Recently, I’ve been thinking about humility and shame, due to how incredibly politically outspoken the Parkland teenage shooting survivors have become: In an unprecedented move, high school students organized public gun control protests just days after 17 of their classmates and friends were gunned down. They appeared on television interviews, taking the tone of purposeful journalists and well-connected gun control advocates, arguing that students everywhere are afraid and that the government needs to do something to make them feel more safe. One girl said, “The entire country is looking at us, waiting to hear what we have to say.” One boy claimed to have grabbed his camera and documented as fast as he could, because that was his “responsibility as a journalist.”
Let me be clear: I was not waiting to hear what a seventeen year old had to say about the shooting at their high school. Nor was I rushing to watch a seventeen year old “journalist” talk about assault weapons, bump stocks, or the NRA. In fact, I treated them as I treat every other person who’s undergone a tragedy: give them space to work it out.
Yet, many of these survivors didn’t want space. In fact, they demanded attention so they could make political arguments.
One interviewer asked a group of survivors why they thought their protests would be more effective than the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, whom had been for years lobbying for stricter gun control, though pretty much ineffectively. One student explained that since the tragedy happened to teenagers capable of articulating arguments, and not young children, then the country would actually listen to the gun control arguments. Reading between the lines, what he was saying is that the Parkland shooting survivors’ direct experience of a tragedy would successfully sway the American public toward controlling guns, since the Sandy Hook parents apparently only indirectly experienced it.
This is what got me to think about shame, perplexed about how these teenagers didn’t feel it after making such small-minded comments like these. No one calls them out on these awful comments though, because they’re not yet grown adults, but we’ll get to that dynamic shortly.
Do these survivors really believe that a Sandy Hook parent’s loss of a child is less relatable and influential to the average person and lawmakers than liberal teenagers publicly regurgitating gun control talking points? That because the parents of the slain Newtown children weren’t actually in the school that Lanza shot up, that everyday Americans would be more affected by gun control arguments made by iPhone-wielding Parkland teenagers? I’m sorry they lost classmates and friends, but I dare these “journalist teenagers” to look a Sandy Hook parent in the eye and tell them that their ongoing campaigns for gun control will always be less effective than Parkland-based campaigns simply because the parents didn’t directly experience the shooting. (After all, they only experienced the tragic loss of a child.)
Essentially, when we so quickly step into the limelight to make political points after a mass shooting, we marginalize and dismiss the actual victims and their families whether we know it or not. This does not honor them, despite believing that "calling for political change" is honoring them. This action makes it about popular politics, but more pointedly, about how we believe we need to be involved in the political discussion. Seriously, teenagers? Step aside and go to grief counseling instead.
In an interview, one no-so-humble girl said: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
When one is so hubris to believe such things, it reveals how they reject the indisputable fact that only history decides who is and who isn’t influential or effective. When one simultaneously predicts and promotes their own legacy like this, it reveals what they deeply want--adulation--which is what caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Not for nothing, but when Kanye West goes off about being the best rapper ever, and how he's going to change everything in hip-hop, people simply expect him to prove it. But with the Parkland survivors, we’re enabling this same type of grossly inflated ego through allowing them to live in the fantasy that they’re uniquely insightful and influential, when in fact the only thing remotely distinctive about them is how quickly they grabbed a microphone and looked for a camera.
The answer to why we enable them into believing they're unique freedom fighters is obvious; we view them as the teenagers they are. This treatment allows us to shelter them from the reality that they’re not revolutionaries, and that they’re merely jumping on a bandwagon of the political Left. Sadly, so many adults love seeing young people “so passionate about important issues,” because they have no issue using these outspoken, smug teenagers to push their own gun control agenda. I say, do your own dirty work, adults.
Real change takes long, hard work, much of it behind the scenes, and is generally thankless. In essence, it is earned, and as many activists and believers in a cause can account, acclaim takes a long way to come their way, if ever. But as I already said, the only reason these teenagers are allowed on television is because they’re aligning themselves with the politically correct side of hot button issues. They’re riding a wave, not causing one, yet we’re enabling them into believing they’re the Moon. So yes, they’re wasting their own time, and anyone listening to them: They need to view this time of their life as a learning moment, not a teaching moment.
