All Actions Are Propaganda

All actions are propaganda. All of them. For example, by writing these words in English, I am asserting, intentionally or not, that English is a medium in which to share thoughts with others. This is such an uncontroversial statement about English that it hardly seems worth making, but if I’d written the first sentence in Esperanto it would be clearer that I am pushing towards something. But even in English I am pushing towards something.

It works like this. Let’s say you get in a car and put on your seatbelt. You may claim that all you’re doing is putting on a seatbelt and asserting nothing. You are, of course, asserting something like: “I choose to put a seatbelt on when riding in a car,” which isn’t much. It isn’t much because it’s already normal. Forty years ago, putting a seatbelt on was more of an assertion. Get in a car and put a motorcycle helmet on, you’ll be making more of an assertion. Wearing a seatbelt is already normalized, but when you put a seatbelt on you are nevertheless casting your vote to keep it normalized.

There’s an old trick I was shown in my high school days (not in high school, obviously): When you walk into someone else’s house, if you wipe your feet, everyone who enters after you will wipe his or her feet, even if the feet don’t need it. Usually, at other times and unless it’s muddy out, no one’s wiping feet, but whether wiping your feet is normal or not is ambiguous enough that you can personally tip everyone’s behavior towards your own, temporarily. You can’t make people copy you in whatever you want; if you spit on the floor on entering someone else’s house, the people behind you are not going to spit on the floor, too. But if enough people spit on enough floors, it would be normal, and then people would do it.

The only thing we learn is what’s normal.

Everyone knows this, more or less, but we tend to ignore the implications. A friend of mine once said, “I believe in divorce, but not for me”; she meant that she supported the right of people to get divorced, but she very much wanted not to get divorced herself. This is something we should never say! Every person who gets divorced makes it more likely that you will get divorced. A hundred years ago, when divorce was rare, spouses who did not get along were more likely to butch it out, to try other solutions, to separate unofficially. The more common divorce gets, the more likely you, or your partner, will think of it as a solution.

(Of course, divorce used to be more difficult, too, and not merely rarer, and this could have contributed to discouraging divorce; but the more common something is, the more likely people will lobby to make it easier, the more likely industries will spring up to help streamline the process.)

This isn’t bad, of course; I’m not saying divorce is bad, I’m not John the Baptist. I’m just saying that if you don’t want to get divorced, it does not make sense to  encourage or condone the practice. In fact, if you want to keep from getting divorced, you might want to shame divorcees, like a Mad Men character.

Statistics that appear not to affect you, such as the divorce rate, certainly affect you, and also everyone you love. Any behavior you don’t like but decide to tolerate, none-of-my-business style, is actually your business.

Every person who gets a tattoo makes it more likely that your children will get tattoos. Every person with a big distending disk in their lip makes it more likely that your children will get a big distending disk in their lip. You may not care about tattoos (you probably don’t if you’re reading this), but think of something that annoys you, a hipster man-bun or bell bottoms or something. Every person you see with a man-bun increases the odds of other people having man-buns, until it hits a critical mass and everyone has man-buns and you look like a crybaby for griping, like a 1969 hardhat yelling, “Get a haircut, you hippie!”

Every person named Brooklyn or Khaleesi makes it more likely that your grandchildren will be named Brooklyn or Khaleesi, or even that your children will be named Brooklyn or Khaleesi; even if you dislike the names Brooklyn or Khaleesi, or dislike what they signal, the more people who get these names the more they will start to sound like “normal” names, like Janet or Melissa, the more you will get inured to them over time, and then you might have to fight with your spouse over the names. If you meet someone with a “freakish” name that annoys you, like the character Beautifull from You Got Served, and you say, “No one’s to blame for their own name,” you are shooting yourself in the foot. You just voted to have a daughter named Beautifull, with an extra L.

Every person is just one vote, of course, and any given vote is unlikely to change anything. But when everyone believes “my vote doesn’t count,” we get President Trump (and possibly Brexit?).

This means that tolerating other opinions is counterproductive. When you tolerate anything you don’t like you are working against yourself. When you tolerate music you don’t like, you are helping art shift into a direction you neither understand nor can appreciate, and soon every time you go to  a diner they’re playing Kelly Clarkson, and you’ve already lost your appetite.

Even minor annoyances and disagreements are certainly points for a rival demographic that, after all, wants to subjugate and destroy yours as certainly as yours wishes to subjugate and destroy it.

You may not be able to do anything about it, which is why all the New Yorker cartoons in the world saying “this is just noise” couldn’t stop rock and roll from catching on. You may get outvoted. But at least those New Yorker cartoons voted!

I know I’ve argued in the past that tolerance is nonsense, but I nevertheless think tolerance is a virtue. And yet it is a self-defeating, dysgenic virtue. This is both horrible and inescapable.

The next time I see someone declaring war on dissent, the next time I see someone persecuting difference, the next time an apparently minorly unpopular opinion meets with termination, in other words the next time I look at the internet, I should probably remind myself that they’re only behaving rationally, and that if they were to stop they would only be outcompeted and destroyed by someone else.

I don’t even know how we made it this far.


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