Op-Ed: Living in a society where the margin becomes the center

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We live in an increasingly marginalized world. While we are used to imagining social life as easily encircled in centers and margins, cores and peripheries, it might be helpful for us to drop this well-worn and flawed assumption. Instead, our new reality at the dawn of 2022 demands knowing and accepting that we live in an age without fringes, without margins, without a clear partition of our world into central scenes and chevrons – for better or for the better. the worst.

This notion of fringe absence captures many of our contemporary cultural experiences and the ways in which we make sense of cultural differences. I remember when we used to label things as ‘subcultures’, but the term sounds strange and even offensive these days. When was the last time you heard someone describe a practice as subcultural? This is because we no longer have subcultures.

In fact, we’ve grown to reject the very idea that some people’s actions and cultural beliefs should be considered “substantial” in any way. In part, this is arguably a healthy outgrowth of our attempts to humiliate haughty tendencies toward ethnocentrism. We like to think that if the people we love and care about do or believe something, it has to be good, fair, superior – and definitely better than some other group’s weird behaviors or ideas.

The absence of fringe is not the complete absence of recognizable standards and trustworthy expectations. It is a sort of organized counter-logic to classic assertions about what is “normal” or “natural”. We live in a time of concerted retreat from forces that seek to determine what counts as normative. Just because most people do or believe something, according to the argument, does not mean that they can just impose their notions on others, no matter how many “others” there may be on one. given problem.

Much of the current version of our “culture wars” is based on the fact that not only do people believe different things, but we have less and less power to determine how much the old fringes can affect the sectors most. established and most sacred in society.

Of course, much of the reason for this is technology and social media. No matter how obscure the belief is, we are never just a few computer keys away from accessing like-minded believers all over the planet, not only giving us the ability to rally around ideas. even wacky, but also feel like maybe these ideas aren’t so marginal or cockamamie after all.

With enough commitment, you can force even the most mainstream institutions, from government to big business, including the media, to face your demands, no matter how disconnected from the evidence or how damaging to our collective good. It’s the fringe-less version that manifests itself with, say, stubborn faith in the claim that we have an illegitimate president residing in the White House because of a rigged election. This same lack of marginality is what helps militarize populism, transforming it from a march in Washington into a possible seat of government.

But it’s also the driving force behind the so-called cancellation culture and the means by which a few thousand people on Twitter can either effectively topple a public figure or completely cripple them and their agents in control mode. total damage.

This fringe-less sensibility emerges from an egocentric perspective par excellence. When the whole world revolves around you, then the center is where you are.

In itself, the absence of marginality does not necessarily benefit the political right or the political left. On the contrary, many commentators will tell us that the “fringe” of the two political parties continues to have a disproportionate impact on our overall political environment. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a well-known QAnon supporter, proudly said, “We are not on the sidelines; we are the base of the party. This raises the question of whether movements like QAnon are simply receiving inappropriate media attention or forming a new social norm. Either way, this is an example of why it is becoming more and more misleading to call such marginal positions.

We live in an age where the margin is as important a factor as anything else in our political calculations. He leads debates on abortion as well as how we talk about racism in public school classrooms.

There may not really be much we can do about this state of affairs other than monitor how likely we are each to have an inaccurate idea of ​​how our ideas stack up against external evidence. At the very least, we must recognize that the margins determine the central contours of social possibility for all of us.

John L. Jackson Jr., is Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and co-director of the award-winning documentary “Making Sweet Tea”, about the lives of black gay men in the South.


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