As riots have rocked major American cities and fears of another COVID outbreak stall efforts to reopen the country, Americans understandably are anxious about the future. To make matters worse, their leaders either have refused to act or have exploited these crises for political and economic gain.
If anything is to be done, it falls on individuals to do it themselves. Sadly, individuals today lack any kind of confidence to do or say anything.
It may be that a silent majority of Americans disagrees with the prevailing leftist narratives bombarding them. Relatively few of them, however—excluding the usual pundits—will ever tell anyone they disagree with anything. One can only hope that this silent majority will soon make its move and correct the country’s downward course.
Americans like to think that they have a right to free speech, but they also fear that exercising this right will put them in danger. These days, those who express unpopular opinions may face the mob or lose their jobs. Enumerating the many instances of conservatives facing severe repercussions for making even reasonable remarks about today’s controversies, John Loftus gravely concludes in The Federalist, “polite conversation cannot exist while powerful cultural forces erode the bedrock upon which this country was founded: the Constitution and the rights enshrined therein.”
Leftists who insist that speech is violence may have a point, since a person’s speech really can harm him if it opposes the dominant narrative. This leaves two options to most people: they can stay silent or—since silence is now also violence—they can repeat whatever the mainstream media outlets tell them.
We Need to Resume Talking Face-to-Face Again, But How?
In practical terms, limiting free speech has minimized face-to-face conversation, while maximizing social media conversation. People have fewer real conversations with those around them and instead have opted for the echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook. Not only has this resulted in bad ideas taking hold, it has also alienated people from one another. Therefore, if people hope to save the culture and the politics downstream of it, they will have to work to get people physically talking to one another again.
As any good conversationalist knows, getting people to talk requires giving them something to talk about. First, start with something safe (one of the FORD topics: family, occupation, recreation, dreams) and then, depending on the context, the group could discuss something more controversial (one of the PEAR topics: politics, economics, abortion, religion). If a person starts a conversation with a stranger, it may be advisable to start with small talk like the weather or popular entertainment.
Unfortunately, as issues become more politicized, nothing is safe to talk about and opportunities for small talk fade. If someone asks a person about his wife and kids, the company he works for, his last fishing trip, or his dream to visit Paris—all of it exposes him to accusations of privilege, bigotry, and ignorance. And with sports and Hollywood going woke, even these topics become dangerous avenues for conversation. All that leaves is the weather, but the Left has ruined this subject as well.
Because of this, no one really knows anyone, conversation is tedious, and friendship is near impossible. Consequently, an increasing number of people must flock to social media to share ideas with others. In response, social media companies do all they can to make their platforms easy and addictive. Sure, sharing memes with like-minded strangers in cyberspace is hollow and mostly pointless, but who has time to worry about that when it gains so many likes and followers?
Besides turning sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube into monopolies, this habit has completely changed the way most people interact with reality—that is, most people now have very little contact with reality, material or spiritual. In such a world, all ideas become valid, all behavior becomes acceptable, and those with power and influence start to determine truth for everyone. While there is still the illusion of free speech online, it is actually a very restricted realm where the loudest, least restrained tribe can bully rivals and dictate the terms of discussion—or what little there is of it.
Fixing Social Media Won’t Fix the Problem
Free-speech advocates think things would change were the owners of these platforms to play fair and stop censoring certain views, but in reality this would do little to liberate speech. The algorithms that make these sites so popular will steer users to their particular niche and keep them from engaging in any serious debate. And while cancel culture certainly makes things worse, allowing companies the power to cancel in the first place is where the problem starts.
This suggests that the real solution to the dangers faced by those wanting to speak their minds on important issues can only be found offline. People need to stop outsourcing all-important conversations to the internet and recover authentic connections with others. They may find that they are not alone, and what’s more, that conversation with a real person can be pleasant and fulfilling.
True, the awkward moments may come, and one will meet resistance, but these present opportunities to learn about the other side and shore up one’s own arguments. That said, it’s entirely possible that someone may feel so bothered (or “triggered”) by conversation that they will react aggressively or completely avoid talking in the future. This is why successfully assessing how safe a topic might be requires practice and maturity.
Courage Is Found Among Neighbors, Not Online
Having real conversations with real people also requires courage. People are afraid of one another and will lash out in unexpected ways. This will often happen even among friends who share the same opinions.
It wasn’t Black Lives Matters (BLM) activists who fired Timothy Gordon, a Catholic writer and beloved teacher at a Catholic school in California, who criticized BLM; it was his employer who feared being associated with him.
Gordon rightly called out this cowardice: “The so-called ‘right wing,’ if such a chimera even exists in the 21st century, is peopled by an irresolute mob of henpecked, handwringing, risk-averse, complacent, self-serving, heartless schoolmarms, who would have to be literally gang-pressed into a fight (and who would flee the moment it came down to it).”
A movement or church composed of such cowards would quickly disintegrate. They end up becoming anonymous members of a collective, not mutually supportive neighbors in a community. Sure, they may not loot stores and deface statues, but they don’t seem to protect these things either. They may not espouse extreme ideologies, but they don’t seem to speak up for the ideas in which they do believe. Worst of all, no one seems to be happy.
Despite all the recent calls to action from conservative writers, nothing will happen until the silent majority begins talking to one another again. Nothing can replace the true empowerment that comes from real contact with a person. Otherwise, the more people isolate themselves out of fear, the more the destructive leftist narrative gains power over those around them.
It is not only for the good of the country that we must initiate real conversations again, but also for our own sanity. Americans worried about the fate of their country need finally to break their silence and let their actual voices be heard.