Thursday, December 26, 2013

Social Cannibalism

Destroying people seems sometimes to be a favored pastime among liberals who often engage in the sport with especial gusto and verve. Indeed, as Erik Errickson points out at Red State, they're even eager to do it to each other.

A recent example is the case of the unfortunate young woman named Justine Sacco, a PR executive, who tweeted that she didn't think she'd get AIDS on her upcoming trip to Africa because "she's white."

For that bit of politically incorrect bluntness she has lost her job and achieved infamy among the entire left side of the planet, which, judging by their own tweets, seems to be wallowing in the catnip of self-righteousness. Of course, when this same woman ridiculed actor Kirk Cameron for being outspoken about his Christian beliefs nobody said much of anything by way of objection. On the left blasphemy is punishable by excommunication and the verbal equivalent of stoning, but only matters of race and sexuality are subject to their stringent blasphemy laws.

Errickson compares these thought police to orcs in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings which feed on Hobbits and other such delicacies until that prey is exhausted and then they kill and feed on each other.

The question I have, though, is why, exactly, are people outraged about what Sacco said? Is there something about it that's false? Is it, as some have claimed, that one should never joke about AIDS? If so, why does AIDS enjoy special privilege? Why was it okay for Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) to get his audience on Sanford and Son howling with laughter as he clutched his chest feigning a heart attack, but it's not okay to make a snarky comment about AIDS? Was Sacco showing any more insensitivity to human suffering than was Redd Foxx?

Maybe Sacco's implication is false that AIDS in Africa is overwhelmingly a problem in black communities and is relatively rare among whites. If so, I've heard no one offer a refutation of it. If what she said isn't false then whence the outrage?

It's the mentality of mobs to hang someone first and then reflect on the reasons for the lynching later. That mentality enjoys a vigorous existence primarily on the left in this country, but it's not found exclusively on the left. Variations of it appeared recently among some conservatives who seemed much too eager to condemn Senator Ted Cruz for doing what he could to spare the country the miseries that Obamacare was about to inflict upon us, and also among some on the right who couldn't wait to tell us how execrable they thought Phil Robertson was for voicing his opinion on the hamartological implications of homosexuality. In neither case were the offenders castigated for saying something demonstrably untrue. Rather the obloquy they've suffered is due entirely to the fact that they did or said something that others just didn't like.

Perhaps there are a few simple rules people might follow when they encounter words or deeds they deem offensive, before they launch a campaign of invective and personal destruction:

First, ask whether what's being said is somehow untrue. If so, then criticize it for being false, but also be prepared to explain why it is false.

Second, if what's being said is not untrue then ask whether it's gratuitously hurtful to someone. If so, then criticize it for being needlessly hurtful, but also be prepared to explain why and to whom it is needlessly hurtful.

If a statement is neither untrue nor gratuitously hurtful it might still be something some people don't like. It might be in bad taste or it might flout political or social decorum, but then explain precisely how it does so and why it's wrong for the offender to have breached these particular standards.

Moreover, one should be prepared to explain why giving some groups offense is taboo but offending others is not. For example, suppose Ms Sacco had tweeted that she was going to meet with a Catholic priest and expressed concern about being molested and then said, "Just kidding, I'm not a young boy," how many of those who tweeted their disgust at her actual comments would have been chortling at her audacious, biting wit?

To simply scream about how awful a person is who would say "such things," and how she should be fired for having said them - without presenting a good reason for thinking that what she said was false or hurtful - is simply irrational and shallow. It's the sort of behavior we find in frenzied, unthinking mobs. It's the stage upon which people unwilling to do the heavy labor of erecting a cogent argument can nevertheless put their own moral rectitude on display for others to see. It's nothing more than moral preening and self-flattery.