Fuck Your Echo Chamber
So, let’s talk about the American election — because that definitely hasn’t been done enough. Specifically, let’s talk about some of the ideas that have circulated like vultures around the carcass of togetherness our Western societies love to pride themselves on. I’m going to talk in generics because these ideas afflict the West in general. Perhaps the most common of these ideas, and one of the most ridiculous, is the notion of the echo chamber.
You can hardly get through a single article without it coming up. The problem, we’re told, is the echo chamber effect of social media. We’re all surrounding ourselves with people of like-mind, and only reading articles from the same sources, etc. etc., and oh god the Facebook algorithm! Can’t forget to mention that monster, can we? This is why everything’s going to shit, our singular inability to talk to those cretinous people who have different opinions to ours!
This is, in every single respect, complete bullshit. I have no idea how this idea gained such traction — among, ironically enough, both the left and the right — but it’s time to put it to fucking bed. First of all, in order to surround oneself with people of like-mind, or to find publications you trust, you have to first read enough and know enough to have discovered what you dislike. The idea that people wander blindly into a patch of ideas and just stop there for no reason, unwilling to seek others, is ridiculous. It’s also unbelievably condescending, to just about every adult. What we construct for ourselves, is just that, a deliberate construction, knowingly made. It isn’t made in ignorance of what the other side is saying, it’s made because of what they’re saying, because it needs to be combatted. Because their opinions are too often predicated on breaking minorities, the poor, and the working class or at the absolute least keeping them — us — in our place.
In that sense, you could say it’s a chamber, sure, but it is not made of echoes. This is the other reason it’s such a dismissive, condescending term. Those of us who identify as ‘left-wing’ or progressive are not one homogenous lump; those of us who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD), or LGBQTIA, represent a broad collective of voices. Even if my chamber was composed entirely of these diverse voices for the entirety of my life, I would never grow bored, and the word diverse by itself should tell you why. Because it comprises many differences, and hell, when you’re in it, you get to know that real fast. Some of the most intense — and most productive — arguments I’ve had online and in life have been with people in my own chamber.
Which brings me to my next point: argument. Have any of you — you, the thousand and one journalists I’ve seen thoughtlessly reproduce this phrase — been online? Like ever? Motherfuckers, you cannot go a single day without some right-wing fuck-knuckle interjecting on a civil conversation you’re trying to have in your damn chamber. (Sidenote: I hate this word, it’s making me feel like I’m in Downton Abbey). You cannot go a single day without people on the Left frantically RT-ing or sharing what the latest right-wing columnist or TV host has said. You cannot go a single day without seeing in the comment thread on basically any article a fight breakout between some jerkwad on one side and a jerkwad on the other.
How in all of fuckery have we gotten to a point where y’all think we’re not talking to each other? Or not being exposed enough to the other person’s point of view? I mean, jesus fucking christ, that sounds NICE to me. I’ll take just a day without having to see some racist screed, I swear to god I’ll take just a day without seeing some gross ass man say some nasty shit about women, or POC, or indigenous people, or queer folk, or immigrants, or refugees, or poor people, or disabled people. If anything, I hear too much of this vile poison. I hear it in songs, and I hear it on TV shows, in movies, in books. I hear it from news anchors and from politicians, senators and head ministers. It is ever-present, and this demented notion that we’re just not seeing enough of it needs to die.
We have had centuries of it. These ideas are not new ideas. Every other day someone is pointing out the “eerie” similarities between what’s going on with Trump and the rise of Hitler, or the rise of some other dictator or elected populist who went on to do monstrous things, except it’s not eerie. It’s deliberate. It’s the same goddamn playbook every time. So, no, you know what, even if it were true that I didn’t read widely enough and wasn’t forced to confront conservative nonsense every day, I still would reject the notion that I need to check in with the right-wing to see what’s up. It doesn’t change.
If Not These Imaginary Chambers, Then What?
