In the last episode of The Patriot Act for 2019, Hasan gave us some advice. In our “democracy overload”, it seems as if there are so many bad things happening and we have to care about all of them. Between the protests around the world and the injustices happening at home, social media and the news amplifying it all, and our friends and family messaging us “did you hear about such and such that happened?”, there is a lot going on. Hasan tells us that we do not need to care about everything.
Coming from someone who makes his living as a political comedian, who does research on so many different global issues, it seems hypocritical. However, Hasan still handpicks things that he cares about. He could have picked a multitude of things that are easy to talk about and lots of people want episodes on. Some of those he does, but he also does an episode on cricket, which very little Americans give a shit about. His advice to us is that we do not need to shutdown the whole browser, just close a few tabs and focus on the things that really matter to you.
Philosopher and knight Bernard Williams wrote similarly in his essay “The Human Prejudice”. There are many different points of view that you can look at for ethics. One is that of the Impartial Observer who is “omniscient, disinterested, dispassionate, but otherwise normal”. The IO is a benevolent entity that takes on all suffering of the universe and regards it equally. The IO wants as little suffering to happen in the universe to all sentient beings, all beings that feel pain.
The IO is used as a philosphical device to show that all suffering matters equally, not humans mattering more than animals. When talking of what it would be like to take on this IO’s point of view, he says
if for a moment we got anything like an adequate idea of what that is, and we really guided our actions by it, then surely we would annihilate the planet, if we could; and if other planets containing conscious creatures are similar to ours in the suffering they contain, we would annihilate them as well. … It is not an accident or a limitation or a prejuduice that we cannot care equally about all the suffering in the world: it is a condition of our existence and our sanity.
Williams rejects that this is something we can take on as humans. We see this fact in Hasan’s advice and other places. People who moderate social media start to become desensitized to the world. When we approach the view of the IO, a few things can happen. We may become entirely desensitized and lose our humanity by thinking that death is just a number to be traded around. We may stop caring about humanity all together.
If social media moderators are becoming like this, what of us, the people who see headline after headline of tragedy and suffering and death?. Some people think that the solution is we need to add more “happy” and “wholesome” content, but why not just less content altogether? Like Hasan said, we should close some tabs, not open new ones, wholesome or not.