This month has been particularly brutal on social media. I only frequent one platform and yet somehow that one little corner of the world recently became a bit unfriendly and hostile.
It all began a few weeks ago when a young woman posted a lengthy description of her annual experimentation with hallucinogenic mushrooms (Psilocybin). I have followed her for quite some time; she is a respected (and obviously gifted) photographer of fungi. While she is a complete stranger, I have learned enough from her images to know she often takes her young child and sometimes other children along with her on her expeditions. On the day in question she posted an image of hemlock trees and mysteriously captioned it, "This is where everything changed," following it with an image of a paper towel covered in mushrooms and a dreamy soliloquy on how out of her mind she'd become, adding it might not wear off in time for her to fulfill a responsibility later that evening...well, I was disappointed.
Not only was I disappointed in her complete disregard for her own safety, but also in her seeming disassociation with her role as someone's mother. Where was she? Where was her toddler?
This woman's behavior is one of the primary reasons I visit our public lands so infrequently. I have experienced enough disarming behavior to avoid traveling outside my own small hamlet. In fewer than six months, my son and I encountered the following:
- a glass pipe filled with brown residue discarded along a trail
- a syringe tucked beneath a log to conceal a used needle
- liquor and beer bottles scattered along virtually every hiking trail
- cigars wrappers, cigarette butts and vaping paraphernalia along every hiking trail
- and... to my surprise, a used condom at my feet (in a Visitor's Center parking lot)
Each of these incidents took place in small, public parks or preserves within my own county. And each of these incidents made me question what is taking place on our public lands. So, when the same young mother - and talented photographer - who at one time expressed her own disgust at finding syringes in her own part of the Keystone State - was live-posting on social media about all the, "3D geometric shapes," her mind had made after she ingested a handful of wild mushrooms and how, "[insert profanity here] beautiful," it all was...I was understandably disappointed.
I could only imagine hiking with my own child and discovering her - another mother - stoned out of her mind, unable to function - tripping on a public trail. Seriously? [Insert profanity here]. When I asked her if she was with children and, whether or not she was on private land...she blocked me.
Wow. I feel so badass.
I cannot honestly say I am concerned for her safety or, that of her child - as I do not know them in person. I think I am more surprised by the number of users celebrating her decision to forage for and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms. I'm annoyed by the prospect of meeting others who might be doing the same thing here in my Pennsylvania woods.
Right now, today, the U.S. Forest Service reports 114 wildfires are raging in the United States - a total of 1.6 million acres of private, state, tribal and federal land. An inter-agency collective of a mind-blowing twenty-eight thousand fire personnel are deployed, risking their lives to fight fires and save land and property. For whom? A growing population of Americans with little else to do but seek their next high?
Earlier in the week, when I was watching a hoard of near-microscopic red ants swarm the carcass of a cicada, I was reminded of countless studies focused on ant communication. The Feinerman quote describing brains versus brawn speaks succinctly to social media...
Last week news that a well-known herbalist has been arrested and charged with choking an apprentice was making the rounds. I was completely unaware of the incident. It seems another (younger) popular herbalist was repeatedly asked for comment on the incident and when she addressed it, she was met with support for her opinion...
The muscle arrived - amplification of her opinion - arrived swiftly and immediately in the form of supportive comments to her brief social media post. As the brains - the informed, knowledgeable herbalist - she has amassed loyal Followers and they attempted to amplify her opinion with their own stories of abuse at the hands (and mind) of the more well-known herbalist.
Abuse of power, abuse of trust, abuse of knowledge. Roughly 1,500 visitors and Followers agreed or empathized with (i.e. tapped the Like button) her sentiments.
Those who support the elder herbalist came out in full force and they, too dedicated time and effort to defending her opinion. The muscle for the elder herbalist - the woman accused - were prepared to amplify their mentor's perspective of the incident (which she had volunteered via podcast on Herbal Radio).
Like ants...each herbalists' followers worked under extreme stress (shaming, gaslighting, bullying, intimidation) to in essence, amplify, their individual leaders' message (the message of the woman they believe to be most informed). Informed on the topic of herbalism. Informed on the topic of abuse. Informed on the topic of the arrest incident.
The ants have one task to achieve - dismantle and/or move the cicada carcass to the nest. The informed (the brains), direct the behavior of the workers (the muscle).
That's just it though...the younger herbalist was not directing her Followers. As I read her post, she simply attempted to speak to a current topic while opining, it is important that every Wise Woman recognize and evaluate her behavior if she finds she must repeatedly justify her actions...
The wisdom surely does not come from the crowds. The enabling and irresponsible masses who celebrated a young mother willingly hallucinating in the woods astounds me. The pack mentality that I watched come to a head in defense of two women, neither of whom requested justification of their behavior/opinion, astounds me. Homo sapiens? I wonder.
We are not ants. We are the wise. And the ants? Ants exchange roles. The informed - the brains - willingly trade places - for the advancement of the group - with those who have a better grasp on the most current information. Which species do YOU think is superior?
Social media has created a feral population willing to fight using our fingertips, battling unseen foes in a virtual Colosseum. How can so many otherwise intelligent and talented people blindly celebrate or vilify each other's behavior without hesitation, without taking one moment to learn more? And worse, when those who seek information aren't given the courtesy of a direct reply, but rather muted, is that reasonable behavior for a species purported to be the wisest of all?
It seems the advice given by the young herbalist may ring true: it is our responsibility to recognize and evaluate our behavior. Our own behavior. We are not ants. And wisdom does not come from the crowds. Every one of us is responsible for our own behavior. Maybe one day we will each be so effective in our role we will be willing to cooperate or relinquish it altogether for the benefit of the species. ♥
This essay was originally published as part of my Midsummer Project, posted August 16, 2018.