I’d like to talk a little bit about modern celebrity culture, social media and it’s role in our lives, and some real positive role models.
Firstly, I’d like to completely admonish our current obsession with celebrities, and what constitutes a “celebrity” in modern media. It’s no big secret that with the rise of reality television, influencer culture, and social media – we have seen a remarkable shifting in our media reporting on people of “importance”.
The life and style sections are now littered with B-grade celebrities, meandering their way through life, creating faux scandals and outrage. When someone is famous due to being the daughter of someone famous and constantly in the zeitgeist for making a sex tape and has a billion dollar empire due to that – you can see how society has faulted.
These people are ever present on social media, promoted and seen by millions, often with little or nothing of use to say except doing exploitative capitalism.
Social media has created an environment where the world’s main communication platforms are effectively high schools, and the level of discourse on most of these platforms matches that age bracket also. Popularity contests that drive people to act in ways that demean us as rational animals.
Even with 280 characters, Twitter is an awful place for any sort of reasoned argument or discussion. While I use the platform, I find myself going to reply – typing a reasoned response, hitting the character limit, and then deciding not to publish the tweet as I cannot effectively construe the level of nuance required in such a small amount of text. Only long threads can resolve this, making it more of a here’s my case type scenario, I rarely reply to people if I cannot make my point clear within a single 280 character tweet.
Facebook on the other hand is by far the most toxic of all the platforms, a website based on sociopathic algorithms designed to keep you engaged as long as possible, and constantly using analytics to determine how to keep you on the site for longer, as this is how they generate their advertising revenue. The company itself has no ethical standards, shirks at it’s responsibility to maintaining democracy, and actively discourages it – as evidenced by their acceptance of political advertising based on lies and slander. Delete Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp now. If they’re really friends you’ll find a way to connect outside of these apps.
As Stoic practice has taught me, specifically memento mori (a reminder of the inevitability of death), the question I ask myself is this: Does social media actually benefit my life or do my contributions materially improve the lives of others? Would I regret not spending more time on it? Mostly no, recently yes to both, due to COVID-19.
Twitter is my social media poison of choice, and I’ve been drinking from the chalice a lot since COVID-19 hit. It’s had mostly positive effects, and despite how little it may seem, you can cause ripples in the waters of people’s lives. I’ve had people message me with their changes of voting intentions due to something I’ve posted. Generally using evidence based policy arguments to encourage people to vote Greens in Aotearoa.
My speaking out about mental health issues has both caused stress, anxiety and eliminated much chance of future employment at certain types of companies. This is of little consequence to me due to the people who respond to me to say thank you, or to let me know they feel a little less alone. Because we’re better if we know these things. I’ll shine a light on the darkest parts of my life if it helps someone.
Indeed, I have been influenced by others also. I left extinction rebellion after a deserved critique of their colonial nature by one of my favourite Twitter people, this was our first interaction. I’ve come from a yes to a no on euthanasia, despite me seeing the consequences first hand of what a no vote might mean for people like my Dad whom returned to nature. The lived experience of people affected is generally the strongest evidence on issues of morality such as this.
My Role Models
The rise of both social media and celebrity culture has created an environment where I believe that a lot of people today look to celebrities as role models, this is almost always detrimental – those actually possessing virtuous qualities are few and far between.
So I’d like to offer a few of my current role models:
Bernie Sanders may never be president of the United States, however his life is something that most could only ever aspire to – a life dedicated to fighting for the underdog in society, championing issues such as civil rights, gay rights, and disability rights long before most of these issues became popular or even acceptable to support.
Looking back at Bernie Sanders’ record is the reason why I believe he is still, after losing the nomination, the best choice for President of the United States in 2020 (and was also in 2016). Authenticity and integrity with politicians seems to be a rare commodity in modern politics, one only has to look at most right wing parties to see the absolute void where these qualities should be. Especially so in US/UK/Australian politics.
However Bernie is everything he says he is, and he has the record to prove it. He has consistently voted on the right side of all major issues – such as voting against going to war with Iraq, voting for the expansion of LGBT rights, voting for the expansion of health care for all. His plan for Medicare for All – something we are lucky to have (almost) here in New Zealand shows a level of understanding of the problems and issues within the US health system – with a reasoned solution to deal with the problem.
The man is 78 years old, and is still fighting for these rights for others, well past the age of retirement – as he believes his job is not done. If all politicians had as much integrity as Bernie Sanders, the world would be a better place.
It’s somewhat refreshing to have a role model so close to home. My current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is definitely a role model to me, which may come as a surprise to those of you who have seen me be critical of her on various platforms.
After March 15th, 2019 – The Christchurch Mosque attack, the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand’s history that left 51 of our fellow Muslim countrymen lost to senseless violence – I remember seeing reported shooting on reddit that day, and was glued to news websites for updates once the threat seemed serious, a mixture of anxiety, grief, and despair coursing through me.
