Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Point of Complaint

Complaint defines a great deal of social media interactions. We are all implicated. We all decry other people's 'excessive' complaining while justifying our own. Even this post is a form of complaint (and I am going to righteously justify it!). 

My complaint isn't that we need to stop complaining. Complaints are important. They address faults, frauds, and (can. sometimes) lead to better things. My issue is with the wholesale totalizing negativity that our social media world of complaint has produced.

My personal political paradigm is one that is fundamentally critical of the totality of how our society is organized. So allow me to assure you, I have a lot to complain about.  Given that, a strategic approach to complaint is called for. In addition, it means that one has to try and find ways to work with the majority of people who seem to think everything is mostly okay. It also means determining how to take seriously the multitude of complaints that my political paradigm considers inconsequential. No small order.

I've sat on many adjudication panels over the years. This requires a strategic approach toward complaint. I have observed how some reviewers will run every proposal through their own personal theoretical paradigm. They will find the proposals all lacking because they don't mesh with the reviewer's personal paradigm.  Such reviewers are unable to extend a benefit of the doubt to applicants operating in different theoretical paradigms.  They find fault with everything. If I were to do that I would likely find about 95% of proposals I review deficient. 

My solution is to identify the applicant's paradigm, consider the extent that they meet the expectations within that paradigm, suffer the small faults, and look to the big picture issues. I also consider to what extent the applicant could hear any critical comment from me, would they alter anything in response to my complaints, can I prioritize my complaints and just focus on one or two key ones?  This seems like a reasonable approach to wider political issues.

It would be nice to see a winnowing of complaint within social media, a prioritization of complaint in which each of us commit to only laying out our most important complaints. Maybe salted with some positive, complementary, hopeful commentary? It’s unlikely, but I can hope.

The pervasiveness of complaint, unrestrained by prioritization or strategic considerations, contributes to a nihilistic political environment.  Nothing is to be trusted. Hyperbole is the norm. Bullies claim they have been bullied. Liars call truth makers frauds. Everyone gets into the action.

I suppose those who think our world is running just fine find solace in the cacophony of complaint – they can shrug off complaints with impunity. In the morass of undifferentiated complaint there is no way to separate critical from frivolous.  Power remains in place and the complainers, whether they like it or not, are perpetuating the system. Their complaints don’t fall on deaf ears; they drown the few voices calling for needed fundamental social change. The litany of complainers becomes the shock troops of authoritarian capitalism and is encouraged to keep going under the guise of free expression.

Complaint is ultimately easy; especially when one doesn’t suffer the small things. Harder to do is strategize and focus on big points and to ignore the encouragement to complain that social media proffers.  Working in contexts where most people not only disagree, but often dismiss, my political perspective one has to figure out what’s worth arguing over, what little details to agree with for the sake of hitting harder on the big issues. One only wishes more folks in social media might try the same.