The Difficulties with Public Discourse in the 21st Century


Generation Z has the highest rates of pessimism than any previously studied generation since the 1960’s, according to Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist on generational trends. They have also spent more time, 2 hours and 55 minutes per day, scrolling through Instagram and other social media platforms. A lot of daily life meant that activism for social justice became concentrated on social media. In my experience over the past 18 months, social media has seen an even greater uptake of this pessimism and negativity due to frustrations of being stuck at home. People live in echo chambers without realising, which leads to the spread of misinformation and lazy activism, where people share information without checking its source. c

Echo chambers, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “refers to an environment in which somebody encounters only opinions and beliefs similar to their own, and does not have to consider alternatives.” Echo chambers can create misinformation and distort a person’s perspective, making it difficult for them to consider opposing viewpoints and discuss complicated topics. Echo chambers are fuelled by confirmation bias, which is the tendency to favour information that reinforces existing beliefs. 

Social media, which is where modern day activism has been concentrated in the 21st century, has been directly fuelled by echo-chambers. Individuals live in their bubble and are driven by emotions, unwilling to consider a different opinion or assuming that their belief is the only truth. Lazy activism comes from one’s desire to post, which is driven by emotion rather than research. Emotions are contagious. It is very easy to influence someone else with emotions rather than with facts and data. Emotions should not be the sole drivers of decision making. 

In my own experience, it is a worrying trend that activists’ resentment has become ingrained in their narrative. Concepts such as wokeness and cancel culture have amplified the pessimism that surrounds this generation, which does nothing but fuel further conflicts. 

Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University, has presented countless evidence that this currently the most peaceful time in history. There is a decrease in political violence and crime, and an increase in health and wealth. So why is our generation so pessimistic? Activism should be highlighting more positive topics than focusing on the doom and gloom, which is another issue that occurs with the word ‘privilege’. 

Privilege has become THE bad word of the 21st century around the so-called ‘woke’. Privilege is not a bad concept, it’s the abuse of these privileges by certain individuals. There are plenty of privileges in the world that are good and should be celebrated, such as access to clean water, healthcare and safety from political violence. These are all privileges that not every person on the planet gets to enjoy; for the people who have them, they should promote the expansion of these to others, while feeling grateful to have access to them. 

Cancel culture and wokeness are two concepts that go hand in hand with being trendy online. Professor Solenzol, a Neuroscientist professor at UCLA, believes that, “Woke culture weaponized fear in several ways: as a misguided way to motivate activists, to attack its enemies, and as to punish those who deviate from its dogmas.” 

Cancel culture is silencing people who do not comply with the strict behaviour set by ‘woke culture’. Cancel culture is destructive, not constructive. Not only has ‘cancelling’ ruined careers, jobs, but in my opinion, the worst effect has been its impact on public discourse. An example I see on social media is a post which blatantly says, “if you don’t post or share on this issue, you are on the side of the oppressor”. This is a completely destructive idea to instruct people to post or share on an issue. How can we expect an individual to be informed or passionate on a certain social issue as another? People are terrified to speak their mind, in fear of being cancelled by the woke culture. As previously mentioned, people live in their own echo chambers which means they aren’t exposed to different beliefs and will constantly have their own beliefs amplified.

Raising awareness in relation to social issues that individuals are enthusiastic about is extremely admirable and important. Citizens must use their voice in order to enact change and it has been clear that social media is this generation’s public forum and extremely influential in driving change. It is the principal reason that an abundance of issues has improved due to social advocacy.

In order to enact more change surrounding racial injustice, gender inequality and economic discrepancies, activists must continue to use passion to motivate individuals, with a positive narrative. Once we as a society begin to silence people for having different opinions, this will only cause a chain reaction of further outrage and set certain movements behind. Activists are trying to stop oppression; however, they resort to methods which involve oppression by silencing individuals. We, as a global community, must continue to recognise and reintroduce positivity into our lives, even more so when we want a societal change. Activists should continue to educate the masses, not silence them.

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