My brother in law shared a podcast by Sam Harris (link) about the current fragile state of the USA. It is very logical and dispassionate. I haven’t finished it yet. But it’s brave too – for a white man (reportedly the most privileged sector of the human species) to attack these issues. He sidles into the issues very carefully and explains all his reasoning and also his own (more emotional) responses in such detail, it is hard to fault him. But I am a white woman (maybe the second most privileged sector of the human species). It is very hard for me to imagine how a less privileged person would respond to him.
It got me thinking. What Sam Harris is aiming for is a dispassionate conversation. Just like the struggle for equality between men and women (whatever that means), we need to lay down the assumption that the world at large WANTS and is SEEKING inequality. We women need to be not LOOKING for inequality where there is none. That is hard to do. The other day, in a group, a woman posed a question. A man went to find an answer. By the time he found the answer, the woman was involved in a different conversation. The man tried to get her attention and ended up pretty much yelling her name to interrupt her conversation. I watched this happen and I wondered why the man couldn’t wait until the woman had finished what she was saying. And I wondered if he would have done the same thing to a man. Or, if a woman had gone in search of the answer to the question, would she have interrupted in the same way or would she have waited until the opportunity arose for her to speak. I know I would’ve waited. That is my nature. But is that because I’m a woman or only because I am me?
What Sam Harris wants, is to be able ask these questions and to search for honest answers about where the truth lies. In order to do that, you need to be open to any answer. You can’t have already decided what the answer is before the conversation starts.
One of my personal characteristics is that I am generally not decisive. The reasons I am not decisive are quite varied. They include:
- I care a lot (too much?) about what other people think and feel. I hate to be perceived as being pushy or bossy or whatever.
- I readily perceive the value of other people’s arguments and am slow to find counter-arguments of my own.
- A lot of the time, I under-value my own opinion or doubt the strength of my own reasoning.
- Even if I do initially make a decision, I often torture myself afterwards about whether I offended this person or angered that person or simply made the wrong choice.
Mostly I perceive this indecisiveness as a fault because it seems to me to have resulted in me never rising far on the career ladder. A manager needs to be able to make decisions and be certain of them and be able to communicate the reasoning for them to his/her staff.
If you are decisive (from my point of view) the world must be a simpler, more black and white space. If you are confident of your views and your way forward, surely that reduces the nuance, the colour spectrum, the ever-merging fields of grey? If you are decisive, what happens when the counter-arguments come in? Do you bat them away with skilled debater’s prowess? Do you close your ears and call “The decision is made! Make haste on enacting it!”? Or is it that you have already assessed all these grey areas and are sure of your decision, even despite the murky waters. Perhaps the sheer requirement for a decision overrides the necessity to account for all views.
There MUST be decision makers. That is self-evident. But, listening to Sam Harris, it would seem that people like me (who over-nuance every decision) perhaps have a value too.
Social Media isn’t a place for the appreciation of nuance. On the most recent broadcast of Chat 10, Looks 3 (episode 139) Annabel Crabb talks about “Rabbithole Podcast” by Kevin Roose from the New York Times. A young American man volunteers himself to be the subject of a study involving the Rabbit Hole that is You Tube. Crabb goes into some detail about the ways that the algorithms on social media hosts like Youtube push us in particular directions, enabling this particular (otherwise pretty ordinary) young man, to become an extreme right wing (to the point of becoming a neo Nazi) supporter.
Anyway, I haven’t listened to Kevin Roose’s podcast yet but it would seem to make the point that Social Media has mastered the art of suggestive selling. It takes what we naturally like and pushes us further and further and further in a particular direction. We are, as Annabel Crabb said, being almost forced into tribes. And warring tribes at that.
So… and this is me being indecisive again… maybe I can find a niche for my indecision. Maybe as much as we need decision makers, we also need indecisive people. A place where that grey fuzzy head of mine (internally not externally) will be appreciated and valued. We need a new kind of social media which is purely about conversation. There are no memes. No images. No linking capability. There are no capital letters. No swear words. It is simply a place for civilised discussion. Any rude, unfriendly, unthoughtful, censorial or abusive users will be removed. It is a place of dispassionate thoughtfulness. A kind of amateur school of philosophy.
The test for getting in will involve some simple hypothetical decisions. Depending on the decisiveness of your answers you will be included or barred. Ha ha ha. And it won’t be called social media. It will be called The (I think, maybe) Very Round Table.