In the final moments of Season 5 of The Expanse, Avasarala looks around the lunar lounge where people from Earth, Mars, and the Belt have gathered. People from everywhere are talking, laughing, and sharing camaraderie. It's remarkable in that moment because those three groups spent the entire span of the previous TV seasons (and at least a hundred fictional years before that) in fierce and mistrustful opposition. Until they united against a common enemy. Avasarala calls for everyone's attention and says "this is how we win."
It's a feel-good and hopeful moment, the leader of Earth championing the cause of togetherness. It's also a great way to end the season. It's been a long and difficult journey to this point, but maybe, just maybe, with everyone working together we can defeat the big bad terrorist threatening the newly established peace in the solar system. I enjoyed this moment and the sentiment behind it. I also think a more accurate proclamation would have been "this is how we are less likely to lose."
Anything is possible, especially in television, but I think for us in the real world it's going to take more than a common enemy to get us to stop tearing each other apart. We could have united in the face of the pandemic, but we did not. We could unite in the face of climate change, but we have not. There are any number of problems we could use as an excuse to set aside our differences and bring our skills and talents and passions into alignment, but we do not.
And even if we did, we're still not guaranteed to win. I think about all the boards, committees, and teams I have served on where nothing ever actually got done. Talented, capable, responsible people came together under a unifying purpose and accomplished... diddly. Sometimes because although the objective was clear, all our time was spent hashing out the best way to achieve it. Sometimes because nobody wanted to do the particular piece of the project on which all the other pieces depended. Sometimes the people involved were most concerned about their own image or ego, so the appearance of working toward a goal was more important than actual progress.
That is by far the most frustrating reason to me. I want to solve problems, help people, and make the world a better place, so I am interested in getting shit done. We have work to do, so if your ego isn't actively accomplishing things, I don't have time for it. I am wholly disinterested in engaging with someone's need to be right. Especially if that need comes at the cost of everything else, including recognizing the humanity of others.
This is the primary reason I only rarely participate in online arguments. When I make a pointed comment on social media, it's to say something that needs to be said and is otherwise missing from the current conversation. Or to bring a perspective that seems absent from the discussion. Like "the problem isn’t that people are camping in public places, the problem is that people don’t have housing." I don't speak up to demonstrate how smart or informed or woke I am. That's a trap I see a lot of people succumb to. You know how to win an online argument? You don't argue with people on the internet.
The one thing that helps me most is letting go my attachment to being right. If someone is expressing toxic or hurtful or dangerous views in a public forum, someone should definitely say something and I don't mind being that guy. But I can't lose sight of why I piped-up in the first place. And it wasn't so I could be right; it was to say what needs to be said (and repeat it as many times as necessary). Whether or not the original poster sees what I say and takes it in, it’s there for other folks to absorb and consider.
Bigots, nazis, and fascists share their ideas online, so pushing back against those toxins in our social discourse is a responsibility we all share. Like the anti-oppression version of the see-something-say-something adage. But fighting with those people to win the trophy of "being right" is just engaging in a tug of war that only serves to legitimizes their harmful and problematic stances. Stop giving those folks any more air time than they finagle through their own insular platforms.
There are many things about the way we relate to each other than need to be resolved so when we finally come together we will be successful in our joint efforts. Our attachment to rightness is just one of them. Our attachment to superiority and hierarchy is another. As is our practice of dehumanizing people we don't understand how to relate to.
We can make policies and rules (and we should) that provide a framework for how people can and should interact with other people. But humans will just figure out how to express their toxic patterns around and within those systems if we don't also work on the underlying human issues at play. Just like we can't regulate our way out of everything. We should definitely regulate some things, like environmental emissions and false advertising. But the things that are more insidious, more tricky, are also more human. And we have to deal with those by beefing up our human defenses. Dark patterns online are a perfect example. So are most kinds of financial fraud.
We need to work together, there’s no way around it. The challenges of our time are too great for unilateral resolution. But we can't just come to the table without acknowledging everything we bring with us and expect that all those old feelings and patterns and biases will magically not get in our way. I don’t know how we win, and I’m not totally convinced that we can because it’s so much less effort to stir-up the masses using fear and lies than it is to do the heavy lifting of seeing yourself, recognizing the humanity in those around you, and insisting that everyone else do the same. But we have to try. If we don't, we will definitely all lose.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.