According to all of my social media feeds, the year 2017 has been the worst in human history. By a mile. Everything’s on fire and is only going to get worse and if you’re not out in the streets you’re part of the problem. I’m probably not alone in this. This is something that liberals and conservatives of all shades of intensity can agree on. Everything is the fucking worst. If you’re on the left, the gaping black hole centered on the White House is sucking American discourse into its fathomless depths. If you’re on the right you’re under constant, unrelenting attack from all manner of nebulous monstrosities of the modern world. Imagine Donald fucking Trump being the one bright, shining beacon of hope in your otherwise dismal world view. Anyway, wherever you place the blame, 2017 is an unrelenting, screaming nightmare and it’s only a matter of time before we all just drop dead, probably because of something the other side Tweeted. You know, I tossed that sentence off as a joke, but I guess we live in an era where what passes for the President compulsively Tweets antagonistic “thoughts” at nuclear-armed foreign leaders so that’s a real concern. Shit. Okay, let’s regroup.
There’s a very real disconnect between how the Internet perceives reality and how individuals perceive reality, which can be chalked up to the disparity between a sense of shared national community and a more concrete reality lived in real time. In other words, 2017 is probably the best year in human history, all things considered. Just from a day-to-day perspective, things are most likely better for more people than they were in 2007, or 1997, or 1987. There’s plenty of inherent biases working to lead us to believe otherwise, of course, depending where you reside on the political spectrum. If you’re on the left, we’re looking at a very real regression of progress made under the previous administration. If you’re on the right, the current administration is a hastily assembled bulwark against the unremitting degradations of American culture. Either way there’s a bit of obfuscating nostalgia at work that makes things seem worse than they are. None of that changes the fact that we are still, somehow, someway, pushing our way forward as a society. It’s messy and painful, and it happens in fits and starts, but it happens.
One of the many dire things jamming my various timelines full of morose, depressing news in 2017 has been the plethora of sexual assault/harassment accusations and reprisals. I know I’m expected to get outraged each and every time someone else goes down. Just today – Wednesday, November 29th if you’re coming to this later – Matt Lauer of the Today show is the latest in a long line of politicians and entertainers getting outed and terminated as a creep. I am very much not outraged by this news. I just don’t have it in me. Further, I don’t think anybody should be outraged. Now, let me be as clear as I can be: instead of being loudly outraged, we need to be clinical. This is difficult, because the topic is deeply rooted in emotions, and it’s super easy for me to talk about because I have no first-hand experience with sexual assault. Individually, feel how you feel. That’s obvious and not what I’m talking about here. As a social whole, however, we’re at a moment of potential change in the status quo. It’s a tenuous moment, but with each new accusation with actual consequences, the closer we get to changing things for the better.
Let’s try to illustrate this a little better. I mentioned Lauer, so let’s roll with him as an example. At this moment we have no real details, nothing concrete about his behavior other than someone complained and his employer believed there was enough damning evidence that they termed him. That’s great. Of course I’m sorry for what the accuser had to go through, and I admire the strength of character it takes to come forward, but at the very least it outs another creep. Toss Lauer aside. Put him in the bin with Weinstein and Spacy and C.K. and all the rest. The reaction shouldn’t be surprise or shock – this relationship between sexual harassment/assault and power is a known quantity. It should be clear that people in positions of power have ambition, and that many times those people have a looser moral code than others to achieve that power. That doesn’t stop at advancing their career. If you’re used to getting what you want, that extends to sex as well. So yeah, not a shock that these guys are gross. Our reaction should be – and to a certain extent has been – to cut ties and discard them. If we’re going to embrace this moment of reckoning, a certain amount of ruthlessness is needed.
This kind of ruthlessness runs contrary to commonly held ethics and values, however, which makes taking a hard line an uneasy experience. For instance, I happen to believe in rehabilitation and shades of grey and the concept of innocent-until-proven-guilty. The suggestion that someone is accused of a crime – or in some cases not even a crime but inappropriate behavior – should immediately be cast aside is troubling. But we’re at the moment in our social history where it must be done, and that’s because of a very entrenched status quo. Believing accusers and removing the accused from power has to be done if we’re going to move forward in creating a society where this kind of behavior isn’t expected and allowed. While I think people can and do change for the better, in these instances it doesn’t really matter. They got to where they were under the old paradigm, and there are still plenty of people in similar positions who did not abuse their position. They had their moment and it was ill-gotten and I never want to hear from them again, especially if I used to like them (hard look at Louis C.K.).
