Some Words on Words and Consensus

I’ll get right to it. Because it’s lunch time.

1. No single word should silence someone.

There was a time when saying someone was a woman meant she couldn’t hold office, be trusted to manage her emotions, speak her opinion, own stuff or vote. There was a time when saying JFK was a Catholic meant he might not be elected president. Not so long ago, simply suggesting to the Right people that someone was a communist, might bring them before a committee hearing. Saying someone was a Jew in 1930’s Germany–I don’t think I have to tell you how that ended. And the Japanese in America know all too well, what being Japanese meant in 1940’s U.S. of A. One word was used to silence whole groups of people. We shouldn’t give any one word or phrase that power. But, like dogs returning to our vomit, we keep doing it–news cycle after news cycle, decade after decade, century after century. And I’m not saying we’re to that point. That would be callous and disrespectful. But we are *always* on the spectrum.

Call someone a racist or Uncle Tom or a bad feminist and they will spend the next few weeks, months, maybe years trying to prove the opposite, to the detriment of their career or anything else they might have spent their time saying. They–and, sometimes, their family–become moral exceptions who can be attacked, blacklisted, sued, threatened, ruined. Whether or not it turns out to be true, their message gets overshadowed by that one word. In addition to dehumanizing someone, this gives less scrupulous people–and they exist–words that instantly silence those they disagree with, providing quick results (read: rewards) and enabling them to circumnavigate the pesky practice of using actual arguments.

Also: If you think that accusations should always be believed, I challenge you to insert your favorite thought-leader in the place of the person being accused. I can guarantee that evidence, context, bias and the financial ties of the accuser will become, like, really, really important. And it’s easy to say, “It’s different this time!”

Buuuut they thought the same thing then.

The point is, if I don’t want a word that refers to me or someone I love, to ever mean we can’t speak, I must examine myself before I do it to others. This shadow side of society is capricious, ravenous and utterly destructive to open dialogue. And it is literally the backbone of every major human rights violation…ever.

2. Consensus should not comfort us.

The world was not flat because everyone agreed. And it did not become spherical because we now see it. It always was what it has always been, apart from us.

Great effort is put towards making consensus the defining core of truth. At first glance, it makes sense. We live in the world of information, have the full breadth of human knowledge at our fingertips, right? So, if we all have the same information and everyone agrees on it, it must be so. Well, yes. And no.

How you get information is very complex. As we’ve seen with Facebook’s continual algorithm drama and revelations of Youtube’s censorship, things aren’t nearly as open as you think. If you are looking at it, it’s because someone wants you to. I don’t say this to scare or fear monger, I say it because it’s true. It’s also common sense. Millions billions of dollars ride on what we think, watch and buy: Of course someone is going to want to pull those strings. As such, when everyone around me and the data I consume all seem to say one thing, I don’t feel warm and fuzzy and oh-so-woke.

It’s why–unless it suggests non-GF mac-n-cheese recipes (read: tortures me)–I don’t edit my Google feed. It’s why I don’t block most posts on Facebook and will never unfriend people who consistently share things I think are untrue. It’s why I read articles by Vox, Fox, Vanity Fair, Daily Mail, Daily Wire, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, The Hill, Washington Examiner, Washington Post, Breitbart, Vice, Gizmodo, Prager U and Jezebel (so much sass). It used to be hard, but I now love them all, not because I agree with them all, as that would be impossible, but because of how they empower me. Exposure to a wide range of opinions deepens empathy, stretches perceptions and challenges what I think is So Obviously Obvious. It’s not as easy as reading what makes me comfortable, but I wouldn’t give it up for comfort. Not by a long shot.


Just a thought,


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