In your book, you observe that speech is now omnipresent, instantaneous and disembodied. With what consequences?
We are immersed in torrential speech that passes from radios to screens, from smartphones to networks. She doesn’t seem to belong to anyone anymore. Speech was rare, it has become superabundant. With the digital transformation, machines, for the first time in history, speak to us and we respond to them. They have settled in our lives and are transforming them. All the remarks mingle, some immediately falling into oblivion, others going viral ad infinitum… without anyone really assuming them anymore. Snippets of sentences are relayed or “liked” mechanically. As if, saturated with words, we had lost the sense of speech. It proliferates and, at the same time, unravels. Quantity explodes, quality implodes. Too many words diminish, deteriorate the word.
We talk but we don’t talk to each other…
In an extremely individualistic society, everyone now intends to exist intensely, to express themselves on everything, all the time. Each, drunk on his own word, wants to be an expert in everything and judge of everything. To aggregate a maximum of followers, everything is allowed, including denigrating the other. In addition, this toxic word unfolds against a background of uninhibited hatred. Previously, hatred was not accepted. Channeled by the rules of politeness, she was ashamed, she circulated slyly. This lock jumped. Hatred shows itself in broad daylight, proud of itself. The balance is broken between the light side and the dark side of human speech. That is why we are issuing this alert.
You denounce the trivialization of toxic words. How to distinguish them from the harshness of the debates which can turn out to be fruitful?
The big difference is that toxic speech targets those it attacks for who they are, not what they say. It is exercised ad hominem. Denigration, derision and personal aggression replace the exchange of arguments, even pugnacious ones. The Internet did not create this negative speech, but the permanent – and anonymous – interconnection gives it an unprecedented scale. We see it with online harassment and even the emergence of sorts of instant people’s courts. These attacks prevent any debate of ideas. Because it takes two to dialogue, or the other finds himself canceled. We only monologue, alone or with those who think like you.
The more the word is diluted, the more everyone “sheds” their responsibility, you say. What do you mean ?
While the border between the real and the virtual is blurring, it would seem that the unprecedented temptation is emerging, pure fantasy, to get rid of, to offload, to ever more lighten the constraints imposed by reality: to offload of the body, which is threatened with wear and tear, by dreaming of avatars, thus also relieving oneself of the physical presence of others, by favoring the virtual, finally relieving oneself of the collective, and even of one’s own responsibility, in particular as a citizen included in the society.
Without carnal face-to-face, caught in a flow of thoughtless words, we end up believing that what we say is without consequences. Wrong! For speech is the first condition of our humanity. It always has effects, positive or negative. To say is to do is to act. To no longer bear the consequences of our own words is to put humanity in danger.
You plead for a new ethic of speech. What form could it take?
Collectively, regulating is useful, but also difficult. Letting everything be said is impossible and dangerous, but organizing a police of speech is inconceivable and deadly! We need to better regulate social networks, but legislation will not be enough. Because many messages are ironic, insinuate, offend, and can therefore destroy… without falling directly under the law.
We must therefore first review our individual behavior. Permanently seizing the floor, is it useful? Instead of compulsively giving our opinion, ask ourselves: “Do I really have something to say? Our goal is above all not to preach morality, but to call on everyone to take responsibility. Talking is never neutral. Our words can hurt or heal, destroy or build. Indifference towards speech can lead to inhumanity and even, as we have seen in the past, to totalitarianism. The “Newspeaks” that format consciences and prevent thinking are not fictions. Let’s relearn how to speak human! Remember that speech is our only “superpower”. For better or worse. It is the key to the human condition. Nothing is worse than neglecting it.
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