If you think it can always be talked out, you haven't been out there.


November 9, 2017

A friend of mine types variations of ha instead of “lol” on Facebook. Ha might indicate mild amusement or self-effacement; haha is the closest to real mirth; three starts to get pointed. (Sarah Larson wrote on the difference between social media “haha”s and “hehe”s in the New Yorker in 2015: “My ‘haha’s make me look the way I do in party photos: open-mouthed, loud, a little vulgar.”)  

Recently I shared a link on FB for a Washington Post article, “How the Russians Pretended to be Texans — and Texans Believed Them,” in which it was revealed the Russians helped inflame neo-secessionists. Matt, who’s from Texas, loves Texas, and has recently moved back to Texas, has not lost the power of reason. He wrote:

“Hahaha well. We should recap.
Things Texans have believed:
A) Jade Helm was a government take over of a state it already controls
B) Walmart is colluding with FEMA to construct Beware of Falling Prices Death Camps
C) ISIS is massing in Nuevo Laredo
D) Alex Jones
F) Angels are sentient beings sent from heaven to keep them safe while ignoring their seedy Craigslist requests”

“Muh Sam Houston!” he cried, imitating the duped Texans, when he shared the piece. “Muh freedoms!”

Matt’s real laugh sounds nothing like hahaha, so I’m left to read it as three long stressed syllables, a molossus of mockery. Hahaha is what you write when you’ve given up on dialogue; it’s the last word of the satirist, the scoundrel, the agitator, the powerless, the dispossessed, or the hardliner. Four syllables, a dispondee, amp things up further. Five or six have a musical roundedness but approach madness. Seven or more are unthinkable; one might as well Jerry Lee Lewis the keyboard, fjnznkvzfoffnzlnnzlcznlcznflzn, in a meta-statement about the failures of language and community, and the death of hope for connection. Seven—hahahahahahaha—will be Trump’s final tweet, and the last thing any of us will ever read.

A former Army scout and translator, Matt has always had a gift for walking among camps. His Facebook friends include antifa, alt-right militia types, tradesmen, investors, academics, students, veterans of our wars, citizens of countries we’ve waged war in, and American patriots who patriot so hard they want to break up the USA to save it. Matt’s unafraid to argue with his friends and sometimes mocks their nuttiness a little with hahahas, but from what I can tell they all remain friendly enough to keep talking, or at least not to defriend each other. 

That’s not easy, as I’m sure you know. Many of us have pockets of mutually-unintelligible friends these days, probably more so on social media than in walking-around life. (Though where I teach, a professor puts flyers on his office door in the main hallway of the liberal arts building, with messages such as, “Post Trump Selection Despair [two pages of taunts follow]...SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP!” Inspired, his colleague across the hall tapes a sheet to his door: “Does this remind you of anyone, Buttercup?” followed by a full page of Narcissistic Personality Disorder symptoms.)

Matt and I went to Standing Rock with the veterans in December, and I altered my FB feed by friending, liking, and following many Native Americans, veterans, and activist groups, both liberal and conservative. Those voices were added to ones from my hometown, army service, corporate jobs, grad school, teaching, writing, parenting, current town, etc. It’s not chaos, exactly, but there are violently opposing views. In the past, many of those people had never spoken frankly and directly to each other. 

Now, emboldened by the national climate and aided by technology, people will not only broadcast things long on their minds, but “friends” sometimes argue with other “friends” on our walls. It’s tempting to say this is good, if irritating—that if we’re to move on we must first communicate. But social media, despite its benefits, is still a distancing medium. 

Remember that George Carlin bit about how loudly you call some guy an asshole depends on how physically close you are to him?

"The amount of an asshole a person is, is directly proportional to the distance they are away from you at the time you discover this flaw. Someone on TV is REALLY AN ASSHOLE! Someone in the car is Pretty Much of an Asshole. Someone standing right next to you on line: <whispers> ‘That guy's a real asshole, huh?’ The closer they are, the nicer they get.”

Whatever you might say online about your Facebook friend’s buddy’s lifestyle, you know that guy isn’t likely to change out of his jammies and drive 14 hours in his Ford Focus with the leaky water pump to confront you in person at your front door, especially when you’ve been bragging online that you have more AKs cached in your basement than the Russian federal police. 

And any stance he might take in return—On the first day after I become emperor, you might as well look up, since the giant electromagnet the size of god will be there in the sky to suck up every gun in the republic. Hahaha! Have a good day bro. Also, yer an asshole—he can be assured that he’s the Defender of a Faith, in the Vanguard of Right Thought, with equal access to audience. Allies are never far away for Right Thoughts, and the usual confusers, muddlers, and equivocators help keep things going. 

It’s the age of absolutism, and we’re not just polarized but balkanized, without open warfare (yet—unless you count the slaughter of innocents). In this age of hard lines and helplessness, hahaha seems like a sane response. 


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