of misery, private or shared.  I’m tired of whining.  I’m tired of hate, hating, and haters.  I’m tired of drudgery and deception and excuses and shallowness and injustice.   I’m tired of nihilism and tired of those who only enjoy things ironically. I’m tired of antiheroes and impossible ideals.  I want to see sincere, self-aware pursuit of individual goals.  Even if those goals are ridiculous.  Maybe especially if those goals are ridiculous, so long as they’re also positive or at least mostly harmless.  Whether it’s a thesis paper on ancient Greek philosophy or a Viking longboat made out of cereal boxes, I want to see people who know what they want to do, even if they don’t know why they want to do it, and DO THE HELL OUT OF IT, and feel accomplished of the thing that they did as a result.  I don’t want to see people stop being proud – I want them to stop being proud of STUFF and stop being proud of MONEY and stop being proud of ATTENTION and start being proud of what they’ve done and earned and made and meant.  I don’t want to see people being bleak and apathetic and backsliding into sarcastic 90s nihilism as some pendulum-swing response to “swag.”  I don’t want to see hipsters playing games with authenticity and clinging to irony as plausible deniability.  Admit that what you like may or may not be popular, and may or may not be popular among some other subgroups as a direct result of the original popularity value, but that you like it anyway.  Just like what you like anyway.  If it’s not hateful or harmful, like what you like, do what you do, and do what you’re like (if you’re lucky.)

I’m as tired of stupidity as anybody else, but I’m also tired of tedious self-important misanthropes wrapped in a threadbare cloak of intelligence and a homemade crown of moral superiority, who – instead of offering even the most condescending advice on independent thought to these lost little iPad lugging lambs – spend their time flogging those who have fun the wrong way or who have the wrong stuff. You who would do this, you have the Curse of Greyface upon you.

Fun is not the opposite of work.  Happiness is not the opposite of honesty.   Hope is not the opposite of truth.

And hate is not the cure for selfishness, for stupidity, for arrogance, for irrationality, or for anything but serenity.  Your hate changes no one.  Your whining means nothing.  It is not a clarion call for reason and discourse.  It will not crumble the halls of the media.  It will not humble the unjustly proud.  It will not even clearly or thoroughly express your own discontent.  It will only make you another loud, angry talking head, spouting into the cacophony – a willing part of the Fear And Outrage Machine.

So I see Biddle’s challenge in the final lines, and I raise it.

Let’s do more than whine. Let’s do more than hate. Let’s say something meaningful instead.  Let’s make arguments without anger and hypotheses without hyperbole, and politely tell people off if they won’t do the same.  Let’s learn logical fallacies and teach them to young people – as part of government/econ classes, at least, and ideally as early as elementary school. And also teach self-esteem that doesn’t assume everyone’s awesome all the time, but also teaches how to give and receive constructive criticism.  Let’s stop teaching kids that “stupid” is a bad word – and teach them what things really are stupid, and why.  Let’s regain our tolerance for thoughtful pauses and change the channel on shouting matches.  Turn off the TV, don’t feed the trolls, and do things for the sake of genuine personal satisfaction – not attention.  Let’s presume everyone else is as civil, moral, and intelligent as we are, until they prove otherwise – even if they’re carrying an iPad or wearing something we think is funny-looking.   Let’s not confuse censorship for civility, or vice versa.

It’s okay to say that things are terrible.  Believe me, I do.  And I’m no optimist. But it’s even better to recognize exactly what is terrible, why it’s terrible, and to do your part to not be terrible yourself, and to figure out ways to be awesome instead.

The media may take away the lives of children and of the vulnerable inside and out; it may behave irrationally, distort the world, deceive you, tempt you, try to define your dreams, ask you to fear, and reward you with only more reasons to cower – but, like Jareth, it has no power over you, and it’s mostly made of our own imagination.

Maybe we can imagine ourselves something else.  (*ahem*Internet culture*ahem*)  But something more… well, real-world.  Maybe we can.  Maybe we can’t.  But hating, whining, drama, and perpetual conflict – and our cultural fascination with them – are why things are where they are.

I don’t believe they are how we get back out.

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2 thoughts on “Other People’s Words: Sam Biddle Hates Everything

  1. Reminds me of a Franz Ferdinand lyric:

    “I time every journey to bump into you, accidentally
    I charm you and tell you of the boys I hate
    All the girls I hate, all the words I hate
    All the clothes I hate, how I’ll never be anything I hate
    You smile, mention something that you like
    Or how you’d have a happy life if you did the things you like…”

    Hate the haters, but more importantly, make great things that you passionately believe in.

    • Gant's Rants says:

      And that brings a lot of its own challenges, as well. Especially since American culture often doesn’t care about “Good Art,” but brutally criticizes “Bad Art.” It’s tempting to just give everyone else a miss and make things only for yourself, but does that make it too easy? Does it lead to these same sorts of self-entitlement issues, of “I can make whatever I want, the way I want, and nobody else gets to say anything negative ever?” What’s worse, skill without passion or passion without skill?

      Or, y’know, musing endlessly about that question, instead of actually pursuing either one? Heh…

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