It was a typical day in an average teenager’s life in 2020: you wake up, check your messages, then go to Twitter and find out there’s been another “Twitter war” because a woman posted some pictures of the lunch she made for her husband. Like we need any additional promotion of patriarchy, right? So, you close the app and move on to Instagram. Oh, another celebrity just got cancelled for doing a cultural appropriation; how typically insensitive. Look, the comment section is blowing up, and oh, people are really mad, yikes. The comment section of every social media is bound to nurse some exciting debates about a matter, which can mean the world to someone, regardless of how insignificant it may seem to another. Through these social discourses, we learn something new every day; we learn to be more aware of certain issues, we learn to be more supportive and tolerant of our brothers and sisters. We take a step closer to a more tolerant, progressive, and welcoming society through every social media war.
Or are we? Do social discourses promote freedom of speech and societal progression, or are they hindering us from progressing instead?
Brand New Sensitivity in a New Society
We need to be extra careful of the things we say, now more than ever. One poor choice of word, ten seconds later, you’re cancelled. Wearing a zōri (the dress that geishas usually wear) and calling it “Asian Night Out” is cultural appropriation. Not supporting the victim in a #MeToo thread is victim-blaming. Not empowering women in every single opportunity you get is patriarchist. An heiress sharing her happiness through money on TikTok is insensitive towards the working class. Because our words and actions may hurt others, they may become our downfall as we are said to be ‘insensitive’. But how can we be sure we are not insensitive?
By definition, ‘insensitive’ is how we describe people who do not realise or care about how other people feel, therefore likely to hurt or offend them1Insensitive. (2021). Oxford Learner’s Dictionary.. We are presumed, and have, to always be socially conscious, always au courant (aware) with social issues, which are basically every issue; social justice, ethics, race, global warming, violence, suicide, mental illness, and the list goes for another two pages. This consciousness tells us what to do and not to do; what is wrong and right, it pushes us to build our moral framework surrounding the needs of others2Goldberg, M. Social Conscience: the ability to reflect on deeply-held opinions about justice and sustainability. Retrieved from http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/5974/Social-Conscience2.pdf. Morality, knowing what’s considered good and bad in our society today, is not only a responsibility but an obligation.
Like any other aspects of our life, this rapid growth of insensitive people bloomed with social media growth. The ease and convenience to post anything in our mind give us more freedom of speech. Several articles call this as the ‘freedom to hate’3Merlyna Lim (2017) Freedom to hate: social media, algorithmic enclaves, and the rise of tribal nationalism in Indonesia, Critical Asian Studies, 49:3, 411-427, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2017.1341188. Before social media interaction became this rampant, we were more reluctant to blurt out hateful things while staring at the other person’s face, looking at the emotions swirling in their eyes. If you have the guts to tell someone they’re extremely annoying right into their tearing eyes, without feeling your own eyes tearing up, we salute you. But with the emergence of social interaction platforms, it’s easier to hate. You only need to see your screen and other people’s words that can be easily misinterpreted. And it’s a fact that it’s easier to misinterpret someone’s intentions online than offline. Leung and Cohen stated that in the first place, there could be wide differences in behaviour between people of different cultures, and even within a given culture, individuals can vary widely from each other 4Leung, Angela Ka-yee & Cohen, Dov. (2011). Within- and Between-Culture Variation: Individual Differences and the Cultural Logics of Honor, Face, and Dignity Cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology. 100. 507-26. 10.1037/a0022151.. That being said, misunderstanding is normal to a certain extent in human communication, more so among people of different cultures and beliefs.
Now imagine people of different cultures and or beliefs interacting behind different screens, in different standings, at different places, and speaking from different contexts. How we managed to keep world peace, in general, is a miracle.
Anyway, we’ve talked about misinterpretations, but what about people whose words are just straight up hurtful? Oppressive? Indeed those people exist too. People who exercise hate speech are not myths. And the problem about this freedom of hate is that no one can regulate or try to stop it, due to the mother itself, freedom of speech (oh no, not me being misogynistic) being one of the basic human rights. We all hate those malicious people on the internet, always saying the wrong things, doing inappropriate things, which is a real global problem, a social issue. Freedom of hate gave people the opportunity to oppress a certain race, gender, religion, or even a particular illness. If you’re any half-decent human being, I’m sure you agree that we must make an effort to put an end to an insensitive society. All homo sapiens must understand the importance of caring about others feelings. Therefore, we create this social system, called cancel culture (peak our three articles about it at economica.id) that envision a society without insensitive humans.
