Defending the indefensible
People do stupid things. I have done stupid things. And you, dear reader, have done stupid things. If we have no tolerance for mistakes, then we have no tolerance for humans. And if we use mistakes as a justification for hatred, then we will end up hate-filled and intolerant people, in a sad and hate-filled world.
Once upon a time, we were able to keep most of our stupidity restricted to a few unfortunate souls in our friend/family/work network, and those people were able to put our mistakes into context and often forgive us and move forward. But in the internet-age, mistakes can travel at the speed of light to millions of strangers. This is a new paradigm for making moral judgements, and sadly it seems the most common response has been to shower condemnation on people who make mistakes. Because these online mistakes are made by strangers (or worse, politicians), we feel free to be as cruel and hateful as we like. And so the “internet” seems to judge like a self-righteous prude that is without sin.
But we have all made mistakes. And the stupid people we see online are normal people just like us who are often deserving of forgiveness and a second chance.
I recently came across two examples of people making big mistakes, and then I read an avalanche of condemnation. I feel the need to defend these people… not because their actions were appropriate, but because their mistakes are well within the range of mistakes that normal people make.
In New York, a left-wing politician sent some “sexy” photos to a half-dozen women whom he was flirting with online. This was compounded by his lying about the incident. This politician also made the mistake of having the surname “Weiner”. Clearly this shows a lack of judgement, but the most likely outcome seems to be that the guy will lose his job, and his supposed friends are throwing him under a bus in their eager stampede to make themselves appear sweet & innocent.
I do not think a person should lose their job for a crude flirting fail. They deserve some teasing and the inevitable jokes that follow (as would be handed out among friends), but at some point the issue is supposed to die down and normal people can go about their normal jobs. This shouldn’t destroy lives. And the lying is very understandable if we hold politicians to human standards. Who in their right mind would want to admit sending sexy photos on national (and international) television? In a sane universe, the sending of sexy photos should be a personal issue, not an international political scandal that goes on for over a week.
On the other side of America, a young woman posted a youtube clip that showed her ranting against the “hordes of Asian” students who have their grandparents come and do their laundry and cook their food on the weekends, and talk on their mobile phones in the library, saying “ching chong ting tong ling long”. The video has gone viral, with millions of views, and thousands of outraged morally righteous guardians of virtue pronouncing their condemnations.
The girl in question has apparently received death threats, has a hate page on facebook, had her personal information published, her family harassed, has been ostracized from her university community, and has sparked thousands of responses — where “tolerant” people prove their tolerance by being full of hate towards the “dumb racist bitch”.
She has now dropped out of university for safety reasons.
Yes, her comments were racist, but they were within the bounds of “silly stuff that people say” on a daily basis. The response has been disproportionate. Can you imagine the same level of condemnation of a Chinese person had complained about white people in Beijing as “not having enough respect for their parents and for elders, having too many arguments, and talking loudly saying yadda yadda yadda… they should really learn Chinese manners”. Would we really go to pieces in a fit of outrage and start sending death threats and hound them out of university?
She was dumb to put the comments up on youtube and it was appropriate for her to apologise (as she has)… but now she should be able to move on without become world-infamous and the target of so much bitter self-righteous anger.
There seems to be a strange self-defeating logic to political correctness. With the noble aim of trying to make the world a more tolerant and harmonious place, people feel as though they have the “moral excuse” to be ragingly intolerant and offensive. So long as they identify a “naughty” person (such as a politician who sends crude pictures, or a white girl who stereotypes Asians) then PC-society has now issued an open license to be as cruel and offensive as possible, even if that destroys their life. No mercy. No forgiveness.
As an imperfect person, I don’t like these new rules. So to both Anthony Weiner and Alexandra Wallace, I say this — you did something stupid, and I forgive you. 🙂