Understand the Issue first, Agree/Disagree later?

cancel culture

In recent times, there have often been instances when mid-way in writing a post on social media, I “discard” it. There have been times when I wanted to understand an issue, without just tossing an opinion, without joining a for/against camp. This owes to the fact that for several issues, a mere attempt to hint at their complex and multi-layered nature may attract a label.

This article addresses this culture, this culture that is dissuading open dialogue, discussion and even thinking. This musing goes beyond the debate on the rise of intolerance which is connected to a specific ideology and political ecosystem. It strictly refrains from aligning itself to the views or interest of any ideological group.

Owing to political forces and socio-economic processes both old and new, the society has become increasingly polarized. In this society, people uphold strong and often extreme opinions on various issues. This polarization has created an “us versus them” mentality which makes it challenging for differing viewpoints to coexist.

Polarisation has been greatly exacerbated by social media. The rise of social media and personalized algorithms has created echo chambers, wherein individuals are primarily exposed to content that aligns with their existing beliefs. This lack of exposure to alternative perspectives has led to the suppression of dissenting opinions and the reinforcement of existing biases. The fear of systematic trolling also works to curb alternative or ambiguous opinions.

In recent years, there has also been a growing trend of “cancelling” individuals or organizations who express views deemed offensive or controversial. This can result in a chilling effect, where people fear expressing dissenting opinions due to potential backlash, social ostracism, or professional repercussions.

There is also the “intolerance of intolerance”. Paradoxically, some individuals or groups argue that certain views or opinions should not be allowed or tolerated because they believe those opinions are harmful. This viewpoint lead to a narrowing of acceptable discourse and a reduction in space for disagreement.

What may also add to this culture is the practice of political correctness. The desire to promote inclusivity, respect, and sensitivity has necessitated a sense of political correctness. While these norms aim to create a more inclusive society, they can also stifle open discussion and create a fear of expressing dissenting views for fear of being labelled as offensive or insensitive.

Moreover, the activists and experts in the field tend to forget that not everyone in society has had the same opportunity to read relevant theories and acquaint themselves with developments in a certain field. As a result, a person may not know the “appropriate” terms or even conceptual knowledge. This should not create a divide wherein the activists and experts only speak and engage with the “like-minded”, dismissing opinions, dilemmas and questions and labelling people.

We know that a society which does not allow freedom of thought and expression will never be fair. What we also need to remember is that a society which does not allow discussion without the fear of judgement will also never be fair. It is important to acknowledge the limiting and reductionist tendency of ideologies, no matter how “progressive” the ideology is. How are we so sure that a certain approach to thinking and action is absolutely correct? How intellectually sound is this thought? A culture that promotes open dialogue, respect for diverse perspectives, and constructive debates cannot and should not cease to exist.

Dr Devika Mittal teaches sociology in Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. She is also the convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross-border peacebuilding initiative. She tweets at @devikasmittal


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