You scroll through social media, wondering why no one can get along. (“I’m going to stay out of this,” you think.)
You talk with a coworker about the weather, only to be cut off by a heated discussion about the issues. (“I can’t wait for this to blow over.”)
Some idea, event, or person continues to dominate your conversations for the next week. (“Why can’t we talk about something else!”)
You read an article here and there, trying to form an opinion about an issue to which you’ve never given any thought. (“Well, at least I’m informed.”)
Because it has become uncool to not have an opinion, you are forced into one of two opposing viewpoints (based, primarily on that one article you skimmed last week or that statistic you overheard when you were 12).
Then—almost as soon as it began—it is over. Or, at least, it feels like it.
You, my friend, are experiencing a megalogue.
What Is A Megalogue?
A mega-logue is like a dia-logue, except that it involves 100 million people instead of two. It is a simultaneous conversation among all the members of a culture. It’s the thing everyone is talking about. It is a conversation gone viral.
A megalogue bridges barriers. It might not involve everyone in the nation, but it is large enough to cross geographic, racial, creedal, and socioeconomic lines. Megalogues draw different niches, cliques, and demographics into talking about the same idea. When gay marriage was legalized in America, it became a topic of discussion for more than LGBT activists and religious leaders. #LoveWins brought everyone into the conversation.
A megalogue is inherently short-lived. A culture can only sustain one or two megalogues at a time. Like viral videos, the novelty just wears off and the majority of the population moves on to the next new thing. You can only talk about one thing at the water-cooler for so long.
That is not to say that the discussions and causes championed by a megalogue will cease to be relevant. Black Lives Matter was front-page news only for a short period of time (less than 3 months, initially), but it continues to have impact, unlike the ALS Ice-Bucket Challenge, which was the other megalogue of the time.
Megalogues are emotional, not rational. This is basically because humans are emotional, not rational, creatures. We are, indeed, capable of rationality, but we are not rational creatures by default. Your frontal lobe (conscious thought) controls the 2% of your Twitter feed that is not controlled by your amygdala (fear and other emotions).
This is simply a function of the differing processing speeds of the different parts of our brains. Emotions impact our decision-making quickly and powerfully, while ordered thought takes time and effort. That’s why Twitter has more cat videos than political and economic manifestos. This is why everyone has an opinion/impression about the President’s character, but has never written a two-sentence summary concerning the central purpose of the federal government.
And this is why the Ebola outbreak became a megalogue. Ebola is terrifying! But compared to heart disease, obesity, AIDS, or malaria, it affected practically no one. Rationally, ebola is not something you should fear. But ebola can make you bleed out of your eyes. So hell no.
Same with the terrorist attacks in Paris. That’s a place we all want to visit. That’s the City of Love. I like love. Love makes me feel good. There can’t be terrorism in Paris. Palestine, sure. Turkey, of course. Russia, expected. But not Paris!
Emotions, not rationality, are the driving force behind megalogues. (That doesn’t make the ideas and causes irrational.) People have been having rational discussions about gay marriage, civil rights, the sexual revolution, guns, and foreign policy for decades and centuries. It’s just the emotional stuff (Ferguson, Charlie Hedbo, KONY, Planned Parenthood) that turns it into a megalogue.
Megalogues are disproportionately shaped by the media. The media knows that you and I are emotional, not rational, creatures. Even more, journalists and broadcasting execs are, themselves, emotional creatures. I’m not saying that they cannot be trusted. (But I’m not NOT saying that.) I’m just saying that it doesn’t take long to write an article, op-ed, or news headline. And when you flood social media with that much “journalism,” it’s usually (OK, always) the emotionally-charged, biased perspectives that rise to the top.
We are emotional creatures and emotions make for good ratings. And megalogues make for really good ratings. So the media keeps the worst parts of the megalogue going by provoking our emotions, not our rationality.
A megalogue is not a revolution. A megalogue can lead to dramatic social change in a culture. But a megalogue is not a revolution. A megalogue is a viral conversation. Because they are short and generally restricted to the realm of social media and watercoolers, megalogues lack the two things required for revolution: time and action. (Think: Civil Rights Movement or The American Revolution)
Revolution can inspire a megalogue. A megalogue can inspire a revolution. But a bunch of hashtags on social media are just a bunch of symbols if they aren’t followed by a sustained effort.
Megalogues don’t need to be divisive, but often are. The Olympics is a predictable megalogue. The events are emotional. The competition crosses borders. It only takes a few weeks. It symbolizes global peace and unity. For good reason, we love the Olympics and we love to talk about the Olympics. Same with the Cubs winning the World Series. That was an enjoyable thing to talk about.
