The Absence of Intellectual Debate and Rise of Clickable Outrage in P.C. Culture Hinders Substantive Social Awareness

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me.”

–Old Adage

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

–Edward Bulwer-Lytton

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

–Old Chinese Proverb

Social justice warriors’ crusade to stop offending everyone offends me. It’s not possible to live in a world with over seven billion people of different religions, backgrounds, ethnicities, financial stratums, gender, sexual preferences and musical tastes to speak opinions that are universally inoffensive. Actions or expressions that go against a certain liberal ideology of behavior create scandal through sensationalism.

It really began for me with the Ben Affleck reaction to Sam Harris on Real Time with Bill Maher. Around this time last year, Harris was a special guest promoting his book, Waking Up, which examines meditation, finding a meaningful purpose and living a moral life without religion. He mentioned how a religion (Islam) which tenets include death for apostasy and honor killings for adultery or enduring rape are actually bad ideas. Referencing a religion where some, but not ALL, follow a terrifying clause which aims to kill those who don’t believe, Affleck jumped into the conversation and without hesitation called Harris a racist. It was clear from the beginning of Affleck’s tirade that he didn’t know who Sam Harris was nor had read any of his books, but he was well acquainted with Harris’ enemies who misquote and deceive to enforce their points that he is an Islamophobe and racist. Affleck was crusading against a point that wasn’t being made and his ears were closed to discussion.

The social justice level is always swinging like a one-sided pendulum. There is one side, and it’s the easy side. A police officer shoots someone, guilty; a man shoots a lion, guilty; a bad joke is tweeted, guilty; a man questions Islam’s role in ISIS killings, guilty and racist. The list goes on and on. Do we ask more questions? Do we search for more information? Do we develop our own opinions? Or, do we mindlessly react at what seems to be a clearly objective truth? Police brutality, pointless animal slaughter, purposeful racism/misogyny/homophobia and religious intolerance ARE insidiously dangerous to culture. But does everything fall into a libelous category so easily? Watch your news feed and you’ll see what I call the “outrage du jour.” We get so mad. We get SO mad. We share it, link it, retweet it, comment about it and then move on to the next one. Our anger assuaged because we did something about it. We showed the world that we won’t discuss nuance, but rather fume without awareness.

I saw two things yesterday. One was a video of an Irish accented man confronting a woman for her chosen attire by calling her a “slut” or “prostitute” or other uncouth names. It was awkward and obviously a publicity stunt. Who would earnestly yell, “Listen to me. I’m a man!” Or, why did this strange and beautiful lady flaunting her midriff angrily provoke said “man”? After a few minutes of berating her for wearing a crop top that not only could but also implicitly should lead to rape, someone bashed a bottle across his face eliciting cheers and “He deserved it,” shouts from the crowd. To recap: she’s free to dress as provocatively as she wants, another woman can smash bottles on faces with impunity, and spewing hateful words prompting violence is seen as a “deserved” conclusion. How you dress does create a perception, warranted or not; physical attacks are rarely justified; and miserably misogynistic speech is repulsive and irrational. Of course, in a “free” country, we should be free to dress individualistically without fear of sexual coercion, we should be able to defend ourselves when attacked, and we should also be able to express any opinion, odious or not. You can’t have one freedom but deny another. The larger issue that confusing stunt was insinuating is that slut shaming is real and painful. That conversation could be a parallel to gender equality in pay, or the assertive woman equals bitch conundrum (aka The Hillary Syndrome) but instead it’s a poorly crafted viral video where violence is seen as the effectively door-slamming answer.

I also saw the video of a security guard at a school in Columbia, South Carolina pulling a young girl out of her chair and dragging her by her hair out of the classroom. The story I found is: The girl took her phone out during class, the teacher asked for it, she denied; an administrator asked for it, she denied; the security guard asked for it, she denied. She should NOT have been struck and choked. But, a fact that gets outweighed by the brutality is: she didn’t listen to the teacher. Does the teacher continue with their class after being disobeyed, knowing that every student now understands there are no consequences for using a phone in class? As a teacher in these situations, you are left with no choice. You asked for the phone, the student refuses, security comes. Hopefully, the student listens, finishes the day in ISS and class continues.

But, this is the new world. The student in the video was apologetic but completely unwilling to give up her phone. Some students agreed she was being disruptive, other students said she did “nothing wrong.” Listen to the teacher…unless it’s about your smartphone. Cellphones were a pervasive obstacle to education during my time as a special ed. teacher in a Texas high school five years ago. Kids never gave up their phones when asked, and could become aggressively confrontational if pressed on the issue. Most of our training about the state sponsored test day (TAKS) was what to do if you saw a phone, how to ensure phones are stashed before the test, or what happens if a phone rings during the test.

“She did nothing wrong,” the students said. When students “do nothing wrong” but teachers disagree, it leads to problems. We need better support systems for struggling students, which would lead to better support for teachers, and support for all the decent and kind security guards at schools. What about the girl’s mental state? She is a recent orphan living in foster care. Troubled students need more options than just detention or security escorts. There is room for argument here, not defense of the violence, not victim blaming, but a balanced ideological discussion of the modern, crowded, multi-cultural public schools of America.

