One of the great challenges of the current era is something I call the fallacy of futility.
Almost every ad or commercial I see emphasizes how you can take control of something or other. Which is great, in theory.
Except they’re usually telling you that you can take control of some thing that you didn’t know needed to be controlled, like an illness you didn’t know existed. And sure, depending on your symptoms, it can be helpful to find out about these things, and relieve the symptoms. But the way human minds work, you can also develop symptoms just from hearing about them. Our minds are trained to try to pick up clues from our environments, and they aren’t necessarily prepared for our environments to be making sophisticated attempts to convince us that we need to buy their products or we will be miserable.
So we feel more futile about our health, and the pervasiveness of those messages makes us feel like we’re supposed to feel that way. The only thing that will fix us is their product. So they are commercials, which maneuver us into feeling sick and feeling like we need what they offer, and then they tell us they are freeing us by requiring us to change our lives, and buy their stuff. And for some reason, that doesn’t feel as empowering as we’re told.
So the public message is empowerment, and the private message is futility.
Everyone hates hate speech. Many of us hate that hate speech but still believe in freedom of speech in general. This is a weird time, because an increasing number of things are labeled hate speech. Again, it’s good to try to root that stuff out. But realistically, focusing too hard on either of those things has its difficulties. Right now, we are focusing on hateful and inappropriate speech. And by definition, we don’t want those things. But it’s not like there’s some mathematical formula for determining precisely the effects of some particular expression. People have to fear social response and personal response and, and, in a particularly frightening, and very new development, people have to fear that platforms like this one will have robots deciding whether or not your speech is appropriate, and giving you punishments if so.
Since I got canceled, a lot of people have come to me and talk about how they were afraid to speak about anything. Years ago, I got a lot of people who talk about being afraid to say positive things about me in particular, because they feared social backlash. But now I mostly get approached by people who figured that, as a person who has already been canceled, I am less afraid of saying or doing something wrong, and being canceled for it. Pretty much all of them have expressed that they feel futile, helpless, unable to express themselves because they no longer know what is OK.
I would like to note that these people aren’t just afraid of being punished, most of them are genuinely concerned about hurting other people. And most of the time, their fear is that they can’t keep up with current beliefs, because they do seem to change on the daily. People feel like they won’t know how to keep up with what is OK to talk about, and they’re worried that if they make a mistake and try to apologize, they won’t be able to get that message out.
They have an understandable belief in the futility of trying to express themselves authentically.
And I think the thing that makes the fallacy of futility most convincing is that we spend a lot of time on platforms which try to convince us that things are getting better and better in terms of social understanding, but worse and worse in terms of how terrible humans are.
The honest truth is that none of these things make us helpless. They may change how we need to communicate. They may change some of how we act.
But even a huge platform, a big tech company, a powerful political organization… Even those things can be affected by a single individual, even now. Platforms may prioritize you by algorithm, but even the biggest platforms need to battle each other for marketshare, and they can only do that by winning over individuals.
The last couple decades are the first in human history where we can make a pretty good guess at how much information and data we are moving around as a planet. We know there is more data, being moved around more quickly, towards more people, with more sophisticated monitoring and response than ever before. That’s going to feel overwhelming.
But it isn’t. You always own your own mind.
Many things are difficult. But nothing is inherently futile.
“Get on with it:
if you want to change the world, shut your mouth and start to do it.”