are we losing the ability to disagree?
tribal social warfare and how it is poisoning and polarizing our society
“I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend with my life, your right to say it.” Voltaire (1759)
Why has the world become so polarized? What has changed in my lifetime to make our society more… divided? When I say divided, I mean divided by a tribal mentality – meaning if you are not in my “tribe” you are not my friend – in fact you are my enemy.
Even more troubling is that if you do not hold a position on an issue at all you are cast in a negative light as well by those who push specific narratives. Phrases like “silence is violence” have become part of the buzzword terminology wielded to condemn not just those who may oppose a position but individuals who do not have any clearly defined belief on a subject. Group-speak and group-think are no longer just fictional social concepts from George Orwell’s novel “1984” they are the underbelly of our so-called free society.
I remember when I attended university, having a different opinion did not necessarily mean that we could not be friends. I had many lively discussions with individuals I considered close friends (I am looking at you Peter Guest!). After some very heated verbal exchanges we were able to put that aside and not pass judgement upon the other side based on their opinion. We based our perception of that person primarily on their actions – not their opinions. Character mattered and this was defined more by what you did than what you said.
The idea of judging a person’s character on what they do seems to be something that is taking a backseat in today’s world. We now pigeonhole individuals on the basis what they have to say on a specific issue. You tell someone you are not pro-choice (or pro-life for that matter) and there is no question – you must be a terrible person. Somewhere along the line, having a different opinion seems to be not only an indicator of your character but the defining aspect of that character. Many seem to take the position that should you sit on the opposite side of an issue at best you are someone who lacks any moral compass and at worst you are someone who should be silenced. Either way this type of person becomes someone with whom we (meaning people in general) would never associate.
What has this led to in society? Tribal mentality. That tribalism has meant that groups are trying to gain what I call “righteous ground” (I am going to refer to this term by RG for simplicity) on key issues. As an individual you MUST conform to certain dogmatic opinions or you are the enemy – part of the opposite tribe. There can be no nuance in how you think on these issues. You either agree entirely or you are not granted access to the tribe. Should you be part of the tribe that has seized that moral RG on an issue you seem to have been granted some arbitrary power to silence ANY debate on that specific issue.
How often have some of us heard that expressing an opinion on something related to race, gender, sexual orientation is verboten if it challenges the dogmatic doctrine of the people on RG? For members of the tribe which has taken hold of RG, discourse and dialogue with the other tribe is for the most part not tolerated.
Some of you reading this may say “what is wrong with belonging to a tribe”? We see them in other aspects of society and there is no real negative impact. Leafs Nation is not causing any social upheaval (other than giving a whole group of people false hope… but that is a discussion for another day). Having a girls (or boys) night out is perfectly healthy. Tribes have been part of the human social structure in various forms for as long as humankind has existed. Many tribes that we see in society today are not a threat in any way.
However, when tribalism is about seizing RG with an eye on silencing any discussion it becomes a very dangerous prospect for all of us. Further, make no mistake, when the goal of a tribe is more about subjugating others than just existing and creating a better life for the tribe without negative impact for those outside of the group it becomes an insidious element of our world. Think about the rise of fascism and communism in the first half of the 20th century as extremes of this type of unabated tribalism and the negative outcomes that resulted from tribal mentality.
How can we as individuals address this issue which threatens speech, expression and ultimately freedom in our society? We must make it our goal to ALWAYS allow others to express opinions freely without threat of recourse/retribution. Further, we shouldn’t be afraid to make our own positions heard for fear of being labeled or ostracized. I know people will say “what about speech which is hateful and could incite violence and/or put vulnerable individuals at risk?” To that I say we have laws to address any type of hateful opinion which tries to hide behind the shield of free speech. All speech needs to be protected – not just speech with which we agree.
Maybe I am an anomaly in our current world as I actively seek out opposing viewpoints. This approach only serves to better informs my chosen position on a topic. Making a conscious decision to seek out opposing positions in some cases (but not all) may even change my mind – or at the very least allow for some nuance in my stance on a specific topic.
I think the words “let him/her/them speak” have largely disappeared from our society. This has done nothing but create a multitude of silos and echo chambers. Everyone should make the commitment to start a revolution and make “let him/her/them speak” become the rally cry of this revolution.
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