Did Gandhi get in the Brits’ faces and tell them he’ll be remembered forever, and claim crazy things like everyone was waiting on his pacifistic words with baited breath? No, he sat silently, not identifying himself by any movement or political tone, and especially not a popular one. Thus, he caused change accidentally/organically. The Parkland teenagers might want to take a breath and stop wanting to be so goddamn relevant, because in reality (yes, I just treated them like adults), they’re not bold or original like Gandhi, or many other activists. They’re not walking the thankless path. They're walking the privileged path, which is ironic, because the political Left is allegedly against privilege.
Now, is it disrespectful for me to claim these outspoken teenagers are hubris? Well, if you think so then imagine someone else saying these words:
“The entire country is looking at us, waiting for what we have to say.”
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks.”
Essentially, these Parkland survivors have been very clear they know they have many people’s attention. When one girl said, “We have a platform”, I cringed, because her wording and tone made it sound like she was happy to finally be a part of this country’s socio-political unrest. I could only watch a short amount of the CNN interview with the teenage “journalists”, because each in their own way had that politician-on-a-mission affect. But they’re not seasoned politicians, activists, or economists, they’re just kids lucky enough to survive a mass shooting. Their anecdotal experience does not make them an authority in the matter, nor do I think it’s a good idea for their youthful egos to get caught up in the media circus that doesn’t really care about them, despite interviewing them with such compassionate tones and wording.
Would shame of their hubris, of their need for attention, “fix” them? Of course not, but it would cause them to pump the brakes on calling themselves journalists and activists and claiming that they’re changing history. Humility would obviously be more effective than shame here, because it would allow them to have a much more objective perspective, but I’m keeping it simple: a little shame about how they’ve essentially acted like Pulitzer-Prize winning journalists would help them in the long run, because they’re setting themselves up for a life of being political ambulance chasers.
The Parkland shooting survivors believe their course—gun control—is the best way to change a culture that doesn’t merely love guns, but loves shooting them. They seem obtuse to the fact that our culture has loved guns for a long time, both during and after many gun-related suicides and mass shootings. This is just the ugly truth, and it’s born of the fact that our right to bear arms is written in our Constitution for the specific reason of protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government. I say this because this country’s love of the second amendment is very strong, because, unlike other countries, the reason for its existence is included in the very amendment.
My argument isn’t primarily about the Constitution, but it’s necessary to mention at least once, because the teenage “journalists,” much like the popular movement they jumped onto, bypass how the Constitution produced a unique perspective within Americans in relation to guns. Critiquing bump stocks and assault weapons and the NRA and Amazon has not, and will not, soften America’s perspective on guns, which has strongly developed over hundreds of years. This is why these teenagers have their head in the clouds; they’ll soon be passed over by the next big media event, either heartbroken or deeply offended: “W...What happened? I thought you loved us? I thought we were in this together?”
Let me ask another question that might fill out my thoughts on shame: If these teenage “journalists” weren’t throwing themselves into the media limelight using socially and politically relevant (aka trendy) arguments, is it possible the parents of the victims would be allowed to share their grief on interviews if they so chose, like the Sandy Hook parents could? Their self-absorption is so poorly masked as political activism it's crazy.
And is it possible that the parents of the Parkland massacre victims don’t want to hear about it on TV until they’re ready to be interviewed? But they now have no choice. That choice was stolen from them by teenage “journalists” who are convinced they’re changing the world.
Believe me when I say this, teenagers: no, you’re not going to produce the change you think. The only reason you’ve been fed, and have believed, the narrative that the “quicker and more fiercely you speak out for gun control, the more change you’ll produce”, is because subconsciously everyone knows that the attention span and righteous indignation of the American media, and the American public, is fickle. And since that’s true, you should probably ask yourselves how valuable and historically relevant you truly are, if you’re merely this month’s popular content.
Respect the families of the victims and have some shame.
One of the issues with the modern mindset is that forward thinking is deemed to be a sign of moral superiority, or enlightenment. However, even though forward thinking, or progress, allows for the possibility of new alternatives and solutions to ongoing problems, it’s not a moral issue. These are two separate categories.
Progress has effectively become the fourth Western religion. This statement becomes ironic when you take John Gray’s insights of humanism into consideration; humanism posits that humans are special on their own, which extends into the belief that since we can develop technology and advanced social systems, we not only should, but we’re implicitly better than other species that can’t. Thus, Gray points out that those who worship humanism aren’t any more ethical or smart than those who worship otherworldly spirits.
