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  • Writer's pictureJacke Karashae

disdain

i remember seeing a tweet once that went something like:

hey twitter, here’s something that deserves your rage: <link to something i can’t remember>

that tweet, which i neglected to save any record of, has become a bit of a touchstone of the way that i think about the worst side of digital discourse. it stuck in my mind because it very baldly described an attitude which is incredibly easy to slip into online:


disdain.


i can pinpoint what i mean by disdain by contrasting it with “dissent”:

  • dissent is the voicing of a view. disdain is the voicing of befuddlement that other views exist.

  • dissent is written to people who agree and those who disagree, hoping to bring them to agreement. disdain is written only to people who already agree to paint those who disagree as a lost cause.

  • dissent aspires to make those who disagree rethink their opinion. disdain aspires to make those who disagree be ashamed of their opinion.

  • dissent treats an issue as a thing to be solved.  disdain treats an issue as a way to distinguish your friends from your enemies.

  • dissent suffers disagreement in hope for future unify.  disdain glories in disunity as a source of personal validation.


i have seen people on every side of every issue speak with disdain rather than dissent.  and i have done it myself.  in fact, a large part of my thinking about and writing this came from the realization that i can have a disdainful attitude towards others in conversation without even realizing it.


disdain is infectious.  if we are not already disdainful, we can “catch” the attitude by favoriting, reblogging, or generally agreeing with the disdain of someone who holds our same view or–and this is a true irony–by vehemently objecting to a disdainful comment from someone who holds an opposite view.  in essence, disdain breeds reflexive disdain.


and the problem is that disdain prevents us from talking meaningfully with others.  it encourages a high-handed arrogance which throws up massive walls to all but the most patient of those speaking with us.  it forces us to reject any possibility of wrong thinking or acting in order to maintain the position of superiority.  it sacrifices a conversation with an opponent for the glory of belittling them to make ourselves feel more secure.

disdain turns standing into grandstanding.


i have to be very careful in both who i listen to and what thought patterns i endorse in my mind in order to prevent my views from becoming sources of disdain.  it’s really not the views themselves that cause a disdainful attitude; rather, it’s the way that i approach them that makes the difference.  humility and empathy are key to avoiding disdain, because the real root of it is (a) wanting to feel superior to others and (b) wanting to have an identity through conflict with others. for some, humility and empathy our easy. for others, they require caution, focus, and the aid of our close (& bravely honest) friends.


let us speak truth, but for the sake of the hearer, not our own self-esteem; be passionate, but not for the end goal of establishing the “us” and “them”.  in doing so, we can prevent ourselves from making “the issues” about establishing our identity through exclusion and rather be about helping to rally around the people who need our support.

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