How does one protect oneself from unwanted and intrusive communication? For the past few years I have become increasingly bothered by the sorts of advertisements I have gotten, to the point where I have deliberately sought as much as possible to block myself from advertisements. Naturally, since websites depend on advertisements for a substantial part of their revenue, this stance has made me less than popular in some of the places where I spend time online. YouTube being unable to try to sell me pork and a music forum being unable to promote Planned Parenthood tend not to be happy about their ad revenue being cut off because someone doesn’t want to hear the message they are trying to push for profit. One of the most important freedoms is a freedom we do not tend to appreciate people using with us, and that is the freedom to be left alone. We live in a world that is strangely hypocritical about many things, and one of those things is the fact that we all want to promote our own message, even (perhaps even especially) to those who are reluctant at best to hear us, but we similarly like to live in a bubble and an echo chamber where other voices that are contrary to our own own cannot be heard. Yet these two tendencies are entirely contradictory. To the extent that our own voice can batter down the walls of those who do not want to hear us, other voice we do not hear can try to confront us with that which we do not want to pay attention to and wish would just shut up and go away.
To be sure, this problem can be looked at on a personal level, but today I am looking at this communication from a more institutional level. We live in a world where we are continually bombarded by advertising. We drive by billboards, listen to radio stations that are funded in large part by advertising, read newspapers and watch television shows and stream online in media that are all saturated with advertising from a wide variety of sources. Most of what is being advertised, moreover, is worthless trash. People, companies, politicians and governments all want our attention and most of them have nothing worthwhile to offer us in exchange for that attention. In fifteen or thirty or sixty second increments most of them have at best a misleading message that attempts to inflame our lust, our fear, our anger, our pride and self-importance, or some other sort of dishonest emotional appeal in order that we engage in some dubious behavior or buy some sort of product which will inevitably fail to meet the promises attached to its marketing.
As I have been in the course of writing this particular blog entry I have heard several advertisements on Spotify that have sought to promote vaccination and gotten an e-mail from United Airlines that makes dubious claims about the efficacy of the Covid vaccine and its coercive requirements that all of their US-based employees be vaccinated. While it is not my intent to comment at length about my thoughts on Covid or its vaccines, I do find it highly interesting to note the sort of approach that has been taken in trying to promote vaccination, which have leaned far more heavily on the stick than on the carrot. Commercials comment on that the vaccine is free and convenient, while companies and institutions like the US Military and United Airlines try to coerce those unfortunate souls under their corrupt authority to comply or else. One does not get a thoughtful examination of objections, but rather appeals to fear, or vain wishes that if enough people get vaccinated that restrictions will loosen up even if variants crop up that continue to infect people who already have the vaccine and who can pass the disease on to others, thus belying claims of peace and safety and security. Bad logic and phony statistics have never stopped corrupt institutions and governments before, and do not appear to be doing so any time soon.
What makes all of this more frustrating is that it is increasingly difficult to have honest communications about the myriad disagreements and divides that we have. It is not merely that we disagree, but that our discourse about that disagreement tends to talk past the objections of other people. There are certainly many people who think and feel that they are best protecting their safety and that of other people by doing some things that are viewed by others as being ridiculous and useless, and once people have strong opinions (and in light of the continual discourse, one could not help but have strong opinions one way or the other), they are not going to be particularly willing to hear someone else or to respect the grounds by which someone else disagrees with them. It is dangerous when we not only disagree with each other about many things but cannot respect the grounds on which that disagreement lies, because it is very hard for us to treat others with respect or consider them to be rational and intelligent people when their worldviews and the foundation of their behavior is at odds with us, and when the authorities that we cite to back our opinion are treated by them with contempt and derision. To see that one shares in the general tendency and that correspondingly one is a part of the problem and not part of the solution does not end up helping us to create a place where discourse can take place in a way that respects all who are involved in it.
After all, it is the lack of respect within our public discourse about anything that leads people (like me) to want to avoid it as much as possible. It cannot be healthy that our fora of communication are so unable to work properly that polite silence is often the best outcome that can be hoped for in our lives when dealing with the continual disagreements that we have because we accept different authorities as valid in providing us with the information from which we make decisions. In a better world, we would all be able to challenge those who try to push a message on us with defeating arguments that poke holes in their claims, and they would be free to do the same to us, forcing us all to confront the complexity of the decisions we make and the repercussions those decisions have for ourselves and others. But we do not live in a world like that, and we are people who may like to challenge others but seldom appreciate being challenged ourselves. In such a world in which we live where we all want to be heard but do not want to hear others, the best we can hope for is that others will bite their tongue rather than causing offense, and that is likely the best that others will desperately hope for from us as well, as vain a hope as that often is.