A friend of mine passed me an article about millennials and George Orwell, which claimed that young people on the internet are bullying others mercilessly who are out of step with the dogmas of the left. This is hardly a new claim about millennials, as many since the 80’s have said that “political correctness” is oppressive and invoked 1984. While I agree that militant dogmatism is found on both sides of the aisle, I think what irked me most about the article was the comparison to Orwell and claims of censorship regarding heated exchanges online between free individuals. At a time when many are confusing arguments and boycotts with fascism, I feel that a distinction needs to be made between opposition and oppression, between argument and censorship.
If someone argues with you, and continues to argue with you, they are not censoring you. They are speaking with you. They are opposed to your beliefs, but not necessarily opposed to you speaking. They may not be good at listening, and they may give you little chance to speak, but they are engaging you in a conversation, even if it is a terrible one. Often, they are hoping to hear the reasons you won’t change your mind, to change your mind, and then hear you say that your mind has been changed. When I receive critical comments, I am irritated, but I have not been censored. Nietzsche said that one should appreciate one’s enemies, as they help one to grow stronger, which I find to be an inspirational strategy for getting the most out of one’s beliefs.
– Eric Gerlach teaches philosophy and the history of human thought at Berkeley City College. This piece was originally published on April 16 at his excellent blog Eric Gerlach, ‘A Skeptical & Global Guide to the History of Human Thought’, which I highly recommend, and re-published here with the author’s permission.