A common example of those malicious, insensitive humans is someone who does something we call ‘microaggressions.’ Microaggression is defined as “an act or a remark that discriminates against one or more members of a minority group, either deliberately or by mistake.”5Microaggression. (2021). Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/microaggression?q=microaggression. Perhaps you’ve heard of these situations:
- Saying “All lives matter” is a denial of racial inequality, and therefore straight up inconsiderate of the Black Lives Matter movement6Phillips, A. (2014). #BlackLivesMatter: Why We Need to Stop Replying ALL LIVES MATTER. Retrieved 3 April 2021, from https://sojo.net/articles/blacklivesmatter-why-we-need-stop-replying-all-lives-matter
- A man refusing to wash the dishes because it’s “women’s work” is sexist, not to say straight up derogatory to women.
- Saying “you can’t be depressed, you’re smiling” is an invalidation of mental illness experiences7Gonzales, Lauren & Davidoff, Kristin & Nadal, Kevin & Yanos, Philip. (2014). Microaggressions Experienced by Persons With Mental Illnesses: An Exploratory Study. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal. 38. 10.1037/prj0000096.
They are examples of microaggression, something our society (or social media) today brands as one form of the freedom of hate. There are things that, if nobody bothered to be openly offended about, and trigger a discourse about it, then it will forever be normalised—not caring that it hurts somebody’s feelings. Our world as one big society has argued, fought, broke tables, slammed doors, and punched each other to get our points across that some scars do hurt, and some scars aren’t yours to talk about. With the rising awareness of mental illness and mental health, at least now, there are more openly accessible help centres such as diceritain.id. People don’t joke about nor invalidate mental illness as much as we used to see in the previous decade, for example.
Perhaps we can now agree that acknowledging microaggressions and shaming those insensitive people who use them contributed to our society’s progression.
The Subjectivity of Insensitivity
Yes, there is a global understanding of what insensitivity is, and we have discussed what counts as microaggression. But what counts as being insensitive? We have established that there can be vast differences in behaviour among people, including how our tolerance of words or actions may differ from one another. This is what inflicts those “Twitter wars”. Lil Nas X’s “Montero”, to me, is a genius way to show revolt about the common perception of “gays going to hell”, so I don’t see it insensitive at all. But others argue that that’s a religious denial, which is also a social issue, and says LNX was insensitive by expressing his idea. The measurement of “insensitivity” is subjective at its core and, therefore, a form of bias. If it is a form of bias, then it is a common fallacy, therefore, essentially irrelevant. Hold on, are we saying that branding people as insensitive is irrelevant? Eh, I wish it were that simple.
When talking about insensitive people, or an insensitive society, we must remember that sensitivity is a spectrum: where there is insensitivity, there must be high sensitivity at the other end of the spectrum. We’ve discussed how insensitivity can create chaos or depict possible regression of humankind by not even bothering to think about how one’s words may hurt others. But when insensitivity is subjective at its core, can it be possible that we are getting highly sensitive instead? Where do we draw the line between an insensitive tweet and a hyper-sensitive reply? When someone takes insult from something you thought was normal, is that you being insensitive, or them being hyper-sensitive? I mean, the morality of one community can seem alien to outsiders8Campbell, B., & Manning, J. (2015). The New Millennial ‘Morality’: Highly Sensitive and Easily Offended. Retrieved 3 April 2021, from https://time.com/4115439/student-protests-microaggressions/, and essentially that’s their right to be offended. But does that right alienate your freedom of expression? Who’s right and who’s wrong, in this case then?
The Evolution of Sensitivity
Let’s take a trip to the wall of moral evolution. At the dawn of a decent society, where the concept of morality became common, we built a system of honour culture: where you must earn honour by yourself and avenge the insults heading your way. Yes, I’m talking about avenging insults with swords, or your fists, your legs—you get my point. We associated honour with guarding one’s reputation, being highly sensitive to insults, and often responding aggressively to “what might seem to outsiders as minor slights”9Campbell, Bradley & Manning, Jason. (2014). Microaggression and Moral Cultures. Comparative Sociology. 13. 692-726. 10.1163/15691330-12341332.. Then we met the Classical and Romantic era, wherein artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual activities dominated the town’s buzz. During this period, a transition happened, from the honour culture to the dignity culture. People were no longer valued based on their reputation, and it was commendable to have “thick skin”, which allowed one to shrug off insults. Violence was seen as “brutish”; people either went to the administrative bodies to solve their differences or talked it out. Or they got over it10Leung, Angela Ka-yee & Cohen, Dov. (2011). Within- and Between-Culture Variation: Individual Differences and the Cultural Logics of Honor, Face, and Dignity Cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology. 100. 507-26. 10.1037/a0022151..