Derrick Jensen hits this again through arguing how the idea of progress has allowed humans to feel entitled to destroy nature even though they are part of it. Jensen further demonstrates that this civilization—“this” because we chose this civilization among other possibilities—is actually perplexed as to why things have always gone to shit in some way, but for some reason doesn’t connect its own entitlement to these destructive results. He thus identifies this civilization as being addicted to madness.
The ideas of progress and morality are two different categories; they are not contingent upon one another in the sense that if one advances the other automatically advances. Within this civilization, the opposite is more likely to be true, considering progress often entitles one to Gray’s humanism or Jensen’s mad destruction. These mechanisms don’t seem very moral.
For some reason we haven’t learned from history that when powerful cultures attach the idea of moral betterment to progress, disaster ensues. What do you think Nazi medical experimentation within the death camps was all about? Or lobotomies on angsty children, and the mentally handicapped? The list goes on even further into our past, which is why it’s so scary that the predominant culture still hasn’t dissociated moral betterment from progress. (I know, I know, they view it as Progress with a capital P…)
If you want to focus on being more moral, knock your socks off. If you want to focus on progressing technology and ideas, knock your socks off. But history has shown that if you think progress is an indicator or moral superiority, then you’re just another adherent of the fourth Western religion; one who has learned to weaponize one when emboldened/enabled by the other. It’s a nasty, humancentric codependence.
Since progress is an intangible idea, it’s easy to perceive that we’re in alignment with it when we’re really not. This is how many social ideologies fail.
Take for example Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch program; in her heart of hearts she knew that physical health is a key factor to improving one’s quality of life. However, the program was a disaster that led to a huge waste of food and even unhealthier eating habits—students wouldn’t eat at school and would instead feed at vending machines whenever they could. On the surface, yes, she was in alignment with healthier living, but what this campaign failed to take into consideration (other than the fact that it’s not the school’s responsibility to impose healthy eating upon students) was that if the students didn’t already have healthy eating habits at home then they wouldn’t seamlessly take to them at school. Habits are habitual for a reason; they’re a continued reinforcement. More food was thrown away than before the program launched, and more kids were eating vending machine (or their ilk) type meals than before it was launched.
I’m not in any way knocking healthy eating, but I am knocking the massive disconnect between Michelle Obama’s progress-driven ideology of health and the reality of students not automatically eating what you put in front of them. To boot, the only way this was passed from a budgetary standpoint was because it was pitched as being “better for children.” See how the righteousness of progress was tucked in there, and completely overshadowed the reality of habit?
The witch trials are another example of the disconnect between the projected results of progress-oriented ideologies, and reality.
Men were so resistant to women being anything other than maids and sexual objects that when illnesses, deaths, or pretty much anything they determined as unordinary occurred, mischievous women were blamed as being the causes, via magic or some other type of intangible divination. (Warlocks—male witches—were persecuted at a much lower rate.)
Evan Andrews of the History Channel documented 7 tests of witchcraft. Note how these “tests” replace objective, repeatable evidence with anecdotal results and in some cases, outright deception:
1: The swim test, where a stone was attached to an alleged witch’s waist, and she was thrown into a body of water. If she floated she was a witch, but if she plunged to the bottom she was not. Accidental deaths occurred, of course, when she wasn’t rescued quickly enough.
2: The prayer test. If the alleged witch made any kind of mistake, or even hesitated, during reciting the Catholic “Lord’s Prayer,” then she was determined to be a witch.
3: The touch test, where alleged witches were told to touch a “possessed person,” aka those who succumbed to uncontrollable fits. If the possessed person had a fit, then the alleged witch was viewed as an actual witch.
4: Witch cakes. Urine was collected from victims of possession and then mixed with other ingredients and baked into a cake. Upon feeding it to dogs, who were viewed as witches “familiars,” it was hoped the dogs would speak in English the name of the witch who caused the possession. The concoction never worked, surprisingly. In one instance, in an effort to aid witch hunters, the slave Tituba told them of this concoction, and was then put to death as a witch, because according to the witch hunters this “knowledge” indicated her status as a witch.
5: Witch marks. Witches were said to be physically marked in some way upon making a pact with Satan. Do you think birthmarks, blemishes, or even scars from the hard life they lives were mistaken for these marks? Oh no…never.
6: Pricking and Scratching tests. Specially designed needles were used to locate numb spots on the body, which indicated the location of a witch mark, since those marks were said to lack sensation. However, in England and Scotland, well-paid “prickers” used dull needles and other cons to send the alleged witches to their doom. Scratching tests were also used, where a possessed person was forced to scratch the witch alleged to have possessed them. If the possessed person stayed calm, their accuser was determined to be a witch, because scratching their alleged accuser, even to the point of bleeding, was believed to give them reprieve.
