Occasionally, I find myself in an interesting dialogue on Twitter. Yes, that’s right, Twitter. As much as I tend to knock the platform, there are a few times when I may have interesting interactions with others. There are a lot of good people out there, the problem is to find those that want to have a reasoned conversation – as much as any may call it on Twitter – and that dialogue ends up being productive. No derogatory language used, just simple discussion, on some very complex ideas. There are even solutions proposed and debated, all in the same sense that everyone in the conversation has an opinion, and each person has an equal opportunity to express theirs.
That’s what this post is about. The discussion has been on using language that tends to dehumanize someone else, based on their beliefs and how some do not believe that they may be able to express themselves fully without being bullied, or mobbed, whether it’s online or in person. Of course, we can talk a subject to death, but when it comes down to even agreeing on solutions, if there are any, how do they become implemented and then, how do we know that they are actually working as planned?
It’s clear, to everyone in the thread on Twitter that there is a problem with people not feeling as if they are able to express themselves without some consequences from the mob. That mob may be their peers in school, or some anonymous people online, but either way, no one wants to be shut down, called something egregious, simply because their opinion happens to differ from the majority, or even an outspoken minority. This happens quite a lot online, simply because people may be fairly anonymous and it’s easy to bully someone from a distance than face to face. In fact, and this is my opinion, most people, without the support of a mob, online or in person, are basically cowards that would never say some of the things we often hear about.
You may be thinking this is not the problem as I have described, so here are two essays, by eminent scholars, on this very subject. Pamela Paresky and her essay is here. Next is Jonathon Haidt, who actually described this problem almost four years ago, here. It’s interesting that since the latter, there seems to have been a lot of discussion, but nothing has changed. Of course, no one expects to wave a magic wand and discourse suddenly becomes civil. It’s taken decades to devolve where we have and it may take years (hopefully not decades) to reestablish what we have lost.
We can place some of the blame on social media, where people say whatever they want, normally, and even ideas and thoughts that others may consider toxic will find a following. I think that people want to feel a part of a group or community of sorts, no matter how poisonous it may appear. This is especially true I think, of young people, who are desperate to belong and will go along to be part of that in crowd. This is not just a problem for schools to address though as I believe there is parental responsibility as well. Of course, it’s easy for parents to push the problems they don’t want to address upon the education system, but education begins at home. I think the schools can reinforce but I have doubts whether or not they are the ultimate solution as when not in school, do these same kids revert to their prior behavior?
We have no one to blame but ourselves. Professionals like Paresky and Haidt, along with others may write and speak about this until the sun burns itself out, but until the rest of us begin to look at the problem seriously, nothing will change. These are raising the flag, but of we ignore the warning, the situation will only become worse. In fact, it has just in the last few years if anyone has been paying attention to the news.
One thought on “Respecting One Another’s Ideas”
Schools? Children can’t say anything in schools, unless it is approved by the mob, which may be teachers, who also must toe the PC line, because the mob above them of parents reinforced by administrators, school boards, superintendents, and State and Federal governing bodies under the Department of Educations.
Civil discourse in most public schools is gone. There is a price to pay if you disagree and speak your mind in public schools and we know what happens in the universities and even in colleges. Those kids are already trained in public schools to think and speak in PC.
So they whisper among their best and long-time friends if they are savvy, but say nothing in any social media or to a class or to an authority figure…and certainly not to the guidance counselor or school psychiatrist for gawd’s sake.
I am not so sure that civil discourse can return to most online forums. In fact, I simply do not think it is possible, unless the forum is already strict on the TOS and attracts intelligent and civil members to begin with.
It has always been that a person needs to know his or her audience and knowing that to judge what can be said. It is just that the audience is everywhere now, plus the audience is waiting to catch a transgressor and judge and execute them, because to small minds that signals their virtue.
I think that the most important lesson our kids must learn is that in todays digital world, they must be careful what they do and say from day one to forever. Then find a “safe place” to participate in civil discourse, but always consider the consequences of their words and actions.
There is no going back. But, since I don’t care a whit anymore, I can say …well, things I say anyway, which may be offensive, but that is the intention. But, I am self-employed, 65 and atheist, with only a few people that I don’t want to offend and very nearly an eccentric hermit, who would move farther away from the madding crowd if could. Still, I am not going to say or do anything that would cause my family grief, so I have to be wary some.
EMP of moderate size to fry the internet may be our only hope to return civil discourse. No, of course not. Yeah, maybe…
Until then…shrug and teach your kids wisely to stand alone in their minds and overtly when necessary.