Today, we get to live in a new period, a culture which Campbell and Manning came to call the culture of victimhood. Here, we respond to offence—intentional or not—as one would’ve done in an honour culture, but not as brutish. We must, instead, appeal for help to powerful members of society, making it clear that we’re the victim in the brawl. We have created “a culture in which everyone must think twice before they speak up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”11Lukianoff, G., Haidt, J. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Britania Raya: Penguin Books Limited.. A culture wherein, somehow, people compete to suffer more, giving them the right to complain and be sensitive about the wrongdoings done to them. Lukianoff and Haidt called this vindictive protectiveness: the tendency to punish offenders in the name of guarding the feelings of those thought to be weak and disadvantaged—the victims. Look around and see if you can agree that it’s getting easier for people to be offended nowadays. Or perhaps, look inside, how often did you think over a sentence, thinking the five different ways it could possibly offend someone? How often did you feel the need to apologise out of worries that you might’ve said something wrong, but maybe you’re not that sure you did? Like this guy right here, and I think this is a pretty comical interaction:
The culture of victimhood didn’t just come from vindictive protectiveness or fear. Although apologising for everything we say on Twitter like @yusei_the_mochi did seem like the logical thing to do in this current social state, some people just don’t give a fuck. Even those ‘fearless’ people play victim every once in a while because truthfully, we don’t want to blame ourselves. We’ve talked about how we are living in a world of diversity and how this living situation ought to kindle dissent, and it’s only natural to feel anger or sadness when facing arguments. Sometimes, we akin ourselves to the victim because we don’t want to be responsible for our own emotions. When someone is offended, they feel like they’re being oppressed and have the rights to get pitied, and have the rest of the world on their side so they feel like the morally righteous one12Manson, M. (2016). The subtle art of not giving a f*ck., thus validating their retaliation to the ‘insult’ they received.
So, let’s get back to our initial question, where do we draw the line between an insensitive tweet and a hyper-sensitive reply? How do we know if that’s us being insensitive, or the other party being hyper-sensitive, or vice versa? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Frankly speaking, it’s hard to say; we’re not omniscient anyway. Social interactions are all about context, and misunderstanding nowadays is more common than not. But, and this is where you’re welcome to disagree with us and more than welcome to agree with us, we say that it makes more sense that our society is getting more sensitive, more aware, about ‘possible insults’ heading our way. Because, in this kind of society, how can one be bluntly insensitive about social issues? Not when one wrong move can get the mass to bash you in seconds. Not when today we vilify the privileged and valorise the oppressed13Campbell, Bradley & Manning, Jason. (2018). The Rise of Victimhood Culture p.43. 10.1007/978-3-319-70329-9.—not one of us wants to be the person who (intentionally or not) bullies the oppressed.
Somewhere Over the Other Side of Sensitivity
It’s not without reason that we collectively feel the need to defend ourselves by getting aggressive these days. With the rise of awareness about oppressed communities, of course, we want to help them, right? The rise of social media gives rise to faster, much much faster, information transfer among us. Sadly, the law has not caught up with this rising awareness of social issues, such as in the case of sexual harassment. On the one hand, if you ask around these days, “who do you think is to blame in a sexual harassment case?” ninety per cent of the time, people will look at you like you’re stupid. On the other hand, if you ask around, “do you think our law is accommodative enough to tackle sexual harassment cases?” ninety per cent of the time, people will look at you like you’re stupid as well.
We’re trying to say that people will take matters into their own hands when the law is weak or absent. To protect their brothers and sisters, parents, friends, children, and whatever belongs to them. In times and places where people can’t count on the legal system to protect their persons and property, they often rely on violent aggression to defend themselves and punish offenders14Campbell, Bradley & Manning, Jason. (2018). The Rise of Victimhood Culture p.43. 10.1007/978-3-319-70329-9..
Shortly, there’s not enough development in regulation to catch up with the rapid growth of awareness regarding social issues. Likely, there won’t be for some time now because the law is also rigid for a reason. So, what do we have to do to cater to an increasingly sensitive society? People are hyper-aware of specific issues, such as racial inequality (e.g., BLM), gender discrimination (e.g., gender pay gap), class issues (e.g., Cancel Billionaires), religion issues (e.g: Islamophobia), sexual harassment cases (e.g., #MeToo), because these issues have been going on for too long. People have been subjected to silence for far too long. With the rise of social media that brings us closer to each other and allows us to share the pain of our brothers and sisters from different corners of the world, we become aggressive. That’s a given, and without any sort of rule to draw the line between what’s okay to bite other people’s leg off for, and what isn’t, all legs are bite-able.
