“We’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.” ~ Ray Williams, Anti-Intellectualism and the Dumbing Down of America
Can we talk?
I feel like the rooms inside my head are being rearranged. Every day my newsfeed sounds like furniture being pulled across a floor – sometimes it’s the vibrating screech of a full china cabinet being dragged across hardwood, the fragile dishes inside rattling like teeth, other times it’s the ripping sound of carpet fibers damaged by wheels on an office chair.
I try to navigate the chaos until it settles down, but in the meantime I keep stumbling gracelessy over the ottoman that goes with a couch I no longer own because it keeps getting pushed in front of the door when I’m in the can.
I like to beat metaphors senseless before I turn them loose.
The last several months have given me cause to examine many of my own beliefs, and it’s very uncomfortable. It’s partly due to legitimate articles and information about the state of the world and partly from the subsequent social media noise that information generates. Long-held views on feminism, race relations, the justice system, the government, and the human race as a whole have been slowly changing, morphing into a new perspective. My sense of humor is suffering: “Did I say that wrong? Will they understand what I meant? Will they understand that it’s ok to laugh at ourselves? Is it ok to laugh at ourselves?”
We are standing on the precipice of the most frightening presidential election that I can remember. It’s so hard to know when we are the dog or we are the tail – or the windshield, or the bug. It’s easy to forget that, assuming the other branches of our government exist, the world will not end immediately after the election of either candidate. The last time I was this apprehensive was pre-election 2008 – no matter how confident I felt in my choice, I feared I had been duped and would soon look back on that summer as the last good one that we would have before hell broke loose. And armageddon, and the zombie apocalypse.
I am similarly overwhelmed, but trying to be rational and informed. So, I am learning. Trying to listen, to hear. And the new opinions that I am cultivating from the seeds of the old scare the hell out of me.
Turns out I don’t agree with some people. (I KNOW RIGHT???!!!) And some of those people I don’t agree with, I happen to like. Even love a couple of them.
Change is hard – and cultural change is…well, it’s the bricks around the foundation of the house – the ones that have always been there. We may see the cracks, and the water on the floor of the basement, and the mildew, and the corners that are shifting, sinking – but we’d rather half-assedly clean it up and mend the damage as best we can, prop it up and move on, because to start over means we lose much of what is familiar along with everything that is broken. It’s very uncomfortable. As it should be.
Pieces of this post have been growing mold in my draft file ever since I wrote about how maybe everyone could stop being dicks about the gorilla. Remember that one? Oh, right – never published. A few days ago a friend wrote on a related theme, and I was reminded.
I am writing. Parenting, current events, my random lunatic humor. Some terrible, some less so. But before I publish or submit, I am hit by a wave of impotent rage, followed by exhaustion from what hasn’t happened yet. What’s the point? Why bother? I just followed a comment thread on a post that began with a hopeful message and quickly became mired in the sticky, reeking, jumbled rhetoric of trending causes and hatemongering that has become social media’s incoherent battle cry: #hatesomething! A million voices struggling to be heard, a million flies buzzing. And no one is listening.
The reasonable person standard is dead. Not only are we unwilling to use it in the objective context in which it was intended, we have become so myopic we are only able to cast ourselves as the benchmark. We are no longer concerned with what a reasonable person would do – only how we would have done better.
Can we talk?
But we can posture and marginalize and stereotype. We can slam doors and block each other and write passive-aggressive facebook posts. We can simultaneously cast blame on everyone and absolve ourselves of responsibility. We can behave like giant toddlers with smart phones and demand that all our friends like the same things and the same people or they can’t sit with us at lunch. We can shout down those who don’t agree. When that doesn’t work, we can stalk and harass and threaten and gather our mobs and maliciously hope that our numbers succeed where our humanity failed. Ad hominem is no longer a logical fallacy that those who argue effectively strive to avoid – it’s the go-to strategy. It is the ONLY thing that unites us – aside from a trending hashtag.
So if I’m so disgusted by it, if I believe what I just wrote, why am I still here? Because who needs that, right?
Mostly right. Except.
It’s not news that freedom of speech means that even people with ignorant or bigoted viewpoints get to talk. And this reactionary shitstorm that scrolls by our newsfeed everyday? That’s the conversation.
We may not like it, but it’s the only one we have, until we change it.
If you want things to change, you want to make a difference – you have to keep talking. Participate. You don’t have to jump in the middle of the latest political brawl, or whatever silliness is being perpetrated against whichever celebrity, unless that’s your thing – but your words count. Use them. Use your ears, too.
If you don’t, then only the loudest voices can be heard. The scary, irrational ones talking out of their asses. People who scorn your unique perspective – they want you to be quiet. And you are unlikely to change them – there is a reason they are loud and oppressive. But sometimes all it takes is one person to be unfraid to stand up, for others who are on the fence to feel safe to follow.
Terrible things can grow in complacent silence; art, creativity and compassion die in the void created by misunderstanding and hatred. We have to do better. Because here’s the kicker – love doesn’t win. It can’t – there is no finish line. Love will never win, but it can’t lose, either.
It can only persevere.