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Sunday, January 03, 2021

No One Escapes a Purity Mob

Last week, a man lost his livelihood after a short video clip of of his altercation with a Chinese woman in a parking lot went viral. He angrily told the woman to "go back to China," while the woman, filming the exchange with her phone, told him to "keep going, keep going." He then called her a racial epithet, got out of his car and began walking toward her (for a purpose that was not clear in the video), and, just before leaving, sneered, "thanks for giving my country COVID." 

The man was a personal trainer. After the viral video was picked up on many media outlets, it is likely that he will not be able to continue his business. Angry people on social media doxxed the man, sharing not only his name but his home address, presumably so that more personal and violent punishments may be exacted.

Some colleagues of mine who knew the man shared the video with me. None of them came to his defense. His actions, of course, were indefensible. Then again, most criminal defendants' actions are indefensible, too. And yet they are given a defense. Not because we sympathize with the defendant. But because we fear the power of the prosecutor, and so we seek to cabin the power he wields to establish a public fact, and to exact punishment for it, according to his own lights. This, we acknowledge, is a terrible power, and it needs limits.

Strange, then, that more of us do not similarly fear the terrible power of a mob to do the same, yet without any limits on the standards of its sense of justice, and without any limits on the punishments it may exact.

Strange, too, that none of my colleagues who knew the man seemed to acknowledge the existence of a role other than that of prosecutor-judge. I do not know if any of my colleagues considered themselves a friend to this man. Indeed, some of them shared they had suspected something amiss when they had known him. But surely there are roles in our social communities – not to be confused with "social media" – other than as prosecutors, judges, and executioners. Even should we not feel the compunction, or the courage, to stand against the mob, at least we might exercise a bit of stoicism and refrain from joining it: to not lightly leap, as Epictetus advised, to meet things that concern us not. 
We may imagine that those we know and who know us are filled with nothing but the milk of human kindness. But we know it is not so. Were we to cast each other out into the outer darkness for that which is just beneath the surface, without hope of mercy or understanding, we should all be, each of us, utterly alone. 
I should not like to find out what is beneath the surface. Much less to see every person pay the terrible and final wages that justice would demand for what lurks there. "I do not know what the heart of a rascal may be," said Joseph de Maistre. "I know what is in the heart of an honest man; it is horrible." I suspect many good men have uttered contemptible things at our neighbors in moments of "road rage," for instance. And as Jesus taught, we do not stand condemned merely for the ugliness that we allow to pass our lips, but even for the ugliness that we allow to inhabit our thoughts.

I feel sorry for this man, for, ugly and contemptible as he showed himself to be, now if he were to acknowledge his sin, what does a mob hold for him? In the law there is punishment, a debt which may be paid. Among his friends and family there may be understanding. In God there may be mercy. But in a mob there is only the promise of anger and hate. 
A mob, whether with pitchforks or with keyboards, brings only darkness and fear. It is not less than this sinner deserves. But there is darkness and fear for those who wear the executioner's hood, too. We should not eagerly volunteer for the position.

1 comment:

Fr William Bauer said...

The behvior of the judges mentioned here brings up thoughts of teen cliques, teen gossip and jumping on the "shame" bandwagon. The author is correct when he says there is no escaping the purity mob.

Christian ideas is simply is not allowed to show its ugly face, and perhaps we ought to begin again.