The base problem afflicting us has always been white supremacy. How do we combat that? It’s not by altering a made-up, non-existent “echo” problem, that’s for fucking sure. I will tell you what most progressives say when asked this question: education. But I‘ll go a step further and outline what I mean when I say that, because it’s abstract on its own. What we need is an education system that is free, that isn’t tiered so some kids are receiving a world-class education while others a block over aren’t; an education system that isn’t rigid, that teaches kids more than memorising facts for tests, that teaches analytical thinking, that teaches a history which acknowledges in full the horrors of genocide and slavery, that teaches accountability; an education system that is inclusive, above all else, that celebrates every kind of student, and every kind of teacher.
In short, we need to live together and learn together from the outset in an education system that is equal, holistic, and creative in its approach. An education system that includes other bodies of knowledge, that features a teacher body as diverse as its student body, that foregrounds mental health and an understanding of traumas. In the same way that we need an education revolution, we also need a mental health revolution.
In virtually every respect, institutionalised inequalities keep us apart. Class keeps us apart. This is the work of white supremacy, this is what it is designed to do. If you grew up seeing what I saw, living through it, then there’s far less chance of you doubting my humanity when the next asshat starts shouting into a megaphone about dem evil Moslems and sand rats. It’s this function of living apart, where who we are as human beings becomes abstract, that is far and fucking away the most responsible for the state of affairs we live in today — not social media.
On Identity Politics
Here’s another phrase I’m sick of hearing. Because we can’t take one step forward without taking ten steps back and then falling on our arse for good measure. The first and primary identity politics is white supremacy. It was white people deciding they were inherently superior — based on their identity, their skin, their culture — and everyone else was inferior, and therefore needed to be subjugated. This has gone on for centuries, and still underpins every facet of our society today. So when white people, typically right-wing, say “identity politics” with a sneer, it’s especially fucking infuriating. They just don’t like CALD people doing it on their own terms. Oh, when they do it to us, to create laws that disproportionately affect us or strip us of our rights, or when they do it to destroy indigenous lives and communities, it’s fine.
But CALD people doing it for themselves isn’t okay. No, far be it for us to come together collectively and demand that we be heard. And make no mistake, we are being heard. In Australia, in the UK, and America. That’s why there is such a ring of alarm in the voices of these old whites. That’s why analysts were saying that, for perhaps the first time in a long time, white people voted as a bloc, “like a minority”, which is to say, as if to save their very lives. The only difference is that a) their lives aren’t collectively in danger and b) even when they act as if that is the case, they do so at the cost of our lives, at the cost of our safety, our rights.
There is nothing wrong with claiming your identity. Nothing wrong with saying I am half-Lebanese half-Turkish and Australian. The sneer implicit in the phrase “identity politics” is the same one levelled at gay pride parades, and tries to claim the same shitty veneer of respectability. “Oh it’s fine if you are that, and you’re proud of it, but why do you have to shove it in our faces all the time?” Because you shove it in our faces all the time. At school. At every job interview, when we can even get in the door. At social events. At airports. On and on and on. And because when you fear for your life based on who you are, you tend to cling it with pure desperation.
This is why the “drop the identity politics” line is so ugly and so dangerous. Because all we’ve ever asked for is to be let live, to have what others have without question and without working for it, all we want is for our bodies to not be warped/restricted by your gaze or your laws. And still, people on both the left and the right have the temerity to say we’re the ones being divisive, we’re the ones who need to engage with the racists, the sexists, the homophobes. I’ve said this all before, y’all, and I’ll say it again: as much as I, and others repeat that we’re not here to educate straight white people, here the fuck I am doing it again. Here we are every day on social media, in our art, wherever, talking about it what it is to live like this.
If you’re not willing to acknowledge the rights of culturally and linguistically diverse people to live, that is, black people, brown people, Asian people, indigenous people, religious minorities, and every intersection thereof, there’s no conversation to be had. If I could, I’d get you the fuck out of my chamber so I never had to hear your voice again. Unfortunately, despite popular belief to the contrary, I do have to hear your shitty voice saying these awful things, or worse, your silent support of those who do say them, and so long as that remains true, well then, I’ll keep on hollering.