In our quest to become more aware and inclusive towards the rest of the world, we are recognizing racism, sexism, and many other -isms in our lives. It ranges from the entertainment we consume to the way we talk. And because of this newfound understanding, we are incredibly quick to label people doing anything we can term as a specific -ism or a phobia. I say -ism, because I am not familiar with all the different types of discrimination people can face, sure I know of the common ones like racism, sexism, ageism, and able-ism but as we discover privilege in a new light as a society, we don’t even know what other biases might exist. As I write this, I am also running the risk of this piece not aging well with time. But, oh well.
This brings us to the theme of things or more specifically, things on the internet, not aging well. We see this more online on social media and in the entertainment industry. We often see songs or music videos of old that seem problematic when seen through the modern lens. We also see tweets, youtube videos, and jokes shared in chat groups sounding more offensive than what they were perceived as when they were originally posted. The reason we see this more on online outlets and now trickling into physical media like newspapers, television, and day-to-day interactions is because these are primarily based on opinion. Falling governments, terrorist attacks, marriage, divorce, childbirth, education, and thousands of other things similar to this are facts. These facts can lead to a phobic or -ist opinion in the future but they in themselves cannot be considered offensive. That people have started taking offense to these things nowadays is also stemming inherently from their opinions, i.e. the offense they feel is a reaction or an opinion to a fact. So then, why has having an opinion become such a controversial thing? And since it is an opinion, there might be someone in the world who doesn’t agree, and by consequence is entitled to take offense. This is something we see emerging more and more in the era of TikTok and Instagram. But why now? What has changed?
Modern opinion has become increasingly subjective and the question of whether something is right or wrong is even more so. To understand where this all started it can be helpful to examine why some of the older opinions, those from somewhere between five to fifty years ago, have started looking controversial or problematic in today’s information age. I have a few observations which possibly contribute to why things are not aging well in 2023.
As I mentioned before, it is the information age. We have access to information we did not have ten years ago. Okay, maybe some of the more technologically advanced nations did have certain accesses even ten years ago. But today, we have all-encompassing access like never before. Smartphones have revolutionized how we discover new information. I can sit in a middle-tier city in India and listen to songs produced in LA as well as those produced in Seoul. Something I couldn’t do so easily in 2013. With this new information, now I know that the racist jokes we used to make about East Asians are offensive to them in the same way that the curry jokes about Indians and those in the Indian peninsula made by Westerners are offensive to them. This awareness had been missing in my knowledge bank, not just for years, but for generations. We are the first generation to experience and understand so many different cultures and ethnicities up close. For the first time, we get to experience an average person’s life in all these different places and view them as humans just like us, rather than a dream. This has made our generation more sensitive to how we treat these people, how we think about them, and how we interact with them. And so we understand now that generalizing, and stereotyping is probably not the best approach to things.
Historically, humans are known to have discovered something, label/classify/use it, and then figure out the consequences. Just like how once we discovered fossil fuels, we first decided to harness the resource and only later figured out how badly it could affect the environment. This is not because of a lack of research or planning but because of the nature of how things progress over time. Without harnessing fossil fuels and using them, we would never have known their repercussions. Something similar goes for opinions too. We discover knowledge, we understand how to incorporate it into our lives, it becomes a useful discernment tool for us, and only later do we observe how our use of this tool can affect someone else. Take for example the consumption of alcohol. At first, when drinking became popular, we discovered it and incorporated it into our lives, then later the consequences of excessive consumption were identified and the bad effects were felt. Now there is research that indicates even an occasional glass can be harmful to our long-term health. Jokes or conversations made about drinking fifty years ago may seem highly inappropriate today now that the harmful effects are seen and felt already.
This leads me to my next observation with respect to opinions, that now we have had time to see the effects certain opinions can have on people’s behavior and ideologies first-hand. The psychological impact of saying “women belong in the kitchen”, for example. The amount of rage and dejection that I have at this particular statement, is because of the psychological impact of witnessing the unfairness of this ideology in action and having it be implied upon me for years as I was growing up. As adults, now we can see how simple opinions have had huge impacts on our psyche and the psyche of others in our generation collectively. With the advancement in psychology, it is now measurable and real. This brings about a new understanding of many such opinions and helps us realize why something like this was alright till even a generation ago but is problematic today.
So far I have spoken with the perspective of opinions that can be considered problematic more or less universally, like about equality. There are opinions that have people divided or those which change depending on the way the world is growing. Let’s take the example of body shape. There is tons of debate over what is the ideal body shape, and which type of exercise and lifestyle is the best. There is the body positivity movement, the muscle-building and weight-training community, and the varieties of diets that celebrities endorse among many other things. It has become even more confusing if fat is the new fit or fit is the new fat. Each of these different communities would view, let’s say, a weight loss infomercial from the 80s very differently. As we grow up and grow old, we change and the way we view our world also changes. With this, so does our view of right and wrong, and something that we consider fun or alright today may become unpalatable tomorrow.
As we move ahead with the world, this awareness is only going to increase. These can either desensitize us or make us hyper-aware. Both of these outcomes are not ideal. Both can affect the quality of life for people and create hindrances in forming real, personal opinions about things. Forming your own opinions is an important part of mental growth and discernment, and all the baggage of opinions not aging well is basically going to scare us into not forming any opinions at all. If there is a sufficient amount of people who have no opinions, either they will be easily swayed, or not swayed at all. Either way, we are headed into a very dark and apathetic future. Don’t get me wrong, inclusiveness is good. Inclusiveness is an important part of the global society and imperative for it to function well. There is plenty wrong in the world which needs to be spoken about and fixed. But there has to be a line to discern benign opinions from problematic ones. There has to be a decision on when we let someone off the hook for a certain opinion and when we hold them accountable. As is true for all good things, moderation of opinion policing is important. Or else, in trying to be inclusive of everything, we might lose out on diversity of opinions and viewpoints. Something that brings about creativity and joy, something that essentially makes humans human.
Hi, I am Alin. Cybersecurity researcher by day, writer by night. Haha! Born and raised in India, I worked in the US for a while before moving back to motherland. I am deeply passionate about protecting the digital world from cyber threats, but my shortcoming is that I have many things I am deeply interested in. Like, I have always been a keen observer of people and curious about why people behave the way they do. I have been writing poetry, short stories, fiction and opinion pieces ever since I was a kid and have recently turned my hobby into something more. Ghostwriting for The Urban Writers, my love for non-fiction pieces has only increased as I explore thousands of different ways of writing something. It is my dream to marry psychology/anthropology with writing and create pieces with diverse and unique perspectives.