Sadly, we live in an age where everything made public is now at risk of being dragged down into the mud of rank partisanship and politicization. That’s one downside of the web. News everywhere is instant and it travels the world over in the blink of an eye. People turn passionate, get angry, form partisan opinions–which is often just confirmation bias–before all the facts are even gathered, let alone dispersed. And then, sadly, the same folk gang together into political and cultural tribes, spewing contempt at others with differing opinions. There’s often a mob-like quality of raining down insult on anyone who diverges the least a little bit from what others see as today’s pro-forma opinion.
We saw this situation arise during the last two weeks in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. In an editorial in the New York Times, Hollywood actress Mayim Bialik, known for her roles in "Blossom" and "The Big Bang Theory," wrote about efforts she took to survive Hollywood without encountering sexual assault. As a child star, she had learned to be hyper-conscious of the ways in which the culture of predation in Hollywood worked. Nevertheless, when she wrote that one of the pre-emptive steps she took to protect herself was dressing modestly, she was harassed and shamed for this opinion until she offered a public apology and a retraction. In other words, she dared to write a few common-sense ideas that go against current conventional wisdom, which is that men sexually harass and women never have agency to stop this by any behavior of their own. To say otherwise, according to this politically correct opinion, is to victim-blame women who were unfortunate enough to be assaulted. And let the men off the hook.
Unfortunately, there are many situations where this is entirely true. Yet, in other situations, women do possess agency to act to stop harassment. Even if it is just at the margins, isn’t it better to play those odds than to play none at all? To take no advice about how to help yourself? To have no self-awareness about how to effect situations where your input or behavior is going to matter? We are all in the business of wanting to protect ourselves and live safe, happy lives, so why reject utilitarian advice about approaches to take that might help you, in favor of a utopian world that none of us will ever live to see?
The same differences of opinion apply to people on the two sides of legal gun ownership. On the one side, there are people who want to possess an extra margin of safely in the event that criminals aggress upon them and no police presence is at hand. It is simply a way to have that extra width of safety to protect yourself. Personally, I believe this is a great way for women to help themselves in bad situations. I also think girls should have some training in self-defense as part of their education as a way to increase their safety in the non-utopian world we all inhabit. It’s prudent. Yet I know full well that not everyone will want to do this.
And so it goes. These days, interest groups share less in common in terms of agreed-upon standards. So many values have shifted so swiftly and other ones are already under attack. It was always thus, but the internet has speeded up the process, so that our national dialog often seems like a bullet train falling off the track and hurtling down the side of a mountain at the speed of light.
As a kind of antidote to this widespread and depressing pattern, General Kelly gave the Washington press corps a very refreshing dressing down last week. Earlier in the week, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson had blasted President Trump for what she described as an insensitive phone call to the widow of one of the four senior Marines recently killed in Niger, which created a press feeding frenzy; in response, General Kelly drew a red line in the sand against the cheap politicization of a soldier’s death, no matter how much you hate the president. His appeal went out to all of America, “Let’s not let this last thing that’s held sacred in our society—a young man or young woman going out and giving his or her life for our country—let’s try to somehow keep that sacred,” he said.
It was a heartfelt appeal that hit home for many Americans as a sensible return to basic decency. And yet, the congresswoman replied by calling him racist. And New Yorker magazine posted an article the next day suggesting that this was a preview of what a military coup would feel like in this country.
And so the madness continues.
Mara Schiffren, a Campus Watch Fellow, is a writer and functional medicine health coach who lives in North Salem. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org