7: Incantations. When alleged witches were forced to speak to the devil about releasing his control over a possessed person, third party onlookers judged the effectiveness of the incantation. And as alleged witches were forced to address to the devil in particular ways; “As a witch, I…”, then it’s not hard to see how this test led one from being merely alleged of being a witch to proven to being a witch.
The witch trials, although admittedly trite as a historical citation of idiocy, are an effective piece of evidence of how drunken humankind can become when we latch onto the idea that it’s our duty to impose our perception of progress upon others. During the witch trials, the cultural leaders truly thought they were preserving and protecting their beneficent, moral community. Since they claimed society as their own, they viewed it as their duty to protect it as they deemed fit. So it didn’t matter that the tests were rigged; to them they were seeking out the devil through its chosen vessel: women.
This is how you justify killing many innocent people on the path to catching one guilty person.
Even though the witch trials weren’t as secular as modern progress has become (Technology! Science! Economics!), it was indeed applied in a secular fashion. This sounds paradoxical, but it’s chillingly accurate: in quoting otherworldly powers, humans in charge of hunting witches dominated other humans for the purpose of directing the world toward what they thought was a morally better place. Only people who believe they are anointed can do this. The Nazis were no different with their medical experimentation; they openly admitted to working toward producing a purer race.
Whereas today we, like Michelle Obama, impose certain progress-oriented things upon others that we preconceive as being indisputably good, in past times, like those of the witch hunt, we imposed progress-oriented ideologies upon others who we believed were holding humankind back. These two orientation differences are different enough on a topical level that we don’t view them as similar in any way. But that’s problematic, because the seed germ in this case is the same: a conviction that our idea of progress is better, more pure than everyone else’s. How do you think religious zealots have, and still do, kill without scruples in the name of God?
As such, dominant cultures are still imposing their idea of progress…sorry…Progress…onto others, because they’re fueled by the idea that they have excusive access to valuable moral insights. The reason for this is simple; as both Gray and Jensen would point out, humans have for a long, long time been averse to conceding our belief that we are an anointed race. The idea that we are an anointed race allows us to merge categories like morality and progress without a second thought. It allows us to take on twisted social ideologies and campaigns and movements and be baffled when they don’t work out the way we believe they should. This should is very troubling, because it creates a nook where moral obligation and superiority seats itself, and lays deep roots.
In 2016, Shaun White had to pay the piper for doing some pretty disgusting things to a former member of his band Bad Things. Essentially, in order for Lena Zawaideh to keep her job as a drummer, she had to wear sexy clothing (including underwear), watch pornography, and be the recipient to perverse text messages. He did this for years. Five, I believe. She eventually sued him for unpaid wages, eventually enveloping his perverse behavior into the lawsuit. Screenshots were used as evidence, and he, unlike many sexual predators, didn’t deny the acts or their gravity. He paid out, and stuck his tail between his legs; in 2017 the suit was settled.
Two issues now come to light that for some reason have been completely ignored.
First; the duration of the harassment. White harassed and sexually belittled her for years. I’ll never deny how uncomfortable, demeaning, and disrespectful that must have been for Zawaideh, however, why didn’t she quit the band? If my coworker or employer did things like stick his hands down his pants and told me to smell them, why on earth would I continue working there? If watching pornography became part of my job, and wearing a shirt with holes in it that revealed my nipples became part of my job, you can be damned sure I’m leaving. Zawaideh tolerated it for so long because, “I did not want to cause injuries to the band, or be fired by White.”
In an ideal world, no, she shouldn’t have to put up with this, but I can’t stress enough how this isn’t an ideal world. People from every side of the political, religious, racial, and economic spectrum commit terrible atrocities—including lascivious ones—to members of their own group, as well as others; this world is anything but ideal. So no, Zawaideh ideally shouldn’t have been exposed to this, but she was. However, her occupation wasn’t derived in indentured servitude. I know it’s probably going to be uncomfortable to hear this, but she made a choice to stick in there rather than jump ship.
