Saturday, June 10, 2017

Wisdom Of The Week

Who is the Shouting Class?

Everyone has problems with something in society. And everyone sometimes complains about those problems, which Albert Hirschman called "voice". But for many people, voice is contingent - as soon as the problems are satisfactorily resolved they stop complaining and go back to living their daily lives. But a subset of people will never stop complaining. When a problem becomes less severe, they switch to a different problem. And they will always find some problem that they feel requires their vocal complaint. That subset - the people who will never stop complaining and giving negative feedback - are the Shouting Class. (Of course, this isn't really a binary distinction; there are shades of gray, as always.)


The cost of immunity to the Shouting Class

Ultimately, all of these problems - negativity, social censure, social discord, and empathy exhaustion - can be dealt with by developing an immunity to shouting. In other words, by becoming callous toward people's expression of approbation, dissatisfaction, anguish, irritation, etc. In fact, people on social media say this all the time: "Grow a thicker skin!"

But what are the costs of having a thick-skinned society? One potential cost is that elites and social institutions become unresponsive to legitimate calls for social change.

I saw this in action in college, with the protest community. At one point I joined some protests demanding higher wages for Stanford custodial workers. We marched, we yelled outside the president's office til he came out and talked to us. They raised the workers' wages.

But after that victory, I was astonished to see the protest leaders sit down and immediately start planning their next campaign. I asked them why they didn't intend to reward the establishment for giving ground on the wage issue. They just sort of gave me disparaging looks, except for one guy who told me "Frankly, I go to protests to hook up with hot anarchist chicks."

The Shouting Class is mostly not looking to hook up. But like those protesters, social media's Shouting Class has adopted criticism, anger, and disaffection as ways of life - not the means to an end, but the end in and of itself. Eventually, just as Stanford's administrators mostly stopped paying heed to the protest community, the powers that be will learn to accept and ignore a very high baseline level of popular disaffection. And that will raise the bar for movements whose needs are more urgent and realistic and capable of being satisfied - it'll be hard to tell real grievance from grievance-as-a-lifestyle.

(I sort of think suspect something like this happened with the Tea Party and Obama. The theory is that when Democrats saw that nothing could possibly appease the Republicans, they stopped paying attention to them at all, which I think drove GOP voters to amp up the extremism to levels previously unheard of, in the form of Trump.)

I worry that the costs of evolved callousness could go way beyond political protest movements, though. When people shout "We are in pain!" after seeing chalk slogans for a political candidate they don't like, it teaches lots of people to just ignore anyone who says they're in pain. Even if you're ripping them away from their children and shoving them into detention centers. Even if you're watching them get beaten up on the street. Even if you're hacking them up with a machete or machine-gunning them into a mass grave.

Not a pretty picture, is it?

The Shouting Class, with the bullhorn of social media, is forcing us all to grow thicker skins. But I don't want to live in a society of thick-skinned people.

- The Shouting Class

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