It’s easy to be misanthropic. It follows conveniently in the slipstream of defensible pessimism, patting the backs of those searching for a sense of advantage over their fellow man – which, let’s not pretend, is very satisfying. But it can lend itself to paternalism, a misreading of Camus, and worse, crappy defeatist ‘oh what’s the point? Fuck it’ platitudes from people that don’t vote or frequently forget what day of the week the green recycle bin goes out.
“People want the appearance of deciding” – it’s a sweeping verdict of civilisation that makes Žižek look more haughty than usual.
Still, he’s right.
It’s obvious isn’t it – that people prefer the comfort of group-thought to actual thinking? Most people want what everyone else has, they want to fit in. It’s just easier. Whether that’s born from mental laziness or a fear of epistemological paralysis, it’s a massive headache to not fit in. This is probably just as rooted to our safety-in-numbers biological survival mechanisms, as it is to the don’t-think-too-much cultural background noise of getting kicked out of The Garden of Eden because of an eagerness to be less oblivious.
Even if you were equipped with introspection after those prelapsarian times, to speculate the status quo or to search for affirmation was nothing but bother, suitably enough, moral progress was unhurried for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Nowadays, in the age of the Internet and protected human rights, we’re afforded the freedom to think and say what we want. But navigating and cultivating your actual free thoughts can still be difficult. Not because of recent scientific revelations about the nature of free will or anything like that, or because of the burgeoning sum of multivaried, transdisciplinary and sometimes conflicting information we have offered to us on any given topic, like the gender wage gap or Brexit, for example. It’s difficult because in modern secular society, ever since the Age of Reason, we’ve been encouraged to be individuals – the individual is solipsistically sovereign. And as social creatures this can still make the responsibility of having genuine authorship of our own thoughts overwhelming and the convenience of mental shortcuts tantalizing, even if it doesn’t seem that way.
The era of individualism has rightly engendered a diversity of ideas, but are most of us that much more immune to group-thought than our ancestors were? ‘Truth’ always finds a way of aligning with the individual’s identity; confirmation bias can athletically manoeuvre itself to minimise any overthinking that might grieve the ego. Nature seems to have ordained it this way and finding purchase on it is no easy feat, especially when voluntarily jammed into the echo chamber of a social media bubble, impatiently forming an opinion from the tit-bits of a recommended news feed.
The last few years have been characterised by political polarisation, identity politics and half decent cultural appropriation memes. It’s now become a popular trend to mock the left, mostly on account of the snowflake/safe space phenomenon spilling out from university campuses and the ironically bolshie outrage culture that’s risen from it. There’s been a clear breakdown of discourse as uncompromising radicals, prodigal with the currency of the word Nazi, refuse to engage with challengers.