In a text message between the two, regarding White wanting her to cut her hair and her resisting, he said, “Are you sure you want to make this decision?” Meaning, she was in the position of either choosing (hence the term decision) or refusing, or in other words, walking away from the job. He never physically tore her clothes off and raped her. I realize many reading this will interpret me as victim-blaming or belittling Zawaideh, making White seem less responsible, etc., but that’s not the case; he’s still responsible for the actions he chose to perform. But are we being fully honest about the actions she chose to condone? Did she do all she could to put up boundaries, or separate herself from someone so arrogantly lascivious? This is an important question, because each time she was complicit to him, she gave a drunk a drink.
Why do I bring this up? Because the case was settled after years of harassment. It’s not victim blaming to ask Zawaideh, an adult, how those first instances of crude, lascivious behavior became years, because critical self-reflection is what helps us see red flags and respond to them accordingly, not enable or justify them. A text message of White’s erect penis is a red flag. Weinstein in a bath towel is a red flag. They’re clearly predators, why be prey?
In other words, if we were to classify the harassment, was White’s harassment of Zawaideh terminal, meaning, Zawaideh had absolutely no way of evading or remediating, or was it non-terminal, meaning, she had access to means of evasion or remediation? These are real—albeit uncomfortable—questions to ask, because this isn’t an ideal world; it’s pretty ugly, and ugliness isn’t perpetuated from only one side. It never has been and it never will be.
If we continue on the path of viewing harassment cases in an imbalanced way—“Only men are responsible!”—then there will be women who choose to give men in power blowjobs for a few years, only to sue them afterward for mega money. The awful examples don’t end there, but I won’t go further. We need to have practical foresight for what we’re advocating, but unfortunately, #MeToo is such a reactive ideology that it refuses to explore or even validate this line of thinking.
This reminds me of how, amidst all the Hollywood actresses the #MeToo movement exalted who claimed to have been abused by men in power, it included the ones who willingly performed sexual acts on Weinstein to advance their career. Keep in mind Zawaideh didn’t tolerate White’s behavior for a month, she tolerated it for five years. Thus, #MeToo has a lot of clarifying to do, because what they view as “abuse and harassment by people in power” is a much more complex matter than they want to believe.
The second issue that has come to light is: #MeToo used a potshot to create unnecessary drama.
White had just completed an historic gold medal run and was of course, high. Not, not on drugs, but high on competitive success. As a thirty year old he bested decade-younger competition and was feeling elated. Yet, in an Olympic press conference, the gold medal winner was asked if he believed a previously settled sexual harassment suit would tarnish his legacy. Caught off guard, he misspoke. Before you call me a harassment apologist, ask yourself: “Have I ever misspoken when I was completely caught off guard?” (If you say, “I never [insert White’s lascivious behavior]!” then you’re completely missing the point.
White misspoke in his response by referring to the sexual harassment lawsuit as “gossip.” No, it wasn’t gossip, and he knew that: he admitted so during the trial, and reiterated the case’s seriousness in the post press conference press conference that Leftist ideologues necessitated. Everyone knows his sexual harassment case wasn’t gossip and that it was a big deal, but the media and the ideological Left loved his mis-step. Thus, the #MeToo movement succeeded in a winning a petty victory, pivoting the spotlight off the Olympics and onto a sexual harassment case that had already been settled. Why does he have to pull out some crystal ball and attempt to predict the future about his legacy to some journalist addicted to controversy-porn? Only history can tell if he’s worthy of being remembered, so what’s the point in asking him this question right after he got yet another gold? This is no different than attending someone’s second wedding—whose first ended due to his/her infidelity—and vehemently “opened a discussion/raised awareness” in the church about whether his/her previous marriage’s infidelity would tarnish this one. The Olympic journalist was clearly making a dark statement about White’s character, rather than celebrating his incredible athletic achievement. Advocates of the #MeToo movement will likely say, “That’s right! Why should we forget about his awful past!” But again, I wonder if the movement has truly and fully thought this statement out.
Can people not change? Should they not be given a second chance?
If the answer is “Yes, but depending upon what they did,” then that same gradient should be applied to those claiming to be abused. One-size fits all thinking just don’t work, does it?
If the answer is no, then the #MeToo movement is going to have to explain to minorities and members of historically marginalized groups with criminal records why they shouldn’t be given a second chance, either.
Hence, relativizing social doctrines just creates chaos, but that seems like exactly what #MeToo is unwittingly advocating.
Unlike many women who the #MeToo movement represent, Zawaideh was never overlooked. I tend to think the women who were raped and then overlooked, (not those who negotiated with sex), would be the ones on #MeToo’s radar. But is Zawaideh really the ideal spokesperson for the #MeToo movement?