When everything is broken down into measurable and objective rights and wrongs, debate ends and mobs begin. And you better hope you’re on the “right” side! What about the woman who tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She wrote that tweet, boarded a plane and awoke sixteen hours later in Cape Town fired from her job, a global pariah and confronted by a mob of angry tweeters. The joke was stupid and tasteless. Is it the worst thing that ever happened?! No. Did it deserve one user comment: “I hope she gets raped by someone who has AIDS.” No. The Internet mob jumped all over her and she suffered tremendous stress from one poorly thought out tweet.

Jon Ronson’s book, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, is all about this topic. He recently discussed it on the Joe Rogan Podcast and it was fascinating to hear how many times this has happened to people. Lots of podcasts have talked about it lately, and most people seem to be disgusted by the lack of original thought and piling on mentality evidenced by the perpetrators of public shaming and social justice warriors. South Park’s 19th season is using P.C. as a story arc with Cartman failing to go P.C. and the school hiring “P.C. principal” who punches anyone who remotely appears to be politically incorrect.

With social media, we can learn about the hurt feelings and misdirected antagonisms of microaggressions or focus on larger, universal issues. Don’t let one staged video of a jerk with a high school mentality distract from the actual search for gender equality. Don’t let one hunter with too much disposable income distract from the actual need of animal preservation. Don’t let one inappropriate tweet distract us from the beauty and possibilities existent within social media. Don’t let one cop with an anger issue distract us from the problems of decreasing school funding, the effect of mass incarceration destroying families and the foolish drug war, which only emboldens criminality and “illegal” drugs.

There are certainly plenty of things to get angry about today, and plenty of places to direct that anger; however, it should be cast with a wide scope not a laser point of passion.



Cecil the Lion and The Social Media Outrage Factor

Some Iowan naturalist named Aldo Leopold made this nice quote, which I will paraphrase, “Ethics is what you do when no one’s watching.”

Nobody was watching Walter Palmer when he boarded a plane to Zimbabwe to kill and behead a wild lion. Nobody is watching as rhinos are becoming extinct because of their horns holding possibilities as prurient penile pumpers. Nobody sees the crude slaughterhouses of America where 9 billion animals are killed every year, or the 50 million rabbits skinned worldwide for their downy fur. Nobody sees the millions of strays languishing or euthanized every year in kill shelters. Nobody noticed when the president for life of the astonishingly poor Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, butchered elephants, antelopes, impalas and a lion to celebrate his 91st birthday in February. That is: until it goes viral.

Social Media offers a great opportunity to the young, restless, constantly outraged and perpetually inactive young generation. We can teach each other about injustice, deception, inequality or discrimination with an idle click of a “Share” or a “Retweet.” Raising awareness is the new achievement of success. But really, what comes next is the important part—acquire information, form a plan and act. The ice bucket challenge of last summer was a way to self-promote yet still feel altruistic. A rare and virtually unknown disease needed money for research, the right links were “shared” and the ALS Association’s coffers were $100 million richer. Joseph Kony was the most hated man in the world for a few days in 2012, and I haven’t heard about him since. A few million people shared a link and it raised awareness for the Invisible Children situation in Uganda. Cecil the Lion’s martyrdom brought a new sensitivity for animal conservation. But those actions were easy and done with a click. To fix race relations, poverty or take on corporate America, we’ll need some real action heroes.

Turn on your Facebook and you’ll see some of the outrage du jour. Last week was about Cecil the Lion’s numbingly pointless murder in a destitute African nation. Yes, it really sucks that some hunt animals for sport, but when the unemployment of Zimbabwe hovers around 90% and the meager food staple of the host country is a bland corn mush called “mealie-meal”, can you blame locals for allowing if not encouraging the chance to take some wild eyed white man’s money in his daft search for the crown of the king of the jungle?

We read the tales, feel the anger, share the story, and then move on to the next victim of public shaming. The lion killer Walter Palmer’s business and house were made public and subsequently trashed and vandalized. He’s an idiot with a stupid hobby, but should his life have been ruined for a legal, if immoral, hunt? What if we reacted like that to the U.S. foreign policy? What if we egged the Capitol, spray painted congressmen’s cars, threw pig feet on the White House lawn and demanded that more than the paltry 1% of the federal budget be spent on foreign aid to help poor countries like Zimbabwe struggling under an autocratic despot whose negligence, avarice and mismanagement of the farming system has all but crippled the country. Their inflation rate in 2008 before abandoning their currency was a staggering 80 billion percent. They actually printed a 100 trillion note. What kind of changes could we enact in the world? Probably whatever was trending and fomenting #outrage that week.

What if we demanded action in America? What if we learned the true reach of lobbyists, cronyism and big money’s position in politics? What if we sincerely wanted to help the struggling food stamp consuming masses? What if we got serious about slowing climate change and curbing pollution? What if we re-invested in education? How can we get people as mad, restless and eager for action for those positive changes in the world, as they were to vilify one man’s hunting exploits?

For what will we use this new power of global outreach? Absolutely, saving wildlife is important, but certainly, we should be concerned for not only our own species’ survival but also the realization of ending poverty and hunger or equal rights or access to clean water or demanding reusable power. What change would you like to see? Ricky Gervais’s Facebook page jump-started this shaming of big game hunters until its climax found a face with that proud, dead lion and the world leapt onboard. Perhaps there will be a renewed interest in wildlife conservation. But, there should concurrently be a newborn interest in the fate of Zimbabweans. No amount of conservation of animals is worth starvation of people. Now that we can see the power of social media and our collective voices, what do you want to change?

Photo: The Independent