Andrew Sullivan’s latest column is well worth reading. It made me think about some of the themes I explored in my Six Pack Series — namely, the problem with silencing all dissent from whatever is considered a norm, particularly if it threatens everyone’s safety and security.
While Sullivan focuses more on tribalism and the problems that come with it, he brings up a point that I believe can’t be stressed enough: Safety is far more important than the unknown. But while Sullivan uses this point to focus more on the idea of debating issues, I think it also applies toward any policy we choose to implement, from a university’s policy about “safe spaces” to the government’s never-ending War on Terror.
Since I have been born, it seems there’s always been a new threat that’s out there in which we must do whatever it takes to keep ourselves safe. Kids are abducted by strangers, cartels are smuggling illegal drugs, gangs engage in drive-by shootings, people are killed or beaten to death simply based on their biological traits, certain chemicals are found to be unsafe to use around humans, police are either being killed in great numbers or killing people for no good reason in great numbers, and in the worst case of all, planes are hijacked and flow into buildings. And our response in every situation is to declare “we aren’t safe enough” and declare that more security measures need to be put into place.
But the end result of that is we immediately think of everything in “worst care scenario” terms and go from being vigilant to coming up with solutions, to being paranoid that every person who fits the description of whatever danger is out there to be a threat who must be controlled.
It doesn’t help that social media is becoming less of a chance to stay in touch with people we have gotten to know throughout our lives, or trying to connect with people to promote something, and more about gathering into a big circle whose sole purpose is to validate one another. And part of that validation is to declare that in order to be “safe,” you must believe that everything you say must be true, and that anyone who disagrees to the slightest degree is a threat to your safety.
And so terms get thrown about not to raise valid points, but to do whatever it takes to win an argument on social media. There is no better example of this than the usage of the term “Nazi” to describe somebody you don’t like. Think about how many people have been slapped with that label simply out of dislike. You’d start the list with those who have either served as President, or ran for that office, in past years, but then it would go far past politicians to pundits, celebrities and even friends, family members and acquaintances — all solely because one person said something another person didn’t like.
Yes, there are actual Nazis still out there in this world. But that means, every time you use “Nazi” as an insult, you make it a meaningless term, to the point that it becomes impossible to counteract actual Nazis. After all, if everyone you disagree with a Nazi, the actual Nazis will find it easier to blend in with the populace and push their propaganda.
The only way to counteract Nazis is to use an accurate description of what they actually are, what they believe, and the tactics they utilize. It also means you need to understand how anyone who became a Nazi came to embrace that position. That means, like it or not, you have to be exposed to the ideas they represent and how others came to embrace those ideas. Because it’s the only way to know what measures are really effective in mitigating — if not eliminating — their influence, while giving you a better chance of preventing others from falling for that ideology — or even getting someone who embraced the ideology to renounce it, apologize and strive to be a better person (yes, there are those who reformed).
If we really want to be a “safer” society, we need to be smarter in terms of how we handle situations. That means we need to examine the real factors that led to the situation and address them directly, rather than taking measures that give an appearance of “safety” but aren’t really doing anything to allow us to learn and evolve as a society.
While I don’t think we are headed toward the society I described in the Six Pack Series (society being controlled through a drink that affects everyone’s brains), we are headed toward a society that is becoming more afraid by the minute and sees a threat everywhere, whether it’s through action or words. And the outcome isn’t going to be a good one until we learn that “safety first” isn’t always the best option.