“People just need to act like rational human beings.”
The comment was made by one of my classmates on November 9th. We were talking about social media’s role in the election.
Without arguing over the results, there seems to be no question there was a lot of malice this election cycle. The candidates insulted each other a lot, but the voters often seemed to be worse.
NPR, cio.com, and other news sites reported a high amount of angry and insulting political posts during the campaigns.
The Echo, my college’s student newspaper, reported several international students received threatening social media messages and inappropriate jokes after the election.
As I read about these actions and listened to people’s responses, I kept remembering a quotation from Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged”: “What were the weapons… in a realm where reason was not a weapon any longer?”
I won’t argue about whether the right person became President. What I will argue is that Americans really need to embrace rationality again. Americans need to avoid saying things -- online or in any other forum -- they can’t back up with reason or logic.
I believe this is so vital for several reasons.
One reason is simply that there’s no guarantee that opinions are accurate just because they can be released. We live in a world where, unlike fifty years ago, there are no gatekeepers who must check our words before we get to publish them. Writers don’t necessarily have to get their work past editors and fact-checkers, they can simply self-publish via the Internet. Anyone can write a Facebook post or generate a tweet.
As bestselling author Neil Gaiman commented in a speech at the 2013 Digital Minds Conference, we now live in “a world in which anyone can publish anything,” and finding well-made work is often difficult. He was speaking primarily about books, but the same point is true of social media. Anyone can release anything, and quality is not guaranteed.
Another reason is simply that anyone can be mistaken. It would be great if experts always got their facts right and one could simply trust whatever they said, but that’s not always true. In four years of community college classes and over a year of university, I’ve met several brilliant teachers who are well-trained but have some misinformed views. Regardless of intelligence or credentials, people must consider their words carefully before releasing them.
Finally, there are times in which emotions become a shield to hide irrational views. I mentioned Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” earlier -- one thing Rand did very well in that book was show how people hide behind emotions. Throughout the book, there are characters who try to undermine the heroes with subversive actions and angry rhetoric. As the novel progresses, readers see that most of those characters have selfish reasons they want to undermine the characters and the angry rhetoric makes those reasons seem valid.
Rand may have exaggerated at times, but she understood that often people avoid using reason or logic because their beliefs are irrational. Emotions can be powerful and it’s all too easy to use them to shield secret insecurities or selfishness.
After a chaotic election and an even more chaotic finale, it’s vital that Americans return to using logic and reason with their words. There really is no rational alternative.