There’s some Freaky Friday shit going down in our culture where all of a sudden the pearl-clutching, book-banning conservatives of the 50’s have been replaced as the main supporters of censorship by the pearl-clutching, don’t-say-it-if-it-isn’t-PC liberals of the 2k10s. Everyday there’s a new reason to light the mob torches because someone said something that is upsetting, which, apparently, should no longer be allowed.
Did y’all have some meeting I wasn’t invited to? Is it opposite day? What happened guys? You used to be cool.
When did we become so intolerant that we can’t even allow opinions we don’t like to exist?
Here’s an Al Jazeera America journalist saying to ban and burn Thought Catalog when he read an article he didn’t like. I don’t get it. Disagree with something all you want but why ask for stuff you don’t like to be banned? What progress does quieting a voice get you, when that person is thinking it whether or not they express it. Censorship ends conversations, which ends progress, which helps no one.
Another example: Thought Catalog published a confessional essay from a girl called I Think My Boyfriend Wants To Be With A Transsexual in which a girl describes her shock and disgust upon learning her boyfriend had a fetish for trans women. The backlash was incredible. The author had made both purposeful and accidental errors in referring to the trans women receiving her boyfriend’s affection, but it read as an emotional stream of conscious confession from someone who was culturally unaware of the gravity of her words.
I get it, she did a bad thing. She was in the wrong for focusing her angry feelings on the woman instead of the man. But, newsflash, this is a human thing to do. It’s not wrong to have reactions before being able to suss out the appropriate and inappropriate feelings beneath them, and it’s not wrong to not go through this process alone.
I think what this whole ordeal communicates to people is that, even if you are upset and would like to describe your emotional state by writing on the internet (a catharsis many of us enjoy) you shouldn’t unless you are certain you are phrasing everything in the *right* way. There’s a rule in philosophy that helps you make forward progress with your dialogue, it’s called the principle of charity. It means you attack your opponent on their strongest point. You don’t attack grammar when there are bigger issues at hand. If someone has errors in their cultural thinking (and, we all do, no one is born knowing all the right answers) you can shut down the conversation, or you can turn it into a learning opportunity and make progress. It’s up to you to decide which is more important.
We published Parker Molloy’s 19 Things Bad ‘Allies’ Say which highlighted some unintentionally offensive things people who consider themselves allies do that are actually detrimental to the cause they think they are helping. As a result of the conversation this article inspired, Michael Solana wrote How To Talk To Gay People (A Gentle, Gentle Intro For The Oversensitive Liberal) about the (very) offensive things people have said to him, and why he’d rather them say it than remain quiet.
The two pieces are kind of opposites, one is “don’t say this if you want to be an ally” the other is “say whatever you need to say, I am open to conversation.”
The great thing about dialogue is that both of these conversations are helpful. It’s helpful to know what is hurtful to say to another person, and also that we can see each other as human products of our sociological circumstances, as imperfect learners. It’s gravity and grace, the old testament and the new and we shouldn’t shy away understanding one in relation to the other.
I think we can all benefit from clutching our pearls a little less when we read something that makes us uncomfortable. We’ve all been wrong about one thing or another. It’s extremely unlikely that as flawed people any of us are always right, or know the capital ‘T’ Truth. The best we can do is hold our opinions in dialectical tension with others, and do the balancing act of people who have diverse experiences, values, and needs.