– No way you are questioning gender roles. You must be one of those feminazis… These radicals.
–Are you inquiring about Muslim integration processes in Europe? Dude, you must be part of an alt-right movement, how dare you speak if you are not one of them.
These seem exaggerated and incongruent political statements. Far from the truth, these are common realities often encountered when going through the comments in many public political debates. And these are actually quite polite for the amount of expletives they usually accompany.
Oversimplifying, stereotyping & generalising, have always been human tendencies: “this is me and that is the other”. They help us talk about big things in our small talks, and one cannot remove them because they are way too useful, one needs some axioms to start a conversation.
However, this tendency also helps us mirror antagonistically on others while a sense of identity is born. My opinion is formed against yours, and by doing so I create a sense of both belonging and existing as an autonomous being. When we vehemently discuss a political topic, there is a sense of pride and fulfilment, a sense of something (moral superiority? validation of self?) that floods our egos, and by doing so, we loose any of the honourable causes we were initially defending.
And we do this recurrently, it is ingrained in us; but, let me tell you, the escalation of conflict can be downsized given that today lots of apparently neutral topics get politicised and radicalised, they become harsh tribal and personal attacks. Moderate statements are decontextualized resulting into bloody retaliations. And some traces of truths said in pejorative and arrogant manners vanish any pinch of convincingness.
On the other hand, sometimes the opposite could happen, certain voids in our reasoning can really disturb some of us and thus we abstain from valuable sharing of thoughts. Therefore, more moderate views are not obtainable. We see all the contradictions going on that we feel the healthiest thing is to shut up EVEN if we are actually going to say something that could be worthy of sharing. I must admit that I am not a very confronting person in general terms and I usually opt for this one.
When I discuss with someone completely against my view or I question a new topic from my total ignorance, all my focus goes into finding harmony and a common ground. I take special care on nuances because I fear being “the other”, I fear being labelled, and I fear becoming what I am here claiming. It makes me anxious because the moment I let my words go I loose control over them, and I know my intention is going to be twisted by some. It is the idea of being branded, encapsulated in a small simple squared box in someone’s mind. Fearing I will be entrapped in that mental jail of the person I am interacting with. Worried that their opinion about my allegedly political leaning is shaping who I am. Dreading that the person will eradicate all my cautious nuances to say whatever confirms their idea of me: she is a libtard, she isn’t a real feminist. And honestly, since our identities are faaaaar more complex, paradoxical and evolving entities, I hate thinking that one will come across as A or B and that is all. Bit much like teen angst? Well, maybe it boils down to being rejected and judged, and I am just decorating it with metaphors, what I must confess is that I sometimes fear having a political opinion in the XXI Century.
This fear I blame none but my self-conscious mental chit-chat and probably the overwhelming oversharing we experience. Oh well, and maybe also people who listen to respond and not to understand.
This article will go through some of the reflections all these previous feelings have generated in me. Let’s start by a hard question: Why do we intensely oversimplify human interactions?
Simple things have often sold out quickly, intensity is tiresome, before we go to ego-depletion the brain will make all sort of shortcuts to make us feel good and pass on our views (As S. Blackmore claimed in her Meme Theory, our ideas are just like genes, eager to spread!).
Our innate trends are comprehensible, but can we, in our more conscious side, really reduce someone bringing up feminism or questioning Muslim community’s integration to any of the initial statements? OF COURSE NOT. Individuals are not concepts. And we love understanding WHAT WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND.
I guess I am also contradicting myself here, as I am indeed, oversimplifying public political debate. There are great forums out there with tolerable, respecting and wonderful people willing to share their views in an educated-dialogue-style. So, let me rephrase, why does ***some*** people seem to constantly oversimplify the complex political conundrums of today’s society? (See how much I enjoy nuances?)
When we oversimplify we move in black and whites, both poles of a continuum: emotion v. reason,
right v. left,
flagrant hate speech “masked” with the right to freedom of expression v. sugar-coated realities to the point that they become blatant lies and do more harm than good…
This oversimplification, evidently represented in the rise of populism, has eroded the (utopic but needed) truth-seeking spirit of many people around the world. It seems pointless to ask someone who is not willing to discuss in a non-radical way or someone who is merely into political incendiary showbussiness, infoentertainment/fake news. It is frustrating to discuss with someone who merely uses cold logic or alternatively, pure emotion when debating.
When analysing the world and its evils, it is a fair point to claim that many are taking the easy-way-out. Some arguments (which are shared by authority figures) seem so infantile and reductionists that one thinks of a 7-year-old kid that would propose: oh, no money? Why don’t we simply print more? Well, I guess economic dynamics are not so gentle, and what is common sense might not be so common.
Now, the purpose of this article is to reflect on some of our own flaws and tendencies, and emphasise that we should start discussing any opinion from here: clarifying own very unique flawed perception of the truth. Are we otherwise doing it so from a fair start? taking into account that we think, let’s say, around +- 60,000 thoughts daily? Seems a bit absurd to depart from completely different places and be willing to reach a common destination. This place should be being aware that our views are personal, and from here, we perhaps might be able to actually get somewhere.
I know some of you may think: what if the view is so fucked up and wrong? Well, you can choose if you can be bothered, I can be very evasive sometimes. However, I tend to observe that most awful comments I have heard, when confronted and challenged, can really tone down. Democracy is this, exercising your tongue and brains until you cannot physically keep debating: if you don’t confront it, if you censure it, if you jail someone for speaking their minds, or you demonise them with unintelligent and simple responses, you perpetuate it all that is wrong with us. It is so frightening to engage with someone claiming an atrocious comment, but it is more frightening to start censoring people’s claims, it is indeed. And hey, I know how horrible it feels when you attempt to cease someone’s hideous belief, as if by discussing it with them you validate or legitimise their view, it really is a dreadful feeling.