The #MeToo movement and all its apologists succeeded yet failed at the Olympics, because even though there has been a lack of what they deem sexual harassment and abuse at the actual games, they found a way to get some in there. Even if it was by taking a potshot at an Olympic gold medalist with a regrettable past.
So much just occurred to me about our cultural zeitgeist regarding sexual abuse; my own watershed amidst the watershed. It happened when I learned Matt Damon is shutting his mouth after comments he made regarding the rampant Hollywood sexual abuse. After originally stating that there should be gradients of punishment for the sexual abuse offenders, he’s now conceding that he wasn’t a good listener in the first place, and needed to stop talking and just listen to the pain and suffering many women experience. To me, he sounds like someone who is now the victim of abuse, placating his aggressors to lessen the upcoming blows.
Since the whole sexual abuse watershed began, justice had been on my mind. Not in the abstract or theoretical sense, but in the practical sense; every misdemeanor and crime has gradients, whether it be stealing from someone empty-handedly or with a weapon, or killing someone accidentally or intentionally. One could argue that one of the reasons our lengthy legal process is so lengthy is to ensure the right gradient of punishment is applied to the right gradient of transgression. All that I can understand, at least to a point—putting off controversial trials for a year or so, to occlude the witnesses memory is another issue altogether. (I’ll never claim our legal system is fully reasonable). Isn’t it commonplace for modern justice systems to make the punishment proportionate to the crime through fully examining the evidence? What further baffles me is how the liberals have been so concerned that the justice system is biased against minorities and members of historically marginalized groups, yet they now promote the very thing they despise: righteous indignation and a witch hunt for a particular group.
That group is now men.
At this point it’s only an ideological witch hunt. This baffles and saddens me because the civil rights zeitgeist started in the 60’s was all about promoting women and blacks to be seen as living, breathing human beings and not simply objects used by the privileged. There were certainly flaws in this cultural movement, in that one can’t identify as part of a group but still demand to be treated as an individual, however, I understand the spirit of that movement: they just wanted to be treated as people, and I respect that. But for the moment, I’ll set that issue aside.
Multiple women dismissed Damon’s original comments by claiming he was “mansplaining,” and lessening the impact of the abuse. I’m guessing Damon and his wife talked about the severe backlash to his original comments, and that if he pressed on he’d suffer a career assassination that would inevitably hurt his family. Mind you, he never sexually abused anyone, and was a vocal proponent of battling it, yet, it became clear that anyone who doesn’t placate or conform to the acceptable vision of how to interpret sexual abuse becomes viewed as a Leni Riefenstahl, the video propagandist for the Third Reich: Riefenstahl may not have gassed anyone, but she didn’t stop the evil!! So anyone who doesn’t cower to this majority vision, no matter how rational, is now viewed as part of the problem.
Since when does rational observation or argumentation automatically classify one as complicit to, and enabler of, evil or amorality? I know, I know…when the majority is comprised of such irrational and ideological visions that they dismiss opposition, whether it be data, objective arguments, or even being recorded, of course that majority will mark rationality as a red flag. I’m starting to think that the current ideological visions are too strong to be overcome, and, much like Yoda going into hiding because the Empire was growing too strong, rationality and objectivity are going to suppress themselves in best effort to survive.
The ideological army’s response to Damon’s simple, rational statements initially frustrated, annoyed, and admittedly scared me a little, but shortly thereafter I experienced a certain calm. Like a friend is always telling me, accepting reality gives you more energy because you’re not mounting some Sisyphean struggle. Is that pessimistic? No, because pessimism is a willing attachment to negativity. It’s merely realistic to accept that the current cultural zeitgeist is so irrational that even rational statements like Damon’s will be condemned. I never thought that accepting the state of irrationality and socio-political histrionics could create such a placid state, but who knows, maybe something broke inside of me. I suspect not, because if something did break, I wouldn’t be writing this, or anything else, for that.
Damon’s placative apology (Am I the only one who’s getting tired of these quivering, self-effacing apologies?) revealed that he felt compelled to articulate how honorable in spirit he thought the #MeToo movement is. Why does this movement need people to publicly admit how honorable and righteous it is? Shit, if actresses didn’t wear black dresses to the recent Golden Globes, they were roasted. But what’s really funny and ironic about that whole mess is that the president of the foreign press association, Meher Tatna, wore a red dress, because in her native country, India, red is viewed as we view black; formal, austere, classy. So a big whoops to the ideological diversity on that one. As such, the current ideological diversity is much less diverse than actual diversity, which, at the risk of mansplaining, is something they’re going to have to deal with. If it were truly diverse, then people like Damon would be supported in speaking their minds even though the content of their views is opposed. Nonetheless, Damon’s apology revealed that the current movement is driven by extroverts demanding, much like the Catholic Church, that other people conform to it or “something might happen.” I tend to think that the imaginary conversation I’m assuming Damon had with his wife included this, because they saw the writing on the wall that what he said didn’t matter, because it was a he who said it.
