Random Notes on Divisiveness and the Death of Discourse

Over the past few years, I’ve watched discourse decay.

I’ve seen social activists be labelled racists in quibbles over language or best routes to enabling civil rights. I’ve seen diehard environmentalists get shouted down for critiquing methodology of change. I’ve seen food activists condemned for introducing peer-reviewed science.

And when someone doesn’t have the knowledge and experience to couch differing viewpoints into the prescribed linguistic codex, the response is usually swift and vehement.  It is usually ostracizing.

In many activist circles, it’s become rare for people to ask about why a contrary (or even slightly differing) belief is held or to try and understand that viewpoint.  The instinct has become to react without listening. We’ve constructed us vs. them dichotomies where the “them” is often utterly surprised to find that they are the “other.”

I’ve become used to scathing online rhetoric from people who would never use such language in person or in public. The internet seems to invite and perpetuate anger.

I’m used to witnessing prejudice cast upon good people who are trying their damnedest to do good things in a world of rapid social and linguistic change. Falling short has become a crime.

I started writing these little thoughts on the death of discourse a few months ago.  They belong to a pre-President Trump world – and it is definitely a new world today.  They may definitely read differently to some today than they would have before the US election. Not to me, though.

They are notes. Often jotted on the fly. Reactions, often.

random notes on divisiveness and the death of discourse:

the more we react without listening, the less our opportunity for learning and the poorer our base of understanding.

the more we stifle viewpoints, the less understanding we gain about the greater why’s of our societal problems — be they racial, political, environmental, economic…

the more we morally judge others by the standards of our own cultural capital, the less respectful we are of experiences different than ours.

the more we shout at people about inclusivity, the less inclusive we are.

the more we make assumptions about others, the less we validate diversity.

the more we assume we are right, the more wrong we are.

cherry picked science, reports, and research can often reflect convenience rather than accuracy. a deeper dive into research usually reveals a fuller picture.

poverty is cyclical. abuse is cyclical. fear is cyclical. prescribed social norms are cyclical. hate can be cyclical.  some escape cycles. some remain trapped in them.

we cannot assume intent without knowledge of understanding and experience.

knowledge is a form of capital. ownership of it is a form of privilege and power.  we have the choice of whether to wield it or share it.

just as violence is a last resort, so is lashing out with language.

the first step to a civil society is civility. anger and action are necessary parts of activism, but they are rarely effective as first forms of resolving conflict or exploring different sides of issues.

creating real social change involves having discussions and working with people who are different than you – and will likely speak and act very differently than you.

people that you disagree with are still, in fact, people. and they deserve respect and kindness.

expect dire and unpredictable (to you, but perhaps not to others) results when the fears of others are not validated or addressed. 

our own personal truths are not universal.