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The Social-Media Shaming Arms Race

On the malicious magic of mob justice

Reader Candles, responding to reader Ping Lin’s comments on the Petty Barbecue Tyrant story:

Ping Lin: “So the busybody harasser actually gets some social punishment instead of getting off scot-free? It’s long overdue.”

I think this is a horrible set of norms and deeply corrosive to small l liberal interactions generally. It’s basically elevating the worst kind of mob impulse…

BUT if this is where we’re going to go socially, I would like for you to explain for me what would be wrong with the following action on my part.

My wife is an English professor in a R1 university. My social circle includes a LOT of humanities and social science professors, who consider me friendly. They are not shy about loudly repeating outspoken opinions around me.

I am not, however, a white progressive. In fact, I am increasingly highly white progressive critical. I consider a lot of born again politicized wokeness as deeply illiberal and divisive.

Many of the people I know, though not all, often live up to the absolute worst caricatures conservatives repeat about arrogant, ignorant, sanctimonious, anti-christian, anti-white (though they all are white themselves), anti-rural, anti-conservative, anti-Western jackasses who have a profound contempt and moral disgust for the families who pay their bills and entrust their students with them, and who aren’t shy about using their class rooms to evangelize their politics, which are, for them, the primary arena for performing morality.

I spend a great deal of time in social gatherings biting my tongue and listening to people who really, seriously deserve a comeuppance. I probably sit through 5 or 10 stray statements per social gathering that would go viral via campusreform or other higher ed critical activist networks if I were to surreptiously record and upload them talking and verify the status of the speakers, who are all professors responsible for teaching plenty of students.

Now, I don’t do that, partially because it would be obvious it was me in smaller social gatherings, but mostly because that would be morally wrong and bad for society. I don’t think it’s the right way to deal with this problem, because any responses via social media would be highly disproportionate and unfair, and because, even though they are being jerks, they are not intending to be speaking on a public stage in that context.

But it seems to me that if we are going to abandon that older norm, of not yanking private citizens out of their local, thoughtless, private contexts and making global examples of them, then I would be a sucker to not record and share the worst of these professors to my hearts content. That would be the reasonable endpoint of all this, right?

I mean, I imagine that some people might object that, unlike the racist busybody, these professors I know aren’t actually doing anything wrong, and it would be horrible for someone like me to subject them to the whims of a hateful mob. But the magic of mob justice is, if I disagree, and I can find a mob who agrees with me, then your objections really don’t matter one whit, because this is between me, the professors I record, and the mob I can find as an audience.




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