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How to preserve nuanced thinking in a culture of knee-jerk groupthink




Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo Survivors' March in response to several high-profile sexual harassment scandals on November 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo Survivors' March in response to several high-profile sexual harassment scandals on November 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
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The year 2017 was one where it seemed like almost every issue you could bring up was a political third rail.

The hyper-partisanship and divisiveness turned up to 11 in the era of #MAGA vs. #NeverTrump, and there are no signs it’s letting up. For some who might otherwise feel comfortable sharing their thoughts on highly-charged issues like #MeToo, white privilege, or immigration, there are those who argue that 2017 may have had a chilling effect on this kind of discourse, and that we live in an age when your opinion on any issue, no matter how nuanced, is often seen as moral-defining.

L.A. Times contributor Meghan Daum is one of them, and she tackles the phenomenon she refers to as ‘back channeling’ in her latest op-ed for the paper. Daum describes back channel conversations as “what we professional opinionators sometimes do after holding forth with righteous certainty: turn to our closest confidants and confess to a level of cognitive dissonance and confusion we fear would alienate our followers and possibly kill our careers if we tried to put it into words.” Daum uses the #MeToo movement as an example. “[It’s] infused with obtuse rhetoric like ‘zero tolerance,’” she writes, “but it has also led to a handful of more nuanced analyses about the slippery nature of sexual consent and the dangers of failing (or refusing) to distinguish male clumsiness from dangerous aggression.”

Do you find yourself having these kinds of whispered political conversations? In other words, have you been less inclined to openly share your personal opinions on divisive issues for fear of how it might appear or how others might react? How often? On which topics in particular?

Guest:

Meghan Daum, book author and contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times; her latest column for the paper is titled, “Had enough of the visceral response to the Trump era? Try a little nuance instead”