‘There’s none so blind as those who will not listen’
(Neil Gaiman, American Gods)
Do we want to wear glasses that we may see clearly or blinders that we may only see things one way?
Of late there has been huge discussion on censorship. Be it cancel culture, statues being pulled down or defaced, books being banned in schools/universities or podcasts being censored. Freedom of speech comes with a responsibility. Absolutely. It also comes with nuance and context and many other considerations. But nuance, context and shades of grey don’t make the headlines, well, unless they’re about Sue Gray….
I listen to and read across many different channels/broadcast outlets from all sides of the political spectrum. I have listened to Joe Rogan from time to time. I sometimes agree with things he has said, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I think his guests have valid points and sometimes not. I do not believe he should be taken down and I believe that he is not really the issue. What is far more important than any single Youtuber or podcaster, are the algorithms that suggest content that reinforces rather than challenges. Content which can lead people down rabbit holes and in some cases make them into mad hatters. We are being distracted from the true issue by zooming in on one person rather than the larger discussion to be had.
When I was at university I never feared speaking up.. It concerns me enormously that students and schoolchildren run the risk of saying one ‘wrong’ thing thereby becoming social pariahs. After all, that’s the message society at large is delivering to them at present. That they will grow up fearful to say anything that goes against whatever the accepted ideas of the day are, as expressed on social media. How can this be to anyone’s benefit? As we have seen time and time again from history, it’s not that people change their minds by being silenced. Rather, they feel disenfranchised, ignored, marginalised, and so what happens? We create extremes. Extremes are a direct result of closing down debate and unfortunately mean that people who could have been brought into rational discussion and debate are instead forced into positions that they perhaps would not otherwise have had.
It is often said that in order to help the starving man you don’t merely give him the fish, you give him the rod with which to fish. We need to equip people with better reading and listening rods from school onwards.
When I taught languages one of the first things I would say is please do not fear making mistakes. Indeed it’s imperative to make mistakes because you will learn your greatest lessons in this way. If we do not allow people to ‘say the wrong thing’, we do not allow for progress or learning. And that is without going into who exactly determines what is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to say. It’s a dangerous path that we tread when we suggest that our opinion, perhaps fed by an echo chamber, as encouraged by said algorithms, is the only valid, right, or morally upright opinion to have. And it is our actions rather than our opinions, which are evidence of the kinds of people we truly are.
Rather than pulling down statues of former slave traders, as was the case of Edward Colston in the UK, wouldn’t our minds be better focused on tackling modern day slavery? The trafficking of female sex slaves across the world? Wouldn’t bringing that down be better for the good of humanity? Shouldn’t we be doing more about the modern day commercial empires built off the back of slave wages, for the benefit of so very few? Wouldn’t a lesser focus on symbolism and a greater concentration on action be to all of our benefit? It’s not so say I think it’s right such statues are standing, rather that our focus is all wrong.
It’s worth considering who is conquering us whilst dividing us? Whilst we argue about what books to read, who to listen to, whether to wear a mask or not, whether to get a vaccine or not, we are distracted from far more terrifying things which should unite us all; the stratospheric transference of wealth into the hands of a few people over the past two years.
The political issues of today will not be those dictating the direction in which our planet is heading. Huge power, brought about by inordinate wealth in the hands of so very few, whilst the rest of the world suffers, should concern everyone, and yet we are all instead distracted. Distracted by being offended by someone to whom we are not forced to listen or read, whose information we can choose to disregard or embrace.
I love my family and friends. Love, respect or admiration for someone does not confer blanket agreement with all that they say and do.
Some people reading this will disagree, some will agree; I am just happy some of you have made it this far! I do not have all the answers. My motivation for writing this blog is that I feel so many are sitting in ‘virtual’ silence, fearing speaking up in any way which might see them ‘cancelled’.
In a previous blog I mentioned how I fear that this virtual world we inhabit is presenting a distorted vision and that out there in the real world, there is much greater positivity. I can’t think of a more important time to get back out there, to start talking to people in the flesh, to read, to listen, to discuss, to travel, to discover, to be challenged, to change and to grow. I hope that 2022 sees a return to real life, to freedom of expression and to freedom in general.