In a previous article, a group of angry readers accused me of belittling rape. They were wrong. What I did, and consciously, was ‘exaggerate the harm done by second-hand smoking.’ They didn’t get it. Their overreaction revealed how fickle the mechanisms that drive public opinion are, and how readily humanity subjects itself to populist indignation, going down paths that perpetuate the hurt that people want to avoid in the first place.
‘And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.’ ~ Matthew 21:12-13
It’s an allegory, one that might draw sighs across the room. ‘Are you equating yourself to Jesus? What a dick!’
To which the reply is, ‘You’re stupider than I thought.’
The parable goes on. When Jesus said what he said, according to Matthew, the powers that be, from the offended Pharisees to the indignant people, rose up in anger to complain at this upstart’s insolent attempts to compare their trade and activities to ‘thievery.’
And the thick among us rave about the arrogance of those who call the out.
Where There’s Smoke…
Let’s start at the beginning. I wrote an article the other day on the common attributes between rape and forced second-hand smoking, and it caused a severe backlash. Critics accused me of belittling rape, being insensitive, offensive, the works.
They’re wrong. First, if I were belittling rape, I would’ve written about smoking, then compared it to rape, making rape look as trivial as second-hand smoking.
But I first wrote about rape – then compared parts of smoking to the mechanism of rape (of one’s lungs).
If anything, I was EXAGGERATING parts of SECOND-HAND SMOKING.
The flabbergasted didn’t get it. They’re not the most nuanced people. They lash out in furious anger because they argue using only their emotions, many of which are questionable, and a righteousness that speaks before it thinks, rendering themselves unable to discern.
The rage behind my critics’ response was intense. It came down hard as a mob (more on that in future pieces), which as bad enough, but also scared away those who were in support of the article, who ‘understood the intellectual premise behind its argument’ (quote from a few people I talked to about it). With the mob going crazy in the comments section, no one among those who saw my point came forward to argue for the merits behind the argument, save a few individuals whose intervention was noted.
Politics is tricky business. It gets people entangled, then tears them apart. We go from the scientific and informed methods that allow us to ‘support what works best’ to its poor cousin, ‘attack what we disagree with,’ and things heat up in a split second. The discussion veers from the goal, snagged on who said what, why, when etc.
More on that — as well as on the notable silence from everyone else i.e. the silent majority — in future pieces. First, a word or two about the politics of rage.
Social commentary is an area of writing especially prone to the polemics mentioned above. Writing about any controversial issue may land a person smack in the middle of the proverbial battlefield, just like that.
When you find yourself there, the best thing to do is prepare for the worst. The rules are different. Nothing as you knew it holds. It’s a whole new ballgame, and you must find solid ground fast, on which to make your stand.
Having done your homework beforehand and prepared yourself for adverse situations increases the probability to get yourself on solid ground fast.
It also enables you to make a stand for something worthwhile.
It’s easy to call out the Neo-nazis and the Capitalist Pigs, but how does one deal with the wolves in sheep’s clothing?
I’ve done my homework. I’ve been doing it for the past three and a half years regarding topics of this kind and issues regarding the human condition in general. I know what I’m talking about, what I stand for: common sense. Common bloody sense! Something lacking in the actions and reactions of indignant groups of people. Something I’m good making a case for, despite the actions of any raging group to the contrary.
Indignant people hate me for it. Be they part of a mindless mob or members of an elite society, I strip them naked and present their fallacies and contradictions for all to see, how their indignation prevents them from making sense. I do it because I write about everything that makes no sense — as I see it — and spend time and energy articulating my point, making sure I have an argument to present.
One of the things I discovered over these years is that things tend to get tricky when you touch on ‘the good side’s’ signature topics, over which people stop making sense at the first sign of tension. It’s easy to call out the Neo-nazis and the Capitalist Pigs, but how does one deal with the wolves in sheep’s clothing?
Let’s take rape, for example. A very slippery subject. You better be all-white (as in ‘white-knight’ white) and all-sensitive when doing so. Any choice of words, or an approach to the contrary, regardless of what you stand for — you may be the biggest champion of the death sentence for rapists, but it doesn’t matter, speak ‘improperly’ and you’re toast — and you find yourself not just in trouble, but also in complete isolation from everyone you know.
See, people get spooked in controversial situations. They may stand by you and protect you from a gang of people rushing up the street to mug you, but they evaporate at the mere indication of being associated with political incorrectness.
The reason is that we live in a politically-correct tyranny. People are coerced to speak only what is deemed proper. The choice of revolutionary topics is limited to areas the consensus deems worthy of rebellious, upstart behavior. Speak out of turn, or be out of line on issues that the norm considers off-limits, and you, sir, or madam, are a bigot! A fiend! A loathsome individual who ought to shut up and taken out. You need to be shot down immediately, without further ado!
Such is the power of political correctness and the indignant forces that drive it. It rallies the most illogical and whimsical elements in people. It speaks from the vantage point of unfettered, unaccountable emotion. It scares away all the reserved, intelligent people, all the individuals with points and arguments, all those with things to say who prefer not to say them because they don’t want to get involved.
Shutting things down serves the raging critics well. They don’t like discussion, after all. They gang up and raise such hell that the only option is to either enter the fray or retreat.
So the quietly intelligent individuals among us, who would advance the discussion by addressing the pros and cons in the argument, are pushed aside, giving way to the clamorous and indignant, handing over key issues to those with the loudest voices and the craziest anger.