But megalogues aren’t always so peaceful. Megalogues are often divisive, especially if they are about social justice. This isn’t because there are people who want other human beings to suffer. (OK, yeah, there are, but they need mental health services and hugs.) No one is pro-Ebola. No one enjoys watching children starve. No one likes terrorism.
Rather, megalogues tend to split into two predictable camps.
Camp #1: “There is a problem. There needs to be change. Someone needs to do something.” (This is sometimes accompanied by a radical idea about how change needs to occur.)
Camp #2: “There is definitely a problem. But I think we’re missing the point of how things are going to change or of the underlying issue.” (There is rarely an alternative solution to the radical idea.)
Thought experiment: Stop and think of the Syrian refugee megalogue and how it divided into these two camps.
Because megalogues are inherently emotional, it becomes difficult to see the perspective of the opposing camp. This can lead to frustration and further division. The irony is that the megalogue that initially drew multiple demographics together—in the end—often drives them further apart.
Megalogues are—more often than not—pretty dumb. Most megalogues are not about social justice issues, foreign policy, or human rights. They’re about Deflategate. They’re about Pokemon Go. They’re about that black-and-blue dress that some people thought was yellow and white (or whatever). They’re about a Doritos commercial during the Super Bowl. They’re about Miley Cyrus twerking. They’re about Black Friday. They’re about the song “What Does The Fox Say?”
It should be noted that these trivial megalogues STILL had an impact on the culture. Because they were funny, mysterious, or novel, it was natural for them to become megalogues. And they each changed the culture in some small way.
Regardless of their rationality or stupidity, megalogues impact culture.
What we talk about and why we talk about it matters. The megalogues we join matter and the ways in which we join them matter.
How To Respond To A Megalogue
Should I even engage in a megalogue?
In the off chance that this article goes viral and is read by 100 million people, I think that it would be hilarious if there was a megalogue about megalogues. Likely, people would be divided into two camps over the proper response to megalogue engagement. Here would be the perspectives of the two camps:
Camp #1: Megalogues shape culture, whether we like it or not. We have a duty to add rationality and peacefulness to nationwide discussions of social justice. Non-engagement is to be an irresponsible citizen.
Camp #2: Megalogues definitely shape culture, but always from an emotional perspective, not a rational one. Rationality cannot thrive in the storm of a megalogue. The responsible thing is to stop adding fuel to the fire and disengage from megalogues.
These are, of course, the extreme positions. But they are also rational justifications to the emotional responses we formed immediately as we were trying to make sense of the world and this (probably new) concept of a megalogue.
Which is why—because we form immediate judgments from an emotional perspective to keep the world from being terrifyingly ambiguous and unexpected—you already identify with one of the two camps. You already made an instantaneous judgment about the proper response to megalogue engagement. If you were to enter into a megalogue about megalogues, you would continue to justify this initial opinion. You would make the world more and more certain, clear, and unambiguous. You would engage in the megalogue to make the world more black-and-white.
My point is: you have already answered the question, “should I even engage in a megalogue?” from an emotional perspective. The conscious thought you give to the question will only justify your current opinion.
… you really like ambiguity.
And no one likes ambiguity. Everyone prefers a black-and-white world. We hate the gray areas. We hate the idea of being wrong, so we create division. We agree with the people who will agree with us. We use evidence to justify the emotional opinions we form in 0.3 seconds.
… I don’t have an answer to whether or not you should heavily engage, disengage, or selectively engage with our culture’s megalogues. I just know that you already have an opinion about it. And I know that if you are unwilling to be wrong, unwilling to experience ambiguity, and unwilling to delay forming a judgment about an issue as simple as this, you should not engage in our culture’s megalogues.
But if you’re willing to experience a little bit of cognitive dissonance… If you can brace yourself for the possibility of being wrong… If you are willing to let the world be a little ambiguous, unexpected, and gray… Then please keep reading. (And please engage in our culture’s megalogues. We need you.)
Force yourself to see the megalogue from another perspective.
(This point is generally more applicable to those in Camp #2.)
I say “force” because it will literally require an incredible act of willpower to see the world from the perspective of someone else. Our natural tendency is to make things black-and-white. To explain away ambiguity. We must force ourselves to see things as they truly are: gray and nuanced.
So when you engage in a megalogue (whether on social media, at work, or with your likeminded friends and family), start arguing for the opposite perspective. Play devil’s advocate. For as long as possible, don’t take a hard stance on an issue. Intentionally seek out people who have a unique perspective. Ask them questions. Read articles from news sources that you don’t frequent.
