Where are we headed?
I want to provide a disclaimer from the get-go. Writing about the accelerating culture war we’re experiencing is extremely tricky for a “Boomer.” Still, I’m going to give it my best shot. I know that values continuously evolve. My generation’s values will undoubtedly be different from the ones my grandchildren will be raised with. Values considered old-fashioned and no longer relevant will end up in modern society’s trashcan for better or for worse. That’s simply the nature of the beast. But I fear we’re coming unglued in this VUCA (Volitivity, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) world. When did the basic assumption that people can disagree without hating each other get replaced with the belief that anyone different from ourselves was “deplorable” and despicable? We’re witnessing fights over racism, Supreme Court appointments, abortion, elections, the virus, police forces, misinformation and calls to action on social media while people are already stressed out over the pandemic. We’re tearing down monuments, believing in conspiracies, protesting, rioting and hurling insults at one another. Have we lost our minds? Are we going nuts?
How are we going to navigate the “woke and cancel” culture without careening off a cliff? How do we come to terms with and understand Social Justice Warriors, QAnon, the IDW (Intellectual Dark Web), Antifa, narrative wars, conspiracy theories, the Alt-right, the radical left, alt this and alt that, net trolls and other groups? How do movements working for positive, non-violent change keep from getting lumped together with groups that seem to have no goals other than violence and destruction? How does the role of social media platforms figure into this? How do we find the real truth in the digital age rife with fake news? Narcissism is rampant in our culture. Everyone thinks he or she is right and simply doubles down on his/her position. People are going batshit crazy. At times it seems like a race to the bottom of the brain stem that is soul-sucking, to say the least.
Memetic tribes and memetic warfare
Have we split into warring tribes? People are proclaiming their victimhood on every street corner or to anyone who will listen. We seem to have adopted a position that if we don’t come from the same background, we cannot discuss the issues and problems of a particular group. Either we agree or remain silent. Both sides are using outrage to attract attention. And that drives the wedge in even deeper and makes the gap even wider. People have become deaf to everything except that with which they agree. Not every social media user is susceptible, of course. Still, memetic warfare is increasingly being recognized as a critical element of counter-governmental provocation and racist propaganda. We know from research that when people are exposed to hate, it makes it easier for them to hate and perhaps even act on their hate. If there is an organized effort by hate groups that are seeking to manipulate people with memes, they may be influencing people to carry out violent attacks. For more information about this, read the sobering report recently released by Rutgers University Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience: https://mediawell.ssrc.org/2020/09/14/network-enabled-anarchy-how-militant-anarcho-socialist-networks-use-social-media-to-instigate-widespread-violence-against-political-opponents-and-law-enforcement-network-contagion-research-institut/
Certain US universities
And what’s going on at certain US universities? What happened to the free exchange of ideas? Universities were once were a place where students could encounter different opinions and views, debate and discuss them in a productive dialogue, perhaps even agreeing to disagree. This no longer seems to be the case, unfortunately. Today, they offer safe spaces – some sort of shelter that protects sensitive individuals from ideas and views different from theirs – timeouts, trigger warnings, stuffed animals and maybe even emotional support animals. Today, ideas we disagree with escalate quickly from debating and shouting to insults and violence. If this trend continues unabated, we might reach a point where speakers will no longer be permitted on campus for fear of offending someone, somewhere. Many things need to be discussed. Many things need to be challenged. And it’s healthy to re-examine our past to make sure that we learn from the mistakes we’ve made. But the lessons we learn from this must strengthen our values, not tear them apart.
The perils of rewriting history
When we re-examine our past, we must make sure that the way we do this affects the world we hope to live in positively. While many famous people from the past made historical contributions, they also had their shortcomings. If they were alive now, their actions and words would get them canceled today. But here’s where we’re screwing up, in my opinion. When you remove a vital action or statement from its historical context, you remove evidence, nuance and complexity and you force our forefathers to conform to today’s values or be erased. I wrote in a previous post about Millennials thinking they are the most progressive generation that’s ever lived, adding the comment: “Newsflash!” Every generation has always been the most progressive that’s ever lived!” So, when it comes to the ongoing process of writing and rewriting our history––we should be careful. Let’s not run off in anger and tear down everything built before us. Perhaps future generations won’t be so kind to the actions that people are carrying out today.
Where do we go from here?
It seems that not many people are paying attention to the processes that brought us to this point. Discrimination comes in many forms: race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality. These should be the least important aspects of a person. We should be focusing on how the individual is living his/her life and on what he/she has achieved or is striving to achieve. To start with, we can’t make blanket statements about racial, ethnic or religious groups. It just doesn’t work. A few bad individuals from a particular racial, ethnic, political or religious group should not mean that all people in those groups are bad. If we’re looking for diversity, we should be striving for productive, inclusive diversity – not just “window-dressing” diversity, e.g., a poster, sign or placard that makes a statement but doesn’t back the statement up with action. We need to behave with integrity and treat each other with respect even if – especially if – we have differing opinions.
What do we need to do?
I began this post with many questions that require contemplation. Consideration, compassion and empathy are paramount if we are to achieve meaningful change. BLM and other groups are working to bring a greater awareness of the existing power structure and racial inequality to other groups. Each group probably has a bit of the truth but not all of the truth (think of the story about blind men describing an elephant by touching just one part of it). That’s why we need to talk to each other – not scream at each other. We must learn more than our own generation and properly honor the past while seeking to live and lead to a future that works better for all of us. If we fail to do this, we end up with what Hassan I Sabbath, the founder of the mystical Assassins, is alleged to have said on his deathbed “Nothing is true, All is permitted!” In today’s fragile cancel atmosphere filled with trigger warnings but no jokes, we’re ignoring one of our best tools for dealing with hatred and ill-will – humor. As long as we can laugh, we can cope and move forward.