This windily gets me to my point, and is probably why I have a newfound solace regarding the irrational zeitgeist sweeping our culture. If we’re going to get anywhere with any of these hashtag movements, be it #MeToo or #TimesUp or whatever, we need to pivot our attitude of men away from them being an ideology evoking patriarchy, power, rape, etc., and toward being living, breathing people. Some feminists are starting to make this argument, and I applaud them for that.
I’m not saying every single man is articulate or clear-headed, but that’s the point: not every man is a Weinstein-esque pig. There are plenty of men out there who agree with these movements and think they can add things to bolster them, but are oppressed out of claims they are “mansplaining.” This is why these movements are their own worst enemy, and, to make a predication, will ultimately fail if they don’t become balanced and rational.
There’s no debate over what makes one a real architect, real attorney, or real baker, because they’re viewed as real as long as they get paid for what they do. However, writing doesn’t quite work like that. It’s a craft, one of the most fundamental forms of sentient expression in which humans are capable. So one can get paid to write and certainly be a real writer, but if one doesn’t get paid, that doesn’t mean they’re not a real writer, does it?
I love this lack of hard, fast rules. Plus, I find it a middle finger to the more concrete occupations and professions that settle for the standard of “real” as degree on the wall and paycheck deposited into account every two weeks. Does this mean that real architects, attorneys, and bakers have less self-respect? Not at all; it’s just that their path is conveniently laid out for them. These occupations are externally dependant in one way or another. Writing itself—the nuclear craft of writing—is internally dependant because there are no rules of your self-expression because there are no dictates upon your identity. Your content is the effect and you are the primary cause.
Now, there are of course “rules” like syntax and grammar, or else any form of literary self-expression would look like “;lks qpoiu aj xm,n.” My criticism of is merely another way of advocating originality of voice and perspective. Your voice, your style, your content. I realize that many writers will agree with me, however, how many books like Twilight came out after it was released? What about 50 Shades? And Harry Potter? I don’t believe that a windfall of writers was simultaneously inspired to write these types of books. Write what you want, but be honest about your intentions, motivations, goals. There’s just a big difference between a bandwagon and a rickshaw.
I’ve pointed out the YA craze to my wife many times, perplexed. She responds as she usually does: “Adults write material for young adults because they some way want to be young adults, or they actually think like young adults.” I don’t think this is an insult to these writers, I find it insightful—If I primarily wrote fiction from the perspective of a 1950’s housewife, then it would be accurate to describe me as one whose headspace is similar (though not identical, or authentic, of course) to that of a 1950’s housewife. Nonfiction is different because there’s a built-in distance, an attempt at objectivity, even if it’s just cataloging events and such. But fiction requires an immersion into the story, the characters, the plot. If one continuously chooses to write within a certain literary world then it’s pretty clear that that content fuels and satisfies the writer. It gives them a sense of solace, a sense of home. As writers, we need to be honest about what gives us a sense of home.
What I find troubling about the current state of writing though, on top of how much of it is written to and for younglings, is that so many people’s sense of home is the same. Since writing fiction has become cool, this prevalence is rewarded. Hell, upon learning I’m a writer, even Energy Auditors who serviced my house asked if I’d written anything they’d know, “You know, like Harry Potter?” When I told them I’m a nonfiction writer who focuses on the status and decay of culture, their eyes glazed over and they continued sealing around the windows.
Even the completely ridiculous novel Don Quixote focused on real, adult issues; know who your true enemy is (don’t fight windmills), listen to your more rational, though often softer inner voice (Sancho Panza), and be careful what you wish for (Quixote promised Sancho governership upon meeting his fair maiden, which led to him being abandoned by his voice of reason). Sure, we can draw lofty metaphors from Harry Potter, and there will always be a place for challenging though relatable fiction for teens, but if a staggering amount of adults do this, and it becomes cool, how will the writing world be able to detect the next Woolf? Or Orwell? Or Hemingway? This is my apprehension.