This reminds me of the Pennsylvanian case when a black lawyer defended a KKK member: probably the most drastic case of someone putting aside their subjectivity to enforce democratic principles. I personally don’t think I would have been able to do it and I am not sure to whether I am more American or European in regards to the curtailing of freedom of expression. Nonetheless, this is a good example of how, it is not me as a white privilege woman talking about tolerance when there is brutality and oppression all around the globe (I know there could be someone getting this from my words), this article is not discussing tolerance in absolutes, there are instances in which tolerance is detrimental and should not be employed, but in the case of Western public political debate, especially online… I think having these thoughts in mind is more beneficial than not, and can indeed lead to better places for any collective or individual trying to raise their voices.
The purpose for this article is therefore a call for cautious, respectful interventions and also profound analysis before making any statement. We are all entitled to have an opinion, but do we all have to have opinions about every single topic that goes on this planet and beyond? All at once? Allow me to doubt it. We are so fast paced that we jump to conclusions in a matter of seconds.
If asked about a very controversial topic one should first question its own bias and subjectivity and then follow something like this:
- Regarding the sources: have I had any 1) direct personal experience with the matter; have I gone through a 2) in-depth legitimate research; have I ever 3) interviewed anyone from the involved parties? – Reading only Fox News, or conversely, The Guardian is not a very balanced in-depth understanding.
- Secondly, WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ME SHARING THIS OPINION: am I completely sure that I want to make my opinion public? Is it gonna distress someone or even myself? Is the distress going to end up creating a greater good? Extreme your precaution with this latter question, but also bear in mind that anything you say could eventually lead to offend someone–I can see the difficulty in this one–. So make sure you answer this: Is my language calibrated not to freely insult or hurt someone different to me? Am I adopting a condescending moral superior stance or am I speaking with empathy?
- Thirdly, if I go public, do I have answers for the critiques I could face for such opinion? How truthful is my wording? Have I internally discussed them within me? This latter is especially important, in my view, because if you are not ready to face second thoughts you will only generate more drama, you will be listening/reading to react, and not to understand where the other person is coming from.
- Fourthly, I stress the word public, because what you say at home with people who share your view is completely different. When you go public, your right to freedom is challenged. Depending on your circumstances you should curtail your application of freedom of expression. Nothing is absolute.
- Lastly, PLEASE NUANCE. Being assertive is not being reckless.
There will be many people whose character could be much more reactive than what I am proposing, I know this seems like a pain in the ass, going through all this mental puzzle before typing a rant is like SOOOO EXHAUSTING (and time consuming!).
But it’s the price of peace.
I struggle when discussing social topics with certain individuals, it is incredibly annoying, but if I really want to make them see important issues that concerns us all I then must do all my best to at least try, even if its from 5000 miles away of mental distance, to see why they are saying what they are saying. I must also be well informed, and make sure I state that whatever I am saying is within my subjective process of this and that objective source.
Additionally, if we don’t want to be constantly hypocritical with our discourses, we should attempt at least not to be doing what we complain about others doing and really look for our own double standards.
For example: the “triggered” meme that many people use to discard the response of i
many social justice activists. Why is this contradictory? because they are often the first ones to be “triggered” by the so called SJW (Social Justice Warriors): sometimes these SJW are just people trying hard to alleviate someone’s suffering. If you think they are all too much, you are fundamentally wrong. These are usually the same ones who fear empathy and sensitivity and so they mock it: these ones can be very very hard to debate with online.
Other times, there are instances in which feminists label other women for choosing to stay at home and have perfectly shaved legs as oppressed. Others may ridicule women who simply question some of the current feminist conceptions or are more “moderate” feminists who are ok with certain traditional structures. Wasn’t it all about freedom of choice? About equality and liberation? About making women feel comfortable in their skin and minds? Something convenient to women may not entail gender equality. But again, feminism is so important and encompasses so many vital issues that one cannot cross out the whole movement because there are some people judging indiscriminately.
So, in a nutshell, and trying to ironically simplify this ramble-around-my-messy thoughts-article, here’s my attempted WikiHow on how to have an opinion in the XXI without perishing in the effort:
- You DON’T have to have an informed opinion on everything, it is simply impossible, so be quite, listen and learn. Choose your battles carefully. Don’t add more noise.
- You are not an object, you are a subject, thus subjectivity is intrinsically part of what constitutes you: allow it, understand it, embrace it, and make sure you lean towards the other side of the continuum, objectivity.
- Mind your human tendencies, claiming infallibility is ludicrous. Extreme your precaution and mental warnings when discussing a heated topic. Refrain if you observe an overheating momentum stemming from your stomach up to your head. Breath and detach yourself. Accept your own contradiction and explicit it. Don’t try to dominate, try to understand.
- Debate and dialogue are essential for democracy, if we loose our capacity to agree to disagree, we turn into the dictatorship of our constructed identity, we will ostracise ourselves from liberating truths, and what is most important, we will become obsessed with defending a static ideology that will start growing mould.
If you have made it up to here, thank you, I hope this has spoken to you. If you feel like saying this was a piece of shit, you could put in practice some of the guidelines I have mentioned.
Have a lovely week.