(A rant for people like me.)
When I was a little kid, I remember scaring myself with a bulletproof paradox. It went like this: all possibilities end with a yes or a no. Either the moon will explode tomorrow or it won’t. That makes two outcomes. I could number them on the sides of a coin, heads silence, tails BOOM. Ergo, the moon exploding was like a coin flip, a fifty-fifty chance. Everything in the universe was equally likely. QED.
Statistics eventually taught me about probability distributions, and I now see the flaw in my logic. But a little piece of it has always lingered, some tiny relic of the same fallacy. It’s the nagging idea that simply because there are always two sides, there must always be two opposite and equally weighted arguments for them. Since I’m usually in a one-sided crowd (though the side changes), I like to play the part of Opposite: here’s how you’re exaggerating, here’s why your protest is misguided, here’s why the truth is more subtle than a tweet. Here’s why technically speaking it’s not impossible that the moon will explode. Always Devil’s Advocate, always the “voice of moderation”, straddling lines and dampening passions to counter a perceived asymmetric hype machine.
That part of me fell silent recently. But today my feed is still flooded with it: friends “just asking questions,” jokes meant to poke tiny holes in any outraged response, memes subtly jabbing the hypocrisy of protest, of righteous anger, of taking an extreme stance on anything because /technically/ X activist didn’t carry the 2 in their otherwise spot-on rant. It’s disheartening because I recognize you, I see myself in there. It’s terrifying to take a firm stance, to surround yourself with all the yelling, passionate, imperfect people whose earnest mistakes will invariably embarrass you. It’s much easier to be the smartass in the back of class, smirking and tearing everyone else down, shrugging whenever someone tries to tease out an actual position. You won’t ever be right per se, but you’ll also never be wrong. You’ll always just feel rational and clever—and invincible.
That part of me fell silent in November, and good riddance to the smug bastard. It fell silent because we’re too far past normality to pretend for the sake of debate. It’s not fifty-fifty, Democrat vs. Republican. It’s not even ninety-ten. It’s right vs. wrong. Clarity vs obfuscation. Compassion vs. vindictive, fearful pettiness. It’s the opinion of virtually every reputable voice across the spectrum, vs. a reality-show megalomaniac and his opportunistic cronies. It’s a handful of predictable flaws vs. a regime that propelled itself to power via regressive, hateful pandering, and has made it clear that it won’t slow down. It’s the failure of a movement to perfectly moderate itself vs. a movement that considers hyperbole a virtue and moderation a four-letter word. It’s typical media spin vs. an administration that not only presents blatant lies as fact, but would dare to let them inform policy: claiming 5 million illegal immigrants voted for Clinton, lumping the New York Times under the same umbrella as Macedonian troll clickbait. It’s a climate-change denier as head of EPA and an “ex-“birther president who shares anti-vaxx tweets. It’s about starting to repeal without a plan to replace, turning away vetted refugees without provisions about where they’ll go. Closing the border to hard-working people, students and coworkers with valid visas who happened to visit loved ones in the wrong country this holiday season—all rolled out with zero oversight, or contingency plan, or even information about when and how things would change. The most crucial issue isn’t whether it’s technically a Muslim Ban or a Ban Against Seven Majority Muslim Nations While Simultaneously Expressing The Desire For Assyrian Christians To Get In Faster. It doesn’t make you some brilliant rhetorician to point out that the list didn’t actually originate with Trump, only the impulsive actions he took with it immediately following a campaign waged against the precise people it hurts. There’s nothing smart or even-handed about willfully ignoring context, about correcting grammar in the middle of a eulogy. The tide is going in an obvious direction, and treading water doesn’t make you a moderate. It means you don’t care, or you’ve given up, or you’re OK with where it’s headed.
So please, at least be honest. If you’re rooting for the tide, just say so; don’t hide behind ironic memes and “just asking questions” forever. Stand up for what you think or think it to yourself. But if you believe things are wrong and feel compelled to speak, now isn’t the time to play Devil’s Advocate or Gleeful Nihilist, to expend your energy pointing out the subtle differences between various shades of garbage. It isn’t fifty-fifty and it’s not a fair fight. Facts matter. False equivalences don’t end the conversation. The press and academia matter, and neither are monolithic conspiracies with a single agenda. Thoughtful, clear voices matter. Experience matters much more than bravado. Empathy matters, solidarity matters, and expressing both in whatever tiny way you can is not an empty gesture. Incompetency is not a positive feature, and raging outbursts do not add up to leadership. Fear doesn’t have to trump principle simply because it has before. All spin is not created equal. Flawed participants don’t invalidate a movement, and inconsistent applications don’t invalidate their ideals. We’re all hypocrites up to a point, but that doesn’t make it pointless to try, to speak up for what you see now that you do actually see it. Free yourself to just be a person, with all the hypocrisy and conviction and love and non-invincibility that come with it. Apathy doesn’t make you a moderate, swimming doesn’t make you an extremist, and the moon won’t explode unless all the reasonable people sit around debating technicalities while someone else blows it up.