Making fun of Chinese education by calling it draconian has become quite cliché, however, at least they’re learning to be mentally disciplined. I’m well aware of the consequence of overloading young people with studies—aside from the obvious consequence of becoming more educated—in that they have to learn how to decompress, however, the rigorous affirmation-free discipline is a marvelous way of building the thick hide that people need in order to be…adults. I’m not unique nor am I “mean” for arguing that the modern people’s hide has become a little thin for their own good.
To be clear, one can’t build a thick hide when they immerse themselves in support groups, affirmative memes, and entitlements. Did you know Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime? And that it was shortly before he died? “Oh my goodness, how did he push on and suffer through that?” Someone like Karl Marx, who also financially struggled all his life and released only one work deemed influential during his lifetime—and late in his life at that—would remark that Van Gogh painted because he loved painting, and that the craft alone fed his internal engine. On occasion my mentor reminds me that Marx chose to write on his honeymoon instead of spending the time with his new wife, because the muse had struck him, and he wouldn’t oppress it. And his wife listened because she knew he had a voice, and that a honeymoon was merely a social tradition that by no means determines the success of the marriage. Just like respect seeds a successful marriage, it seeds a successful lifestyle (and possibly, career) as a writer. Are we respecting our craft? Better yet, are we respecting ourselves by being courageous enough to be authentic?
This is why I find myself looking backward in time to understand “real” writing, because it had grit. Our culture has become so extroverted and so affirmation-dependant that even though great writers exist (of course Rowling is a great writer), writing has become much more emotional and socially-dependant than it needs to be. Writing is not a group activity, nor it is about convenience. Sure, a variety of books are published that are widely read, but how is it that Bill O’Reilly is a household name but Thomas Sowell isn’t? I’m not going to demean Sowell by Reader’s Digest-ing him; his work speaks for itself.
I don’t blame social media for the current affirmation-addiction any more than I blame McDonald’s for the current obesity plague, because social media doesn’t force people to be emotionally and mentally dependent any more than McDonald’s forces poison down people’s throats. Both social media and McDonald’s are businesses, but it’s easy to forget that since the latter produces a physical product that temporarily satiates a physical hunger, and the former produces a nonphysical product that temporarily satiates a nonphysical hunger—an emotional desire. If you’re not aware that a dopamine high is what drives people to constantly check and strive for retweets, likes, and added followers, then there’s a problem. Again, I don’t blame social media. But we should at least know that what makes social media so appealing to so many people is the chemical cascade caused by other people’s likes and retweets. Van Gogh lacked that externally fed chemical cascade; he produced his own. It was authentic, “real.”
In our past, writers and artists had to suffer in order to be a “real.” George Orwell pointed out in an essay that traditionally, writers held part-time jobs doing non-literary tasks to preserve both their literary energy and integrity. Do you think living on the wages of a part-time job was easy? This is why real writers of the past suffered; they chose part-time side jobs over full-time jobs, to preserve energy to write fully and openly, uninfluenced by money.
Essentially, Orwell argues one’s literary compass can only be accurately calibrated if external rewards or affirmations are absent. Accurate according to what, though? To one’s authentic voice. Of course Orwell was occasionally paid a pittance for doing book reviews and newspaper articles, but they were one of the many side jobs he took to put food on the table, and long after he’d already produced a whole lot of fantastic essays that calibrated his compass. Regardless, he jumped around from employer to employer when his writings were deemed unfavorable, because he refused to conform to what was popular or acceptable. Mind you, George Orwell wasn’t the George Orwell he’s popularly associated with being, because he produced Animal Farm and 1984 shortly before he died. During most of his life he was a nonfiction essayist who pointed things out on paper that when published, the masses found either annoying, unnecessary, and occasionally insightful.
Does the modern writer engage this type of deliberate solitary sufferance? Of course not: writing, especially fiction writing, is now cool. Everywhere you go, be it online or at the bookstore, people will pat you on the back just for being a scribbler! And there are so many resources and literary groups and affirmation syringes around. If a writer is going to truly suffer, to truly take the heart-wrenching, long-term path of individuality to discover their authentic voice, they have to choose to dissociate from the ubiquitous convenient, peer-affirmed alternatives, because those alternatives have become the standard. The writing world has done a 180 from the times when writers were starving artists just like painters, because even though it’s still challenging to break through and make money writing, our culture venerates those who claim to be writers, despite the only way of distinguishing good writing from bad writing is book sales.