Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reading Rainbow & the Fragility of Civilization

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was "Reading Rainbow". LeVar Burton would visit some interesting place where something happened or something was made, and have a conversation with the people who knew about it. This would all be interspersed with book reviews and a story from a book. Like good children's programming, it gave you this sense that you could do anything if you worked to learn about it. Likewise, I think this contributed to me loving Book Fairs in elementary school. I loved to buy Which Way/Choose Your Own Adventure books, and then science books about astronomy, volcanoes, dinosaurs or nuclear power. I was curious about everything.

Children's shows like Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Bill Nye the Science Guy (who was after my childhood, but totally fits) painted a great ideal picture of the adult world, where people proudly worked at what ever they did and were respected for the knowledge that work gave them. People had good intentions. I got a very positive, kind-hearted science and humanism vibe from these shows. Eventually you grow up and realize that the world is not like this, which is still a sad realization for me some 30 years after I first saw these shows. For the cynical and world-weary, growing up is all about realizing that the world we portray to kids in these shows is bullshit, always will be, and we should learn to deal with it. For me, they represent an ideal to which we should still aspire.

Readers of this blog can probably figure out by now that this blog is basically an expression of my continuing disappointment that the world isn't measuring up to these standards. One of the ways that disturbs me the most is when something happens that provokes people to respond in primitive, bloodthirsty way. It reminds me that we have some functioning social institutions, but there is this savage animal tribalism lurking just under the surface that, in a bad situation, could come out and tear everything apart. In my dream world, when someone calls for violence good people look at each other like, "Oh my! This person has said something beyond the pale. We are civilized people. For shame!" If the person persists, someone steps up and lays the smack down (umm... verbally).

Given the nature of the blog, you know what is coming: An example of what I'm talking about! This exchange from my Facebook feed illustrates how people can react to news of crime. People get outraged and want revenge. I think we can all understand that impulse, of disgust and anger and dreaming of violent revenge on someone who has done something awful to another person. To get all Star Wars, to me, relishing, fostering and inflaming that impulse is straight up "Dark Side". Be careful! Anyway... here is the exchange, with commentary:

Sick mutha Effin people in this Damn world! HANG THEM!

These two people have been arrested in South Carolina, accused of raping a 1-year-old girl in Alpine Township.
They await transport back to West Michigan to face charges.
Man 1: We need the damn death penalty.. Sick people
Woman 1: What is wrong with people these days! Ugh! I would love to be the judge and jury on this one.
This woman implies that "these days" are worse than older times. A common response to awful crime stories is to trot out this idea about a mythical past of goodness and degenerate present. As far as crime goes, the present is actually a good time to live. Since I've been born, homicide rates are the lowest they've ever been, for example. Also, while this is an awful situation, her attitude shows she is ill suited to being either a judge or serving on the jury. We all understand this impulse for revenge! Fight to keep your head!
Woman who Posted: Poor baby :( 
Man 2: sick fucks should die
Man 3: No judge no jury just linch mob save state lots of money
This guy's post perfectly illustrates the dangerous savage impulse I'm talking about. I've even heard such nonsense as "He doesn't deserve a fair trial!" in peoples' outrage at events. The way I see it:

  • Have a lynching: Result - An individual is beaten, possibly killed and tortured, regardless of their innocence or guilt.
  • Have a fair trial: Result - Guilty people still get what we as a society believe they deserve, with the side effect of not killing and torturing innocent people to satisfy our bloodlust. I consider this to be a pretty significant advantage...

Woman 2: Just turn them loose, and tell everyone what they did! 
Woman who Posted: I wanna hang him from his nut sack & then hang her from her fricken neck & cut her fingers off one by one & feed them to him one by one & then burn them both alive! They need to be tortured like this poor innocent baby was & the 14 year old, & how ever many more innocent victims of these sick evil f**ks! Thank God the 1 year old wont remember, but the scars will be there for life :( AND WHERE THE HELL WAS THE BABIES PARENTS???? How could they NOT KNOW from changing the diaper?? MY GOD, IT HAPPENED 2 TIMES! SICK & so very SAD :(

Whoa! Holy shit! If you are giving me graphic instructions detailing your torture fantasy in a public forum where everyone can see, you have fucking lost it. Compose yourself! Also, I find it distasteful that in your hysterical outburst you blame the parents for this, who no doubt feel like shit. You don't know the full situation. You should calm down and let the investigators and courts get to the bottom of this. Our outrage is unproductive. It doesn't help anyone or anything.
Man 2: it makes me so sad that I could kill 
Woman 3: A few hours with big old bubba
It is also shocking how often people, both men and women, will seriously or jokingly call for someone to be forcibly anally raped. Here is a moral lesson I have picked up, and maybe you have heard of it: Rape is wrong. Apparently this woman thinks it is appropriate to rape certain people on occasion. Groovy.

Me in response to Man 3: No judge no jury, just lynch mob? That is scary and dangerous. You need to prove that someone has done something before you punish them for it. Otherwise you can accuse people of awful things and bring a bloodthirsty mob down on them, whether they did something or not. Outrage and lust for revenge should never be permitted to win out over an impartial, fair trial.
I had to just call this out.
Man 3 in response to Me: Ben this is what's the matter with today's fucked up people they wrap it up in court long enough there lawyer will find a way to get them out of it wrong paper work something bleeding heart fuckers oh no can't have a death penalty bull shit is what it is people keep getting sicker and sicker start killing them stupid fuckers off then maybe the rest of them would wake the fuck up open your fucking eyes world 
Man 3 again: Sorry but pisses me off I have a lil girl anybody touches her in anyway sexual or physical I will kill ya!! 
Man 4: I agree Ben, but the article clearly states they have video evidence of them doing the crime. 
Man 5: dont hang them take them tovthe center of town and stone them to death 
Me in response to Man 4/all: Yeah, I agree it looks like a pretty open and shut case. When people get very angry and start advocating for justice like in Saudi Arabia or some backwater village in Afghanistan though and it creeps me out. Those countries chopping off body parts and stoning people in the town square hasn't turned them into crime free paradises. I associate that kind of justice with primitive hellholes I don't want to live in. I understand the primal impulse to want to hurt people like this though, because WTF is in their heads?
On one level, some could argue that these people are just blowing off steam, and I'm taking them too seriously. I admit that it very much could be. This little Facebook entry was not at all unusual. If you follow the picture to its source you will also find an endless stream of people calling for torture and for the justice system to be completely bypassed. It is like there was a civics class and everyone decided we should go with the opposite.

Is it silly of me to ask: What would Mr. Rogers think?

Please, let's try not to be ugly people, even if it can be hard.


(Update: Woman who posted, Man 3 and Man 4 have all "liked" my last comment. Maybe there is some hope... "Butterfly in the sky...")

No comments:

Post a Comment