Modern discourse has been profoundly conditioned by social-media. Users are protected by the armour of their physical distance and inaccessibility. They can dismiss the common humanity of their interlocutors and indulge in brief, single combats. It reminds me of the way battles are described in The Iliad: individual heroes encounter each other in the general hubbub and melee, exchange insults and boasts, then set to, in a flurry of exchanges that will leave one utterly crushed while the other crows in triumph. Or so each hopes. 

Bolstered by the sense of being part of a righteous crusade, that it’s their duty to challenge and confront, social activists can carry these practices into their journalism and books, their conferences and debates and talk shows[1].

These are not mutually constructive explorations of a topic. What’s important is how these exchanges make you feel, not what your interlocutor intended or the content of the conversation itself. The only important thing is your own internal state. You don’t share an experience with the other person. 

This emphasises differences and antagonisms, and exacerbates schism and a sense of disconnection. Furthermore, by responding aggressively to other people’s irritating behaviours, you are likely to make them feel even more awkward about interacting with you and confirm any underlying prejudices they may have about how “difficult” “You People” are. 

[1] It seems that an increasing number of writers on social issues start their careers online and then move into more traditional formats once their reputations have been established. Reni Eddo-Lodge, Author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race ( Bloomsbury, 2018) being a prime example. 

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