I’ve returned to write a blog post after a week or so (I think). The reason it’s taken me so long is I have absolutely no idea what to write. If I were to type what I really wanted to say, I doubt anyone would want to read it. Then again, to type what I think you want to read, I have to rein myself in a bit. There’s a smidge of anxiety that goes into this for me. It’s nothing compared to real-life social anxiety, however; no matter what I type, I doubt there will be any major consequences — you, dear reader, can’t punch me in the face through a computer monitor, no matter how badly you may want to.
In any case, that brings me to today’s pontification. I’m based in the United States so a lot of what I may have to say is based on American culture and the experience thereof. Being autistic, I feel like I have a “half-foreign” cultural perspective. By that I mean I could not form my personal cultural interface the same way others do, through mimicry to the point of immersion. I feel somewhat isolated from the culture around me. This isn’t a statement of self-pity; this is a fact to me. After all, I don’t feel totally isolated, and I am still very much American. (Perhaps I can discuss the implications of that at a later date.) I feel I can use this to my advantage when discussing my culture and society, although certainly anyone can do so if s/he knows how to focus on the right things, such as changes in behavior, speech patterns (especially new words or ways words enter the modern vernacular), etc.
I’m sure there are a lot of readers familiar with Bob Dylan’s adage “The times they are a-changin'” — so familiar, in fact, that it’s become something of a cliché. Like it or not, one will notice one’s experiences, thoughts, feelings, even life itself are impermanent. Can we really count on culture to remain the same if we don’t cultivate it? Cultural change can be beneficial or malignant, of course; what is beneficial, from where I sit, is what helps make life bearable and happy for the greatest number of people. I’d delve further into this, but we’d certainly disagree on what would be beneficial; we all have different priorities. Given enough time and talking points, political and religious arguments may well devolve into a shouting match these days of such fervor even Jerry Springer would get worried, and therein my point lies.
A cultural institution will die without cultivation. Everything is subject to change. A machine will necessarily wear down in time; the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe favors entropy. Perhaps this is a false comparison, but with that in mind, if a facet of a culture is beneficial, should those who subscribe to said culture not maintain it?
In today’s society, it’s becoming more difficult to preserve a facet of American culture that has been a foundation of our society’s progress: the free exchange of ideas. In an era where information is so easily accessible, it’s a feat all too facile to inflame others’ passions to the utmost. Taunts and racial slurs fly to and fro like shrapnel on the ideological battlefield. Call me an “SJW cuck” if you will, but in many cases the scars are very real. While one could attribute this to the aforementioned seeming lack of any real consequences stemming from cyberspace interactions, I have certainly seen this carry over into the real world. My co-workers, family, and friends discuss instances of this all the time. It’s impossible to avoid. At the same time, extremism is growing, partly because people on each side of a debate drive the other side further away, usually with the use of buzzwords intended to be divisive or inflammatory. We simply can’t seem to engage in civil discourse anymore.
Of course, when I call for civility, I necessarily worry that this will lead to readers accusing me of defending hate speech or saying we should listen to it. This is a difficult topic to discuss, for obvious reasons. The free exchange of ideas means we will run into ideological arguments that are vile and hateful, full of the worst malice imaginable. What are we as a society to do with these ideas when people assert them? Some would say we should let them speak and ridicule them lest the exchange of ideas not be truly free, but — let’s take racism as an example — that would still let racists air views that could incite others to violence against those of other races who had done absolutely nothing to warrant violence being done to them (race is a sociological construct anyway, but as such it is necessary to address it). The argument here becomes one of freedom of speech vs. security of one’s person. Frankly, I would rather not risk people dying.
A free exchange of ideas is still possible without resorting to hate speech. As for what hate speech is, there are plenty of definitions on the Internet so it shouldn’t be necessary for me to define. Inflammatory and accusative discourse seems to be the norm, especially after the last election’s divisive nature — after all, most voters weren’t voting for either candidate but voting against the other. This is the society we have today, but it’s not the society I want. Those who agree will, I hope, strive to sow the seeds of civility in our society as a result. Otherwise, we may lose ourselves to the culture around us and risk all our arguments becoming more and more voracious, possibly violent. Perhaps I’m going down a slippery slope and there’s really nothing to worry about, but I see a society that is badly in need of repair, a society of bullies running amok.
We must stand up to these bullies and show them no quarter. A society built up on reasonable discourse is a great and unified society (where not everyone necessarily agrees but people get along and live their lives nonetheless). It’s a society that can evolve and become more beneficial in time. A society full of ad hominem attacks, straw men, and slippery slope arguments is a stagnant, perhaps even dying, society. It is a society where nothing will get done and people’s lives will be more “nasty, brutish, and short” (as Dickens put it) as a result.
It seems to me like my post was rather lengthy and rambling already; I realize my writing wasn’t as cohesive as it could have been and I’ve left holes in my arguments for which I must probably atone later. That being said, I did try to make my point as well as I could. The main flaw I see in it is that I could be going down a slippery slope myself. Either society has always been like this (and at the same level) and I have failed to realize this, causing me to wax overly pessimistic; or the extreme cases of uncouth behavior are no indicator of a loss of the basic goodness of our society and the people in it (in other words, the extremists are in the minority but are getting the most media attention). That being said, if I’m right, let’s get society back on the right track; and if we’re on the right track, let’s stay the course. Maybe I should think of some ways to cultivate civility and make my next post about that (as if there isn’t already a wealth of posts one can find about that topic already).