The deceiving road of equating the person to the idea
and why you should fight against the idea, not the individuals voicing it
I’m always late for the party, so if you’ve been spared the recent Internet wars regarding that one sexist dude who happen to be working for a notorious tech company, I encourage you to remain under your rock and just think about debate with me for a moment.
How we debate might be telling of how effective we are at combating ideas that aren’t benefiting us as a society.
Let’s look at what happens when someone voices an idea that’s not beneficial to society, or just plain wrong — an idea like `there are statistically less women engineers than there are men engineers, so it must mean women are just not generally good at engineering’. What follows such an idea and the person voicing it, is the social equivalent of a public beheading: massive crowds gather to sacrifice the reputation of The One Individual and punish him for his idea, while giving significantly less regard to debating the idea itself.
The One Individual voicing the idea becomes an icon of the idea being voiced, and as with any icon, we come with time to forget the substance of what the icon actually represented, and just plain remember the icon itself — like Che Guevara or Freud, icons divorced of their substance and story, to be sprinkled all over collective conscience absent any regard to their actual meaning and its impact on our society. The Idea is lost, forgotten along the way, overpowered by the icon and erased out of collective discourse.
We thus proceed to the social beheading of That One Dude with an opinion and a collection of decently assembled and poorly interpreted data. The One Dude becomes the icon for the movement against what we perceive to be a blatant attack on human decency and basic reason. We see this again and again with every wrong and potentially dangerous idea put out there: the crusade against The One Dude who voiced what is statistically unlikely to be his soul single opinion out of approximatively 7 Billion individuals capable of formulating an opinion on planet earth today.
While I do understand and often strongly relate to the crusade sentiment, allow me to distract you from your noble quest of reputation-bashing on the Twitter, by redirecting your attention to debating the actual idea.
Whenever we choose to invest energy, time, and precious social following into reputation bashing crusades, we waste precious means that could have otherwise been invested in addressing the root cause of the problem, which is the idea itself. It creates an inefficient vicious circle of serial social beheadings.
Yet, The Idea remains unfazed by our collective outrage at the individual voicing it. It will lie dormant, to not be voiced out-loud but be held in silence by the few, and whispered in close circles where its impact is at peak. Sometime later, it will resurface again, to be subject to collective ritual denial via murdering of the social life and career of the messenger. Once the messenger and their children can never find work again without addressing The Issue, we move on with our lives yet again, happy to have proven ourselves on the Twitter as positive-idea-endorsing and woke members of the productive society.
What we could instead more constructively be doing, is calmly addressing the root cause of the problem: debate the idea. You bring your data and present your interpretation of it, I follow logic and point out your bias and misinterpretation, thus helping to educate anyone else who might be secretly holding the same unpopular opinion without voicing it, for fear of being socially-beheaded at dawn on the Twitter.
Shifting the focus away from the person voicing the idea, and onto addressing the idea itself, has two positive outcomes — and I’m going to be bullet-pointing this for you:
1. It helps to educate those who might have secretly held similar opinions;
2. It encourages people to express contradictory opinions in the future, without fear of social beheading, thus creating a beneficial cycle of debate that promotes healthy, logical ideas aimed at the collective good.
If this sounds a tad idealistic, that’s probably because it is. Not everyone will be persuaded by reason; people will hold on to their biases for dear life; assholes will continue to roam free around the Internet; you will invest significantly more effort in debate than you would in social-beheading.
So, if what you’re looking for is a mere scapegoat to vent your frustration at the very existence of wrong ideas and people who hold them in general, than by all means, take to the Twitter and punish that poor bastard for secretly being `the hero of the few` — the few who secretly hold the same views, now with more secrecy than ever for fear of social media mobs, forever buried in solid ignorance, beyond the salvation of reasonable debate and denied an opportunity to change their unexpressed views.
Be the idealist you want to see in the world but kinda make fun of and probably threw his hat in the toilet in 5th grade because they were the school nerd, be a little bit of that idealistic guy and give people a chance to change their views. Debate them. Take time to understand how they’ve come to hold those views, because they have friends and family who likely hold those same untrue ideals. Try to understand their biases, with empathy and calmness, and to address them logically, giving the person a chance to change their views without feeling like they’re murdering a little bit of an identity they have to defend. Create the pleasant, rational debate environment that you yearn for when you skim through the comments section of basically anything on the Internet and fear the world can only be cleansed with fire, be that nerd who tries to explain stuff logically.
Try to remember that people are not their ideas; ideas can be held by many, and many have throughout history died for their ideas — but people, people can change their views and stop holding those ideas. We can create a safe environment for people to explore their views, and have a chance to debate them without being personally attacked; ultimately conversation and exposure to other points of view are what really change a society, just as better education and access to psychiatric help facilitate lower crime rates way more efficiently — and, dare I say, humanely — than literal public beheadings.
As ever, when faced with views that are opposing to yours, or even just plain wrong and potentially dangerous to society *ahem cough climate change is a real immediate danger cough*, try to calmly and rationally debate the idea with the person, not the person in the head with the idea until they bleed tears of regret. Say with me now, stay focused: debate the idea, don’t attack the individual voicing it because that’s counter-productive.
Yes, some people will refuse to change their backwards, medieval views no matter how rationally you debate them; they will choose to be assholes and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. But others within earshot secretly holding the same opinions might be challenged to reexamine them — and, at the very least, should all else fail, at least you’ll have known you’ve given someone a chance to just be wrong, instead of instantly assuming they’re an asshole. Let people prove themselves to be assholes beyond any reasonable doubt, and then socially-behead them, while using the better part of your time to try and educate those who will allow themselves to be shown the light of reason, instead of focusing it on social media crusades.
Thank you for taking the time to debate with me. If you’ve liked or been intrigued by what you’ve read, please click that heart to tell others about obscure-Moody, and consider sharing my ideas with a fellow-nerd if you think they’re worth spreading.