Friday, December 09, 2016

On Not Communicating

Something seems to have passed, or rather have become embedded, in our modern discourse: the unwillingness to discuss matters.

It has its origins in the rather bitter climate of politics over the last years:  people began using charged words instead of discussing matters.  Words became the weapons of choice, flung out with same sharp staccato as gunfire, the injury being done perhaps before the victim knew they had even been hit.

What was the response?  Twofold.  On the one hand, people began to not discuss matters in the presence of others.  They would simply listen as the discussions happened around them and make non-committal sounds, stay silent, try to change the subject, or just move out of the conversation.  One the other hand, the discussions within the groups that did believe as they did became more heated, more intense.  more about the "fill-in-the-blank-with-uncomplimentary-personal-comments" side  ("idiots" was probably the least offensive term used).

The U.S. election happened of course, and all of this from the last 16 years (yes, it goes back that far) was trotted out for the entire world to see.  Words had moved beyond bullets though:  they were now napalm weapons, bunker busters, meant to lay waste to whole populations (intellectually speaking).  The intent to understand or reason was completely removed; all that remained was the need to destroy the opposition for the intent of victory, to shut them down as a legitimate voice.

So here we are.  The election is done. And yet, things seem worse.

On-line media has lurched into the bottomless pit of trying to decide what constitutes "legitimate" news while carefully avoiding the question of the bias that gathers and generates that news.  Social media has become less about sharing and more about expressing one's self in ways that will not get one banned or will count coup on the other side - or simply going off somewhere else altogether.

The individual's response?  There are two that I have seen.  For some, they seem to have doubled down on words as weapons - to the point that one almost shudders to read or hear anything from them.  For others, they have simply stepped out of the communication time line that is modern society and simply do not engage. For some of these it takes the shape of choosing to communicate in such a way that they are producers of content but not of discussion, for others it is limiting what they speak of and respond to, for others simply to not communicate at all.

The last category is the most concerning because it represents the greatest danger to any form of human government.  If we have reached the point where words are only weapons and not tools of communication and discussion and reasoning and people are responding accordingly, then we have become no different than any society that has decided its tools of agriculture or building are really nothing more than potential weapons of war to smash the other side into submission.

If this is truly the case, then it is only a matter of time before we get there.

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