Monday, September 5, 2016

My Way or the HighWay




Every once in a while, a controversy washes up our shores and we take positions on opposite sides of the fence. A minister said this, a celebrity said that. A film depicts this, a book quotes that. A news anchor tweeted this, a politician tweeted that. Whether it is a socio- political debate or a controversial comment - social media discourse ensures that there is little space for nuance.

Soon the prickly discourse boils down to ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’. More often than not, our response is not for other people or their logic, but for their political affiliations. Since we are more vicious and angry in the virtual realm, we want our opponents to shut-up and disappear.

And suddenly the idea that there can be two sides to a story seems far-fetched, too complicated to be true. What opinion, after all, holds true if it does not have roots in a rigid belief? What argument makes sense if it finds some merit in a dissenting voice?
This mocking the ‘other side’ is a worldwide phenomenon ranging from Trump versus Hillary to Salman versus Shah Rukh. The outright rejection of those who don’t feel the same way as we do is reflected in reactions when friends respond with, “How could you? Never imagined you were his fan?” Which essentially translates to, “How can you like someone I don’t?”

Given that Twitter trends decide the national narrative and vice versa, the news anchors too have fallen for the ‘either-or’ trap. If one pompous anchor invites a dozen odd panelists and begins his show with a pre-conceived notion that he is always right, the other is unwilling to engage with those who disagree. If one reduces nationalism to shouting over neighboring guests, the other eulogizes separatists by sympathizing with anti-national voices. If one is ordained by the TRP compulsions to be always right, the other is a member of a powerful cozy club.

What if I don’t agree with both?

Vinod Mehta, the Outlook editor hit the nail when he wrote, “A television anchor’s nightmare guest is one who takes, ‘on the other hand’ kind of positions. Complexity, subtlety, an effort to explore grey areas is positively discouraged. If you recommend street hangings and public floggings you are likely to do well on television.”

With shortened attention spans, one hundred and forty characters set the agenda. While brevity has advantages, it does little to address complex issues. Besides, it’s so much fun to mock 'them'. Paint them all with one brush. All Sanghis are illiterate abusers. All Liberals are pseudo-sickulars. All Pakistanis are evil. All journalists are presstitues. The pot-shots minus Marijuana add kick to our everyday mundane niceties. Wicked is fun, abuse liberating. Politeness is pretense, civility weakness.

The question is:
Why have we become so opinionated and polarized  about simple  issues such as an advertisement, a campaign, an opinion or a silly comment?
 
Let’s for a moment refuse to take a strong judgmental stance and meekly resign to an acceptance that everyone is entitled to their views. Wouldn’t it be a lazy acceptance of live and let live? Worse, our restrained stand could embolden extreme voices, shoving the already shrinking moderate voices down the silent valley?

On the other hand, what if we continue to call our opponents ‘stupid’ and refuse to engage with ‘them’? Wouldn’t our refusal to engage with 'them' push them away? Shouldn’t this refusal be seen as intellectual smugness to get to know the ‘other side’? Isn’t this refusal the very thing we rage against the ‘other side’?

There are no easy answers. For one, engaging with rigid minds requires patience. And ours is a generation that sees little merit in delayed answers.Who has the patience for a contextual explanation? What’s reassuring is that most issues that get us riled up on social media have little to do with our everyday lives. Who mocked our sportsmen or our hero are not the issues that really matter. Also because when we meet a flesh and blood person, we respect the boundary of ‘agreeing to disagree’. 


So who am I if I take an ‘on the other hand’ stance instead of a blanket Yes or No? Who am I, if I’m mostly conservative, oftentimes moderate but occasionally liberal? Confused? No. While I have a stand, I’m willing to listen and reflect. I am willing  to leave a small window for the thought that the ‘other side’ could possibly have some merit in their opinion. Can you?


Image Courtesy: From here

33 comments:

  1. Well - there was a time when most of us were readers and, thus, liberated from the need to attract eye-balls. The few who WERE writers, therefore, had to justify their status by their all-round knowledge and ability to explore nuances. NOW, everyone IS a writer, thinks of himself as an opinion-maker and is screaming to be heard over all the noise. What do you expect? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, everyone is a writer. Everyone has opinions that cannot be questioned. And everyone is always right.
      :)

      Delete
  2. I applaud you for writing this sterling piece! Sharing it now.

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  3. Can I Well the truth is maybe not because we are probably stuck with our idea and changing oneself is usually difficult.

    hence when they said Patience is a virtue they really meant it .. because it takes a lot of patience to listen to all ..

