We live in a weird sort of a world where we invest perhaps more of our attention and energy into politics than at any other point in history and get what might be the least amount of effect we’ve ever gotten. We’re all just informed enough to be dangerous, but rarely informed enough to have the slightest idea of what’s going on.
Our tactics have become uncivil. I think it would be wrong to say that we’re setting a new precedent. History is full of uncivil times. But I wonder if we’ve gone too far.
We’re now engaged in a war—no, that’s too strong a word.
We’re now engaged in a poo-flinging contest, and no one wins a poo-flinging contest. In fact, everyone is worse off.
On some level, we might be aware that this is going on, and we’re increasingly ready to burn down everything we have in order to keep the other side from declaring a victory.
Furthermore, the battle lines are poorly drawn, which is part of what makes the above concern so realistic.
The script was flipped this week when Randa Jarrar said some horrific things about Barbara Bush in response to the woman’s passing. The above link is to an article from The Atlantic magazine, which lays out what was said.
For the record, I think what Jarrar said was awful. But, if I’m consistent with my moral principles, my defense of free speech dictates that I defend her speech. She shouldn’t be fired for it.
That being said, I hope that if I was in a position to fire her, I never would have hired her in the first place. She’s shown a severe lack of judgment and poor critical-thinking skills, to boot. We give professors a ton of latitude in designing their courses, so we have to be able to trust that they’re up to the task.
Conservatives have for about a decade now have been defending professor’s right to free speech, especially when witch hunts are started for professors who have openly opposed gay or trans rights. Now, they’re calling for Jarrar to be fired.
It’s not a moment I’m particularly proud of.
That being said, I would submit to you, dear reader, that it’s a trick they picked up from the opposite side of the aisle: show enough outrage and you’ll get what you want.
Call me crazy, but I think we should evaluate ideas on their merit and now how big a mob can be built.
Now, I don’t have a solution to this, but I’d like to advance a couple of ideas that might be in the same ballpark as what a solution would look like.
- Increase Institutional Endurance
You shouldn’t let the mob run your company, school, or government. The mob is always dumb. If you give a child throwing a tantrum what it wants, it’s going to throw more tantrums in the future. You don’t want this, and you especially don’t want the child to hold this kind of power over you. Even if the mob is right, you can’t afford to give it what it wants because it will come back wanting more.
It would be hard to say that Starbucks hasn’t done everything in its power to satisfy the mob, issuing an apology, meeting with the two men who were kicked out for not buying anything, and closing all of their stores for racial sensitivity training. And yet, despite all they’ve done, people are still protesting.
If institutions try to appease every mob, then mobbing up to solve a problem would become less attractive.
- Send Mass Media to Social Media Rehab
News is dying, and it has been for a long time. The internet ate its lunch and cable news and newspapers have struggled to adapt.
Part of that adaptation has been to lay off long-time employees and replace them with cheaper college students that are more proficient in working internet-based strategies.
Perhaps the most destructive of these strategies is that newspapers and cable news have started replacing original reporting with analysis of what people think about an event on social media.
What people think on social media about an event isn’t news. The event is the news, and the people on social media often fire from the hip, missing important facts and generally saying unintelligent things.
It may not be the popular thing and right now it may not be the profitable thing, either, but it’s time for news to get back to what it does best: reporting the news. Let the little puffballs of misinformed rage rant to their 5,000 followers and let that be the end of it. Don’t amplify their views to a national audience.
- Teach Critical Thinking
It’s hard to stop a mob once it gets going. People aren’t thinking much at that point; they’re running on emotion.
So, our only tool is to try and stop it before it gets started.
We have to teach people how to evaluate arguments.
There are two main benefits of this. First, they’re going to join better mobs, mobs that have some substance to them and that are hopefully less wantonly destructive. Second, they might start to find mobs unpleasant and avoid them altogether, finding new paths for fixing the problems they come across.
This isn’t an easy task. It’s going to require a rewrite of the curriculum in secondary education that emphasis grappling with the question instead of getting the right answer. It makes it hard to grade and hard to teach, but it’s not impossible.
In theory, this would have benefits beyond the political arena. People might just live better lives.
Notice that none of these proposed solutions require getting a bunch of people together in a room and having them say their beliefs, realize they have more in common than they think and then hugging it out.
I’m not saying this can’t happen, but it’s not practical on a large scale, and it’s something that’s made difficult because of some of the problems I’ve outlined above. It’s nowhere near as efficient as forming a rage mob, which is why we see a lot of those and not a lot of hugging.
On the other hand, I told you at the outset that I don’t have a solution. So, who knows? Maybe it is hugging.