Tag Archives: echo chamber

Building an Echo Chamber

If you’re a well-meaning person the odds are that you’ve wondered if an echo chamber is a problem. You may have felt obliged to make sure you’re hearing what the haters and fascists amongst us are saying. How can you be a good person if you aren’t open minded, aren’t listening to difference, aren’t open to other opinions?

This is something I’ve talked about before. It is possible to experience diversity and difference without engaging with hate. Exposure to diverse thinking is good for us. Hate isn’t.

We are all deeply affected by our environments. It’s a massive influence on our psychological development as we grow up. As adults we may think we’re immune to what’s around us, but this isn’t necessarily so. That which becomes normal to us will shape our choices and behaviour. Even if that means we come to feel that donating to foodbanks and seeing homeless people in the streets, is normal.

Human minds are quite fragile, easily influenced and easily damaged. We all have enough ego not to want to believe that. We all want to think we are strong, free-thinking individuals who would not be sucked in to something vile. The odds are, if you’re reading this then you’d picture yourself in Nazi Germany helping Jews escape and working with the resistance. You would not picture yourself at a rally screaming in ecstasy at Hitler. Environments can be intoxicating. From the playground onwards, our desire to belong and be part of something can distort our identities and shape our behaviour.

Having had my reality broken, I am uncomfortably aware of how fragile my mind is. My mind is desperately fragile.

It may be that exposure to hate and misery does not make us want to join up with the haters. It may instead grind us down, making us feel powerless and like there’s no point doing anything. We may be overwhelmed with grief, or rage, or frustration. We may turn on the haters and hate back with all the vitriol we can muster. All of these things mean that what we’ve been exposed to is impacting on us.

One of the ways in which you can protect your own mental health, is by making careful choices about what you expose yourself to. Most of the time, most of us do that. You may, for example, have already made the decision not to watch violent pornography. You may have chosen not to go to Trump rallies. I imagine you wouldn’t go to a bull fight, or an abattoir, or to take a holiday in a war zone or disaster area. When things are large scale and obvious, we are often better at recognising the threat and keeping away. It’s the smaller, everyday nasties that we can persuade ourselves we ought to engage with. We should be informed. Educated. Aware.

Turning away from everything is no kind of answer. Pick your fights and causes. Be prepared to know about and take on a few issues you can manage. Raise awareness without traumatising people. No one, for example, needs to see images of animal abuse in order to sign petitions. It is not your duty to know about every terrible thing going on in the world. It is not necessary to listen with compassion to every troll and every hater you encounter.

It is ok to choose to live in an echo chamber. It is ok to choose to protect your mental health so that you can continue to make your contributions. It is ok to choose not to know about everything. Often it is better to focus on taking care of what you love, rather than being paralysed by things you can do nothing about.


Avoiding an echo chamber

We seem to be increasingly polarised these days. One of the ways in which the more antisocial and unpleasant factions get themselves into the debate is by telling the rest of us that if we don’t listen to them, we aren’t tolerant, and we’re just in an echo chamber. It’s a set of arguments that open hearted, well meaning people can find it hard to resist. I’ve talked about tolerance before – here’s one of those https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/abusing-your-tolerance/ An it harm none, do what you will – no tolerance required. If you cause harm, I’m not going to tolerate you.

As for the echo chamber, I think it needs poking. When we engage in discussion or conversation with others, we legitimise them. Now, I will cheerfully talk to people of other religious backgrounds, different cultures, different ages – there’s all kinds of ways of being open to different perspectives. If your perspective is well meant but different to mine I will listen to you and try to learn from you. If what you do is destructive, harmful, or intending to harm others or the planet, I really don’t care what you think. I don’t want to engage climate change deniers in debate because that’s acting like I take them seriously. I feel the same way about fascists. I simply want to thwart this where I can.

It’s usually (in my experience) folk on the far right who use the echo-chamber argument to try and get themselves a place at the table. As though there’s them, and the rest of us, two groups only, two perspectives and that to ignore them is to only listen to people you agree with. The world is bigger than this, it is more diverse and more complex. I can explore a great deal of diversity without having to engage with people whose notions I consider totally unacceptable.

Let’s take hunting as a case in point. I’m not personally in to hunting – I’m a vegetarian. I know many people who hunt for the pot, which I take no issue with. I know people who fly birds of prey – again this doesn’t bother me. I’ve had all kinds of interesting conversations with people who hunt in these ways. I would not accept as a friend someone who hunted foxes from horseback because it is a cruel and appalling business and I have no interest in the justifications. I equally have no interest in the opinions of people who burn moorlands to raise grouse, and who raise obscene numbers of pheasants in order to kill them for amusement and leave their bodies to rot. These behaviours are reprehensible, and I have zero interest in why people might defend these actions. I do not think I owe it to them to hear them out.

Cars are another case in point. I’m anti- cars, as regular readers will know. But at the same time, many people are trapped in car use and would like to burn less fuel and use fewer resources but the whole way their lives are set up and the physical structures of the places they live and work make it nigh on impossible. These are conversations we can have – I want to hear about those obstacles, and I want to offer what solutions I can, and I think we’re all better off for talking to each other.

I’m a finite person with limited time. I want to have the conversations that are of most use. I can’t afford the time or energy getting bogged down in the opinions of people whose behaviour I find unacceptable. I don’t need to know what the justifications of white terrorists are. I don’t need that in my head and knowing it won’t enable me to do anything better, and it certainly won’t help me change their minds. We’re all finite. It’s essential to experience different perspectives but I think it’s also good and necessary to protect ourselves from perspectives that can only make us miserable and to step back from conversations that are clearly pointless. Trust that if you mean well, you’ll do a decent job, and that you do not owe it to every single person who wants your time to give that to them unconditionally. You do not owe it to anyone to hear their view. It is a gift you can choose to give. Do not be persuaded through the idea of the echo chamber that you have to take on things you cannot bear or that will harm you.