Sane people don’t engage with lunatics, period.
When we walk through a marketplace and a mad man insults our mothers, we do not glance at them, how much more invest the emotion of anger. Occasionally, we may be seduced into a conversation by a man’s dapper clothes, but after a few sentences we hear the rattling bolts in his head, and recognise a mad man yet to strip naked. At that point, we cease to be provoked by his lunatic views, right? We smile, and nod, and move on.
It is unfortunate that when it comes to public affairs we give so much power and importance to the mad, extreme, and hateful voices in our nation spaces. In every constituency and social space we have a choice of extremist, moderate and conservative voices with whom to engage. There are also voices that are, frankly, bonkers.
It is not always easy to disregard loony tunes, especially when they are hummed by voices of consequence. Because lunacy is no respecter of status, sometimes these mad voices do belong to influential politicians and civil society leaders. Yet, if a psychotic instrumentalist in our national orchestra plays a homicidal tune, do we have to dance it?
In our private spaces, all of us can readily recall extremists who are impervious to reason, people who wear down the spirit, whether in our living rooms or in WhatsApp discussion groups. If we continue to engage, to respond, and to react to patently mad voices, we may get so passionate that independent observers are unable to tell us apart.
In our public spaces, our media must take responsibility for pushing the middle ground of national consensus into the false territory of extremism. There are far too many insane opinions in the media, because they sell papers and trigger the lucrative viral video. It is clear that most of this madness is synthetic. Obviously, the fastest way to make the headlines is to say something utterly insane and provocative. Our press laps it up and obliges with even more inflammatory headlines.
Our talking heads push emotive buttons to offend enough people to make their videos go viral. We should do better as a nation. On every issue we – and our media – should seek out and engage with intelligent and moderating voices on every side, not histrionic extremists and peddlers of hate speeach. We have more Nigerians in the middle, and our reposting, retweeting and sharing fingers should exercise greater discretion in the dissemination of lunatic ravings from the fringes of Nigeriana.
It is (and do forgive this unforgiveable cliché) heating up the polity.