By Gabriel Leif Bellman
Confirmation of a generational shift is recently coming out in ways entirely predictable for a generation raised under the surveillance of technology, politics, and the usual microscope applied to youth culture. Youth tend not to reveal their opinions. Whether it is the result of a culture of cyber bullying, disenchantment with the political process—and by extension, the very process of debate —or simply the deconstructions of the dialectic itself, we cannot be sure. One thing certain is that there is much more to be risked by giving an opinion than by simply pointing out the opinions of others.
A recent uptick in firings, suspensions, and muffling of the talking heads in the“free speech” corporate landscape of sports programming, in which said opinions used to exist somewhat entirely for the imagination and release of what some would term safe-opinion male-bonding, may be leaving society without a pressure valve for individuation. Western culture, focused so much already on individual accomplishment, may be ceding its grasp on its denizens, possibly to the mush known as “the web,” and perhaps the collective hive mind archetype that permits the public shaming of those who dare to commit the biggest sin possible: that of knowing people are paying attention, but somehow refusing to be savvy, despite clear savvy-ness ability.
In any case, a politician who actually says things becomes a front page story, even an unseasoned and not particularly bright one (Trump alert), harnessing the power that comes with knowingly refusing to acknowledge the etiquette that permanent ethereal records of the internet warrant. Likewise, musical artists and artists of shock, who appear on television in the roles previously reserved for poets and playwrights, important novelists, the part of provocateur—these are celebrated as bold.
When we glance at the smooth backsides of robots refusing to interact with uncomfortable ideas in any meaningful fashion, other than the amplification of verbal (and one could surmise, thought crime) errors, and yet are under no illusion that said offenders actually still harbor the ideas that they are accused of (a.k.a. a non-discreet racist, anti-female, or even just an elitist wink towards 47%, for example), do we see ourselves, and is that the vision that we are so angry at?
Is it that in a motion capture universe, our avatars are not static enough to be actors, but that we might ruminate and point out where the lines need polishing in the periphery that raises up past the crackle of the white noise that we recognize to be our own acquiescence to fate or time or even the soul-crushing humiliation of having to dignify an idea with a response that is attached, like a dangerous bomb to one’s self, liable to detonate into an idea that washes away anything else we do the rest of our lives, with its ability to swarm into inflammatory thought? In summation: my opinion is no longer my own, it is what the hum of millions of glowing font characters tells me it is, based on the context in which I unveiled it, and in so defensively revealing, it forces me to not only accept it, but protect it against destruction.
If I weren’t in agreement with an opinion that I never believed to be a logical outreach of an idea I had on an unrecognizable topic, my function, nonetheless, would be to respond, in a well thought out sound byte, to its velocity. As we watch the devouring of people by opinions they would do anything to escape, the disavowal impossible in a universe where what you do or say has no chance against what the past has decided of you, we might be witnessing a death of free will. To say that our opinions are no longer ours, since they were already being thought about us and for us, and our first encounter with what “we think” is as an idea one who has eavesdropped into our lives and documented may now interpret for the benefit of others, is to read the comments upon our own thoughts. All that is needed is our public denial of what “we meant” to add weight to the chains following us.
Of course, the new generation just smirks and waits for us to ask them for an explanation. “You tell me,” they raise eyebrows and sit in silence, improving their status, protecting their wise understanding of the new rules of engagement. All smirk; accountability only to the abandonment of anonymity, done at one’s peril, and usually only when one is already in a state of loss.