As I’m sure you are all aware, a group of Catholic high school students were publically expressing unpopular opinions by virtue of their choice of headwear. Through the power of a well timed photo that elevated a smirk, selective B-roll footage, and the power of confirmation bias, we were given a test. On the Eve of MLK day, the highly educated, media elite, Hollywood class, and self described anti-racism activists, had rendered a verdict: do, most definitely, judge people by the color of their skin. And not only judge them: but threaten them with violence. From scholars to human rights activists and many blue check marks in between. Thousands of years of progress, and it seems that we still agree that Meletus was right and Barabas should be set free.
But I don’t want to add kindling to this fire, because anyone with a good parent learned that the best way to stand up to bullies is to ignore them, and build a successful life apart from them. This same principle applies to the twin children of bullies: alt-right trolls and progressive outrage mobs.
But I want to talk about what we can learn from this.
There are quite a few, mainly journalists, who have publicly apologized for making such a strong assumption based upon very little evidence. The “wait 24 hours before making serious accusations” rule of thumb has been suggested by many. I agree with this. However, the apologies are being outrun by the new narrative, of “journalists don’t need to take responsibility if the public is mean to them when they use their incredible influence to wrongfully destroy the lives of children.”
As an ironic aside, power implies responsibility. We are in a temporary period where the powerful do not claim responsibility. If you want to play this game, I hope you get out at the right time, because it won’t last long. I hope nobody remembers your duplicity, either. Integrity is a daily, and lifelong, choice.
But this doesn’t address the cultural power we’ve given to outrage.
Outrage is a currency. In 24 hour news, social media, and online traffic. Nobody wins for being 2nd, sober, and serious. Being 1st, fanatical, and furious. Now that gets our attention.
Who cares if the majority see us as shameful. The majority will never see us, and of that majority who do, most will just ignore. We need traffic, clicks, views, interactions. Another 1 of these gives us currency, “good or bad” do not ultimately figure into it.
Best to shoot first, and not ask questions ever, just shoot again.
Take Reza Aslan, for example. Someone who rose to fame for having 4 degrees and heroically defeating a Fox News anchor. What a mighty achievement.
After his decades of religious study, he proudly concluded that violence would be the best option. When confronted with this, he advocated for more violence.
I suppose turn the other cheek and love thy neighbor as thyself are no longer necessary components of religious scholarship.
But this is the perfect example: nobody cared about Mr. Aslan until he went viral, and offered further certification that Fox News was an ideologically driven profit-making organization.
He really showed them, too, by becoming an ideologically driven profit-making self publicist.
The point I’m making is this: pain, and facing negativity, has currency. But the difference between dragon slaying, and wolf crying, is not always clear in the beginning.
Some people go out and slay dragons for society. They come back with scars. Some don’t come back at all. But because of this risk, we uplifted those willing and able to face the challenge.
These dragon slayers certainly have a bit of outrage about them. There is a dragon, after all, and they often summon a sense of righteous fury at the task at hand. Churchill was not nice and calm in the face of Hitler, neither were my grandparents, or yours.
Robin Hood was not tolerant of Prince John
The abolitionists were not negotiating with slavery
Gandalf did not seek a rapprochement with Saruman.
The thing these characters had in common? Skin in the game. They accepted risk. A loss for their society was a loss for them, a big loss, and likely, the biggest loss. If they didn’t win, they lost, there wasn’t a second chance. There was no golden parachute, lobbying firm, board membership, book deal, or TV show for them.
This is how you can tell the difference between dragon slayers (also known as heroes), and wolf-cryers.
Those who cry wolf accept all the reward, and none of the risk.
Lose an election? No problem, an advisory board is waiting for you.
Fail to represent your constituents? No problem, your main requirement is fundraising.
Publish false information? No problem, your news site just got ranked higher on Google because of all the traffic.
The problem with this is that people are smart and perceptive. Late night TV highlights American ignorance to our political system – nobody knows who the speaker of the House is… Nobody knows the difference between the Affordable Care Act and ObamaCare – This gives us a false positive. Americans aren’t ignorant to politics, people are ignorant to things that don’t matter to them or affect them.
This is why DC, New York, Seattle, Southern California, and the Hamptons are ignorant to 97% of the landmass of the US. It doesn’t affect them. Whether there is rising poverty and unemployment or not. Their apps, futures accounts, and tax plans are secure.
This barrier of political impact is no longer as secure. 97% of the landmass of the country can vote, and in 2016 they voted the wrong way. A handful of cities in the US could no longer remain ignorant. The problem, again, was that people are smart and perceptive. Those packaged clips on late night TV were just that, packaged clips. The rest of the country was paying attention to everything else, just not the data points that fit the model.
Whether it’s because civilization has a history of not respecting history, or because our hubris leads us to believe that mankind can be made in the image of our institutions, I don’t know. Of forgetfulness or hubris we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that iPhones and quantitative easing obviate Hammurabi. Which is to say, if you build a structure for me, and it collapses on me (or rather, Greece? Main Street USA?), you must suffer an equal cost.
“And the common man who bleeds on the battlefield, does he risk less?” said William Wallace according to modern screenplay writers.
So for everyone who says that “the American dream is dead,” that “working hard” and “dragon slaying” no longer offers a path to success. It is not whether or not this is true or false, but that this is becoming a self fulfilling, or algorithm fulfilling, prophecy. This is a Nietzschean truth, in that it’s not about truth, but power. And what we have the power to make true, becomes true.
It is here where our expertise in psychology and big data has far outstripped our moral integrity, maturity, temperance, and virtue. Being a good person… well that’s simply not scalable! Having the right analytical model for measuring and understanding what a good person is… we could probably get VC funding for that and bought out 3 years down the road by Amazon. You can become quite wealthy with psychology and big data. I’m not sure of the price of moral integrity these days. Pretty low, I would imagine. But if you know anything about markets, buy low.
But this is not a testament to resentment and outrage. The opposite, rather. It is resentment and outrage that are necessary to maintain this new structure. Nobody will tolerate their leaders or the societal elite if they do not accept risk. Equal risk, if not more risk, is an ancient rite of leadership and wealth. But if we are daily convinced to hate our neighbor our attention can be turned. This works better if we are all in debt to the government, have been given an expertise in uncritical thinking, and have a constant stream of expensive addictions flashed before our eyes – a new home gym and weight loss shake, add another few inches to your TV, Rims, or something else, expensive food that will raise our cholesterol and expensive drugs that will lower it.
How much attention should we give all this? How much currency should we invest in our personal outrage and resentment? How many times a day should be bemoan the unfairness of the world? Should we spend 5 minutes? 1 hour? From lunch until dinner?
Everyday La Rochefoucauld is right: “If we can’t find contentment in ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere”
Everyday the bible becomes more true: “We all just want to sit under our own vine and fig tree, and to not be afraid.”
Invest in that, not outrage and resentment.
Embrace the hell out of your life, whatever that might be. I’m sure you have a lot more to offer the world if you allowed yourself.
But starting is always the hardest part and where to begin is the most difficult point on the map. It is usually best to start with the most obvious thing to remove.
Stop giving attention to the blue checkmarks who cry wolf. Stand up to bullies the best way we know how – ignore them, and level them through personal development and your own wellbeing. Let them live and die by the trolls and outrage farmers they have made a market for.