We have seen the warning signs of our culture becoming infantilized before, but the pace seems faster now. It was bad enough when we were becoming incapable of basic skills, and falling behind in general physical health. Such handicaps, by themselves, are not fatal to society; skills can be learned, health can be recovered.
More troubling is how culture celebrates narrow thinking with an unwillingness to hear ideas different from one’s own. Some even invoke “trigger warnings” so people can ready themselves for the indignity of having to be exposed to some repugnant idea. Not only do we have the “safe spaces” trend, but that thinking has made its way to the internet. No this isn’t about Twitter and Facebook censorship — that’s a different problem.
This is about a new Chrome extension. Anyone bothered by ideas contrary to the party line can make their computer edit text for them so they need never read them. With this plug-in, made anonymously, all instances of the phrase “pro-life” will be re-written and replaced with the phrase “anti-choice”.
To be blunt, this is explicitly a propaganda tool, a 21st Century take on Orwellian Newspeak. The “progressives” even admit to it being a propaganda tool — if not in so many words. Here’s their justification, as they presented it: “Tired of seeing the fraught term ‘pro-life’ used ubiquitously and incorrectly, we conceived of this extension to shift the language of the discussion towards a more accurate framework” — this is the online description of the “Choice Language” tool.
Leftists, far more than Conservatives, appreciate the value of harnessing the emotional value of language. In this case, it’s to frame their cause as the virtuous one. When possible, they frame the causes they favor as being “for” something, and their rivals as “against” it. The something it is for will piggyback on an accepted virtue, like freedom. Control the language, and you will control the argument.
Their logic could, of course, be turned back on them. They don’t care about “choice” in the abstract, but only as a means to an end. When’s the last time adoption services figured as a valid choice featured prominently in their policies? Why do they pretend the question is about choice? It’s about unfettered access to abortion for anyone and everyone who would like one. Period. “Safe, Legal, Rare is a lie.” Why don’t they come out and call themselves pro-abortion? There is a simple explanation: because “choice” implies a nobility and moral high ground that lends credibility to an otherwise weak argument.
Abortion language details aside, the words that get changed are not the point. Nor does space permit me to look into legal issues of altering someone else’s text without legal permission, or the potential for misquoting others. The fact that any words are being changed is the point. It’s bad enough Facebook Timelines and Twitter are echo chambers feeding people perspectives they already agree with.
This leaves wrong ideas (whoever has them) unchallenged, and undefended. There is value in conversation between conservatives and liberals, blacks and whites, religious and atheist, or any other group with a sharp divide and strong opinions. Do so civilly, and without rancor, and you might learn something about the issues, the counter-perspective, or even yourself.
When did we cease to value rigorous intellectual debate? We need exposure to conflicting thought. Even if only to refine our own ideas and make them better.
When did we stop engaging complex issues? The most difficult and challenging questions I’ve ever faced contributed enormously to my personal growth. The same is true of most of you. It’s like resistance-training for the mind.
What will happen if we wall ourselves into our own little bubbles where the only ideas we interact with are our own?
Simple. We’ll plateau as a culture. We’ll retreat into our past or at best, stagnate. We’ll be the last of a long line of nations that imploded under its own bulk. But look at the upside, at least you need never worry about being offended.