The shades-of-grey issue is a tough one for me, because part of discourse is subtlety and nuance and black-and-white thinking is antithetical to how I see the world. Like there is a clear and obvious difference to me between, say, Harvey Weinstein and Al Franken. In this moment we can’t really afford to take that difference into account. From my observations, most rank-and-file liberals seem to understand that. Many, many progressives are calling for Franken to step down, and I’m one of them. Yeah, we know, all things considered what Franken did isn’t as bad as what most of these other guys did. But it’s also clear that the Democrats are fucking this up by trying to parse these shades of grey. Now is not the time, and Franken clearly needs to take this one for the fucking team because by wavering and stalling and parsing words with mealy-mouth apologies it looks to all the world like hypocrisy. If this is going to be a moment of change, we simply can’t afford to get caught up parsing terms and being cagey about “our own.” If anything we need to be more ruthless with those called out on our side.
The consequences of not doing so are clear when we consider the case of noted flaming pile of semi-human garbage Roy Moore. Look, I’m all for civility in discourse, but this guy ceded all notion of respect long ago. Anyway, this cretin is going to be a Senator. If you’re not somehow not aware, he’s been accused by something like six different women of making hugely inappropriate sexual advances toward them when they were minors. As in he tried to ply a 14 year old girl with liquor and tried to date 16 year olds when he was in his 30’s. That’s. Disgusting. Remove the politics from the case and pretty much anyone would agree. Yet here we are, and he’s almost certainly going to be elected. And it’s partly because people spent too much time being outraged.
Look at the defense of this lyin’-ass bitch, this mouse of a man who would try and seduce a child. First and foremost: oh, it’s fake news. Flat denial, right? It’s so much easier to go through life if you don’t have to think about anything. Honestly, why do you think Fox News and the like have been so successful? They’ve spent 20 years telling their audience that literally every single other news outlet is untrustworthy, and for the most part they’ve succeeded in their messaging. When these accusations first came out, most people who have their brain and/or morality intact were rightfully disgusted. But wait, the Washington Post broke the story. Never mind that the allegations have all been corroborated, never mind that the reporting is solid. None of that matters, because for a significant portion of the audience, the Post is not real news. Full stop. And for a significant portion of the Alabama electorate, that’s enough. Any further outrage from the left is just so much noise. Now, if Democrats were more clinical in cleaning out their own house, perhaps the case against Moore would be stronger. As it is, it has simply reinforced Moore’s position. At this point liberal outrage has become the desirable result for conservatives.
The right is extremely comfortable with hypocrisy, because they’ve accepted a world in which their viewpoint is not challenged. If every single other perspective is a fantasy, which is the implication of the term “fake news,” then only their view is reality. Once you do this, you don’t even have to surrender your moral code. It’s important to remember this. People are going to vote for Roy Moore. Lots of them. Like, he’s gonna win. Pretty much nobody doing so is “making their peace” with the fact that he’s a pedophile. That’s not the line of thinking, because to them it’s not a fact, so they haven’t violated their moral code. Trolling for underage girls is still wrong and reprehensible, they’re still good people, and somehow liberals are even worse for committing to the lies and slander. Yes, if you’re an outraged liberal you’re committing to this bit in order slander an innocent man. The louder and angrier you are, the more these people are entrenched in their belief of innocence. When you’ve decided to believe a man like Moore or Trump, regardless of the horrible reality swirling around them, you’re dedicated to that decision. No amount of loud, angry Tweeting is going to change that.
So what, then? This is what feels worst about this level of public discourse, I think. There’s a point where we have to accept that social change is excruciatingly slow and often painful. Wasting energy being angry at Twitter trolls and Fox News relatives is a by-product of that. A clinical detachment from the accused helps, to a point. It sucks when someone whose work you’ve appreciated goes down, but not as much as the person they’ve violated while keeping their privileged position. Politically, if we dispassionately keep our own house in order it’s a lot easier to cast the opposition in a darker light and maybe – just maybe – shame some people into crawling out of their fantasy kicking and screaming into reality. Like, we should have thrown Bill Clinton in the garbage years ago. That’s the past, though, and going forward we simply need to hold people accountable. Maybe someday, in the dim distant future, we’ll be at a place of greater equilibrium and we can start taking shades of grey into account.
In the meantime, it’s totally okay to take a break. There’s a new cause every single day, which makes it hard. Between the unending fight for equality, and taxes, and healthcare, and net neutrality, and the sexual harassment reckoning, and every Trump tweet, and the attack on public lands, and every other damn thing we have to worry about, being an active member of society is exhausting. There’s simply too much to be angry about, and after a while that outrage can be toxic. The instinct is to withdraw entirely, and that’s how causes are lost. Giving up is how the libs are actually owned. The solution to giving up is, of course, to pace yourself. You ain’t gonna save the world in a day, and you don’t have to get up in arms every single day. Momentary escape is not only okay, but required if we’re going to be here for the long haul. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have campsite with adorable animals to attend to, and this cool tent ain’t gonna build itself.