So, we read more. We watch more news, keep up with the newest trend: what’s okay and not okay to say, to do, to post, to retweet, to share. But, somehow, we’ll find ourselves in the guilty corner anyway because of something we thought was okay, but it turns out to be a form of microaggression. Like using the term “you guys”, unknowingly calling a male who identifies as a female using the pronoun ‘he/him’, or wearing hoop earrings not knowing it’s a form of cultural appropriation. We see this phenomenon like excess demand in economics theory. Excess demand is defined as the condition where aggregate demand (AD) is way over aggregate supply (AS), resulting in a shortage15Mankiw, N. (2012). Principles of economics (9th ed.). Australia .: South-Western.. Put simply; people cannot satisfy society’s needs. Society wants all humans to be sensitive, socially conscious, morally responsible, thinking that we’re all on the same page and that information transfer is symmetrical. But admit it, no one is that perfect, and information transfer can never be symmetrical. We need to achieve a high level of enlightenment to be acceptable human beings these days. You can be ‘woke’, but one wrong move, and suddenly your effort is useless—you’re still as close-minded as those boomers. Oh no, not me being ageist; surely not all boomers are conservative. I’m sorry.
At the end of the day, “sorry” may become our most-used word these days.
The Lack of Discourse in a Hyper-Aware Society
Awareness is a positive noun. It’s the word used to describe knowledge that something important exists16Awareness. (2021). Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/awareness?q=awareness. Cancer awareness, autism awareness, mental health awareness, global warming awareness, self-awareness, coronavirus awareness, you name it. We must indeed be aware. As we mentioned before, consciousness is a must, especially as we live in a society. Being conscious means being aware: you cannot be conscious about a certain issue if you’re not aware of it. But, when you put the word ‘hyper’ before a positive adjective, it automatically becomes negative: hyper-active, hyper-ambitious, hyper-attractive (because I’m not and I’m insulted by too much attractiveness, and that’s me being overly sensitive), and hyper-aware.
The term ‘hyper-aware society’ was established around 2011, right after social media went through its suffering and was already loved by all. It is described as a circumstance where reactions are sent and received within seconds(Frey, T. (2011). Living in an Age of Hyper-Awareness – Futurist Speaker. Retrieved 3 April 2021, from https://futuristspeaker.com/business-trends/living-in-an-age-of-hyper-awareness/()). The age of hyper-aware society leads us to information overload: we become aware, conscious about more and more things, more than we can handle. Hey, I thought life was amusing, my only problem was how to get good grades and make my mom proud. Until I opened Twitter and realized there are too many bad things happening in this world, and suddenly everything became my problem; patriarchy, racism, global warming, sexual harassment, LGBTQ+ rights. Thank you, social consciousness, awareness, and morality; my life is a wider kaleidoscope of colour now.
Too much information we have to process, too many problems we have to solve. At a point, we gave up, we really did. We stopped processing and solving them, then hoped someone else would, conceding to an echo chamber. An echo chamber is a situation where information and human thoughts about it are repeated over and over in a closed system (could be a big one, probably the world on account of social media), creating some sort of echo in a chamber17Cinelli, M., De Francisci Morales, G., Galeazzi, A., Quattrociocchi, W., & Starnini, M. (2021). The echo chamber effect on social media. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 118(9), e2023301118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2023301118. Social media is limiting diversity through this chamber. This overload makes it hard to think, so we just gave in to what other people think, limiting discourse and perspective. And the trend now, the doctrine being echoed in our system at this very moment, is how we need to be sensitive, to be aware of the things we say. It’s not that we’re not allowed to express contradictory statements to what the mass believes these days, it’s just that we’ll get bashed and drown in the wave instead. And that, friends, is the irony of this culture of victimhood.
Let’s say I were to go out there, and say that there are two sides of sexual harassment cases that we need to tackle: from the victim side, and the perpetrator side. Some people would instantly attack such a statement because, in the case of sexual harassment, the victim must be defended at all costs. And yes, we’re aware that the utopia, the dream, is to live in a world where everyone is safe. But safety doesn’t just come from punishing perpetrators, it also comes from knowing how to defend ourselves. Is this victim-blaming? Or is this actually about cutting down the number of people who may fall defenseless in this cold world?
