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.