Or perhaps it is more accurate to label it, “The Age of impudence.”
Not everyone has a sound or perceptive mind and the powers of expression needed to articulate its thoughts, but today, thanks to Social Media, no one escapes its malignant, magpie scrutiny.
Today everything is a “controversy,” because today everyone has a voice. “No one is exempt from silly things. The misfortune comes when they say them earnestly. They put themselves at great pains to issue trifles,” said the Roman playwright Terence. Today we have Whoopie Goldberg on The View lecturing the wife of New England quarterback Tom Brady because Whoopie took umbrage about something the wife said to their daughter about Tom’s loss at the Super Bowl. Apparently Brady’s wife wasn’t humble enough. Shaun White got savaged because he dragged the American flag after he won Gold at the Olympics. (That strikes me as a mistake, not a crime, but several critics still managed to throw a lot of sand.)
It used to be that nation states embodied their own ends. Today, ordinary people do. In the past, the multitude revered certain things – political or religious authority, great scholars, outstanding physicists, sculptors, painters, and builders.
These have lost their allure. Today what the average person admires is him or herself. Such people embody the definition “smug” – which means that you are happy with yourself as you are, with no need to improve or perfect, as the great Spanish philosopher Ortega points out. Such people see in their nature no limitations, no dullness, no shortcomings of mind or temperament or experience. They cede no authority to anything outside themselves. Success used to belong to the gifted. No more. Success today is due to popularity or fame. Anything that isn’t immediately accessible is dead in the water. Originality is overlooked, and complexity is an annoyance. If it doesn’t sound familiar, what merit can it have? Popularity judges things by their fame and extent. If it’s a best seller, it has merit because so many have bought it.
We used to respect linage, goof manners, grace, bodily carriage, wit and learning. No more. Today, we Americans live in a mass democracy. Our happiness does not reside in our intellectual exertions – our attempts to master history or science or enrich our minds by studying or art and literature. Such things seem foreign to us; they offer little excitement.
It is a bitter fact that with equality comes anarchy. No one subordinates themselves to any set of rules any more. Equality strips away prudent restraints. The dullest among us is free to insult the brightest. Why not? If you write or say anything that someone doesn’t like, they shoot their poisoned arrows at you. Some enjoy seeing you in pain. They feel pleasure at seeing you writhe. Your suicide amuses them. There are such people.
“Tis sweet when the sea is high and the wind is driving . To view from the shore, another’s anguished striving,” said the great poet Lucretius.
The point is that each of us now has become a target. Anyone with the I.Q. of shower-mold feels entitled to spray insults, nasty invectives, ridicule and mockery at everyone or anything that they do not like with little regard for the truth of the facts.
What entitles them to do this? Is it a superior temperament, a towering intellect, an extraordinary talent of understanding or wisdom derived from a vast and varied experience? In their lives did they exposed themselves repeatedly to great peril where they played heads or tails with their whole existence? Were they lifelong students who spent grueling hours in study in order to understand past civilizations and why they perished?
Sharing thoughts, exchanging ideas, relating and comparing experiences are a normal part of social life. The best way to learn about others or expand our view of life is to have others share their own minds and experiences with us. David Habakkuk, William Cumming, the Twisted Genius, and Pat Lang, have enriched my life by their expanding my own thoughts, correcting them when necessary, adding to them and improving them as well. In such discussions, we are all colleagues with equal rights and all of us are eager to learn from each other. There was no spirit of rivalry in these exchanges. None of us wanted to outshine or upstage the other. None of us demonstrated any hint of “win at all cost” when we talked to each other as equals.
Yet sadly, the times have changed. The idea of deliberating before you speak has been lost. Today readers are poised to correct and insult rather than add to the dialogue. They do not respect the effort a writer makes to organize his or her thoughts lucidly and coherently. The very fact that someone takes it upon themselves to write something offends them. Who do they think they are? Your thoughts and insights are not needed, because you have your own and they are superior to any rival. You appoint yourself the all powerful judge of the quality of other’s thoughts and ideas. If they don’t agree with yours, then the writer is a “complete moron.” He should know better then to speak.
