What ails us now is not living in uncertain times but rather the opposite: certainty abounds, and it is precisely that orientation which will continue to make social and political divisions more acute and less likely to lead to anything resembling consensus.
Certainty leads to a disappearing middle in politics, with all sides retreating to the cozy, self-reinforcing confines of their extremes. In the United States, both the right and the left are so certain that the other is wrong that there is precious hope for compromise – to say nothing about actual community.
Let’s not confuse certainty with confidence. Confidence borne of mature consideration that leads to action is one thing; certainty based only on immediate knee-jerk reactions against a person or policy lacks that desirable intermediate step of consideration and is nothing more than playground politics played out on a national stage.
In the world we live in, social media is the virtual playground or the schoolyard where insults are hurled and territories marked. While we may have gained the ability to instantly disseminate our thoughts and opinions to the world at large, we have lost the filter of reflection, of delay and of self-censorship that so often prevents us from making asses of ourselves.
Exhibit A: Randa Jarrar, a California State University professor at Fresno who – upon the death of Barbara Bush took to Twitter and tweeted how happy she was that “the witch is dead” and called the widely beloved former first lady “an amazing racist.” She went on to convey her unbridled hope that the rest of the Bush family would all soon “fall to their demise.”
Then there’s Cher, the pop icon who seems to have been around forever. She first tweeted that President Donald Trump is a “cancer ravaging the nation” and a “malignant tumor.” If that wasn’t clear enough, she included “sociopath” and “racist rat” amongst his failings.
But she then did something uncharacteristic both of her and the times we live in: she apologized. She deleted her Trump rant and posted another tweet saying, “Just because I can say anything doesn’t mean I should.”
Indeed. As ever, we can all learn something from Cher. Attacks are not wit and unconsidered opposition lacks the nobility of sober thought that is supposed to characterize those implicated in a social discourse and national dialogue.
An unfortunate characteristic of our times is the shunning of complexity and the rejection of lengthy discussion and debate. Instead of embracing the painstaking investigation and personal inventory needed to form informed opinions, we limit our social evolution to pre-packaged positions and pronouncements, thereby failing to understand their construction and the paths of discovery that led to their adoption.
Hashtags and slogans are undoubtedly brief and convenient but they are a poor substitute for actual thought and the rich exchange of ideas that should be an expected and desired part of healthy disagreement.
It is like looking at a house on fire and knowing intellectually that there were 10 contributing causes that led to the eventual conflagration but deciding to ignore any deep investigation of those precursors and instead conclude that “flames are bad.” How does that help us to prevent future blazes or limit the possibility of those elements coming together again in the future?
Instead of living in a time of sober consideration of differing political strategies – and the concurrent evaluation of their possible merit – we exist in a time where the normal and predictable reaction to – well, almost anything that does not parrot one’s own orientation – is to go from zero to outrage in five seconds flat.
Instead of certainty, what we should all be longing for is a little doubt.
I’m sure about that.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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