As a nation we entered into a state of severe grief – most of us unable to process the immense tragedy that had taken place. It was during this time that we got to see what a real compassionate leader should look like.
Jacinda’s speech in the hours that followed the atrocious attack was something we all needed to hear. While a lot of the sentiment in the speech is debatable – the key line “They are us” especially due to our racist culture, her belief in what she said and her respect to wear a headscarf whilst meeting the Muslim communities who had been directly affected by the attack showed a leader with real integrity.
Jacinda has also been a driving force on the world stage, for a country with very little in the way of hard power, she has used our soft power to drive forward conversations on inclusiveness, restriction of violent material on the internet, and climate change on a global level.
The main issue however I have with Jacinda is that her movement on child poverty, poverty in general, climate change action, and making a fairer New Zealand have been subdued to largely ineffective policies, and a failure of commitment of resources to tackle these issues. So while she speaks of these issues internationally, the domestic translation of her speeches seems to be missing – which is pretty heartbreaking to be honest.
One of the few mainstream (in New Zealand) celebrities from a media perspective that I actually really admire. TJ is possibly my favourite All Black ever. An extremely outspoken and positive male role model that uses his platform for good. When Israel Folau decided to go all old testament on the gay community, TJ was quick to refute and dismiss his harmful statements instead offering a message of inclusion.
Alongside this, TJ Perenara and Sonny Bill Williams were known for running a talking group within the All Blacks where men could come and discuss their real life problems in a safe and open environment in order to foster a community of support. This sort of real world application of positive masculinity only served to make me believe that TJ is the sort of person we could all learn something from, and his integrity will carry him far in life after he retires from playing sport.
Possibly one of the most influential figures in my life recently. He has inspired many great men, world leaders, politicians, sportsmen. He was a dedicated practicing Stoic philosopher, and considered the last of the five good Emperors of Rome.
His private writings and journaling are known the world over, the book labelled now “Meditations” consisted of his own personal account and dedication to his philosophy. He’s a constant source of inspiration. He lead his people with care and grace, fighting wars and countering insurgencies using sometimes only his words.
For a look at how you can improve your life using lessons from this truly remarkable person I really recommend How To Think Like A Roman Emperor – The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald Robertson. He gives an amazing account of the life, lessons, and the practical philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
Me – Ten years from now
This is the role model that inspires me most, and that I look to constantly – yes – me. If I look back at myself, ten years ago, I was a completely different person – I took steps to rectify a lot of my worst qualities, took an honest look at my shortcomings (after overhearing friends speak frankly about them), and have made real strides to take responsibility for who I am as a person. I underwent a moral inventory, something I still do now to make sure I am being the best that my humanity has to offer.
In the last 10 years the following major life events have taken place:
- I came out as bisexual – carrying this secret around with me for so long caused me an immense amount of personal anguish, constantly having to hide a part of who I was in order to try and fit in with what I thought was expected of me took a mental toll that I now no longer carry.
- I got diagnosed with ADHD and Autism- while this might seem negative, having a name for the problems you are experiencing and a treatment plan go a long way to making your life better, despite the diagnosis.
- I graduated my degree in a Bachelor of Software Engineering
- I worked on and had published four mobile games – including the game I am most proud of FlutterVR.
- I met and married my soulmate – and the strength of our bond sustains me on a daily basis.
- I ‘cured’ my depression (I don’t suffer from depression these days, just massive emotional dysregulation – It’s different because I identify the source of the feelings).
- I found a complete and satisfying philosophy that guides my living day to day – Stoicism has given me a far more complete sense of purpose and direction that I was lacking.
- I began to live my strong moral code in everyday life. I will even do this at detriment to myself because if the cause is just, then whatever consequences come I know they exist in a place of immorality. (Being moral in an amoral world is hard at times and can have unintended consequences).
- I became vegetarian, with very limited dairy.
- I made a host of new friends with genuine and honest qualities. I also learned when to cut toxic people from my life.
- I started a business with my wife.
- I learned to finally listen, reflect and say these words without fear – “I’m sorry, I was wrong.”
- I never stopped learning from people around me willing to give their time, and their advice has allowed me to thrive and become the best version of myself.
I also had some pretty major struggles also in the last ten years, and while difficult, these experiences have only strengthened my character, my beliefs, and my goals for the future. I am proud of who I am today, but I will be even prouder of the person I am in ten years. I live with the goal to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
I use Stoic practices to measure myself in a frank and honest fashion and to work on those areas where I can see my weaknesses. It’s through this constant assessment and planning that I know ten years from now, I will have done incredible things with my life, and improved the lives of others.
This is the role model we should all aspire to have, for what better role model to have than the person you really want to be in ten years.