Choice in a Time of Fences and Bubbles

When a divisive ideology becomes dominant, it forces everyone to build walls, not just its own supporters. For instance, I’m sure many in West Germany supported the Berlin Wall as a way of keeping “communism out” as much as those in the G.D.R. saw it as a check against the spread of capitalism.
When the walls start being built, when the fences start coming up, when more electricity is spent on floodlights than homes, those who refuse the bubbles and echo-chambers usually have one of two tough choices to make.
First, they can give up. They can retreat into the bubbles, deepen their own ideologies, strengthen their own convictions, and build inflexible alliances with people like themselves. The upside is that if enough numbers accumulate in their bubble, they can spark off a movement for change on their own terms. The fences won’t come down, but they can force the other side to retreat and defect until they have enough control for themselves.
The downside of you making that choice is that bubbles always unhinge you from reality, they keep you away from people who’re different and most importantly, they alienate you from people in other bubbles with whom you could have built bridges. You abandon them to their radicalisation, just as they abandon you to yours. Ultimately, your world becomes a playground for conflicts based on strength, numbers, and intimidation.
The second choice that people have is they can choose to stay on the fence, reaching out to both sides and trying to find common ground on which to mend broken relationships. The upside is that if enough people do this and if enough common ground can be found, that fence or wall can eventually come down and the divisive ideologies vanish.

The downside for you is that as long you remain searching, you’re on that damn fence. It’s a painful place to be, because few people will support you, alliances built today will vanish tomorrow, and friendships and relationships are broken easily. You’ll have to walk a narrow path, navigating the barbed wire while trying not to fall down on either side. If you do fall, it’ll be all that much harder to climb back up. Ultimately, your world is a playground of risks, where you gamble on the fence coming down even when the odds are against you.

I won’t advocate one of these choices over another because at the end of the day, it’s a personal choice, dependent on an individual’s circumstances. I will say this though – the second choice depends on a person’s capacity to handle risk. The capacity to handle risk is often a function of wealth, power, or privilege.

Thus, the longer the fences stay, the more likely it is that those on the fence become those with lots of these three things. Therefore, it’s just as important for the fence-sitters to keep a watch on their isolation and echo-chambers as it is for people inside the existing bubbles. It won’t do to say “we need to speak to each other”, when the fence-sitters aren’t really speaking to or for anyone at all.

The last few years have seen a whole number of new fences come up and bubbles being formed. Right now, people are being recruited to different sides, to take up different roles – either on the fence or inside the bubbles or both. It’s hard to say where we go from here, but it’s important that all of us remember a couple of things. First, that we should always ask ourselves “What are the consequences of my choices? How will it help or hurt others?”. Second, that it’s okay to change your choice if you want to. There will be a fallout from making that change, but sometimes it’s okay to take that hit.


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