Alternate Title: How hearing so many voices is muffling our ability to acknowledge and understand the point
So, I’ll be up front. This is an observation that I’ve been wondering about on-and-off again for the past few years and I know many others have been too.
In my head, it’s linked to cancel culture, ghosting, critical thinking, assimilation, fake news, the individual vs the collective, and so much more. So, it’s probably a recognized social side effect of globalization.
Anyway, I wanted to write this down somewhere. And I figure this space works at least marginally better than in a random notebook. At least online, someone might recommend an article or YouTube video that discusses this more.
So, here’s my part rant, part theory.
How the times have changed
Here’s a spoiler about me: I’m young.
So, whenever I see concepts referencing or comparing things to the 70’s or 80’s, my brain goes: “ah. Is this a fair representation of what went down? Or is this history being crafted by certain narratives? Yikes, social media can be toxic, but at least it’s easier to discover different perspectives.”
Hold up, though.
Is it easier to discover different perspectives?
Consider the “oversaturation” of music or TV shows. Or all the tweets when there’s a new controversy on the scene.
How often does the average person separate music or tweets into distinctions beyond, “good vs bad” or “for X vs against X?” Maybe you might have a “somewhere in the middle.” But doesn’t that middle often include “some objectively incorrect information” alongside “I have mixed feelings?”
Isn’t there something odd about that?
You see, while it’s arguably way easier in modern times to discover and dive into opinions and ideas that oppose your own. It also seems to be easier to have those beliefs undermined by the same people claiming to uphold them.
What do I mean? What does this have to do with objective information being grouped with opinions?
Let’s make up an example: let’s say that this blog happens to blow up. I start trending. Maybe people outside blogging start to catch on too. A YouTuber mentions me, someone creates a subreddit for this blog, and maybe even the big news outlets publish an article or two.
…But, I’m an anonymous blogger. Even if there’s nothing controversial about any of my posts, we all know people will start to speculate why I’m anonymous.
[I mean, there’s a mystery afoot.]
Some people will naturally be distrustful that I choose to hide my real identity. Some may argue it’s a secret way to garner attention. Others might go into full conspiracy mode and claim I’m trying to control the strings of the people as a digital puppeteer. And at least one person is going to attempt to analyze everything I’ve written on here and claim I am X ethnicity and Y gender. Plus, someone is going to demand I reveal myself “if I have nothing to hide.”
So, tell me. How would you “sort” each of those Point of Views?
Is someone who calls me “problematic” because of X, Y, and Z, in the same vein as someone who goes “I just have a weird feeling about UO” and insists that I be closely watched?
Is a person who just thinks my posts are “whatever” in the same realm as someone else who shares that opinion, but also knowingly spreads objectively false info about my blog?
You might say, “no.” But, aren’t these “opposing” perspectives often grouped together? Aren’t most people more likely to say “haters of UO think this” than “some people just don’t like UO’s post and others make-up lies about what’s on the blog.” Even if you claim that it’s for brevity and people instinctively consider there’s differences, is that even true? Because I’ve watched people dismiss the “other side” on principle, more and more as time goes on, until it boils down to “us vs them” (and maybe an audience eating popcorn).
This would mean, on the other hand, while it is arguably easier to come across new perspectives now versus in the past. I think it’s also becoming harder to understand them and tell them apart. There’s so much going on and hordes of varying fractions, but we tend to just group it all. It’s usually black, white, and a shade or two of gray, at best.
[Not that it’s incomprehensible why we do so. At some point, we need to simplify and make judgement calls to keep things moving. Otherwise, won’t we be crushed by the complexities of it all?]
Valid idea or just meaningless bare-bones?
If you’re reading this post, you’ve likely come across and have opinions about Cancel Culture, Black Lives Matter, the Me Too Movement, and a host of other socially-charged concepts, movements, and organizations. And you might be curious what those things have to do with our (seemingly) collective inability to not group separate individual’s opinions (and actions) under a broad category and call it a day.
Well, here’s the thing: ideas change the world. So, the less momentum behind it, the harder it is to discuss, and the easier opponents can undermine it… often makes it less likely to spread and be widely accepted. [At least, that’s my two cents.]
For instance, have you noticed how people that seem “larger than life” seem to often transform from being looked at as “human” into just an “idea?” I mean, that’s part of how they manage to accumulate such stardom. Masses of people abandon their ability to go “wow, Beyonce/BTS/Taylor Swift/Justin Bieber/Obama/Trump/Lady Gaga/The Kardashian/(insert whoever) are human. Maybe they’re not relatable to everyone. They make bad decisions, have biases, and are ignorant about something just like me.” As we’ve seen time and time again, this crucial truth can be forgotten for fans to “stan” and sometimes dismiss valid criticism or attack someone for saying “eh, I’m just not a fan.”
