My Uncle, 2018

My mother has five siblings. One of them is a physician. He tutored me in mathematics when I was about sixteen. That helped for a while, although my grades dropped inexorably shortly after. In recent years I only met him in sporadic family gatherings. Today we are in contact through social media.

I could define myself as a social media passive user. Mostly I read about what my friends are doing or writing, I also watch some videos and I read articles, interviews, essays and other texts that I find interesting. I don’t use this particular forum to convey elaborated thoughts or to engage in extensive debates on complex issues. I seldom write, more often I repost items of content. My activity can be compared to an extremely loose and fragmented demonstration, without an univocally identified claim. Here and there I pull out a placard, some have a political content, others don’t.

Through social media, I got to know my uncle as a very conservative man, a practising Catholic, vegan and an animal rights supporter. He posts both sweet videos of cats and virulent and polemical comments on politically relevant topics. Most of the time I’m able to ignore them but occasionally their indecency crosses my tolerance threshold. In a few occasions we had a quarrel. In retrospect, I’m not particularly proud of my rhetoric performances and the brilliance of my arguments. Moreover I was probably too easily dismissive. In my defence, I was certainly tired, frustrated, annoyed, angry.

Within that context, several unfavourable circumstances were undoubtedly an obstacle to a constructive debate based on mutual understanding of each other’s arguments; lack of will, time, norms, perhaps comfort and probably different agendas.

On top of that, the demonstrative nature of our arguments was also exacerbated by its potential audience. Other users could see and follow the development of the debate, therefore fully or partially identifying with one or the other’s position.

I guess my point is the following: the fact that the discussion is accessible for others doesn’t necessarily make the method with which it is conducted more democratic. The debate can, under unfavourable conditions, become less constructive instead, more rigid and reductive. This can be beneficial in terms of consensus (collecting likes as votes) but rather harmful if one is aiming at expanding one’s vision and finding new grounds for mutual understanding.

Perhaps one of these days I’m going to visit my uncle for a coffee and a proper chat.