David Brooks wrote this piece – “The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture” – almost a solid week before the Covington kerfuffle, in which a dishonest media led a pack of bovine keyboard commandos to a high-tech lynching of a MAGA hat and the kids standing around it. But the episode brought it back to mind for me.
Brooks details a fascinating – and by “fascinating”, I mean “terrifying” – episode involving a chain of online “denunciations” that seem reminiscent of the sort of thing that got millions killed under Mao and Stalin. And the chain led back to one, er, man:
The guy who called out Emily is named Herbert. He told [NPR podcast] “Invisibilia” that calling her out gave him a rush of pleasure, like an orgasm. He was asked if he cared about the pain Emily endured. “No, I don’t care,” he replied. “I don’t care because it’s obviously something you deserve, and it’s something that’s been coming. … I literally do not care about what happens to you after the situation. I don’t care if she’s dead, alive, whatever.”
When the interviewer, Hanna Rosin, showed skepticism, he revealed that he, too, was a victim. His father beat him throughout his childhood.
In this small story, we see something of the maladies that shape our brutal cultural moment. You see how zealotry is often fueled by people working out their psychological wounds. You see that when denunciation is done through social media, you can destroy people without even knowing them. There’s no personal connection that allows apology and forgiveness.
My theory? The Covington social lynching, like the paroxysm of gleeful hate around the Kavanaugh hearings, are the result of an awful lot of people who’ve never learned to see political differences as anything but “hate” being told to “punch a Nazi” – and they can’t find any actual Nazis, because there are bowling leagues in Cincinnati with more people and political clout than the Nazi party in the USA today – but then again, to them pretty much everyone they disagree with is a Nazi…
…and they can’t punch, anyway. So they use the only weapons they have; the social media mob.