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.



Kanye West: Awards Aren’t the Only Measure of Art (OR Celebrity in the Age of Celebrities)

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s, Dennis, had a hard time a few weeks ago when he found himself being rated (very low scores) by women on a group-dating site. Dennis is usually a charming sociopath; he is witty and charismatic before ultimately disappointing any possible paramours by avoiding contact or outrightly disrespecting them. But now, completely overcome by a desire for good ratings, he forgot how to be charming, and was solely focused on his one star rating. He finds himself very wounded by the low ratings and questions his previously offensive behavior regarding women. The episode was particularly rough because he kept screaming at women during dates, “I’m a 5 star man!” Eventually, he frivolously realizes that self worth comes from self-delusion. Here enters the 5 star man of delusional reality—Kanye “I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it” West.

In 2009, he stormed the stage and seized the microphone mid-speech from a then 20-year-old Taylor Swift who had just won Best Video of the Year for “You Belong to Me” at the VMA’s to praise Beyoncé’s (admittedly great) black and white booty pumping “Single Ladies” as “one of the best videos of all time.” West stole Swift’s moment to offer an unnecessary and meaningless opinion. Many people voiced their baffled disapproval including 50 Cent, Pink and Barack Obama among others. His name was in the headlines, not for being an artist, but rather for being a “jackass.”

Now, 6 years later at the Grammy’s, Kanye “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means” West is married to a babe, father to a healthy child, a successful producer, rapper and designer and he turns what could have been a cute, self-deprecating yet still unfunny stunt of pretending to take the stage into a rant about industry stealing or mistreating “artistry.” His post-show foolishness is needed to provide context: (quote)

“I just know that the Grammys, if they want real artists to keep coming back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. “Flawless,” Beyoncé video. And Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé and at this point, we tired of it. Because what happens is when you keep on diminishing art and not respecting the craft and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day. And they listen to that Beyoncé album and they feel like it takes them to another place. Then they do this whole promotional event, that, you know, they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they want a commercial advertising. Like no, we not playing with them no more. And by the way, I got my wife, I got my daughter, and I got my clothing line so I’m not going to do nothing to put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything tonight. But y’all know what it meant when ‘Ye walked on the stage.”

Putting aside the horrible grammar, which was certainly not taught to him by his English professor mother, we find a personal stream of consciousness punctuated with subjective opinions and artistic delusions of grandeur. Why does he care so much about who wins a category where he wasn’t nominated? Beyoncé won Best R&B Song. And why does he consider Beck’s artistry so inferior that he should relinquish his Best Album to the Queen B? Beck made a chill album and the voters decided it was best. Why must we hear Kanye’s opinion? It’s because of his self-righteous self-delusion that has now become a force of society. His self-indulgent, selfish, self-centered, self-aggrandizing quotes are easy to find on the Internet, and somehow, millions of people love it! 11 million followers on Twitter, hundreds of thousands of FB likes, sold out T-shirts and sneakers. If the old saying of 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong, what is to be said of West’s narcissistic mess? Does interjecting opinions mean you can be relevant or influential? Yes, when you are a celebrity. (Ask Jenny McCarthy.) Right or wrong, celebrity is power. And Kanye “My greatest pain in life is that I won’t be able to see myself perform live” West is most certainly a celebrity. He and Jay-Z are tied with 21 Grammy’s apiece, he’s sold millions of albums worldwide, three of which were included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest, he was included in Time’s 100 Most Influential, West designed Nike’s sell for thousands on Ebay, a plain white T-shirt bearing his name sells for 120$ and he’s married into the family famous for fame. His fame delivers a vessel for his ego. His fame keeps him relevant. His fame makes him visible to me. And I am bored of it. I’ve got some opinions of my own Kanye “I am the number 1 most impactful artist of our generation” West. I think your music is mediocre, your shoes are ugly, your t-shirts are exorbitant and bland, you’re exploiting your young and/or poor fans with clothing at such ridiculous price points, your girlfriend is hot and dull, your face is creepy, your personality is forced antagonism, your rapping talent is specious, your behavior is ignorant and obnoxious, your attitude is contrived, your life is tedious self-promotion and you offer less to the world than you think. In fact, his charity disappeared after donating no money toward the foundation. His foundation, co-sponsored by his mother, was to help curb rampant teenage dropout rates in urban high schools, yet his first album was called “The College Dropout.” It’s a real twisted message you’re sending to the young kids Yeezus. I’m aware of my envy for his lifestyle and power of promotion. But it’s a disgusted envy, much different than my delighted envy for Jimmy Fallon.

What Kanye “I am a proud non-reader of books” West misses in his misguided torrent of twaddle after the Grammy’s is that losing or winning an award doesn’t provide or detract merit from the piece of art. Van Gogh never won an award for Best New Painter, Picasso has no Best Sculpture Statuette, Bob Marley and Led Zeppelin have never even been nominated for a Grammy and Snoop Dogg, Bjork and Mos Def have been nominated several times but never won. Does their deficiency of gold reduce their impact? Awards are just opinions of influential people; much like your inconsiderate words and insipid tweets.

The harsh truth is that Kanye “Michelle Obama cannot Instagram a bikini pic like my girl Instagrammed the other day” West might have a point. Yes, Beyonce could also have won. Beyonce’s “Flawless” song isn’t the best beat, but the words are inspirational. A poem about gender struggles by a Nigerian woman is incorporated to fantastic results within Beyonce’s call to women that they are all beautiful, although she confuses me by telling other bitches to bow down to her. I might have missed that point.

So, Beck deserves any artistic credit he gets, as does anyone who endeavors an artistic undertaking. Unfortunately, that goes for you too Kanye “You should only believe 90% of what I say” West. Just because I dislike you, your music and your brashness doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist that others can enjoy. But I still only give you one star.

Kanye West

School Budget Cuts

The Austin Independent School District is facing a budget shortfall of close to 30 million dollars.  How does a school district make up for that size of a cut?  What can you cut back on that has not already been sliced apart?  Can you make the teacher salary lower than it is?  Can you delete books from the curriculum?  Can you eliminate libraries, theaters, gymnasiums, athletic fields or special education?  Can you raise local taxes?  Can you erase jobs and consolidate classrooms?  Nobody wants to make these decisions, and yet, here we are.  With over 80,000 students spread over 113 campuses and several thousand teachers, there is a huge shift approaching.  What can be done to simplify public schools to the tune of 30 million dollars?  It’s a number that is hard to imagine.  First, imagine a grant of 30 million.  Where could it be spent most effectively?  Who could benefit from it?  There could be better supplies, more field trips, new computers, after school enrichment programs, new uniforms or interesting guest lecturers.  There could be a fascinating atmosphere throughout the district.  Kids would be challenged in new ways and in new subjects.  Now, imagine that grant never came and in fact, the school owed money.   I can’t visualize what is going to happen next.  I can’t even figure out where they can possibly cut funds.  All I know is it will happen and everyone will pay for it.  This is one small district in central Texas, is this happening all over America?