Take a walk

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
25 March, 2022

“Because there is no time for thinking and no rest in thinking, we no longer weigh divergent views; we’re content to hate them.”

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that back in 1878, but he could easily have been describing the early 2020s. Perhaps it was ever thus, but I can’t help feeling the problem Nietzsche was describing has recently got a lot worse. In fact, it seems we’re content not only to hate divergent views but, more and more, to hate those who hold them as well.

My sense that everything is falling apart seems to be more than a symptom of curmudgeonly middle age. Surveys of American voters run by Pew Research show that Democrats and Republicans really don’t think much of one another. Democrats think Republicans are closed-minded and stupid. Republicans think Democrats are lazy, immoral and unpatriotic. And these uncomplimentary views have intensified over the last decade.

Here in New Zealand things might not be quite as polarised as in the US, but we do seem to be less willing to hear divergent views than we used to be. Healthy democratic disagreement has turned toxic.

People’s views on a host of seemingly unrelated issues appear now to track together. If you know what someone thinks about A, you can be fairly sure of what they think about B, C, D and E as well. People are clumping into two great tribes, the Woke and the Deplorables, and they disagree about almost everything. The Woke call the Deplorables racist, misogynist, transphobic Nazis.  The Deplorables call the Woke soy-boy, snowflake, libtard cucks. It’s not at all clear that the Woke and Deplorables can successfully inhabit the same galaxy. This poses a problem for democracy.

Nietzsche didn’t have much time for democracy, perhaps because he was so acutely aware of the all-too-human tendency to form warring ideological camps. It’s almost as if the issues themselves don’t matter – it seems to be identification with a ‘side’ that we’re after.

I blame Twitter for exacerbating this tendency to polarise. On Twitter, everything is immediate and unceasing. Twitter rewards the recycling of rehearsed opinions. Its dynamics discourage taking “time for thinking”. Neither does it encourage “rest in thinking”. Twitter warriors never seem to pause for reflection.

Nietzsche liked walking almost as much as he liked thinking. In fact, another thing he wrote was, “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”. So, if you want to prove Nietzsche wrong about democracy, get off Twitter and go for a walk.

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