03 June 2014

We Are Falling

Bill Maher's website currently features a video clip entitled "Past and Furious." (Note:  Maher is brilliant and I envy him his relatively easy access to the company of other really smart people. Watching the faces of his guests in this clip, I try to imagine what I'd have to do to convene an equivalent circle of people who would tolerate that brand of free speech...]


In the clip, he comments on the resurgence of political correctness that I too have observed with mounting dismay over the last decade. Unlike the 90's version, the present-day form of political correctness benefits from the existence of social media platforms. Thanks to FaceBook and the like, we can now monitor and admonish each other before witnesses. It's also easier to form a gang, to gather a community of friends and strangers who are equally appalled and ready to sound off in the Comments section.

The frenzy rises quickly from commentary to demands for justice, i.e., punishment of the person who has either dared to exercise their freedom of speech or been exposed by a tattling other. "Boycott!" "Fire him!" "We demand her resignation!" "Take that show off the air!"

The concurrent emergence of anti-bullying campaigns and the resurgence of political correctness is noteworthy. I perceive a double standard:  it's OK for grown folk to bully each other, to attack like rabid dogs those people who are unfortunate enough to attract widespread media attention but it is not OK for the "cool" fifth graders to taunt the fat kid who picks his nose.

As an adult survivor of relentless bullying and ridicule throughout my childhood, I am passionately opposed to bullying of any kind. The compassionate innovations underlying the anti-bullying campaigns currently underway in American schools arrive too late for me to derive any direct benefit or relief; but I applaud them nonetheless as one of the myriad attempts to improve the quality of our communal life as a nation.

Many of the programs are based in re-education and behavior modification. I think the design of an adult version is long overdue.

Maher suggests an attractive payoff for those engaging in adult bullying/political correctness enforcement trend is the opportunity to feel morally superior. As a member of a screaming crowd of finger-pointers, we deflect attention from our own imperfections. As well -- and in my estimation this is the greater tragedy -- we enjoy a break from doing our own work to become better humans.

Compassion and empathy are irrelevant concerns in this environment. Because we disagree with the premise of that TV show, it should be cancelled. Anyone who enjoys the show falls into the "What kind of a person...?" category.

I am not blind to the sociopolitical complexities of this discussion. I know that there are children and others in our human family that require and deserve protection. My focus here, as usual, are the spiritual and psychological aspects. I am looking at Fear, at the confidence people acquire in a mob to do and say things they would never be able to do or say on their own; at the narcissism that fortifies assertions of what is acceptable and the self-righteous assumptions that often accompany it; and the long-term effects on the quality of communal life when the masses indulge the impulses of their "lesser selves."

Perhaps in every era, the elders bemoan what they view as deleterious popular trends. Perhaps the human family will survive the current largely unchallenged hysteria among us. I am unable to compare this madness to past madness and assess the relative threat to our survival. But we are not at peace with ourselves or each other. That much is clear. And there are no healthy antonyms for Peace.