The Social Media PhD

There was a time in society, especially American society, that respect was a virtue. Younger generations were taught to respect their elders. This respect was earned by older generations because they had travelled along the path of life, attained wisdom, and had earned the privilege of being able to pass along that wisdom to those of us who were younger and less experienced. Some of the most memorable times of my 47 trips around the sun involve simple conversations with members of our communities that have lived their lives and eloquently told young whipper snappers like me how things operated in a sane world. I was also told ad nauseum how know-it-alls like me were screwing everything up. Now that I am becoming one of them, I am seeing that everything they said about young people was right. Why? Because that respect I had for my elders that was ingrained in me has now evolved into a pragmatic knowledge that they actually did know more than the rest of us. 

In a previous life I taught in a college classroom. I recall the night before I taught my first class. I was terrified. To place this in perspective, I was teaching martial arts several times per week. I had attained graduate credentials in my field of study. So, why be terrified? My fear had nothing to do with the knowledge of my field of study. My fear had nothing to do with my ability to relay ideas and lead discussions with students. My greatest fear was whether or not I would be respected as a person of knowledge in my area of expertise. 

This fear may seem irrational. I cannot speak for other martial arts instructors and college professors, but for me this fear was personal. I was now in a position in which others would be looking at me like I looked at my instructors and former professors. I held these men and women in high esteem. I held them in such a high position that I felt that I was unworthy to be seen in the same category as were they. Yet, here I was, one night removed from standing in front of over 40 students travelling down the same path I had travelled only a few years earlier. 

Respect for the elderly and for those who have attained specific skills and knowledge has been lost in modern society. Many theories could be tossed about as to why this contention I have made is accurate, if you believe it to be true. Alongside a loss of respect for the elderly is a loss of respect for those who have attained higher education and knowledge in a specific pursuit.  A possible reason is the proliferation of knowledge via technology. Previous generations, such as mine, had to actually put effort into acquiring knowledge. We had to travel to places like libraries and open these relics called books to learn about a given subject that may have tickled our intellectual fancy. Presently, we don’t have to leave the house to learn about any subject that intrigues us. From a martial arts perspective, we used to have to travel mile upon mile to train and progress in our desired art. Today, especially with the onset of Covid-19, the martial arts industry has now been transformed into an athletic Netflix. Technology has been a blessing; in that it has brought knowledge to us in an expedient manner. It has also made us lazy. Ultimately, laziness breeds disrespect because it decries the discipline and effort required to earn knowledge and skill the old-fashioned way through blood, sweat, and tears. 

Technology can be a blessing or a curse. It is dependent on how it is used. A component of technology today that compounds the problem of a lack of respect of knowledge is social media. Like technology at the macro level, social media can be a blessing or a curse. It is a blessing in that we can reconnect with old friends that otherwise may have been lost to the passage of time. It is a blessing in that the things in life that interest us and bring us joy are available in an instant. It is a curse because it gives a voice to those whose voice is often uninformed. It allows those with only a modicum of knowledge on a given topic to be heard on an equal footing with those who have mastered their craft. In effect, social media often allows the noise to overshadow the symphony. 

While travelling, I pass the time by drowning out the world in the comfort of headphones while listening to music and podcasts. I listen to wide array of podcasts with ideas that I fully agree with, while other ideas I find detestable. By listening to divergent points of view, my own ideas and beliefs are bolstered. For the past 15 years, I have listened to Dr. Michael Savage and his syndicated show The Savage Nation. I do not agree with everything Dr. Savage espouses. I do not agree with everything anyone says. Presently, with the Covid-19 saga playing out before our eyes, Dr. Savage has pleaded his case as to the dangers of some possible treatments for the virus that have been touted by government officials and radio personalities such as hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Savage, with advanced degrees in areas such as Epidemiology, has stated his position on this possible treatment of the virus. No pun intended, but Dr. Savage has been savaged on Twitter for his views. 

I am a criminologist with doctoral level credentials. I am not an epidemiologist. I have little to no knowledge of epidemiology, virology, or the treatment of illness. I was shocked to witness the level of knowledge on Twitter regarding the miracle drug hydroxychloroquine. I could not have fathomed the number of epidemiological experts that we are blessed to have on Twitter and society after reading the comments lambasting Dr. Savage regarding his views on this avenue of treatment. It was an intellectual marvel to behold. He continues to be labeled as unintellectual, a moron, a fear monger…. The list goes on and on. Why? Because his adherence to science, the power of observation based on objectivity, and the audacity to question the powers that be trumps any loyalty to a political entity that has taken on the role of a god in American society.

I can relate to Dr. Savage because this has also happened to me. As a former magistrate, the enormity of the responsibility that I often faced was probably more than my young age was entitled to possess. It was a daunting feeling knowing that my signature would be the first phase of a process that would result in the person standing in front of me being subjected to the death penalty. Recently, on Twitter ironically, I was accosted by a legal expert (insert sarcasm here) that boldly proclaimed the source of American law lies not in the United States Constitution, but in legal precedent! 

The United States Constitution is the primary source of law in the United States of America. All law from the federal government all the way down to a small-town city ordinance, must conform to and comply with the original intent of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For example, if the State of Texas establishes the Church of Texas and compulsory baptism, this would be in direct conflict with the First Amendment. It would be of no consequence what legal precedent has been set that would lead to the passage of this type of law. 

It is interesting to note that the majority of protections offered by the Bill of Rights arise when a citizen becomes entangled with the state in an adversarial relationship such as being accused of a crime. If precedent rules the day, then I am left to ask my fellow Twitter scholars from whence do our legal protections come: The Bill of Rights, or the legal decisions based on the social, political, and religious whims of a sitting judge in a bygone era? Fortunately, this question has been answered, ironically by legal precedent.

“If courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of legislature, the Constitution […] must govern the case to which they both apply.”

“It cannot be presumed that any clause in the Constitution is intended to be without effect.”

“The Constitution is either a superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts […] alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.”

These quotes are by John Marshall from the case of Marbury v Madison (1803). They reflect what is known in legal and criminological parlance in America as the Supremacy Doctrine. Simply put, when any law or legal precedent comes into conflict with the protections and mandates of the Constitution, the victor shall be the Constitution. 

We have lost respect in America for knowledge and expertise. I have steadfastly resisted any attempts made by our students and colleagues to post videos of our self-protection classes on platforms such as YouTube because the level of effort to police the bad information relating to comments would be a full-time career. It simply isn’t worth the time and effort due to the number of uncredentialled experts that grace the highways and byways of the information superhighway. 

Does this mean that the ordinary citizen cannot have an informed opinion on a given topic? Of course not. What is being suggested here is that knowledge and earned credentials noting expertise are akin to respecting the elderly of a society. They are to be respected. They serve as a guidepost when examining what we know and believe. Those who have gone before us either in time, knowledge, or practice are there to guide us. This is not a two-way street bridled by the false god of equality. Experts are experts for a reason, in that they have paid their dues at the expense of time and effort. 

There is a saying in the security and martial arts industry that admonishes us to “stay in our lane.” What this means is simple: teach what you know. Don’t teach what you don’t know. Social media indeed gives you a voice. It may also give the world a window by which to view your disrespect and ignorance. 

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