I am constantly amused by people who post threats on Twitter and Facebook as they warn anyone within all-caps distance that they will block or defriend anyone who dares commit the unforgivable sin of disagreeing with them. There was a time where debates advanced understanding, but that was way before social media and the distance bred by technology turned human beings into abstractions to be conquered instead of neighbors to learn from.
This is not to say that blocking people is never acceptable, those who make it their goal to spew nothing but invective and insults need to be avoided at all cost. However, cutting off deliberations and shuttering conversations because people don’t agree with your way of thinking only leads to mental atrophy. Sadly, too many are trending in this direction as group think and herd behavior have become the new norms.
As if it’s not bad enough that algorithms and custom tailored news are shepherding us into the ghettos of limited thinking, we are adding self-harm to injury by silencing anyone who does not agree 100% with our point of view. Censorship is being pushed from the top and percolating from the bottom as corporations and government regulate thought through a mix of suppression and disinformation while the public engages in intimidation and demands to shut down free speech.
There is no growth to be found by sticking to people who only agree with you. Without others challenging our preconceived notions and pushing us to think beyond what we already know, we become a community of robots who praise each other while bashing anyone who dares to be different.
Humanity’s greatest leaps forward were made possible by visionaries who refused to accept conventional wisdom; sadly, we are muzzling our imagination by demanding uniformity and discouraging diversity of thought.
We should advocate free-speech at all cost, we have infinitely more to lose from stifling dissent than we gain from banishing hateful language. Besides, too often our own actions become the catalyst for the very animosity we abhor. It is almost impossible to have a conversation about politics, pop-culture or hot button issues like race, religion or identity without tempers flaring on all sides. Insults have become social currencies; where once we had discussions, all too frequently we now have brawls.
The broken state of our politics is really an extension of our social dysfunction. Politicians and pundits are making fortunes and consolidating their power by catering to our whims. Demagoguery at once feeds on our tribalism and feeds off our ignorance, our incapacity to have rational discussions is leading us further and further into the cauldrons of malice. There are costs to these things, the more we withdraw behind the curtains of restriction, the more we let our minds be debilitated by inaction.
What we end up with is mainstream media that indulge our myopia and firebrands who justify our limitations. Do you think CNN is broadcasting the story about the wrestler who was forced to cut off his dreads because they really care about justice? Do you think Fox News is airing stories about wars on Christmas because they are concerned about kindness? Of course not, they are manipulating people’s emotions in order to incite further animosity and profit from our division. We let others antagonize us at a cost, the more we let anger be our moral compass, the more we are led astray into the ghetto of inertia. Echo chambers do not amplify wisdom, they only deaden perspective.
Instead of racing towards inclusion, we are devolving into coercion. We are fighting less and less for justice and more and more for just us, even marginalized groups are joining the fracas as even the slightest deviation from the crowd is treated with the Molotov cocktails of slurs and character assassinations. Policing thoughts eventually imprisons all, the very same tactics used to ostracized others eventually boomerangs on the people who think silencing speech is a way to stand up for fairness.
Truth becomes a collateral damage in our ongoing war of words and insults. Fact has given way to alternative explanations where people come up with more and more creative ways to deny developments that does not gratify their line of thinking. We live in an age where holding people accountable for their actions is dismissed as smears and pushing back with taunts is valued above discourse. The discomfort of learning has been replaced by the expedience of familiarity, when we stop at the edge of what we already know, we will never discover new information.
Conformity is not a sign of a healthy society but an attribute of cults. This is precisely what we are becoming as we gravitate towards people who have identical views as us while we shutter those who we don’t see eye to eye with. We should think twice about these things; without disagreements, our brains stagnate and our minds sink into stasis. Before you block someone next time, or defriend someone who offended your sensibilities, ask yourself if the payoff of curtailing conflict is worth the cost of reducing diversity of thought.
“The ear is the avenue to the heart.” ~ Voltaire
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Teodrose Fikre is the editor and founder of The Ghion Journal. A published author and prolific writer, a once defense consultant was profoundly changed by a two-year journey of hardship and struggle. Going from a life of upper-middle class privilege to a time spent with the huddled masses taught Teodrose a valuable lesson in the essence of togetherness and the need to speak against injustice.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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