In Defense of Echo Chambers
Emily S. Cutler
I always try to make it as clear as possible that the goal of my activism is not to persuade others to agree with me or to convert them to my beliefs, but to validate and legitimize those who do share my beliefs but who do not yet have the tools or language to fully stand behind them. I am very passionate about educating people who want to learn more about the principles I stand for, but I try my hardest not to spend any time trying to convert people to my point of view. (After all, I am a Jew from Alabama, and people have been trying to convert me to their way of thinking for most of my life. I have a natural aversion to doing that.) This gives me much more time to create community, friendship, and solidarity among individuals who share a common set of values, i.e. the abolition of paternalism.
I have become increasingly frustrated with the idea that “persuading the public” is the only REAL type of activism - the only form of activism worth engaging with. That seems like such a limited definition of activism and one that to some extent upholds capitalist ideals of “progress,” numbers, getting a certain quantity of people to agree with something, etc. The idea of helping create deep bonds between a small number of people - of creating a tiny world where people can truly be who they are - is not at all valued or seen as important.
This kind of persuasion/conversion based activism, as opposed to relationship based activism, strikes me as coming from a place of imperialism almost. I also wonder if it comes from a place of misogyny - women have long been pathologized for valuing the deepening of relationships/the domestic sphere over capitalist/corporate goals.
Most frustrating of all is that I am often accused of "preaching to the choir" or creating an "echo chamber." I am not at all okay with the pathologization/stigmatization of echo chambers.
People NEED to hear their voice echoed. We as humans have a real NEED - not desire, not want, not wish but NEED - to have our selfhoods, our voices, our identities, validated as legitimate and real. We need to be recognized and acknowledged for who we are.
Pretty much every single psychologist and human rights advocate will acknowledge that solitary confinement is a form of torture that drives people insane. Feeling alone or isolated is probably hands down the biggest predictor of suicide, and being ingrained with the message that your reality is an illusion/isn’t shared by others is a pretty key driver of trauma.
That’s what many echo chambers are - places where people can hear their voices echoed, see themselves represented, recognize their own thoughts and feelings and values (which they had previously thought were crazy) in others. They are places where people can experience “mirroring” and empathy. So, long live echo chambers, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.
Note: I do wish to distinguish between "echo chambers" for white supremacists and other identities based primarily on hate and prejudice, and echo chambers for marginalized people who have been systemically invalidated and disbelieved and who need support and affirmation from one another. I consider the former to be hate groups rather than echo chambers, as their primary purpose is to incite violence, not to provide support or validation.