This is how the populist far-right and far-left movements — from the zealot uber-conservatives extreme rightwing nut jobs who ‘promote freedom’ by telling people what to say while shutting down opposing arguments, to the zealot uber-liberal extreme leftist loonies who determine liberty by telling people what to say while shutting down opposing arguments — these radicals and their mobs thrive in the wake of the economic crisis. This is how populists of all sorts gain a platform, preaching about various issues from their pulpits, their livid points of view, drowning out sensible debate.
Raising hell is not a bad thing in my books. I like raising hell. People who raise hell, and the daemons that reside in such states of mind, serve an important purpose. They challenge not just the powers that be, but also those who are liable to fly off the handle.
Shutting things down serves the raging critics well. They don’t like discussion, after all.
What I try and do in situations like these is differentiate between the sensical and nonsensical/overemotional, separating those with conviction from those with a chip on their shoulders and little to say. The sensical way is to advance an argument without getting personal, on grounds of debate, is the way to go. I search for it, eager to keep the debate going, not giving in to intimidation.
The nonsensical/overemotional way is a weapon. Those who wield it demand apologies without first having made a solid argument. Without having understood what was said in the first place. By claiming that ‘our way’ is the only correct way, insisting that ‘they speak for everyone else,’ they show their true colors. They fancy themselves the world’s cultural police, but they use thuggish methods to get their way.
In the comments section of the article I wrote about second-hand smoking, I admitted that my piece was a ‘partial, non-conclusive’ op-ed piece on the assault and abuse non-smokers experience in the hands of gung-ho smokers, as seen from the eyes of a non-smoker.
My detractors didn’t appreciate the point of view. They demanded I apologize to all rape victims because I had offended them. As if they were judge and jury on the matter. As if they represented ALL rape victims in the world, on behalf of whom they had now stepped up to set things right.
To be honest, I’d expected an ‘indignant’ approach to my piece, but I honestly thought, given the intelligence of the Urban Times readership, that it would be more nuanced. Anyone whom my piece had offended could have asked me to apologize to him or her personally for having hurt them in some way.
Had they done so, I would have obliged.
In fact I did, to the one rape victim who wrote a comment to me, telling me in a sensible manner — and in so many words — that my argument was crap. I told her I was sorry for having made her feel bad, and that I took her reaction into account.
It’s because of her and her alone that I now apologize to all rape victims for having stirred up a sensitive-for-them topic in my piece. The intention was not to trample on their suffering. It was to communicate the suffering of other people by way of analogy.
I also apologize to all readers for not having added a disclaimer at the top of my piece, warning them of the potential emotional turmoil awaiting them, should they go on reading.
It’s important to emphasize that most of the raging critics I had to deal with were illogical and indignant about the issue, putting anger before sense, spewing acid and vitriol through their comments. Most of them were curiously males (one was bored at work and had nothing better to do than probe the issue, as he himself admitted) all of them coming together to unleash a righteous amount of guilt-trip hell on both me and anyone who dared find merit in my argument. They did so with such fury, and on behalf of all rape victims and propriety, I found their reaction questionable, to say the least.
To deal with the indignation of the livid and all kinds of extremists (an extremist in this case being the person who tries to shut down a discussion) I’ll add disclaimers in my next articles. If anyone takes offence at what I have to say, they can address it on grounds of logical argumentation, and nothing else.
Lastly, I would like to apologize to all the non-smokers who told me that they feel themselves and their lungs being raped in various situations by gung-ho, ganged-up smokers. I apologize to you for not having presented your feelings in a more effective way.
I expect many will have a problem because plan to expand the metaphor of rape to issues of corporate development around the world, addressing the economy, the environment, and the ‘rape’ of the poor peoples of the world by the rich countries and their financiers, and the ‘rape’ of nature by capitalism and technology, analogies that are common in public discourse without anyone screaming bloody murder about how insensitive the analogy is.
Lastly, I would like to apologize to all the non-smokers who told me how they feel when in bombarded with second-hand smoke — that they feel their lungs are being raped in various situations by gung-ho, ganged-up smokers. I apologize to you for not having presented your feelings in a more effective way. Your point of view didn’t come across. I seem to have induced a backdraft of indignation against you in trying to make your case, for which I will make it up.
In particular, I’ll write more pieces on the issue, through which I’m presenting in graphic and illuminating ways what it’s like to have someone ram toxins down your throat without your consent, impregnating you with discomfort, if not deadly disease. I will do so in such a way so as to make it extremely difficult for smokers — and indignant readers of all kinds — to change the subject from ‘the harm we suffer from second hand smoke by gangs of smokers who light up indoors, injecting toxic smoke inside people who have not given their consent to breathe in that smoke in the first place, especially in enclosed areas where the law explicitly forbids smoking,’ to whatever crusade they want to turn it into.
It’s called deflection, what the irate and the indignant do, these online mobs with their holier-than-thou rage, and I’m going to be ready for it.
Eyes open, mind sharp.
In part 2 I will present the paradox behind the rage exhibited at my previous piece, as well as how the various individual comments driven by anger were effectively joined together to form the group expression of an angry mob.
PS – as a parting thought, here’s a trailer for 12 Angry Men, an iconic movie on the perils of making one’s mind up too fast, too furiously, without proper consideration of the bigger picture, all on account of morality preconceived.