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Polar Opposites | Note 12

Call me old-fashioned, but I think that there are better ways to support trans rights than getting upset about people reading Harry Potter.

Because of both my academic interests and my own nonbinary identity, gender and transness are two subjects especially close to my heart, but they’re not this Note’s topic. Rather, it is the kind of public debate which, in recent years, has become prevalent, and I believe it in no small part because of social media’s influence on how we communicate. Thumbs up, thumbs down, double tap, swipe left — it takes a split second to express an opinion online. In real life, this new kind of tarsness has grossly contributed to the polarisation of the public sphere where a heated and eloquent argument has been all but replaced by cancel culture.

Even worse than that, opinions seem to be formed not on the basis of a thorough engagement with a given subject, but on the basis of sympathies and a kind of tribal mentality in which our views must align with the views of our peers. In a sense, there’s some logic to it: nobody can be an expert in every field, so trusting the opinion of friends or politicians makes sense. But we should be able to admit — and without the fear of being ostracised for it — that we simply don’t have enough data to have a strong opinion on every single subject.

During the pandemic, I distinctly remember my partner, Andy, and one of our good friends falling out over COVID19. One was accusing the other of being a conspiracy theorist, the other accusing the first of mindless following of nonsensical governmental rules. With disbelief, I observed how the friendship became strained and waited for months before the two were finally reconciled.

While my views on the matter decidedly leant toward Andy’s, I was also acutely aware of my inability to actually understand the pandemic. Three years later, there are still very few people in the world, if any, who can make that claim. So, I spent hours talking with our friend, sending each other articles, checking sources, disputing. We never came to agree on the matter of vaccines and policies, but it didn't stop us from a discussion, and we certainly didn't fall out. I’m also pretty sure we both learned more than if we had stayed within our respective echo-chambers.

In keeping with the old imperialist strategy of divide and rule, the polarisation of the public discourse is beneficial to those who hold power. The less nuanced our thinking, the easier it is to spread fear — a strategy long beloved by the hard right. And endorsing and partaking in cancel culture is of the same low stock as fear mongering. It is not justice for the vulnerable, but social lynching thinly disguised... read more now


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