Communication Breakdown

Keep quiet.

Listen. (That’s the important part.)

It’s a world already dinned with cacophonous noise. The zones filled with shit. Bullshit, specifically. Applied indiscriminately by firehose. By design.

A clatter composed mostly to deceive. To indoctrinate. To sell something. Oftentimes, a combination of all three. A real racket.

The world needs less noise not more. More conversation and honest exchanges of productive and generous ideas, yes. More cooperative interaction. But that’s not what all these cold blasts of hot air are.

Malformed opinion. Empty rumour-mongering and idle, ideological speculation. Press releases and p.r. strategic commiqués. Fashionable nonsense intended to bury the truth instead of digging down to the core of it.

Obscurantism has become the official language of public discourse.


Pause before yelling into the clamorous void. In all likelihood, your voice contributes nothing other than volume. The confidence with which you speak is probably inversely proportional to the need there is for you to speak. If not the confidence, the certainty certainly.

If you are absolutely sure, the likelihood is that you’re absolutely wrong.

Be humble, humbler. Humility is a highly underrated skillset. Admitting that you know less than you do opens up the possibility of learning a whole lot more. Cogito, ergo sum, Descartes said, but should’ve added, sed cogitare antequam loqui.

It was a different time.

Since then,

“Don’t believe half of what you see,” Lou Reed sang, “and none of what you hear.” Tapping into a tradition of skepticism dating back to at least the mid-19th century. A healthy skepticism, now claimed and bastardized by charlatans and their abiders who terminally, desperately want to believe in anything but the stark, unforgiving reality glowering in front of them.

At first blush is exactly that. An involuntary response from the sympathetic nervous system that releases adrenaline, causing vasodilation (according to a slapped together Google search). A gut reaction, in other words. Nine times out of ten during the course of our daily lives an overreaction. An incorrect effect to a misunderstood cause. We get it wrong. We don’t run with it.

Unless, of course, that’s the pathology.

Lack of depth, all surface.

That first blush is all we have. Thoughts and ideas that shouldn’t survive past a second look, the most basic of reconsiderations and reevaluations, never mind a cursory fact-check and verification, stand obstinately pat. The flag planted. Line drawn in the sand. Wagons circled. Nothing gets past the perimeter.

The irony in this, in this, our Information Age, is that access to encyclopedic amounts of information at our fingertips has allowed us to build free-floating contraptions of misinformation upon rickety foundations of disinformation. 21st-century humans have grown more ill-informed not less, conducting ourselves as if we believed the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it, relitigating early ages of alchemy and phrenology.

We didn’t know any better back then. We were grasping with unknowns, looking for explanations, searching for the truth. That isn’t the case these days. We know better. We just don’t care. The lie’s easier, more provocative. Gets people riled up and their wallets open.

Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710 ‘Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it’. He would be astounded at the unevenness of the race these days. Intentionally so, if we look too closely at the algorithmic preferences championed by our tech titans, outrage < engagement > outrage > engagement or some variation of that feedback loop. I can’t believe he just said that! sparks another round of fruitless back-and-forth, keeping the lie alive, the bullshit flowing.

In the face of that, silence shouldn’t be taken as complicity or cowardice. Despite the ease in expressing an opinion, always just a click away, maybe first some quiet reflection and vigilant assessment. What does my voice contribute to the ongoing conversation? Who needs to hear what I have to say? Probably far fewer people than most of us would like to think. That’s what family and IRL friends are for, to endure our half-cocked opinions and defective points of view.

Words are easy, the emptier the easier. There are big bucks to be had draining meaning from words, much content created of empty blather and conventional wisdom. The fog of tactical rhetoric which we are all currently wandering through, some of us comfortably at home in it, others desperately searching for a path out.

Shouts of This way! aren’t necessarily helpful if we can’t see where we’re going or where exactly the voices are coming from or, more sinisterly, if those voices can even be trusted. It only adds to the state of confusion. Unless you know the lay of the land or possess helpful coordinates, it’s probably best to hold your tongue, at least until you come into possession of some useful information to share. Our lines of communication are already clogged and backed up. Stuffing them with more material, no matter how well-intentioned, won’t get them flowing properly again.


Leave a Reply