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Monday, February 6, 2023

Intolerance and offensiveness towards those who think differently is growing

By: Zala Tomašič, Master of International Relations

It has been two years since my last column, and this time I am finding it harder to write than in the past. Not because I would not have ideas – I have no shortage of them, but because I have noticed that people had become more and more impatient. I am not referring to mean and offensive comments – especially online – which have unfortunately already become part of our everyday life and are ignored by most people. I am talking about the (new) mentality of people that has spread over the last decade – a sense of superiority of one’s opinion and a duty to point out how something or somebody is wrong, offensive, or inferior.

This phenomenon applies to all comments, not just political opinions, and it leads to a competition of superiority. It can happen with the most “everyday topics” such as growing tomatoes. I overheard a conversation of some older ladies on the bus. One of them bought tomatoes at the market. The other immediately jumped in saying that you never know where the tomatoes from the market really come from, and emphasized she buys seedlings and then grows them herself, trusting only what grows in her garden. The third one added that you also have to be careful where you get the seedlings. A similar sensation is easily observed on Instagram, where people literally compete to see who is “better” – who uses more natural cosmetics, who has a more degradable toothbrush, etc. Even though it can happen with any topic, it becomes most obvious when it comes to politics.

The traditional or conservative view has been over the recent years given a negative connotation, and the progressive a positive one – undeservedly, in my opinion. Simply because the word progressive by definition means advanced, it does not necessarily refer to actual progress. Similarly, conservativism does not imply regression. Through social networks, progressive thinking has led to a competition of progressiveness, and it has brought a sense of superiority of opinion. It has led to many people trampling others in their conquest of superiority, and in the competition to see who is more tolerant, people have become intolerant and offensive towards those who think differently.

The twenty-first century is a fascinating era. It is an era marked by people speaking up for their rights and a time when every opinion counts, regardless of whether it is based on true information. Ironically, with all the rights, duties are often forgotten. Same applies for the fact that not everything is our right, especially not if it endangers other people. This was most evident during the vaccination against COVID-19. Almost everyone had an opinion about it, and opinions became equal – the opinion of a scientist became equal to the opinion of someone who read a FB post about the harms of vaccination. The mentality that everyone has the right to decide whether to vaccinate became ubiquitous, despite the pleas from the scientific community for people to vaccinate as vaccination protects public health. But that did not matter. For some people, only their rights and their opinion mattered. And let’s not forget that in the “progressive era”, “my” opinion is more valuable than everyone else’s.

Believing in the superiority of one’s beliefs cannot lead to a constructive discussion. Instead of thinking critically, many people decide in advance that only they are right and that every other opinion is wrong. Many people do not know how to form an argument or explain their position. Therefore, discussions are no longer based on arguments, but on the fact that some people, for one reason or another, cannot see or understand the truth. Our view is better than the view of those with whom we disagree. Discussions thus revolve around who is more blinded or a sheep who follows the crowds, but there are no substantive arguments.

Several factors are to blame for this situation, but one of the most important one is the lack of critical thinking. We are rarely forced to think critically about anything. From an early age, as early as elementary school, children are encouraged to learn by heart and not to question the words of authority – be it a teacher or later the media. When social networks are added to this – platforms where anyone can (anonymously) express their opinion – we end up with today’s phenomena of progressiveness.

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