Yes, there are times to speak.
When error and injustice reign, we should kick up a fuss. When nuance is needed in constructive conversations, we should make our voices heard.
However, in some areas, silence is more effective.
For this reason, while I don’t willingly throw my money behind companies and causes I can’t in good faith support, I also don’t jump on public boycotting bandwagons.
There’s actually good evidence that loud, social-media-fueled boycotts don’t work; in fact, they often prove counterproductive.
This is especially true in the entertainment industry.
As Andy Crouch points out in his book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, prominent protests actually fuel the box office by increasing visibility for controversial projects.
Boycotts generate headlines, drive publicity, and dominate the news cycle of a culture that generally doesn’t care about specific moral critiques and can easily move on to enjoy victory when such projects inevitably do well.
That’s why instead of joining boycotts, I give silence.
Silence is the death knell of creative endeavor.
Speaking as a writer, I’d much rather my work be met with hearty debate than the awkward chirping of crickets.
Silence means it wasn’t even important enough for someone to form an opinion one way or the other.
For these reasons, I encourage you to redirect your energy. Instead of boycotting, look toward boosting.
Shine a light on what matters.
When a truly good film comes out, go see it (“That’s your way of casting your vote, the only vote Hollywood recognizes,” says Barbara Nicolosi, who terms this sort of resistance an othercott).
Post reviews of good books to help boost their visibility. Ask your library to add them to the collection. Go to live shows. Support worthy artists, speakers, and public thinkers. Back them with your words and your capital. Play good music, and play it loudly with the windows down, yodeling along as best you can. Never stop recommending your favorites.
Celebrate your local community’s arts scene, lending your support at the grass-roots level.
That’s the beauty of art and culture: everyone can be involved.
Together, we can build culture—culture that celebrates life, light, and truth.
Let’s shine a light on what matters.
Let’s give the rest our silence.
An earlier version of this essay originally posted to my former blog site in the spring of 2017.
Recently, I’ve been thinking along similar lines as this relates to online pseudo-controversies and petty personal beefs clogging my timeline, most of which are ridiculous and yet have helped certain individuals amass large platforms due to the viral nature of controversy itself.
While there’s certainly a place for defending orthodoxy or adding helpful nuance to good-faith discussions, let’s not waste time arguing with fools or amplifying attention paid to petty nonsense. In most cases, we’d be much better served simply to give it silence.
Though I don’t quote him directly, my general thoughts on these issues have been shaped by L.M. Sacasas, both in essays posted to The Frailest Thing and more recently in The Convivial Society, which, incidentally, you should subscribe to immediately.