[And for the record, let’s not forget that some people on the outside looking in also love to dismiss or ostracize a whole fanbase.]
Now, maybe you’re able to look at the people I initially listed and go: “actually, no. I’m quite aware they’re human just like me. Also, that their fans are not them, but are also capable of behaving good, bad, and in-between.” If so, then you’re on the right path (I think). But, can you also apply that same acceptance towards a member of a company or an organization? After all, any ideology or movement exists because people and organizations allow it to thrive, support it, and (often) try to give creditability to it.
So, if it is proven that a women falsely accused a man of sexual assault, but was initially rallied behind by the #MeToo movement, how do you perceive it? How do we collectively see it? What do we do and what’s the narrative we accept and tell? And what’s the damage that was done?
If the majority of people in a country legitimately vote against democracy, would you find that acceptable? Should the people that voted for democracy be subjected to the new rules? And how would history books fifty years in the future describe it?
If a woman desires to be a “house wife” in modern-day America, how would you view that? Is she automatically lesser or above other women because of her desire? What about a man wanting to be a “house husband?” Are either undermining some universally accepted way of life?
[For the record, I’m not trying to toss shade towards or denounce any particular person, group, or movement. But, I am hoping that my examples make you pause a second and consider things more. Hopefully, no one complains about me playing Devil’s Advocate some.]
You see, ideas can be powerful. But, if you’re doubting the integrity of its core principles then it’s likely no longer about if there’s a point to be made for it or if there’s a person damaging the concept. It’s all just meaningless bare-bones.
If you promote demonizing supporters or even anyone acquainted with a supporter…
If a “bad” follower is the pinnacle example of why the concept or movement should be ridiculed…
Or if you add enough dirt and controversy…
Then it’s like a game of Jenga and it just comes crumbling down. Sure, sometimes the person or idea has a strong enough foundation to withstand the attacks and slip-ups, but they’re impacted, cracked even. And sometimes there’s someone (or many people) left behind to point out that mistake or flaw at a later date.
And well, in a world that often views mistakes and criticism not simply as a cause for growth (and accountability), but often enough as a sign of being helplessly rotten, who and what is respectable narrows. Meanwhile, who and what is worth our ire and shame only grow.
Okay, but what does all this mean?
Once upon a time, society was simpler. “First World” problems weren’t a real concern or national debate.
[Or at least, that’s how history has been explained to me. I’m willing to guess things are often more complicated when you’re living it versus reading about it decades into the future.]
Once upon a time, you often got your news from the local newspaper, someone you knew, or perhaps a spokesman for your country. Today, that still happens. But, they’re not the only ones spreading the information you’re likely getting. We’re living in the digital age, after all.
[Btw, I’m not claiming that major news sources or even the local newspaper are always more legitimate or neutral than a stranger on YouTube or Twitter. By now, I’m hoping you understand that anyone and anything can be deemed not credible (and actually, factually so).]
However, I do wonder if there’s something to be said about knowing who you’re getting your information from. And I keep thinking about the literature teachers I had in school and how they would insist that we look up the authors of our books before reading them.
Makes sense, right?
I mean, people are always influenced in some degree by the environment and era they lived in. It shapes their ideas, principles, how they communicate, and so much more.
…But how easy is it to do that for a stranger? I imagine most people tweeting or commenting on Facebook or Reddit, don’t provide a biography of their life including their most noteworthy failures and controversial statements and actions. And even if they did, I’m sure most people would stop to read it before reading the post.
So, if I can’t be sure that the information I’m getting is credible, but I also can’t always investigate the credibility of who wrote/said it… then what am I stuck with?
Have you ever played the game telephone?
It’s a children’s game where everyone gathers in a circle or line. The first player comes up with a message and then whispers it into the second player’s ear. The goal of the game is to carry the same message along to the final player, who will say it aloud to the whole group. Rarely, is the final message the same as the original.
The first time I played this game was in the fourth grade. The message was something like, “I like apples a lot.”
I, one of the last people, heard something like “blahbabah gu.“ I am serious. It was total gibberish.
Well, it turned out that the first student who repeated the message had misunderstood from the start. So, by the 3rd of maybe the 16th exchange, most people were shrugging or making weird faces when it was their turn to hear.
[Mind you, most students heard a similar “baby talk” just take or add a syllable. So, this is what happened with most of us basically reciting the same thing.]