Today we live in a world of bigoted fanatics. What is a bigot? A person who sees only one thing at a time, and who bases their verdict on seeing only a minute part of the picture. For them, there is no foreground, no background, no perspective. By definition, their minds lack balance and proportion. People with great mental limitations are almost always the most vehement and dogmatic in what they say. In their hurry to judge and seize on another’s flaws, they bulldoze the discrepant facts. The more ignorant people are, the more they think they are all-knowing.
Social intercourse is not supposed to be a merciless competition, but it has became that. Suddenly everything today is a matter of debate. Any statement can spark a quarrel or provide a target for the venomous. The least admirable among us seem to have the most to say. Make any statement and sharp arrows start to fly labeling you: arrogant, self-satisfied, spoiled –you can make your own list. The intent of these is not to improve your writing or thought, but to punish you for making expressing your observations.
What is a critic’s motive for speaking out? To inform, to add, to help and explain and make clearer? No. The intent is to trouble, slander, vex, crush, libel, and attack. Everyone these days has a hair trigger. The slightest jar to their self–complacency can set it off. Nothing restrains them, not honor or decency or justice or compassion. Annihilate – that is their aim. The virtues of an earlier world, contemplation, deep study, various contrasting experiences and exposure to different outlooks have been discarded. You may take your time pondering and, writing and rewriting, only to find a reader labels you arrogant or self-absorbed. And they are not? Are their minds are free from any such insufficiency?
It must be asked on what grounds do these critics promote themselves as the best judge and the fairest arbiter on the matter? What achievements allows one to do this? Is your intellect and intelligence so towering that you can discard courtesy, measure, proportion, thoughtfulness, tact and restraint? Is your purpose to satisfy your cravings of vanity so you have recourse to every species of imposture? Because these critics are often not what they appear to be.
The snide sniffing and scoffing and the belittling corrections are usually done by someone who is heartless, immature or poorly educated, someone deeply prejudiced or repulsively dogmatic, someone who is ill-mannered and who takes pleasure in inflicting cruelty. How can a society improve when the dullest are victims of the delusion that minds occupy the pinnacle of glory?
What is the cause of this incessant incivility? It is mass democracy.
Today everyone is equal. Never mind that mass democracy is made of up of the most numerous in our society which is the fool. The fool always thinks he or she is a mastermind. In fact, today such people admire little besides themselves. To feel superior when in fact your mind has obvious defects which you are too egotistical to try and correct makes you contemptible, but who cares? We are all equal. Any nail that protrudes from a flat surface has to hammered flat. That is democracy.
We have abolished classes, lineage, backgrounds, good breeding, distinguished ancestors etc., and as a result, each of us has the right to insult others just as they have the right to insult us. Of course, the people who suffer most in the age of impudence are the thoughtful, the forbearing, and the modest – people who detest inflicting humiliation on people who don’t deserve it.
The result is anarchy. What entitles people to be so dogmatic and rude, so bellicose and remorseless? What credentials do they have? But credentials don’t matter in our time. All you need today is a voice. If you can speak or type, you can ridicule. You can sneer, trouble, disturb, vex, bully, and oppress.
Any wayward bird can shit on any person’s hat. Does that make him an eagle? Apparently.
Schopenhauer once wrote that “..no one who has the right to live among men should discard any person who has his place in the order of nature even though he is wicked, contemptible or ridiculous,” Such an idea is the beginning of morality and tolerance, yet the ignorant ignore this. The idea never occurs to them.
The ignorant fire their guns when they are only half loaded. How many people deride what they haven’t properly understood? Prejudice stands in close alliance with ignorance. It is the habit of giving a quick verdict before you have carefully examined the case or the evidence. That defines Social Media.
What vexes me most in our public discourse is the pitilessness of it. In a mass democracy, any manifestation of talent is suspicious. It is not tolerated.Today, bellicosity, based on self-righteousness, reigns everywhere. The impersonality of the Internet means that any dull, half-cocked brain can say whatever he r she wishes without suffering any penalty whatsoever. Everyone is free to behave as they like and say whatever comes into their heads whether it is worthwhile or not. Wars of opinion have replaced Wars of Religion.
Of course one if the first signs of ignorance is the belief that you never suffer from it.
The Curse of Impersonality
The impersonality of the Internet has removed restraints that in the past were used to curb animosities and conflict – by that I mean good manners, good breeding, humility and considerate thought. These once held back unbridled people who had little self-control over their wits and conduct. Today the best among us are cowed into silence or are drowned out while the worst bray away like donkeys in pain. Didn’t Yeats say, “The worst are full of passionate intensity?” He was prophetic.
