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To what degree are you your brother’s keeper? No, not your brother by blood. Your fraternity brother. Your “brothers” at work. Your fellow members of any club, organization, or endeavor. To what degree does the behavior of those with whom you voluntarily associate confer on you a responsibility to act, and where are the lines drawn in a society as interconnected as the phone in your pocket, the tablet in your messenger bag and the laptop on your knees?
News outlets were abuzz recently as celebrity chef Paula Deen was pilloried for statements made years ago. In today’s modern world she was instantly and nearly overnight branded with the Scarlet Letter that ruins careers (unless you are a liberal Democrat): She’s a raaaaaacist. In less time than it takes the cab driver behind you to lay on the horn when the traffic light turns green, in less time than it takes Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi to race to the nearest camera to exploit a grisly shooting for more “gun control,” Deen was dropped by various business interests.
The double standard was obvious. Liberal celebrities like Jamie Foxx can talk about how neat it is to slaughter white people en masse in cinematic revenge fantasies and their careers are not adversely affected. Deen told the truth on the stand in a lawsuit, admitting to having used the dreaded “n-word” (a cowardly and politically correct euphemism that should disgust us as much as anyone who would use the un-censored form of that word as a pejorative) nearly three decades previously. Her career skidded to a halt. Michael Vick, meanwhile, continues to play football despite running an organized entertainment venture whose goal was animal torture and slaughter. It is an unfair world.
Deen’s high-profile case, however, is built on something our technologically connected, social-media-savvy modern world has made all the more critical: We are all responsible for our associations. On those occasions when we do react, we move with the speed of excited electrons. We distance ourselves from potential threats to our reputations. We must. All anyone need do to see who we consider an associate, who we consider a “friend” (at least insofar as the definition of that term has changed with the growth of social media) is look at our “friends lists,” at our “followers,” at those who choose, in a virtual world, to be linked to us, to see our thoughts, to comment on our trivialities, to “remember” our birthdays and be invited to our cookouts.
These are now all functions of our technology, of the media that connects us through that technology to countless other human beings who are, for all that they are “linked in” to us, ultimately alienated from any meaningful human interaction. When was the last time you spoke in person to your “top friends” on Facebook? Do you remember anyone’s phone number anymore? What about parties? Do you remember your friends’ birthdays, or do you rely on a little calendar icon, linked to Facebook or to Google or to some other network, to tell you about these things as they occur?
Yet even as we rely on our technology to forge these faux links between and among our real lives, our reaction time to adverse conditions among our “friends” is faster than ever. Deen is the most recent example. Word spread with the speed of thought across the Internet, where we get most of our news, that Deen was an unclean thing. Those tied to her in business responded to the pressure this was likely to create, in all likelihood before any real reaction or backlash could reach their online ombudsmen, their customer support lines, their feedback emails, their social media walls and timelines.
And, really, is this not exactly as it should be?
If someone does something we consider offensive – and setting aside for a moment the double standard that holds Democrats and liberals innocent until proven guilty (while declaring all conservatives guilty until proven innocent) – shouldn’t we react with swiftness to divorce ourselves from those whose conduct disgraces us by association?
Consider every field of human endeavor. In recent weeks, Technocracy has explored the ramifications of prosecutions for child pornography and the unique “trial by YouTube” of one accused man. Wouldn’t any reasonable person immediately cut social media ties, delete phone contacts, “unfriend” and “unfollow” any human being so accused – at least until innocence was established beyond reasonable doubt, and perhaps even well after if one’s own children are put at risk?
But let us extrapolate to less severe circumstances. We all belong to online clubs, to real-life organizations. Perhaps we train at a martial arts school. Maybe we’re part of a softball league. Perhaps we enjoy discussing books with fellow members of a book club. Maybe we associate with online gamers and those virtual lines are blurring into the “meatspace” of our day-to-day associations. Any of the people we meet online could become our good friends in real life. And any of them could, by their behavior, shame us and threaten us.
Even as we become ever quicker to punish political incorrectness, any real sense of shame we feel at misconduct by our fellow citizens is vanishing. A previous Technocracy column about the threat posed by child molesters was met by howls of outrage in email and at least one blog as – astonishingly – readers raced to defend pedophiles. Pedophiles! If we will defend the worst among us, should it be any surprise when a martial arts teacher does not care about the disgraceful bullying or criminal behavior of one his students? When organized sports don’t immediately and forever shun a man who tortured and killed animals for fun? When teachers who hector students with liberal talking points are not immediately fired? When our friends on Facebook and Twitter don’t unfriend acquaintances accused of any of several crimes, from minor to major, from understandable to horrifying?
The more connected we become, the less our connections mean. If we will not shun the right people for doing the wrong things, we will lose all concept of what “right” and “wrong” truly mean.