I mention that game and my experience because it’s just so easy for information to change and for ideas to lose their original meaning, even with good intentions and especially as more people are involved. And of course, with news and rumors, the average person isn’t even obligated to try and keep the story accurate.
It’s becoming so common for someone to learn A and B information and form X opinion, only to find out B might be false and that C and D are being debated. And because we’re regularly bombarded by different people’s views (which is often a chaotic mix of opinions and misinformation); judged, scolded, or possibly shamed when we want a break; and the media can just find something else to talk about (sometimes things that are genuinely “worthy” of press coverage)… being connected can be too much.
So, what now?
How do we fix it? How do we cope?
Well, we’re not all going to wake up tomorrow and let “bygones be bygones.” Misinformation will still be a problem. “Us vs Them” will still be an issue. There’s no magic fix or law that will tackle this. It’s not a surface-level problem. It’s something ingrained in how our systems work and how we view one another.
Obviously, society at large isn’t going to suddenly disconnect. So, if anything our best option is to learn how to handle it.
[Because honestly, as much as I like watching the chaos in a movie, it’s unsettling in large doses in real-life. And watching conspiracies grow and our actual reality looking like the set of a dystopian movie is frankly depressing.]
So, this is what I got…
Pretend there is no longer “right” and “wrong,” only the perception of them.
You see, because misinformation is so rampant, we can already see things that are objectively right labeled as “opinion.” And
since we can’t trust facts to overweigh opinions if facts can be spun to fit a narrative that undermines the objective truth, then we need an approach that still allows us to keep going. After all, we can’t control how other people react, only ourselves.
Thus, I offer you the “Middle Ground Maneuver” or MGM, for short.
The MGM is my idea that regardless of what you know, you’re stuck somewhere in the middle. There is no black or white simplicity, only the ocean of gray. Chances are any idea/movement/organization can’t objectively be fully right or wrong. Because people are flawed and it only takes one person to make a mistake (or claimed to have done so) for the dragging, undermining, and dismissal to begin.
But, if we start from the belief that whatever comes our way isn’t perfect and might be incorrect then maybe we’ll be more likely to reenvision our maneuvers and:
- Stop demonizing anything that opposes our views. It doesn’t matter if you’re consistently accepted as right, a good portion of society will denounce or ignore you on principle if you just attack and insult them regularly. Which then just perpetuates the current polarization and discord. [We might need to meet people halfway that we would hate to, if only to understand where they’re coming from and adjust our approach and how we communicate. At the least, just aim for common decency.]
- Take a breather and investigate. Look at different sources for your news. Don’t share an article just based on the headline. Look into who said it. If you’re concerned about a specific situation then attempt to look at it from different angles. Try and see the bigger picture, not just the corner of the puzzle that makes you feel righteous.
- Consider the how alongside the why. Sometimes it’s not why you did something, but how. A person’s approach to an issue has the ability to undermine and devalue their own goal. So, before deciding it’s “worth it” to threaten violence or actually harm someone, take a moment to think things over. Your actions aren’t just viewed as insight into who you are, but whatever group the headline wants to monopolize. Your nation, job, gender, ethnicity, and more are all buzzwords to the media and the internet.
- Acknowledge that in many social situations there is no perfect answer. It’s nice to think that there is a right answer to everything. However, in social situations, each individual has their own set of rules, beliefs, desires, and perspectives to contend with. Problems don’t arise just because someone makes a mistake or intentionally causes damage. Problems also naturally happen when we’re interacting with others or just trying to experience life within our own realm of understanding. Thus, a problem isn’t necessarily an “attack” on one’s values or happiness. It’s a barrier to trying to find a workable solution for those involved.
I know that many problems aren’t simple. And even a “First world” problem doesn’t mean it’s not vital to someone’s well-being and happiness. That’s life. We each have our own problems to face and that matters to us.
In fact, it’s because I acknowledge this that I would like to see MGM utilized or something similar. If we’re to stay connected and not continue on a path of derision and dissonance then we need to figure some stuff out. We need universally shared decency for one another and acceptance of a baseline. Because each year it’s like the toxicity gets more vocal about smaller and less significant matters.
[P.S. No one is perfect. And no one can manage or deserves to live their life facing so much toxicity and noise drowning out the good. So, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Do put up boundaries between the world and you. Not in a “turn your back on the world” way, but just remember that you’re in charge of your own life. You’re the one that’s most equipped to figure out when you need a break. Respect that.]
[P.S.S. And my bad if I was more “all over the place” than usual. This is obviously what happens when my theory revels in “loading” territory instead of “good enough.”]