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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Ani and Michelle

The myth “It matters what people think of me” is one of the things I am out to shatter, primarily because it has kept me shut down and unable to do anything without The Interior Critic going nuts. So, here is my first mistaken commentary on public issues on the last day of the year.

What Ani DiFranco did was thoughtless and dumb. However, the explosion over it (which is largely on the Internet, and not in real life) was way out of proportion. In March, Michelle Shocked got on stage and told her audience, “God hates faggots.” She has come up with all kinds of intellectual didoes and explanations to brush this off, but it didn’t work. Her career is dead.

And rightly so. Because what she said, she said directly to offend people. She deliberately expressed a hateful opinion to a group of people in order to offend them, in the name of her God, because she honestly believes, at heart, that homosexuals are going to Hell. In spite of the fact that she built much of her career representing herself as queer, and deliberately built her audience by playing to that demographic. Basically, she went out on the stage of Yoshi’s in March and spat in everyone’s face in the name of her God. That’s pretty goddamn awful.

Ani DiFranco did not do that. She did something dumb. She booked a venue without checking it out first, or she let one of her people do it without checking it first. When she got the fiery feedback from the audience, she cancelled. If you don’t like her apology, or lack of apology, or whatever, then that’s your right, your absolute right. 

But she did not deliberately do it to offend people or alienate people. However, a lot of people – and again, most of these are on the Internet – took it as if she had deliberately set out to offend people and attempt to rewrite the history of the USA. That was not the case. 

And looking at it from outside, it seems to me that the people who are reacting against what Ani did are taking way too much pleasure in it. There is too much relish and too much glee in the outburst of politically correct self-righteousness on this issue.  I am not denying that Ani did something dumb, and that it shows that she needs to think about some things when it comes to privilege and history. But the aggressiveness and the viciousness of the reaction is a little frightening. 

“So you’re saying it’s OK because she didn’t mean it?”

Nope, not saying that. It’s not OK. But intent counts for a lot.

Michelle Shocked intended to alienate her audience, for her God’s sake. Ani DiFranco screwed up without meaning to. If we disregard intent, then we end up painting ourselves into a corner. Do we want to put all acts on the same level? Wouldn’t that be a bit like punishing every crime with.30-year jail sentences, no matter what? Jaywalking, homicide, theft…everything: 30 years flat. 

Ani DiFranco offended some people. But unintentionally offending someone is something that everyone reading this has done at one time in their lives. Actually, probably more than once, if we are going to be honest. It feels like shit when you know you’ve done it.

It also feels like shit when somebody says something offensive to us, whether they meant it or not. If they meant it, then I cut them out of my group of people that I pay attention to. If they didn’t mean it, I have a conversation with them and explain why what they did was offensive, and see if we can talk about it. If I say something that offended someone unintentionally, I listen and I apologize. 

That wasn’t happening in the discussions I saw online. I saw a lot of people venting a lot of anger and enjoying venting a little too much. Some of them were venting about how their heroine hadn’t made a good album in a long time. Some of the resentment came from people who are pissed off that she’s not angry at the world any more, that her dreadlocks are long gone and that she had the temerity to actually have kids and have a life instead of being their personal flag waver, heroine and leader of their revolution, and that was the real source of some people’s anger. You’re not who I want you to be any more, Ani. 

Never mind the fact that Ani has never turned her back on her ideals of equality and justice. (Unlike Michelle Shocked, who threw all of that in the trash can when she embraced Protestant fundamentalist Christianity.) From day one, she’s stayed consistent to the ideals of truth, justice and equality. She made a mistake, yeah. But do we want to use this to beat the crap out of her, or do we want to start talking about what the real issue is?

PS: Fuck me, man, I just spent an hour typing this and Kristen Becker already said everything I was trying to say, only better. Here’s the link:

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Gratitude List, 8/31/13

1) Grateful for my ability to write and communicate with people. I really enjoy being able to do this, especially when I can write something that gets my point across and helps people out in some kinda way. 

2) Grateful to have made progress in writing a song. Still working out the lyrics, which are going to take a minute (as they say down here). 

3) Grateful to help get the Sewing Room closer to completion by going to Target and getting stuff to continue making it happen. 

4) Grateful for a NEW PILLOW that won’t make my neck hurt, and grateful to be able to get rid of that dreadful Laura Ashley pillow that has about as much give as a BRICK. 

5) Grateful for my guitars and the ability to play them, which I did this evening and I will do more tomorrow. 

6) Grateful for this wine, which is helping me finish my day off well!

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Gratitude List 8/30/13

1) Getting up LATE. Not having to get up at all to go here or go there or do that or this or attend anything or see anybody. Sleepy sleep sleep sleep. Until I wake up. YES.

2) Serious progress made on Future Sewing Room. Things are being thrown out and will continue to be thrown out, in order to clear the way for K. to have a Space To Do Things In. I didn’t even really look at the stuff we threw out, it just went out. No more Attachment. Very good.

3) Lots of guitar playing and work on a new song, the first one in a long time. I am grateful for that ability, seriously. It keeps me sane.

4) Grateful to be sitting around and watching Broadchurch, Good Eats, and MurderDeathKill shows on Discovery ID with K.

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Gratitude List 8/29/13

1) Grateful that I have Friday off! I finished all my work for the week and my boss said, “See you on Tuesday!” Nice.

2) Grateful that I have friends who are willing to debate – civilly – when I vent on a post about how frustrated I am with the current madness in Syria and our government’s abreaction to same. I appreciate the differing viewpoints and the civility.

3) Grateful for K’s cooking skills: Roasted Cauliflower, Yes!

4) Grateful that someone hipped me to the Vivian Stanshall album, “Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead,” that has been my constant listening companion for the last month and a half. Great album from the Bonzo Dog Band crazy man that unfolds more as you listen to it more. 

5) Grateful that the dogs are getting better behaved as we work with them more. As with 99% of all misbehaving dogs, it starts with the owner. 

6) Grateful for interesting and funny messages during the day from people who keep things from getting too boring at work!

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Gratitude List 8/28/13


1) I am grateful that my LAC supervisor signed off on my papers, which means I will be able to renew my CIT status a month early. This is a big deal because I used to put stuff like this off. Not any more!

2) I am grateful I had the sense to go back to therapy and I am grateful I have a good therapist. She helps me look at things from a better perspective, and to talk things out until I can get it all straight in my head. I am definitely lucky to have found her.

3) I am grateful that people ask me for magical advice. It’s really good to know that people want to share their stuff with me and ask for my thoughts, and it is fun for me to dive into what they are asking and help them get where they want to go magically. And it’s also good to know that I am thought of as knowledgeable in that area; it gives me some confidence (although I do watch out that it doesn’t get to be Ego). 

4) I am grateful that I am finding it easier to find things to be grateful and appreciative for. That wasn’t always the case!

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Gratitude List, 8/27/13

1) Grateful that the morning group has some strong people in it and they are really grasping some concepts. Today we did the whole three hours on Spirituality (not Religion, people) and they wanted to work through the break. Wow. I am definitely appreciative of that and the work they are doing.

2) Grateful to get really good messages from friends along the way when I am starting to feel ragged around the edges with the Gratitude Project. I’m grateful to know that it’s helpful to people. 

3) I am grateful to have a good bunch of weirdos to hang around at lunch, where we can discuss things like Monty Python, upcoming weddings, twerking, and Sour Twizzlers all in one session with funny voices and weird jokes about gelatinous people. 

4) I am grateful to the Pei Wei people for actually responding to a question I sent them in E-mail about how to work their online ordering site, which had me completely mystified. That makes it much more likely that I will continue to eat there!


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