politics · Recent

The Echo Chamber Fallacy

I deleted a friend on Facebook the other day. I used to agonize over this, but now, if I think about it more than three times, it’s something I just go ahead and do. I’m not sure why I ever thought it was a problem, to delete someone from social media.

Well, I take that back. I do know. And I used to be incredibly hurt by it, when someone deleted me. (Still am, depending on the person).

We have this belief in this United States of America, in our “democracy,” for better and quite often for worse, that we owe it to people to hear their point of view.

On the surface, and in theory, this is probably a good stance to take. In the world, there are many people with just as many different ways of life and viewpoints on that life. Many of us would benefit greatly from hearing points of view other than our own, especially if we are listening in good faith and with empathy.

When this becomes not so great in practice, in my experience and in the experience of many others in the world of social media, is when people are

1) Intent on having a “logical discussion”
2) Insistent on trying to “understand other points of view”
3) Playing devil’s advocate, “just for the sake of argument”
4) Insist everyone is stuck in their own echo chamber

I’m sure there are others, but these are the ones I see most often, and what prompted me to delete a friend, and what has prompted me to block people on Facebook that I’m not even friends with.

None of these four instances (incidentally, they are not separate most of the time, but converge in the same person/situation) sound as if they are a problem, on the surface, but for me, they are immediate warning signs that let me know the conversation is going to be a series of rehashing information that is already established and will require lots of sympathizing with racists, misogynists, and all other manner of bigots, you know, just to “see their point of view” and be sure we have “looked at all sides.”

If you do not want to engage in these kinds of “logical discussions” or you choose not to have people who do engage in these “logical discussions” on your social media feed, you have what is supposed to be the worst insult tossed at you: you are accused of creating an echo chamber where you only have to hear your own ideas.

*GASP*

This used to make me pause and think, and truly reflect to see if I was, indeed, creating an echo chamber by carefully cultivating the viewpoints shared by the people in my friends list on Facebook and in my Twitter feed, and even on my Instagram account. This used to make me hesitate over the “unfriend” button and make me loathe to block anyone.

And then the other day I just laughed.

A twenty-two year old young man, cis, hetero, white, had friended me a while back after he was intrigued by a comment I made on a mutual friend’s post. I accepted the request because I accept most of them, unless they are from someone I have had negative interactions with or unless they are obviously a spam account or men treating social media like their personal Tinder account.

His posts often elicited eye-rolls from me, but he seemed mostly harmless. He liked to post logical fallacy posts, explaining what fallacies are so people can have more “logical” conversations. He has such fierce faith in logic, that it’s almost endearing but is also irritating because it comes with quite a bit of arrogance and confidence that he is, in fact, always right.

Because what he, and most others (far more experienced at life and debate and scholarship than he) who are part of the cult of logic have failed to realize is that logic is not always logical. Logic does not always make sense. Logic is not always ethical. Logic is rarely empathetic. Logic is not infallible. And logic has been twisted and can be twisted just as easily as any religious text.

It’s quite similar to throwing around the word “legal” and acting as if it equates to “moral.” Logic as the marker for sound reasoning and debate only works if it’s paired with empathy and ethics. Logic–and the fallacious belief that we can somehow be objective, and emotionless and that this is somehow superior to those of us who emote and let our less-than-perfect emotions get involved in our decision making process– is often used to bludgeon those of us who are angry or hurt or just plain tired of having the same “logical” illogical discussions over and over again.

Lest I fall into vagueness, I’ll use an example.

This young man, well-meaning as he is, is so attached to logic that he decided to post, three posts in a row, about a “close-minded, bitter, echo chamber of feminists” that blocked him on Facebook, and insist that they were being illogical and refusing to “see other points of view” because he said that we should listen to Nazis and try to have conversations with them.

In his zest for logic, this young man is actually coming to the defense of Nazis because people in this feminist group on Facebook– a closed group, might I add, with posting guidelines– told him that Nazi viewpoints are not worth listening to, and this offends this young man’s belief that all things should be discussed logically, that all viewpoints deserve to be heard.

I almost pointed out to him the flaw in his own logic, but instead I just unfriended him. Someone else had already tried, and he pretended to listen but did not really try to understand because he still kept calling the group of feminists unjust, and bitter, and said they lived in an echo chamber, because they did not explain to him why they don’t care to listen to Nazis.

I could go on at length about the problems with giving space to abhorrent ideology, the problem with treating abhorrent ideas as if they are worth listening to, but that’s not the point I want to focus on in this particular post.

I want to focus in on this fallacy of the echo chamber, because I do indeed think it is a fallacy of its own type.

There are many people who live in an echo chamber, it’s true. It is vital and important to make sure we do understand multiple points of view, and that we hear others and engage in dialogue with others who think nothing like we do.

What I find so interesting, and even quite laughable, is the idea that, because I’m not willing to have these dialogues on Facebook, it must mean that I always live in this echo chamber. It must mean that people don’t interact with anyone outside of social media, or it must mean that people only interact with people just like them in all aspects of their lives. It doesn’t occur to this young man, or to other people who throw around the “echo chamber” that many of us have to talk to people unlike us every day. It doesn’t occur to them that we deal with sexism, racism, and homophobia in our work lives, in our personal lives, and that our social media life is a place we cultivate for a break from that. The assumption that our unwillingness to debate online (which we are also frequently told is useless) means we are unwilling to debate anywhere else, and the assumption that we don’t want to sit down and discuss bigotry in a “logical” manner during our time on Facebook, means that we haven’t already heard what people holding bigoted viewpoints have to say makes a pretty big leap, and ends up being fallacious.

Of course, there are many people for whom social media is the only place they are exposed to alternative points of view, and that still does not require us to engage in “logical” discussion of issues that really aren’t logical.

The trap of logical discussions and deciding that all points of view should be entertained for the purpose of logical discourse is that it assumes that all topics are always already logical, and puts “logic” into some pure, untouchable status. My refusal to entertain racism as a valid viewpoint places me in the position of illogical, and might even get me framed as the one who is oppressive and closed-minded. Because I am not willing to hear someone and try to understand their homo-antagonism or trans-antagonism, I am the one who is narrow and unyielding.

Never mind that I’ve had these conversations before. Never mind that the other person is quoting misinterpreted scripture and I have research backing me. Never mind that the person I am trying to have a discussion with dismisses all the sources I present as invalid, while not presenting any of their own. My refusal to “dialogue” is me locking myself in an “echo chamber” and any suggestion that it’s a waste of my time is just met with mockery. I end up being the illogical one, if I don’t want to engage.

It’s exhausting, really.

I’ll leave them in their echo chamber of logic.

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