My take reading some posts going around about self-censorship in the circle of blogs I read.

For most of human history, an individuals’ thoughts and opinions rarely left a small circle of people who were essentially kin. Not sharing all of your opinions in public isn’t self-censorship— it’s wise.

In my opinion, there are three types of opinions people share that result in having a pretty bad time.

  1. Someone holds an opinion that has been pretty poorly thought out that falls along familiar, fallacious ground. Folks who have thought deeply about that issue/area have confronted the naive view so many times that they are unkind. This is the classic Internet forum issue of the n00b. It’s terrible, but folks who are experts are often exhausted by novice opinion. Because the internet freely mixes novices and experts and screens are easy to depersonalize, we get unpleasantness.

  2. Someone holds a deplorable opinion they’re sharing under the mistaken belief they’re among other people who share their horrific belief. Think most racists or misogynists on the internet.

  3. Someone is a member of a marginalized group exposed to the people in (2). Of course, the people in group (2) immediately claim they’re in group (3) when called out on their shit— it’s their only play.

I sympathize a lot with folks in group (1). Most of us have been there before, and most of us could do better to practice empathy in that situation. And sometimes, it makes sense to read and listen more than write and talk. No one wants to be told to read the fucking manual, but it’s also hard to answer a question for the 100th time with the same patience as the first time. If I felt the need to debunk idiotic climate denialism every time I read it, I’d go nuts. Maybe that’s group 1.5– those of us not answering because we’re exhausted.

The people in group (2) should have a bad time of it. I don’t feel bad calling them out, and I actually do believe enough people saying something helps to change views over time. I don’t think people who say they are “self-censoring” because they’re being called out are actually engaging in any kind of censorship. Facing the consequences of holding deplorable positions (being shamed) is not censorship.

The folks in group (3) are the real people who are censored. Marginalized folks are actually being bullied into silence because of who they are. It sucks. But also, these folks have (in my opinion) been heard more and are more empowered to speak than ever before. The fact that some folks are facing consequences in group (2) is both a marvel and relatively new.

Sometimes people claim they’re being censored when lots of people disagree with them. I think this almost always come from someone who is unwilling to reconsider their views. Rather than feel shame, I wonder what would happen if they took a deep breath and asked, “if lots of people I normally like, trust, and agree with feel very differently than I do in this case, maybe I’ve missed something?”