Too many debates about important issues degenerate into manufactured and misplaced outrage—and it's chilling free speech.

There once was a remote village deep in the rainforest that had no contact with the outside world. And in this small village there were only three village elders who had the ability to speak. So they were in charge. And they’d have arguments. One would say, “I support a woman’s right to choose.” Another would say, “I oppose a woman’s right to choose.” And then the third would say, “A real debate here on a woman’s right to choose. When we come back, Justin Bieber arrested!”

Now if you were one of the many villagers who didn’t have a way to speak, you just hoped that one of the three elders who could speak would make the argument you wanted to make. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. And it was okay, but it bothered you that these three voices didn’t really speak for everybody. They were, after all, pretty rich and all one color. (Green. These were green people.) And they didn’t really understand what it was like to be aqua or purple or gay or poor like you were. You’re a gay poor purple person. They tried to cover the whole world, but generally they focused on what was on the minds of green people from the big cities who watched Mad Men and went to Middlebury.

And even as the elders spoke with confidence and seriousness, it felt like they kept getting it wrong. They invaded neighboring villages, occasionally the wrong village altogether. They trusted the CEOs of the village banks even after they plunged the village into a Great Village Recession and then went right back to village business as usual as if it never happened. They built a massive village prison system that punished non-violent village offenders at higher rates than anywhere else in the rainforest. They rigged the village economy against the interests of ordinary villagers in favor of those with close ties to the three elders, those who had donated money to their village campaigns, lobbied their village offices.

Then one day you found this rock and you realized that you could use the rock to write on a leaf. And so you developed a written language and taught it to everyone. And at the big village meetings, when the three elders at the front would have their arguments, villagers could participate. People would write things like, “I agree with you and appreciate your position.” Or “I hope you get cancer and die.” Or “Here’s a picture of what I ate for lunch.” Or “Please stop drawing pictures of food, no one cares what you ate for lunch.” Or “Check out this cat in a shoebox because adorable.”

But it turned out by the time we finally had this great way to communicate in our hands, we were already so angry and suspicious that the rock and leaf became a way to vent our frustrations not just as the elders but at each other.

Bill says, “I support single-payer village healthcare.”
And then Mary writes, “Bill is a faggot communist.”
And then Ted says, “I won’t shop at Mary’s boutique until Mary apologizes to Bill.”
Then Angela says, “Stand with Mary against the assault on her freedom of speech!”
And then Bill says, “Angela is a racist.”
And Jeff says, “Anyone who shops at Mary’s boutique is a racist.”
And Ted says, “Check your privilege.”
And Mary says, “I don’t remember who I am in this story but I’m furious.”
And then someone writes, “FUKCK YOU TED!!1!” in all caps with a bunch of typos.


The Culture of Shut Up - Jon Lovett - The Atlantic (external - login to view)