Recently I had the opportunity to take part in a Facebook group discussing the soon-to-be released book by Ken Wytsma, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege. The group was called “The Myth of Equality: An Honest Dialogue on Privilege.” As I read through a number of the author’s posts, and the subsequent conversations they spun off, I realized two things: first, that most of those who were part of the group and commenting were already predisposed toward the author’s perspective (which probably explains why they were interested in the group in the first place; full disclosure: I am not), and second, that those who disagreed were not well received. Predictably, the group became a mini groupthink, or, if we prefer modern parlance, an “echo chamber.”
Instead of being a place where a truly honest conversation and dialogue could take place between people of differing beliefs regarding the important, and now omnipresent, topics of justice and privilege, the group essentially served as a promotional tool meant to convince the world that the author’s perspective was right. Since the creator of the group had already taken and applied the modifier “honest” to the group, it implied that those who disagreed with him were not being honest. In other words, the author was subtly claiming that his view was the honest view — perhaps that he had to be honest with himself in his research and writing and he believes he is taking a message to a nation that is fundamentally in denial about these things (both could very possibly be his thinking) — and thus that we too should be honest with ourselves, and that when we do we’ll come around to his view.
One wonders to what extent the author was really free to have a truly “honest” conversation after writing a book about the topic: what, if in the process of dialoguing with others, he had come to see that what he had just written was incorrect? Would he really feel free to come to such a conclusion since the psychological pressure to affirm his now public views would be so intense? Hopefully, such conversations took place prior to putting one’s thoughts on paper, but you can’t expect such high standards these days. In my mind, it would be better to simply say you have done such-and-such research, have written a book, and are convinced of a set of beliefs; and now you would like to share what you’ve learned with others, being open to any and all civil feedback. No need to drag people into a supposedly “honest” conversation.
This trend pops up in other areas. We now have honest conversations about politics, about the white working class, about immigration, race, church growth, and so forth. But are these conversations really “honest” and “open”? Or are are we simply using such language to try to manipulate others into accepting our preferred view? I’m not saying that everyone who invites you to an honest conversation has ulterior motives or is looking to deceive you, nor am I intimating that we shouldn’t be involved in civil discourse. Such overly skeptical approaches are not healthy for individuals or society as a whole. However, I am urging us to perhaps be a little more wary and on guard about this dynamic lest we get sucked into only conversing with those who believe as we do, while shutting out those who disagree on the baseless assumption that they aren’t being as honest as we are.