On Quitting Social Media

A few weeks ago I got sick with a stomach bug. It was bad, the sickest I’ve been in a long time. Bad enough, in fact, that I ended up in the ER suffering from severe dehydration. So not a terribly great time.

But there was a silver lining. I was miserable enough for long enough that a lot of my daily habits slipped, including my habit of checking Twitter more often than I should and my habit of obsessively loading the Washington Post whenever I wanted to procrastinate, which was rather often.

I got over the bug, only lost five or six pounds in the process, and am feeling pretty good. Better yet, though, I haven’t returned to Twitter or the news. I’ve popped into the former occasionally to check my mentions, to see if anyone’s asked me a question I ought to answer. But I haven’t read Twitter, haven’t scanned my timeline. Nor have I looked at the newspaper, listened to NPR, or skimmed Politico. I haven’t watched TV news either, but that’s not new. Aside from being stuck at airports where CNN is on some TV mounted to the ceiling near the gate, I’ve avoided all cable and broadcast news for ten years. (Frankly, I don’t understand how anyone voluntarily watches that junk, and believe firmly that America would be far better off if we banished talking heads from the airwaves entirely.)

So three weeks in, here’s the thing. I don’t need to keep up to date with the world, because my job is managing Libertarianism.org, hosting Free Thoughts, and writing about political philosophy. None depends on the news cycle. I have the luxury, to put it simply, of tuning out. When I followed current events, and I did so with some obsession, it was because I wanted to, like eating an entire bag of corn chips. But it really kind of sucked, like eating an entire bag of corn chips. These weeks of distance from it all have been glorious. Everyone who can should do this.

If there’s a terrorist attack or we go to war or the president is removed from office, someone will tell me. But I don’t need to know all the details that don’t rise to such momentous events. Buddhism–which, as I’ve written before, I’ve found persuasive enough that it’s kind of my thing now–makes a big deal about what we choose to take in. Mental “nutriments” it gets called. You want to take in good nutriments and reject bad ones. The crap Donald Trump and his merry band of benighted, vapid, and morally disgusting fools are up to are, to understate things, unhelpful nutriments. Reading philosophy (or Warhammer novels) is a step in the right direction.

Thus, weeks in to this radical experiment in focusing on what actually matters, or at least not focusing on what really doesn’t, my mental state is better than it’s been in a long time. I’m happier. More focused. I have no plans to go back to my old ways. And this benefits not just me, but my family, and, I’m sure, those of you who tune in, through my podcasts or my writing. I hope to give you more substance and less ephemeral commentary.

In other words, stomach bugs can be pretty grand.

On the Podcast

Nearly 300 episodes in, one of my favorite things about hosting Free Thoughts is getting to talk with people I admire. Joshua Childress is one of them. He had a good career in the Border Patrol, a job he was using to support his family. But he came to see that the work he was doing didn’t align with his values. He came to see that respecting the liberty of others, and not using the state’s power to unjustly oppress the powerless, mattered enough that he couldn’t keep doing what he was doing, even though stopping would be a tremendous sacrifice. He lived his principles when it was hard to do so, and that’s something all too few of us have the strength for. He’s inspiring and thoughtful and an example to us all. It was a real honor getting to meet and talk with Joshua and I encourage all of you to listen to what he has to say, because it’s valuable and inspiring.

What I’m Reading

A Lot Of People Are Saying by Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum.

This was sent to me by the publisher, and I’ve scheduled a Free Thoughts with the authors later in the month. It’s an intriguing book about the way conspiracies operate in the Trump era, with the hook being a move from “conspiracy theory,” where you develop crazy ideas based on a lot of research and data, to “conspiracism,” where you just assert crazy ideas without doing any work to back them up. “Conspiracy without theory,” the authors call it. They’re worried about the damage this is all doing to democratic institutions, including respect for a free press, and I share some of their concerns. But my impression so far–I haven’t yet finished the book–is that they let their partisanship color their analysis to some degree, seeing conspiracism as primarily (only?) a feature of the American right, while not recognizing it at play on the left in areas like anti-GMO activism or the fear that campaign contributions are the root of all evil. Assuming this suspicion is borne out by the remainder of the book, I look forward to asking them about it when they’re on my show.

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