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In June 2018, in response to a number of news stories in which people demanded redress for what they saw as hurtful incidents and which I saw as overreactions, I started a file called, “Facts Not Feelings.”
I did not at the time know that six months earlier, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro had made a case for facts overs feelings in a video now viewed on YouTube more than five million times. I was late in seeing how people had congregated on opposite sides of the media dome…
…waiting for the whiff of offense, at which would fly at each other and fight to the virtual death, over what qualified as pain and who had the right to claim it. Those of us who did not want to join in that action were struck by how viciously participants went at it…
…how intent they were on the ritualistic punishment of others. Submitting purported perpetrators to condemnation and debasement was de rigueur, not in order that the accused could offer an apology (or, not only an apology), or money, or to wait for a day in actual court.
What was …required was the recognition that a wrong had been done, the pain of which would compound until the accuser was ground down, their power stripped and thus, the logic went, lifting the pain, fanfare and grave tones and exhumed trauma transforming it into a badge worn...
... by the new victors. Those caught in the strobe of digital vigilantism were variously bewildered, frightened, belligerent and in denial.
Suggestions that an errant tweet or a bad date or verbal misunderstanding might be settled privately, or chalked up to common disagreement, or allowed to die in the memory hole, were brushed aside or met with hostility. (In any case, the Internet had sealed up the memory hole.)
Explanations from the accused that he or she remembered an incident differently, or had not meant harm, or had absolutely no idea what was going on here, were shouted down: were the accused trying to weasel out, or would they renounce their transgressions?
I was alarmed by the lack of skepticism, by the virulence or thoughtlessness with which people mashed their ❤ buttons. Were people not troubled that a claim of sexual harassment on the word of someone they did not know might not have a basis in fact?
That they were branding someone a racist based on a retweet of a retweet of a retweet?
Did they not see themselves as looking for reasons to be angry, fueling up for the next fight, if often, it must be said, under the scrim of anonymity, though who could blame them for not wanting to risk having abuse rain down on their heads like holy fire?
The anonymity struck me too coy by half; also, strategic. I could appreciate that someone who said they’d experienced trauma might not want to confront the person who’d hurt them. But the retribution the accusations unleashed, there was no way to scale them.
Very few people can withstand hundreds of thousands of people yelling at them at once, with having their homes spray-painted with the word RAPIST and their children targeted for death.
Those who saw these campaigns as retrogressive would sometimes wade in to cool things down, whereupon they were set upon, resulting in a lot of people wanting to stay the fuck out of the whole thing.
I was not good at staying out of the whole thing, at not saying the quiet part out loud, at not seeing an Internet populated with people in a love affair with pain.
I pictured them spending private time raking their fingernails over themselves to open new access points, to keep the wounds fresh. The accused, in the meantime, sometimes became suicidal, or went into hiding, or embarked on apology tours meant to appease the accusers…
…but which instead cast the accused in neon that blinked, “DIRECT YOUR OUTRAGE HERE!” And if on some level people intuited these things could get out of hand, could turn the aggrieved into the aggressor, maybe, the rationale went, the destruction of certain people...
... was necessary for society to progress, to give the previously marginalized or abused or dismissed full voice. In her 1972 essay, “The Women’s Movement,” Joan Didion wrote, “To make an omelette, you need not only those broken eggs but someone ‘oppressed’ to beat them...
... Every revolutionist is presumed to understand that, and also every woman, which either does or does not make 51 percent of the population of the United States a potentially revolutionary class.” Did I see much of the current movement, the new revolution, as driven by women?
I did. I knew it was, and I knew because it was so cyclonically powerful.
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