Do any of today’s harsh, glib critics ever sit down and offer a measured response by pointing out the defect of the reasoning of the writer without name- calling? Can they point out in a post what is intended to mislead? Have they become adept at asking or determining if there is any reason to think the writer’s beliefs are true? Is the goal of their critical efforts to make an impartial and dispassionate judgment? Have they learned to recognize or controlling their own biases. Do they attempt to view issues on their merits, able to grasp the relevant facts? Have they acquire the skill of weighing arguments, able to identify and question assumptions?
“Drop dead,” somone wrote recently. Does anyone truly deserve that kind of high-handed, annihilating judgment? Is the object of this abuse supposed to have no other choice but to crawl away and die? Would it not be far better, rather than name calling, to quietly observe instead? Why not respect and examine what has been said before you rush to rudely refute it?
The readers who like to jeer and insult should remember that their insults can be read in reverse. I was recently privy to a nasty exchange between a mother and a daughter who were quarreling. I was an old friend of the mother. The beautiful daughter was in the pocket of the father who loathed the mother after the two divorced. It was a stormy marriage. The husband had a mean streak, and the mother had a hot temper. The father was extremely handsome, charming, sexually promiscuous, a man who never told the truth in his life unless it was it gave him some advantage over others.
After the divorce, it appeared that through the years the father had assembled a diary of all the missteps the mother made as the daughter grew up. The daughter would often repeat these one-sided allegations to the mother as if they were Biblical truths. They never varied. The daughter was always accusing her mother of “not being there for her” or not loving her enough or neglecting her. I knew this was false.
But last year, the daughter, at the father’s prodding, began to quarrel with the mother again. She sent the mother nasty and demeaning emails. The mother many times tried to call the daughter on the phone, asking if they could talk, but the daughter always dodged her requests. She never once picked up the phone.
Then the emails began. In one of them, the daughter told her mom, “You never were honest enough to say that you were not a good person.” Then, in another, she said, “I have forgiven you and your weak and defensive response to me, but in that forgiveness, I chose to let go of you.”
What??? You forgive by banishing? Neat. What “weak and defensive responses?” The mother never had a chance to make a case. The entire exchange was entirely one-sided.
The mother was deeply hurt and in anguish, but all I could do was comfort her. She is a good-hearted and generous person who deeply loved her daughter. But one thing became clear to me – the daughter was a complete coward. She fought from ambush. She was a sniper who shot from long range. To inflict wounds in secret and never take responsibility for them is cowardice. At the mother’s request, I called the father, but he hung up on me.
When you behave like that and say such things, you may think you are harming your target, (and you are,) but what you are actually doing is writing your own self-portrait. What kind of person says such things? Are they factual? Even-handed? Fair? Compassionate? Reasonable? Do they exhibit respect for the facts? Are they faithful to the truth? Or are they intended to impugn, malign, hurt, wound, damage, and humiliate. Are they simply malicious?
What I Would Like to See
I think we have lost the art of putting each other in another’s place. We overlook the old idea of walking in another’s shoes for a while in order to gain further knowledge of them. Such efforts result in forbearance, sympathy, touching the heart and rousing it to aid and sustain rather than condemn.
I was in a hospital the other day for a test, and just outside my room, an elderly black lady lay on a stretcher. She could barely move or talk. Her daughter was there, anxious, trying very hard to do whatever was needed to attend to her mother whom she deeply loved. And suddenly I felt great warmth settle on my soul as I watched. I realized that all of us are god’s children,, deserving of respect, care and sympathy. I asked myself if the warmth I felt could grow and become pure and powerful, could it heal and make whole? Could it take away the suffering? That was what I wished.
All of us grow frail or weak or get diseases, and all of us have to die, which is what makes life so tragic. My impulse was to get up and go over to the old woman and hug her, and make her strong and make her frailty go away. I wanted god to give her back her youth and endurance and stamina because I realized that both of us were brother and sister in His eyes. At that moment, the old woman and I were equal in the truest sense of the word.
One last word: why not let our hearts go out to bless and save and strengthen rather than condemn. Is that so improbable?