Because megalogues are inherently emotional, not rational, seek to articulate the emotional perspectives of others, not the rational perspectives. Understand the root of the emotional component before you write-off the rational justifications for a worldview.
At some point, you’ll probably take a side. You’ll probably fall into Camp #1 or Camp #2. And that’s fine. But delay that for as long as possible. Because the point of a megalogue isn’t (well, shouldn’t be) to take a side. The point is to have a discussion. This is supposed to be like a dia-logue, remember?
Clarify the (many) questions being asked.
(This point is generally more applicable to those who have a tendency to be in Camp #1.)
At the heart of most megalogues is a single question. The question is usually simple and emotionally-charged. It’s kind of like the compressed audio file of a complex jazz tune. You lose all of the nuance and dynamics.
Is marijuana from the devil? Why does the government hate gay people? Is abortion murder? How could you think that guns don’t kill people? Why are we not helping these refugees? How can a military justify the death of one innocent person for the sake of their target? When will minorities stop being oppressed?
While these emotionally-charged questions get a megalogue going, they are (usually) not the heart of the megalogue. A megalogue is not about a single question, but many, many questions. A megalogue is (supposed to be) a discussion about differing perspectives, not answering the emotionally-charged question that brings it into the spotlight.
If a megalogue is an audio file, our goal should be to tune-out the poorly-mastered, hyper-compressed audio file played over the radio. Instead, we want to listen to the high-fidelity, lossless track on a pair of good headphones. We need to hear the nuance, not the melody.
A good example of where America got this wrong was with Black Lives Matter. By not clarifying the underlying questions and perspectives of the movement, many people just assumed that the question was “do black lives matter?” So a bunch of white people said yes and then tried to be inclusive by starting the All Lives Matter movement. America answered the surface-level question without probing (or clarifying) the underlying questions.
So here’s the trick: Don’t focus on the emotionally-charged question. There are more nuanced, more personal, more practical questions that everyone wants answered. There can be no (real) conversation around the question, “When will you stop oppressing me?”
Respect and empathy speak louder than logic.
Unless you are a journalist, you do not leave a conversation with a list of verbatim quotes. Unless you are an editor or proofreader, you probably do not finish a book/article with a clear picture of the author’s argument. You might remember conclusions. You might remember general themes. You might remember a few opinions or statistics that differed from your beliefs.
But probably not.
What you will remember, however, is an emotional impression of the person and the event. You will remember whether or not you enjoyed your dialogue. You will have an impression whether or not the author was thoughtful and knowledgable. More or less, you leave every encounter with an increasing or decreasing sense of TRUST.
So when it comes to engaging in cultural megalogues, the key is trust. Logic is a good thing. But logic alone doesn’t make people trust you. Empathy and respect forge bonds of trust. And trust is how people change their minds about important issues. Logic is barely even a factor.
No one really cares about your opinion until they know you care about their’s.
To effectively engage in cultural megalogues, you must care more about the person than you care about the argument.
If you care about an issue, I think that it is important to take action. Do something more than comment on social media and talk about it with friends and family. Be the change you want to see in the world and stuff.
But to take action at the expense of thoughtful dialogue is self-defeating.
If you care about an issue, keep talking about it! Keep engaging with others with empathy and respect. Keep clarifying the questions you and others are asking. Keep seeing the world through the eyes of others.
Taking action is important, but don’t forget that good conversation is taking action! If you think racism is prevalent in your community, keep talking about it! If you think we need smaller government, keep talking about it. If you think Americans should be more invested in the prosperity of developing nations, tell people why. If you think that the solution to gun violence is not to ban guns entirely, tell somebody.
You should take action, yes. Put your money where your mouth is. Just don’t forget to put your mouth where your heart is.
Spend your time and money on a worthy cause. Please. But spend your words on that worthy cause, too. Don’t use “taking action” as an excuse not to empathize, question, and engage in a megalogue worth having.
Most megalogues are trivial. But some aren’t. For those, put some thought into how you will engage with others.
It’s probably going to involve a lot of questions and a lot of listening. It’s going to require that you embrace the ambiguity of competing ideologies and wait to form black-and-white judgments for as long as possible. It’s going to require a lot of empathy and respect. And it might even require some time and money.
Whatever megalogue triggered you to read this article, I hope that you’re able to be a real light in the midst of a lot of emotional and irrational division. You might not feel like you’re making a difference or shaping the culture, but you are.
What was the last megalogue you engaged with? Did you try to change people’s minds with logic? Or trust? Did it work? Did you change your mind? Share your experiences in the comments below!