manufactured outrage and the death of words

I think a lot of online “daily outrage” sites have fostered the belief that reading about an issue is the same thing as doing something about it.

The corollary to that belief is that posting messages about an issue is as effective as talking about it (with other people, live, in the flesh) or doing something about it (in conjunction with other humans, with your own two hands).

I think these beliefs are mistaken, just a bit.

I read Jezebel probably too much, but there are a lot of daily outrage sites and a lot of daily outrage issues besides that one. Too many, actually.

What got me thinking about this was the re-emergence of the Dylan Farrow molestation charge against Woody Allen. After Allen received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, Dylan Farrow wrote a letter to the New York Times where she outlined what had happened to her. In short she states that she was sexually molested by Woody Allen.

On Facebook there was then a massive reposting of links to the Dylan Farrow story and yards of commentary, arguments, articles in response, articles in rebuttal to the responses and general decrying of child molestation and Woody Allen, with people declaring him innocent and saying that Mia Farrow is nuts and trumped this up. Or they wanted him hung and burned at the stake in public. And around and around we go.

And it occurred to me that none of this has anything to do with reality, and none of all that discussion accomplishes anything at all.

As a counselor I have worked with abused children and adults who were abused children. I have no sympathy with Woody Allen. I do not discount Dylan Farrow’s testimony. I want to make that clear up front.

But what exactly did having the entirety of Facebook go ballistic over this accomplish? What do all these website articles and posts in response and back and forth actually make happen?

Talking about it, and reading about it, did not make the molestation not happen. It didn’t lead to the authorities arresting Woody Allen and starting court proceedings against him. It got a lot of people all fired up emotionally, and it resulted in a lot of ad revenue for the “daily outrage” sites, which depend on clicks for their money. But other than that? Nothing happened.

“Raising Awareness” doesn’t count. Is there anyone who is not aware that children are abused and molested? Knowing and doing are two different things. In the book of James (yes, I’m quoting the Bible, deal with it) it is said,

“You believe that there is one God? You do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19)

The book of James was written as a letter to a bunch of lazy assholes who felt like it was enough just to believe and “have faith.” James is pretty scorching in his assessment of whoever he was writing to:

“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, faith without works is dead.”

At the risk of sounding very “get off my lawn,” I think we have a generation of people who honestly believe that reading about something – being aware of it – is the same as doing something about it. Awareness is nothing. It is faith without works. The devils also believe, and tremble.

Posting about it, or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook, or replying to online articles, gives the illusion of having accomplished something. It satisfies guilt and to some extent makes people feel better about themselves. “Look, I read this article about this issue online, and I wrote something in the replies that’s really gonna let them know what’s happening and what’s right!”

And that accomplished absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. Except making the poster feel better.

It’s all about the ego, as so much of the Internet is. Not healthy ego, but the ego that believes it is the center of the universe and that the worth of everything is defined by its relation to me.

In Alcoholics Anonymous they have a phrase for that: King Baby.

I’m not going to go in detail about King Baby, because it’s too big a concept to handle in this writing, but I’ll give you a link and trust that you’ll go read it.

King Baby feels gratified that he has “done something,” because he has settled the issue in his mind, and feels that his mighty word, issued upon the Intertubes, settles the discussion once and for all, and anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot or viper. Thus the endless arguments, reply after reply.

But what we are seeing is an exhibition of egos that has nothing to do with the actual issue and everything to do with the individuals involved in the argument “being right.”

“He’s wrong, and I am RIGHT! Child molestation is bad!”

Yes indeed, it is.

The devils also believe, and tremble.

What exactly have we done about child abuse and child molestation? Does our outrage extend all the way into action or does it simply stop once the almighty OPINION has been brought forth into the world?

We are a generation of people who believe that words substitute for action. We grew up seeing people substitute words for action. Presidents and politicians talk and talk and talk, but nothing really happens. People blabber and blabber and nothing ever changes.

In spite of all the pretty words spoken in the last 50 years, black and brown people still get treated worse than white people, and women still don’t get paid as much as men.

More recent generations are entirely Internet-dependent and have no concept of what it was like before the Internet existed. The Internet consists of words, not actions. It is inert. People discharge their obligations to care by posting or commenting, not by doing. It’s a way of alleviating guilt, or making themselves look good in front of others in order to impress them.

Unless we actually, physically do something with our hands, or talk to other people in the flesh, with our mouths, all of the online rage on this subject or that subject serves no greater purpose than to pay the websites that host the stories. They get paid when you see “What they did was HORRIBLE, but wait till you see what happened then!”  and click. That’s it. That’s all that happens.

You insured that another advertiser collected their paycheck.

That was it.

I have had the idea more and more recently that words are all bullshit, all worthless. Words are lies more often than not. It used to be that words illustrated visions or told stories, or at least that’s how I remember it. Now words are used to sell us things and tell us lies. Poetry and prose are shuttled off to the side. Instead we have ad writing and “creating content.”  They now have news stories on the commercials that ran during the Super Bowl. Which means that advertising is now news.

I don’t really give a fuck that Coca-Cola had all those kids singing America the Beautiful in all those languages. What was the ultimate message? Drink Coca-Cola, kids, it’ll bring world peace.

The fact that this was regarded as news, and that the responses of idiot racists were taken seriously, and that the whole thing was blown up into a “news story,” proves how impoverished we are.

We are barren. We do not bring forth. We are empty. We are dead. Our culture is meaningless, emptied out, dead. Belief and talk are all we have, and everyone talks, all the time, saying absolutely nothing.

Meher Baba was a guru who became popular in the 1960s. Pete Townshend followed him for a while and still may, for all I know. The thing that I found interesting about Meher Baba was that he quit talking in 1925 and remained absolutely silent until his death in 1969.  He said, a few times, through sign language, that he would break his silence to give The Word that would lead to enlightenment, but he never did.

I wonder if that signifies that there is no Word that will bring enlightenment.

I think more and more that silence is the only truth. Silence has no lies to tell, nothing to sell, nothing to believe or disbelieve. Silence cannot be argued with. We are so full of noise we can hear nothing. Silence is that nothing. In silence we are left with nothing but our thoughts revolving around one another, chasing their own tails. We have to see and hear our thoughts in silence.

I think this is why we are so noisy, why we distract ourselves in others’ problems, why we are a nation of Gladys Kravitz-es peering into the neighbors’ backyard, trying to see magick being made, and making none ourselves. We are afraid of silence. We are afraid to know who we are – and who we are not.


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