Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Less Strident and Less Tolerant

 Every so often I ask myself why (aside from chronic lack of time to do much of anything other than work, parenting, and mindlessly wasting time) I don't write more.  Then I look back at the numerous posts I wrote in the past and realize that these days I would not write many of them.

Some of this is due to the "I used to have a seven theories and no children, now I have seven children and no theories" phenomenon. Some is due to the cynicism and exhaustion that gradually teaches one that trying to correct everyone who is wrong on the internet is like trying to hold back the tide.  But a lot of it is also that over the years I've come to know and like more people who find various subjects or views upsetting, and so rather than write something which I know will upset people I like, I keep a lot of thoughts that I nonetheless hold to myself.  

In this sense, I probably sound a somewhat less strident than I used to.

However, there's a downside to this constant voluntary self censorship.  It's an unspoken, one-sided bargain, and as such it's one of which others are unaware.  While I may have undertaken these strictures for reasons that seem like they would apply equally to people on the other side of various issues, it is hardly surprising if other people do not feel the same need to keep their opinions under wraps in order to get along.  I know this.  And yet, when one is going to the effort to bottle up a lot of opinion, and others are quite obviously not doing so, it's easy to get angry that others are not following one's own silent code.

The result is that as a direct result of becoming less strident, I think I've become a good deal less tolerant as well. 

I don't know if this is an inevitable result of our current tense cultural conditions, combined with the disorientation and feeling of betrayal that naturally come from the recent scrambling of sides as the right has become more populist and the left has become more illiberal, or if it's an inevitable result of age and weariness, but it definitely one of the key ways that I have changed in the way I think about online opinion over the years.


Brandon said...

In grading papers you usually have to take breaks, because there is always a part of your brain that, faced with yet another iteration of exactly the same mistake, has a tendency to react, incorrectly, as if a single person kept insisting on something despite having been repeatedly told otherwise. We carry our prior responses and arguments with us, and have to reset sometimes, or we start responding to people as if they were responsible for a whole set of things they don't even know about. And with a lot of arguments on the Internet these days, I find that my reaction is one of, "I've been here before; I've had this argument; yes, I might revise or improve some things this time around, but really, I've already done this, and have no interest in living life on a loop."

On a few topics, I often just have to recognize that bothering with it will inevitably just lead to my opinion of people sinking even lower (and my natural temperament is already quite cynical and sarcastic), and that's not actually an improvement of any kind. But I suppose in some things I may have something at least analogous to the reversal of reciprocity you are talking about here -- the sense that other people are just not playing fair, in the sense that they are not taking into account other people (i.e., myself). And when it keeps happening (as it inevitably does), even distributed among very different people, there's a part of the brain that reacts as if the same person keeps deliberately doing the same thing, or as if people have been conspiring to pile on for no good reason.

mandamum said...

Brandon, that's an interesting point about your brain lumping different people's same mistake into one person's repeated mistake. I'll try to keep an eye out for that brain trick going forward.

In my local, tiny, homeschooling email group, I actually have this experience with the *same* offenders, so unfortunately in that case it's not a brain trick. Sometimes it's that tendency to think that "all right thinkers think like me - therefore all people in this space agree with this eminently reasonable position." I assume this has always been the case in in-person interactions - I know I experienced it as an orthodox Catholic grad student at a secular institution - but I think it maybe gets worse somehow online, especially when it can feel like you're speaking into the void, without being able to gauge any response unless someone replies to your post. You don't see the ones who look put off, or edge out of the conversation, because they're usually not responding anyway so you can take their non-response as tacit agreement.

A few times I have spoken up to correct blatant falsehoods when bruited about the group specifically *because* I am thinking of the quiet ones around the edge, not part of the conversation but perhaps still listening. The falsehood-poster is not going to be convinced, as I know from experience. But because I am responding for those third parties, I try my best to be extra-calm, extra-charitable, extra-clear and especially to steer clear of digressions. And usually fail anyway.... So I think you describe my experience there exactly, Mrs. D - I am so carefully curating *my* emails to this group (sometimes to the point that my other plans for a morning suffer) that it exacerbates the annoyance I feel at yet another clearly uncensored "BE SCANDALIZED!! DO DUMB THINGS!" splattering all over my email.

Paul Zummo said...

Really interesting perspective and I see a lot of myyself in this post. I don't write nearly as much as I used to, and for many of the same reasons. I wonder if there is a catharsis in writing that lets one's annoyances dissipate.

Paul Zummo said...

One other thing. In being more of a reader of social media than a writer, that just leads me to a greater deal of annoyance. For example, I deleted my Twitter account but still read a few select people on there, so I can't reply to anything. And I think that just stresses me out more. Even on Facebook I find myself deleting comments before I even post them more often than actually posting them. Now maybe it's good for my soul to not always publish what I am thinking, but it would probably be even better to stop reading altogether. Either that, or just let the flood loose.

Darwin said...


That's an interesting point about the frustration one feels from multiple offenses from different people. The fifth paper with the same tiresome error or platitude must seem a lot more egregious than the first.


It does seem particularly important to keep in mind what the purpose of an interaction is. As you say, often online the person one is responding to is not actually someone who will change, and instead it is the other people reading who are the audience.


Yeah, reading social media but still doing some of it definitely has its particular frustrations...

mandamum said...

I have found sometimes that writing out my response *and then not sending* is enough to burn off the annoyance, because it allows my brain to file it as "done". Like writing a letter to a friend in my head while I wash dishes, and then the actual letter never happens because my brain has checked it off, LOL, but in a more helpful way :-)

I think your self-censorship tied to other-awareness may be related to age, but I see it rather standing in contrast to the egocentric idealism of youth.