We’re saying that if the goal is to raise awareness about a matter, holding back discourse in this chamber actually stops the spread of such awareness. We want people to be more aware, more conscious, more sensitive but by echoing insults, making people afraid to talk about it? I try to stay away from the matter of racism because I’m afraid I’ll get cancelled, even though I know that the fact is I lack knowledge that I can’t simply get from books or articles. We hope to progress as a society but at the same time we’re hindering the progress by being overly-sensitive in the process. This is us trying to show you the importance of discussion: you can get from discussions more than you can get from books, if you’d only open up your mind. There’s no denying that there are stubborn heads out there, and unless we fight till death with them, we wouldn’t be able to get our points across. Look, there’s no use attacking those assholes, what we need to understand instead is where they’re coming from, and if we are indeed doing this for a good cause, figure out how their minds work in order for us to be able to change it. This is time for us to stop telling people to educate themselves, why don’t you educate them about the matter that matters to you?
We are reaching a hive-mind form, mostly because the thoughts going around today are very one-track: we’re only moving in one direction, with thoughts from one mind, whereas friction is an important element of movement, of progress. In a society where there is no more room for discussion, a utopia would be assumed, and growth will stop from happening.
So, educate me. Let me talk, let that ass from Twitter post a picture of the lunch they made for their significant other, let that racist man make a fool of himself, let that sexist person say “you guys”, and then tell them what they’re doing wrong. Debate my arguments, debate it strong, don’t let insults or the culture of victimhood weaken your arguments. Argue with that ass from Instagram who thinks cornbraid is fashion, argue with that ass who thinks BTS is better than EXO: tell them where they’re wrong, and hear them out when they tell you you’re wrong. Debate, agree, disagree, laugh at your stupidity, laugh at their stupidity, and then thank them for the fun discussion. Fight, but don’t silence people. Give them a meaningful discussion, and if by the end of the day they’re still as racist, sexist, and all in all discriminative as they were before, know that your discussion will stay in their mind longer than any ever did.
If you wanna see change, make change. If you wanna make change, you have to understand why some people are against the change.
|↵1||Insensitive. (2021). Oxford Learner’s Dictionary.|
|↵2||Goldberg, M. Social Conscience: the ability to reflect on deeply-held opinions about justice and sustainability. Retrieved from http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/5974/Social-Conscience2.pdf|
|↵3||Merlyna Lim (2017) Freedom to hate: social media, algorithmic enclaves, and the rise of tribal nationalism in Indonesia, Critical Asian Studies, 49:3, 411-427, DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2017.1341188|
|↵4, ↵10||Leung, Angela Ka-yee & Cohen, Dov. (2011). Within- and Between-Culture Variation: Individual Differences and the Cultural Logics of Honor, Face, and Dignity Cultures. Journal of personality and social psychology. 100. 507-26. 10.1037/a0022151.|
|↵5||Microaggression. (2021). Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/microaggression?q=microaggression|
|↵6||Phillips, A. (2014). #BlackLivesMatter: Why We Need to Stop Replying ALL LIVES MATTER. Retrieved 3 April 2021, from https://sojo.net/articles/blacklivesmatter-why-we-need-stop-replying-all-lives-matter|
|↵7||Gonzales, Lauren & Davidoff, Kristin & Nadal, Kevin & Yanos, Philip. (2014). Microaggressions Experienced by Persons With Mental Illnesses: An Exploratory Study. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal. 38. 10.1037/prj0000096.|
|↵8||Campbell, B., & Manning, J. (2015). The New Millennial ‘Morality’: Highly Sensitive and Easily Offended. Retrieved 3 April 2021, from https://time.com/4115439/student-protests-microaggressions/|
|↵9||Campbell, Bradley & Manning, Jason. (2014). Microaggression and Moral Cultures. Comparative Sociology. 13. 692-726. 10.1163/15691330-12341332.|
|↵11||Lukianoff, G., Haidt, J. (2018). The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. Britania Raya: Penguin Books Limited.|
|↵12||Manson, M. (2016). The subtle art of not giving a f*ck.|
|↵13, ↵14||Campbell, Bradley & Manning, Jason. (2018). The Rise of Victimhood Culture p.43. 10.1007/978-3-319-70329-9.|
|↵15||Mankiw, N. (2012). Principles of economics (9th ed.). Australia .: South-Western.|
|↵16||Awareness. (2021). Oxford Learner’s Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/awareness?q=awareness|
|↵17||Cinelli, M., De Francisci Morales, G., Galeazzi, A., Quattrociocchi, W., & Starnini, M. (2021). The echo chamber effect on social media. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 118(9), e2023301118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2023301118|