Intelligent people have been defriending on Facebook. They have come by various paths to conclusions that too many people, and maybe humanity itself, are too damnably uncivil to be bothered with - at least up close and personal. But it’s not just Facebook, it is a faith in humanity demonstrated to be misplaced in view of callous behavior during this pandemic.
Large swathes of the country simply didn't respond by instinctively changing their behavior to protect others.
How can man be fundamentally good?
I see this. I understand. I am in complete sympathy with the dilemma of sticking one’s virtual neck out in the praxis of brotherhood with all mankind. In the past couple years I have made efforts to avoid a cynical isolation. On the whole, having joined a great number of new-style coping organizations of intelligent people who are jawboning their way to civility, I've come to a couple conclusions.
The Role of Disappointment
The first is that most of our complaints about the way things are or have become are largely disappointments with our discoveries. Trumpists really are deplorable. White people truly are fragile. SJWs are actually dangerously naive. Alt-rightists actually desire civil war. Non-binaries are actually bipolar. Antifa is itself fascist. Major media and universities are demonstrably corrupt. TikTok is brainwashing our youth. BLM is full of racists and election fraud is real. In one way this points back to a forecasting failure on our part. It’s not that the element of truth is actually present, but that it’s more significant than we ever guessed and we’ve been giving these people the benefit of the doubt. It’s a big country, right? If we can’t reconcile our differences, we could at least find a home and go there without hassling everybody else, right? Apparently not.
Pissing in the Wind
The second is that we often find ourselves trying desperately to speak the obvious to people we think ought to know better, but apparently don't know or don't care. In some cases both, which is terribly frustrating to open-minded, well-intentioned people in our polite ministrations. Even when questions are genuine, I grow weary at one more question about why billionaires haven’t given away all their money to the poor or why Americans are so inferior to Europeans.
In summary I think those of us who are disappointed must face the axiom of being intolerant of intolerance. If we are indeed as mostly correct as we believe we are, or at least if we are pointed in the general direction of civilizations perhaps we need to take that axiom more seriously. The frightening implication of this is that knowledge is not power, it is pain, something us WEIRD overachievers were never well taught.
To avoid pain requires power, which most of us would prefer not to deal with - again because of the ethical consequences of purging intolerance. It basically means, to be glib about it, that it takes an asshole to get rid of an asshole, and 'nobody' wants to be that guy.
Nobody wants to be the one character missing from Gilligan's Island, the military officer.
We would all rather be rocket scientists engineering all of the bugs out of systems of our magnificent creation with ever narrowing tolerance for behavior out of spec. Who would dare put on the duds of authority and begin marshaling actual people around when they go out of spec of civility? Some of us have. We are the cancellers. We have gotten out of hand. By ‘we’ I mean those of us who are in consonance with the principles whose violations our powerful institutions have to crack down on various sore thumbs. You know the rosters of the violators and the violated. Fill in your blanks here.
What is clear is that power makes the difference. When you are deplatformed, you are shit out of luck. Even threats against tenure cools a lot of jets. Should we be shocked? Well, you know I’m going to take a stoic angle and say that we should not, but be prepared. The thought occurred to me as I was reading about how some Canadian finance minister tendered his resignation or a trip to the Caribbean in defiance of some sort of administrative prohibition having to do with communicable diseases. Besides, the optics. The thought involved a matter of public service as a honorable duty for gentlemen of independent means. It brings to mind a certain chivalry in defense of personal honor and integrity that is not only romantic but appropriate. There are two difficulties. Most of us have no independent means, and most of us have not lived long enough with something approaching such means as The Dosh Point aka ‘fuck you money’. So most of us compromise our own integrity and suffer the humiliations required to pay rent. We acquiesce and say “That’s life.” Occasionally we attempt to hire an independent man who is an outsider and can Hulk-smash the Kafkaesque bureaucracies that empower those soul crushing rentiers. That doesn’t tend to work out well either. For some reason reform devolves into a series of witch hunts and counter witch hunts.
Power. It ain’t democratic. It ain’t often civil, but it must be very strictly rational, ethical and evenhanded. Only such disciplined power can provide just authority. Most of us are too busy trying to be entertained to accept such responsibility.
If the Skipper weren’t a chubby lovable blowhard, we wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity to fall in love with the personalities of Gilligan’s Island. Without too much commentary on the selection of castaways and how their various arcs represented the concerns of the day, it’s clear that the Skipper was doomed to fail application of discipline appropriate to the rescue of the gang. Or perhaps I extend the metaphor too far. Nevertheless, what if China is right? What if the stiff upper lipped Victorians were right? What if our problem in here America is that we simply refuse to draw some hard and fast lines across our public behavior that are called for in our society? How has our three hour tour into permissiveness shipwrecked us into this claustrophobic island of tribal chaos? Where did all of these weirdos come from and how did they get the nerve to start poking me in the chest? How is it that we suffer this horrid breakdown and nobody stands up and quotes Mr. Welch.
Nihilist Civil Liberty
Do we even bother to stop redefining decency? To make my small gripe clear, it is meta-matters such as this that are rather up my alley. My personality is high on conscientiousness. I told my son when he was 10 years old that cursing is a sign that you are losing control, that you are at the edge of your ability and there is no clearer signal of that. My aim was to give him the power of the poker face, the amiability of a king, someone who handles bad news without flinching. Still I think the general rule holds and I didn’t need to hear Ice Cube say ‘Fuck tha Police’ to know that our society has been losing control and at the edge of its abilities. You didn’t have to be someone as thin skinned as Tipper Gore to know some part of our society was degenerating back in 1985. Could we have guessed how much camel was behind the nose of explicit lyrics? Do you think I’m kidding? Do you think I’m a prude? Even just a little bit?
Let White Mike remind you of how far we have fallen. You shouldn’t be sobered. You should have seen it coming miles away. Wasn’t Tupac murdered? Wasn’t that 24 years ago? Have you ever listened to the Notorrious BIG’s Ready To Die? Sextuple platinum.
But we all know that a little hashtag is all it takes, right? #Black Lives Matter. I think the practice is called buying indulgences. We await our own Reformation. It’s going to be ugly because powerful people are going to take sides, and decent people are going to do more than defriend. The churches of the mainstream media and the big fancy universities are losing their congregations and a tipping point will come. Watch for the signs. The interwebz disintermediate. Vital thought will route around the Gated Institutional Narrative. Easy to do on keyboards and in theory, somebody has to build new institutions and police borders of decency with actual propriety, not with scandal-minded revenge and political sniping. That will take some doing.
The quality you should be looking for is calm, clear righteousness. It exists outside of self-righteousness, but those dedicated to snark have lost their facility to distinguish. The faux permissiveness of ‘liberals’ is a kind of laissez-faire slack one should properly associate with anarchy at worst and the casually dismissive incivility that dogs our daily social intercourse. The assumption that everybody should do their own thing and actually has their own thing worth doing, aside from being an abused and failed hippie aphorism, is dangerous in a society of law. Everyone judges, but we can no longer rely on the kinds of crowds from which social judgements are sourced. Not in today’s identity obsessed political climate. Not when so many of us cannot afford to resign our commissions on principle.
Solution? A willful engagement with society, in public with your whole name out there to see. It’s why I’m here. It’s why I hope to grow. It’s why I haven’t quit my day job. It’s what I think being perceptive and articulate is the individual’s key to know which coming and going powers to mind most closely.
There’s no easy conclusion here. Just like it wasn’t all about 'the year 2020’. That is an artificial boundary. There is a continuous process of watching, learning and reconciling. I’m here. Thanks for coming. We’re here and we’ll keep at it.