Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Erosion of the Person

Dr. Stacy over at Accepting Abundance wrote a piece about the origin and definition of the word "person."  You really should go check it out, but to sum it up, she points out that our definition of "person" derives from the Christian debates about the Trinity in the first several centuries after Christ.

It was the history of this term I had in mind when I got engaged in a discussion about the effects of Facebook, Twitter, and the like over at The Thin Veil

Brandon Vogt, the blog's author, talks up this book by Nicholas Carr titled The Shallows.  Brandon and Mr. Carr's opinion is that internet social media erodes our connection between personality and the body, thus destroying or preventing real relationships.  To put it in Brandon's words, "most people use social media to have relationships devoid of physicality because physicality brings it with it so many other demands: the sacrifice of meeting at someone somewhere, the awkwardness of body language, the demystifying of physical appearance, etc."
I don't disagree!  He puts his case very well!  I just think it should be framed in context of the term "person."  Meaning, I agree that social media such as facebook "overall . . . stands firm against physical relationships, and more so against all things physical," but I think that this is just practical evidence of social media participating in secular society's gradual erosion of our understanding of the term "person," and society's gradual destruction of an appreciation for the intrinsic value of the "person." 

The below is a comment (with some edits) I made in the discussion.  Most of the discussion with Brandon Vogt was destroyed when Blogger experienced their little Ground Hog day reset.  Click the link to his blog above to see his reply! 

"Over at Dr. Stacy's blog, Accepting Abundance she quotes an essay by one Scott Gilbert. The quote struck me as a positive addition to our debate.
"In my eyes, the person who equates the death of a microscopic clump of human cells with the agony of a gassed Jew who has seen his family members, community, culture, and body systematically destroyed, has lost all moral authority."
I think this quote very well demonstrates the arbitrary-value system that you and I both know inheres in the modern secular man. I quote this, because he is basing the intrinsic worth of an individual on that individual's experience of society.

This is exactly what facebook, twitter, etc. has the danger of doing. Teaching society that worth is dependent upon the robustness of one's experience with society.

I think it telling that there are so many pictures of parties, and travels, and adventures on everyone's facebook profile. It is a given, people upload their personality into the internet, but I really don't think the seperation of the personality from your body is the issue!

Why? Because facebook is frequently used to encourage physical activity. That and twitter are where you post updates to the game, updates about the party, pictures to explain yourself, expose yourself, and draw others in (perhaps?) to your lifestyle.

When you're on facebook and get agitated with a brother, sister, son, daughter, husband or wife, you aren't getting agitated at them because of the disconnect between personality and body, but because of the disconnect between your understanding of the value of a person, and the actual value of a given person.

You get annoyed when you get distracted, because your sense of worth, and the worth and closeness of your friend is tied up in social experience. Someone is only worth your time and energy if the activities of their social life appeal to you, i.e. possess the cool factor, or the novelty factor.

As a result of facebook, twitter, etc. the beauty of monotony loses its color, and you behave as if there is no universal intrinsic value of a human person, you behave as if socialization is everything.


  1. First, only call me Dr. for kicks. I don't take that title too seriously any more, but I appreciate the respect. "Mom" is my title of esteem! ;-) "Dr. Stacy" cracks me up though.

    Regarding your post, I really like where you are going with this. It's something I've tossed around in my mind but haven't put a finger on as well as you have. There are some internet relationships I have with people I've never met in person and they are very dear to me...as souls. In some ways the internet allows for that kind of closeness that physical chit-chat doesn't, but in other ways it's way too shallowly social.

    I have such a friend of nearly 5 years who has written of God's glory as she travels the world. She's told me of climbing mountains, near death emergencies, and Christian neurosurgeons in Muslim countries. We're like soul mates, but I don't know her physical appearance. We've prayed together for many things, mostly our children.

    But there are also my kids who stand next to me and tap incessantly when I neglect them for internet socializing...

    Your understanding of personhood as a Marine, a philosopher, a husband, a father and a Christian intrigue me too. It seems you will have an insight that is very unique and true.

  2. Thank you for sharing!

    I have to admit, your post that mentioned the history of the term persona really blew my mind. I think that the frequent use of the term person in common every day speach shows that no matter who you are, you can't escape the patrimony of the Catholic Church.

    It makes sense that at the heart of all our debates is not so much the existence of God, but the dignity of the person. Kathleen Gilbert, a friend of mine from college who writes for lifesite, recently wrote on this topic. Somewhat. It is pretty good, I encourage you and everyone to read it!

    Her editor (my roommate from Freshman year), brought it to my attention after he read the post about secularism in society.