My conscience is not your talking point.


None of your beeswax (Wikimedia)

Of late, Twitter has become even more of a cesspool than usual. This morning, I noted that J.K. Rowlings, a children’s author, is obligated to explain herself and make announcements about her p.o.v. on Twitter. Twitter pundits say she “owes” that to us. In short, she “owes” us her opinion on any daily subject the mob chooses. She is not entitled to the privacy of her own thoughts.

We see it all the time, of course: famous people are asked to comment about matters far beyond their ken or even interest. Someone whose job is to imitate fictitious people onscreen is somehow expected to be a sagacious expert on the war in Ukraine, inflation, Constitutional law, or electoral politics.

Hence, Luke Burgis’s column, “Don’t Feed Your Conscience to the Dogs,” over at his website Anti-Mimetic, is vital reading: “We live in a society where people are forced to manifest their conscience on issues ranging from sexuality to geo-politics to abortion—even on whether or not they agree with someone else’s tweet—in real-time, and practically at gunpoint. The threat of ostracization, job loss, or public ridicule lurks behind the slightest deviation from the mimetic moral norm of the day.”

Luke is the author of Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life, recently out with St. Martin’s Press. We wrote about it here.

His first job was an eye-opener

Luke learned the hard way, at his first job after college “when I dipped my toe into the investment banking waters (for what turned out to be less than a year, before moving to California and launching a company.) In our little investment banking ‘group’, the politics were particularly nasty. The junior people realized very quickly that senior bankers were trying to sniff out our degree of orthodoxy about everything from the president to clean energy (and this was 2004-5), and that there were professional consequences for saying the wrong thing.”

“As young and overly ambitious junior people, none of us wanted to be penalized for coming down on the wrong side of an issue just as we were starting our careers; we simply wanted to be evaluated based on our glorified-secretarial-duty merits.”

His time spent in a monastery formed much of his thinking, and he talks about that, too, in his column. However, he raises important questions, whatever your religious, political, or social persuasion.

He continues: “Learning to say ‘no’ can be difficult; learning to not reveal one’s conscience on every single issue that hits the news can be even harder, especially in a society where it is seen as good and noble to have a ‘take’ or a strong moral stance on practically everything…

“I developed responses ranging from ‘I don’t have anything to say about that’ to ‘no comment’ to much more ‘strongly’ worded statements that would help make boundaries clear. Why? Because in these situations, there was nothing to be gained by sharing my moral convictions about things that had absolutely nothing to do with my job. There was an asymmetry of outcome that would have made it idiotic to do so, and I realized right then that learning the skill of maintaining my silence at the appropriate times was a mark of maturity, not timidity or moral agnosticism. It simply means: ‘I choose not to share my conscience with you’ — period. Usually, that’s because I don’t trust the person to honor it and engage with me respectfully.

“I think back to those days because today I see a similar situation playing out in our culture. People are baited and coaxed into revealing things to people who have no goodwill toward them at all, and who may even seek to harm them. Yet most people will have never heard anything resembling the norms developed around ‘manifesting one’s conscience’ that I found buried in those monastic rules, and I think that is a tragedy.”

In conclusion:

“We should not let our monoculture to become a monoconscience; we should fight to erect healthy boundaries around our conscience while also respecting the boundaries of others. And we must understand that nobody should be forced, or ever expected, to manifest their innermost thoughts. These moral convictions are often the fruit of hours, if not years, of careful consideration and grappling—so why throw them to the proverbial dogs who will make our innermost beliefs into memes and soundbites that scarcely represent them at all, and may even deliberately misrepresent them?”

Read the whole thing here. Please.

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One Response to “My conscience is not your talking point.”

  1. Jim Erwin Says:

    “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” – Noam Chomsky