Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Internet Activism II

Last time I starting talking about Internet controversies and whether or not it's worth getting involved with them. I went over some of the repercussions of getting involved in these things (some people really, REALLY hate Anthony Burch, apparently), the specific risks of taking these positions as a company, and started talking about the efficacy of Internet activism.

Specifically, I mentioned that, to be honest, Internet arguments have, in fact, changed my mind about things before. I don't think it's a totally pointless exercise.

I'm a rather stubborn person and, as such, I do not change my mind about things quickly. If I hold an idea with enough confidence to argue about it, I likely have some basis for holding that notion.

However, once the debate is over, I tend to replay conversations over and over in my mind. Maybe, once the heat of the moment is over and I look at a problem with a clear head, I'll see value in a perspective that I couldn't see before, and so beings the process of changing my perception. Even if the Internet argument on its own doesn't result in a change of heart, it may be a factor along with other experiences that result in a change.

For instance, perhaps a guy (let's call him Gary) grew up believing all sorts of things about gay men: they're just one miscalculated glance away from sending you unwanted sexual advances, for instance, or that they're gay by choice. Gary ends up in an Internet argument with someone, not a gay person, but nevertheless someone who took umbrage from their use of the word "fag." They really get into it, and eventually the mutual friend, who posted a picture of himself in a pink shirt on Facebook and had no idea it would spark such an intense discussion, asks that they please stop arguing under his picture, thanks. The two arguers then take some passive aggressive parting shots and move on.

Then, later (maybe months, years later) Gary actually meets a gay guy, who we'll call Pat. Pat wasn't introduced to Gary as being gay, and it doesn't really come up until Gary's gotten to know him a little bit, after Gary decides that Pat is a pretty cool guy. Gary goes quiet after hearing Pat casually mention a boyfriend, and he's not really sure how to respond. He eventually extracts himself from the conversation and goes away, running things through his head.

Perhaps, had Gary never had that Internet argument, that would have been the end of it. So this gay guy Pat seemed alright for a moment, big whoop, he was probably just checking out my butt, etc etc. But maybe that argument, combined with meeting Pat, causes Gary to look at things a little differently, second guessing himself.

That's likely the dream of most everyone who's ever argued about something on the Internet. However, I know it's possible, because my opinions on a lot of things have changed after (sometimes long after) having an Internet argument about it. If it was stated clearly and rationally, if it was said by someone I admire, if I got utterly trounced in a debate, it had a chance to change my mind. Which gives me confidence that, perhaps, simply taking a vocal stance on important issues can, in fact, have a tangible effect on people.

Still, though, vocalizing an opinion takes effort and risks repercussions. Why not just stay silent?

I can understand that view, as I'm silent about a lot of things. I'm not inclined to judge people for merely watching a debate or ignoring it altogether for whatever reason, especially since that would take a healthy bit of hypocrisy on my part. Further, I'm not sure I agree with the sentiment that "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Neutrality is a valid stance to take.

However, it is true that if you're not part of the solution, then you're not part of the solution. That is to say, if you're upset about something and wish someone would do something about it, perhaps that someone should be you. If, for instance, you're tired of people talking about Obamacare like it's running the country into the ground, being silent about it isn't going to solve the problem. Being vocal about it probably won't solve it immediately either, but it's a step forward, even if it results in an awkward Facebook conversation with your ultra-conservative uncle.

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