Good trouble

In college in the 1990s, I joined the socialist student organization. I saw every issue in stark contrast — a measure of fairness and justice. If I was young on campus today, I might be protesting the war in Gaza. But even in college, truthfully I wasn’t a great activist. I remember our organization leader calling me about a protest for workers’ rights and I was too lazy that day to go.

I’m still for peace and equality today, but now I know that the world is fucking complicated. I’m less certain about things I felt so strongly about before.

Seeing everything in black and white is a mixed blessing. Seeing only the extremes leads to passion and action. But it can also blind us to more nuanced arguments. It can make us more susceptible to manipulation, caught up with TikToks and retweets that reinforce what we already believe.

Taking a step back from the protests specifically, liberals advocate for the less fortunate. We want people of all backgrounds to be treated with respect. We push back against laws that further redistribute wealth to those who don’t need it.

I think this instinct has run into problems in Gaza. War is terrible. More humanitarian aid is needed, and more military restraint. Palestinians have been struggling for decades, now they’ve been forced from their homes, children have died in bombings, and there’s a risk of famine. We want to side with them because we always default to supporting the people who most need support.

And yet polarization has twisted everything. On social media, we use the worst words possible. No words on any topic seem to go far enough, because everyone is angry about everything. Innocent people dying in war — it just doesn’t sound terrible enough for our outrage. So we reach for even more extreme words, calling to mind atrocities that have rightly been judged by history as indefensible.

Pick a side, protest, use all the hashtags, get angry, go viral. In a social bubble, everything is amplified.

I’m going to be honest, the brutality of the Hamas attack on October 7th changed my opinion on the Middle East, possibly forever. Hamas cannot stay in power. But how to remove Hamas without risking innocent life and creating a new generation of terrorists is an impossible challenge that I don’t have a solution for.

Peaceful protests are an important part of a democracy. Most of the protests have been peaceful. Unfortunately some of the protesters at a few campuses like Columbia University and UCLA have lost the plot, seeing injustice everywhere, creating chaos, justifying vandalism. I hope we haven’t become so tribal that we support that.

There is a bit of hope in the news. Earlier this week, Antony Blinken said:

Hamas has before it a proposal that is extraordinarily generous on the part of Israel. And at the moment, the only thing standing between the people of Gaza and a cease-fire is Hamas.

I hope Hamas accepts it. The hostages need to be released and even a temporary ceasefire will make it easier to ramp up more aid.

Amplified by social media outrage, it has become difficult to see the war clearly. I’m not sure how as a society we get through this. All I know for sure is that it’s going to take a long time, and we need social platforms that don’t feed on division.


Manton Reece @manton