My favorite thing famous people on Twitter do is to tweet something really, really silly and then complain about all the people pointing out that what they just said was really, really silly. We saw a prime example of this last night, when Sharknado 2‘s Wil Wheaton* tweeted the following:
Republicans are spending a lot of effort trying to scare Americans about ISIS. Probably just a coincidence that there's an election soon.
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) September 8, 2014
He then spent the next several hours a.) complaining that people were being mean to him for saying something designed to antagonize those people while also b.) retweeting his detractors to show how dumb they are and finally c.) spouting platitudes about income inequality and suggesting the conservative media hates their readers, or something. As you might imagine, it was an amazingly constructive way to mount an argument and Wheaton won lots of converts.**
What's most grating, perhaps, is Wheaton's implicit accusation of bad faith, his suggestion that Republicans (and only Republicans!) are ginning up fear to turn out the rubes. Just for fun, let's highlight three of the ways in which Wheaton's tweet is wrongheaded:
- Mid-term elections pretty much never ever ever revolve around foreign policy. This is in large part because Congress plays virtually no role in deciding how and where the nation deploys its military force. So the idea that the GOP is going to ride a wave of fear about ISIS into Congress to … do nothing about ISIS is an odd one.
- "Republicans" aren't the only ones trying to scare people about ISIS. I guess he missed Joe Biden doing his best Wyatt Earp impression while vowing to follow ISIS to the gates of hell.
- Finally, Republicans don't need to spend a lot of effort trying to convince the public that ISIS is a scary band of brigands. I imagine that ISIS' videotaped beheadings and crucifixions of nonbelievers are doing a pretty good job of scaring anyone who is actually paying attention. ISIS' inherently scary nature is probably why a stunning 91 percent of those polled consider ISIS a "somewhat serious" or "very serious" threat.
Now, granted, many of the responses to Wheaton's tweet were not as cogently argued as the above.*** And I understand the frustration that comes with people harassing you on Twitter. It can get a bit much, especially when you have 2.71 million followers.
But when you do have 2.71 million followers, I think you have a bit more responsibility to try and foster discussion and build bridges rather than creating divisions and heightening tensions. Wheaton should take a lesson from Andrew W.K.—the philosopher America needs right now and the one it deserves—who has used his megaphone in recent months to try and persuade people to stop reflexively hating each other.
As I noted on Twitter the other day, his Village Voice column, in which he has implored people to just be decent to each other, is a real breath of fresh air. Consider, for instance, W.K.'s recent advice to a guy who said he was literally filled with rage when his grandmother innocuously asked him to pray for a sick relative:
I want you to pray for your brother right now. As a gesture to your grandmother — who, if she didn't exist, neither would you. I want you to pray right now, just for the sake of challenging yourself. I want you to find a place alone, and kneel down — against all your stubborn tendencies telling you not to — and close your eyes and think of one concentrated thought: your brother.
I want you to think of your love for him. Your fear of him dying. Your feeling of powerlessness. Your feelings of anger and frustration. Your feelings of confusion. You don't need to ask to get anything. You don't need to try and fix anything. You don't need to get any answers. Just focus on every moment you've ever had with your brother. Reflect on every memory, from years ago, and even from just earlier today. Let the feelings wash over you. Let the feelings take you away from yourself. Let them bring you closer to him. Let yourself be overwhelmed by the unyielding and uncompromising emotion of him until you lose yourself in it.
We don't have to agree with everyone all the time. That's plain old totalitarianism (and impossible to achieve). But we should at least try to understand everyone as often as we can. That's plain old decency (and eminently possible to achieve).
Rather than provoking those you disagree with via baseless accusations of intentional malfeasance, maybe consider, just for a moment, their point of view. Most people aren't acting in bad faith, no matter how badly you want to think they are.
*Ok, real talk time: Wheaton's most famous role, Wesley Crusher, is justifiably derided for being hopelessly annoying. However, we should recognize and celebrate his great work in the classic Stand By Me and the near-classic Toy Soldiers.