Discover more from Random Minds by Katherine Brodsky
It's Getting Lonely...
It’s been three months short of two years since I’ve begun my journey of outspokenness, starting with the publication of an op-ed in Newsweek pushing back on the intolerance towards differing viewpoints that I was not only seeing around me, but also weaponized directly against me.
At the time, I was so terrified of the consequences of publishing such a piece, but I felt compelled to do so. Not so much because of my own experiences, but more so because of all the messages I had received from others who had shared their own encounters with suppression of speech and relentless bullying.
At the time, I was seeing the rise of a dangerous ideology that fed on intolerance and I felt a certain personal responsibility to stand up to it. In doing so, to my surprise, I had found some allies. Occasionally, I’d get emails or DMs from people I had known in real life who were surprised to discover my views stated so upfront and they’d confide in me that they, too, shared them. But they were too afraid to let that be known, either due to social repercussions, or—perhaps more frequently—professional ones.
However, publicly, I had received support from like-minded thinkers via a quickly growing virtual community. It was almost like being part of a group of dissidents. But far more fun. Suddenly it was okay to speak and assume that no one was going to be offended. Everyone assumed good faith. Yes, it was acceptable to have a sense of humor. And we all shared a common understanding and appreciation for freedom of speech and being able to voice opinions that others may disagree with—even if we might disagree with each other.
I felt like I could finally breathe freely again.
But slowly things began to change. I started to notice a distinct shift in the people that I’ve grown to value as part of my virtual community. They’ve gotten angrier and more forceful in their opinions. Just like the people they had resented, they began to develop their own language to talk about them. They mocked the people they now viewed as their enemy, rather than the bad ideas they represented. And they fell deeper and deeper into those pits of darkness and despair. They became singularly obsessed. Nothing else seemed to exist. Their tone had drastically changed. It’s as if they had become what they were fighting against, just in the opposite direction. And while they were previously fighting against censorship, I watched some of them become just as willing to engage in deplatforming campaigns or try to remove people from their jobs when they felt it was justified.
I begun to feel isolated. The actions on display did not represent the values that I believed in. When I spoke out, often I’d get attacked. I was now a fence-sitter. The lines were drawn, I was told. It was war time. Whatever it took.
That isn’t to say that this attitude was held by everyone, many of the people I connected with most closely never abandoned their principles. Still, I watched as quite a few either sincerely turned bitter and dark, were captured by their audience, or knowingly gamed the anger and frustration that their audiences felt to their own advantage. The so-called “culture wars” became a racket for some—on both ends of the ideological spectrum.
And yet, the impulse to control speech didn’t fade from society. University campuses aren’t exactly bastions of free expressions. Getting fired from a job for saying the wrong thing is not unusual. And words in books by long-dead authors like Roald Dahl are being changed to make them more palatable to social justice-oriented readers.
So, continuing to speak out seems necessary. But these days I find myself in an even smaller minority. And it does feel lonely.
I want to speak in a way that does not incite anger. I want to bring people together rather than divide them. I don’t want to push people away just because they happen to have pronouns in their bio. I don’t want to scandalize or sensationalize stories in order to get more clicks or followers. I want there to be room for nuance and truth. I want to figure things out. I want to find common ground, more than I want to win arguments.
But the window for that seems to be increasingly shrinking.
As I look at my favorite accounts on Twitter, with few exceptions, they aren’t as popular. Those who gain the largest numbers, play an unsophisticated game of reductionism. And perhaps the saddest part is…their audience is all too happy to buy in.
So what will the future hold? Will the radicals be left to play push and pull with each other while nothing gets solved? Will the sensible center continue to shrink? Will only the loudest voices fill the void?
Or, will more people wake up, so we can all be a little less lonely together?
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Who am I? I’m a writer with an overactive imagination and a random mind. Outside of Substack, you’ll find my work in publications such as Newsweek, WIRED, Variety, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Esquire, Playboy, Mashable, CNN Travel, The Independent, and many others.