    Bikram's

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    Replies
    1. True, Bikram. One has to respect the opponents view to be able to understand. Mocking THEM makes it worse.

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  4. In the virtual realm there is a babel of voices,most of them extreme.Perhaps the moderate ones get drowned,as you say.Ultimately,what is the value of my or your judgement in this cacophony?

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    Replies
    1. True Indu, and for this reason alone, Moderate voices should speak up.

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  5. The mob culture expressed so well here, Alka. It's like either you are with us or against us. We have become the new dumb George Bush on social media. High time for moderate voice. The latest is AB letter to his Grand daughters that were slammed by some. I shall pen something on that today.

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    Replies
    1. I found that odd. Slamming of Amitabh because he wrote letters that were in public domain. You may not like him but to ascertain motives over a letter was strange. He doesn't need to use his grand kids for publicity. Guess he's beyond that.

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  6. Categorization has become the order of the day, in spite of so much progress in technical front

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    Replies
    1. True, this binary choice is muzzling the moderates.

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  7. Yeah and everyone wants their opinion to be thrust on others right or wrong.
    Well penned Alka!

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  8. Nice writeup!! Impressed

    http://www.thewordlyconfusion.com/

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  9. I think we were always like this, held strong opinions especially when the issues were ideology, politics or religion. It is just that with social media we have a weapon in our hand. No measured responses, no speaking within the confines of 4 walls, no prolonged response but more of reaction. Hence twitter can look ugly at times. But then as my father says, how many are on twitter? And who really cares what they think? It's a new reaction, a new story, a new something to mock every single day. Just take it with a pinch a salt. We all have better things to do.

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    Replies
    1. Not many are twitter, true. But tweets are making news which is worrying. One tweet creates prime time news and endless discussions ensue. Everyone takes sides, begins mocking the other side and refuses to go into contextual explanation. We create hungama, label folks and then jump on to the next controversy.

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    2. That's the reason why news channels are losing their credibility.

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  10. I am in complete agreement with the thoughts expressed herein. Such trend indicates nothing but the lack of openness in thinking and a regard for rationale as well as the principles of equity and justice. 'I can never be wrong, it is always the other one who is on the wrong side' kind of mentality has developed. Quite unfortunately ! It's not the characteristic of an educated or mature society. Now people are not for or against issues or viewpoints, they tend to be for or against individuals, parties or communities. Individual worship has become common and when somebody is to be worshipped, his / her opponents are to be hated. But natural !

    But, fortunately, people like yourself (and myself) are still there, albeit our community appears to be a minuscule one.

    No words can be enough to appreciate this article.

    Jitendra Mathur

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    Replies
    1. Glad you echo my thoughts. Thank you so much.
      Welcome here.

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  11. That is an eloquent piece on the totalitarianism plaguing the humans all over the world but more so in our Mahan Nation. Everyone is an expert, a panellist, an author and a connoisseur, even the folks who cannot tell their vowels from the consonants. I try not to watch the debates on our Desi but nonetheless TRP-starved channels. I believe it is no good to the little ticker to the left of my rib cage; I am not getting younger each year and I better took care. That said, and thinking of the comment of Mr Vinod Mehta, why are the street hangings and public floggings are such abhorrent ideas when street murders (and rapes in moving buses and cars) and public acid attacks come a dime a dozen. (Just food for thought: I am open to suggestions.) All you need is to watch the Fatafat 100 news day in and day out, and surely they are not manufacturing them, except, of course, I fear that could be just the tip of the iceberg —you have to consider refusal to lodge FIRs, suppression of facts etc. As for the divergent ideas, it is a miracle to not find a politically inclined debater. Then you have apocalyptic visionaries like Ashutosh Guota, currently embellishing the AAP. Thank you Messers Nehru, Gandhi and Vajpayee. Like you said, I am willing to reflect...

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    Replies
    1. Sigh, I get your rage. Let's not talk about Mr Ashutosh. To think that he was a journalist at one time, makes me numb. Sad sad state of affairs.

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  12. Today's social world doesnt respect the greys, doesnt respect positive debate, it's all about proving a point all the time.So what if the point itself was formed through some sketchy reading of other people's opinions.
    "Let’s for a moment refuse to take a strong judgmental stance and meekly resign to an acceptance that everyone is entitled to their views" - Very true. And the fact also remains that in every social media interaction, you are being watched all the time and being judged, so even more the reason, why one sticks to his/her point however unreasonable that might be, in the face of appearing weak and undecided or ready to change their opinion. Well written.

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