There’s always a brief beautiful moment after a tragedy when everyone behaves themselves. I am not someone who easily cares about events that happen to strangers, but I was genuinely touched by the outpouring of grief and of human kindness that came in the wake of the Orlando shootings. People spoke passionately and intelligently about gun control, about homophobia, about Islamophobia, and about the ramifications Orlando could, or should, have on each. I remember the week after 9/11, when people would stand aside to let you get in the subway; I remember, more recently, the solidarity of purpose that swept the internet for a day or two after Charlie Hebdo.
I also remember how, by day 2, the conversation had turned to fantasies of why Charlie Hebdo “deserved it” because its humor was, after all, offensive. We always bounce back to our primary talking points; and our talking points are generally (of course) self-righteously hurting people and signaling our demographics.
I probably should have figured out what was going on with the collection of pro-massacre tweets I linked to yesterday, but I still had rainbows in my eyes. Then came fb people sneering at their friends who had not written about Orlando; then came the desperate signaling as people pre-emptively posted: “I haven’t written about Orlando, but that’s not because I don’t care rather it’s because I care so very very much and have been paralyzed with grief don’t hate me.” Then of course we passed around a series of more-or-less similar articles (I didn’t read all of them) in which writers realized they could straight up invent a bunch of rules and demand other people follow them. This one’s by a straight ally hilariously writing about how straight allies shouldn’t hog media attention. This one’s particularly bossy, and has the grim humor to take the title, “Dear White, Hetero, Cis People: Please Don’t Co-Opt This Tragedy,” while co-opting a tragedy to satisfy the writer’s human need to exercise power over others.
Not all of these articles are bad or wrong, and some of them are useful! (Not those last two.) But all of them are attempts to exercise power, and all of them, when we share them, let us signal our virtue, or more precisely let us signal our membership to that group of progressive types. Perhaps we signal that we are allies, and congratulate ourselves for stepping aside and letting others speak. How cunningly we signal that we have failed to signal!
And of course we need to shame people from other demographics. The idiot (I censored out his name) pictured at top is getting passed around in uncensored form (he’s being shamed on Blue Lives Matter, of all places) including the colophon: “Whoever in VA please find this mofo and …..Ima leave it at that (u know what to do).”
The idiot’s post is, of course, an implicit threat; we have countered with an equally implicit threat. When we do it, though, it’s justice! We’re good people when we hurt strangers. We only hurt strangers who say something we dislike. We only hurt strangers who are different from us.
Every post anyone has ever made about Orlando is a signal, and I don’t want anyone to get the impression that signaling is somehow bad; it is inevitable. For a while, though, it looked like we were going to choose to signal our common humanity; for a while it looked like we were going to counter hate with signals of love.
But that was then. Now we’re back to power struggles and ostracization and preening and calls to violence. It’s hate all the way down.