Here is my hippocratic oath

 

You should take one too. It’s NOT about medicine.

You may have noticed that, sometimes, some tiny bit of outrage is shared on the Internet. Someone sees something outrageous and does the right thing: instantaneously, automatically finds and shares online, with properly outraged comments, as many confirmations as possible that that thing (above all: the specific person doing it) is TOTALLY bad. REAL bad. SURELY bad.

That is outrage porn

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The term outrage porn was coined by essayist Tim Kreider in 2009 to describe “manufactured indignation, optimized for virality”.

“Manufactured” and “optimized” are the key terms here.

“[S]ocial media, financial incentives and the pitfalls of human psychology have coalesced into a perverse production line, in which we are producer-consumers. Outrage porn is exploited by culture war profiteers, weaponized by memetic tribes, leveraged by wokonomic capitalists and kept alive by an outrage industrial complex.”

“Every angry retweet and snarky reply turns us into useful idiots for the outrage porno machine.”

“Our perpetual outage has reduced our agency, ruined our sense-making apparatus and rendered us powerless to confront the numerous risks that require long-term, collective decision-making.”

The three paragraphs above are my preferred quotes from “Hippocratic Oath for the Culture War”.

Hippocratic what?

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Hippocrates is the Greek physician who lived about 25 centuries ago, and is traditionally regarded as the “father of medicine”. The original Hippocratic Oath, attributed to him, is the one taken by doctors wordlwide, for thousands years now, to “treat the ill to the best of one’s ability”.

The Culture War version

The original Hippocratic oath is all about “Do No Harm”. The article from which I took those quotes strongly argues that “a Hippocratic oath for content creators is one possible avenue by which we could improve our social media climate”. Here are the introduction and some points, synthesized, of the first version of the Oath (2019):

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

  • I will be truthful in content creation.
  • I will create content and engage others in the hope of improved understanding.
  • I will engage in the principle of humanity when interpreting motives.
  • I will conduct myself with intellectual humility.
  • I will have evidence for the propositions I put forth.

The full version is here. Go read it carefully, and please take the oath.

My version

As far as I am concerned… like everybody else, I cannot be mathematically sure that I never did anything worth of public outrage, and calling out. Outrageousness is in the eye of the beholder, these days. For everybody.

But I have always tried to do my best to apply something very similar to that Oath, and intend to keep doing it:

“Be frank, but nice. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Online and offline, keep mouth and keyboard shut unless it’s absolutely necessary. “

So, take THAT Oath, or take my own version, or anything in between. But do take some Oath like those. Possibly, but not necessarily, in public.

Yes, to a certain extent, this is just “virtue signalling”. But the problem with outrage porn and pointless culture wars is just that they are concretely harmful, even if the only active participants are minorities. Besides, we are all “content creators”, not just regular bloggers or Youtube/Instagram influencers. As far as this Oath is concerned, every comment on every social media, or WhatsApp, Telegram etc… is “content creation”. Every one of us is a “public figure”.

Therefore, even a small percentage of internet users publicly taking such an oath can make a concrete difference. Because, quoting again:

“What we need are public figures who want dialogue, not victory - civic care, not civic destruction”.

Images sources: MemeGenerator, and seveal ancient copies of the Hippocratic Oath from Wikipedia

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