Knee-Jerk

I honestly, honestly don’t want this to sound like a rant post, but there’s really only one fitting way to begin it: People are annoying. Not the ones around me, mind you, or yourself (one of the few folks to actually follow this ill-updated thing), but the people everyone is talking about. Or, rather, the “everyone” who does all the talking.

It seems like every week, the Internet Lynch Mob grabs its gear and storms the Online Public Enemy Number One, from Blair Carabuena (to whom the mob severely overreacted, poor guy) to Tito Sotto (a fraudulent old coot who actually deserves a lot of the criticism going his way) to Nicole Ki (whom I can actually kind of relate with on the newness of a jeepney ride, considering the only one I took prior to college was a school-sanctioned one when I was around 6 years old).

To be perfectly frank, all this outrage exhausts me. It’s like social media these days is a Babel Tower of rabble-rousers who yell without listening. Whatever happened to giving people (except Sotto, since he’s been lying for quite some time now and arrogantly waves his Senator-penis around to “thwart” his critics) a fair shake? What happened to seeing both sides of the story before passing judgment? Why are people so eager to bash?

I’ve been blog-quiet as of late, choosing to be opinionated about these matters in 140 characters or less. I have to admit that it’s been real tempting to post here recently, but I figured all I’d end up doing was add to the noise. I’ve been as angry and confused and amused as everyone else; there’s nothing new I’d bring to the conversation.

And then I saw this on my Facebook feed.

If you can’t read it (or if the author took it down), in it we find someone who, after curtailing his teenage daughter’s attempts to read Fifty Shades of Grey and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, entertained the thought of an MTRCB (a local regulatory/censorship board for movies) for books. BOOKS! I couldn’t stay quiet about this.

Several critics already took to commenting on his post, pointing out two tried-and-tested arguments against Bible-based outrage (the author appears to be very religious) on books: 1) That parents shouldn’t leave the management of their kids’ media and literary exposure to external structures (i.e. Be a fucking parent, man); and 2) That the Bible itself ain’t squeaky-clean, what with all the sex and violence and gore going on in its pages. They’re good arguments, and ones I’d make myself if someone hadn’t beaten me to the punch. What I wanted to add – originally, at least – is that censorship is contrary to the nature of morality.

See, there’s one major difference between my concept of morality and that of the local Catholic Church: I don’t give a single fuck about innocence. It’s nothing to put on a pedestal. At least, not what appears to be the Church’s definition of innocence.

I’m no catechist, but I’d wager that their definition is skewed by the concept of Original Sin. Ever since Adam and Eve took bites off of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, we’ve been doomed to a sinful existence. Baptism, I’ve been told, is supposed to relieve us of that burden, as is continuing to live under the guidance of God.

The problem I have with that little bit of dogma, however, is that it implies that simply having knowledge of what’s good and what’s evil makes one sinful. Yes, Adam and Eve disobeyed God – which I’m told is a big no-no – but every good Catholic-raised boy and girl also knows that the tree that granted them said knowledge was the only tree they were forbidden to eat from. It’s as if knowledge in itself leads us to sin.

Slingshot thousands of years into the future, and that small implication appears to have been bastardized into the idealization of innocence – those without knowledge of evil can do no wrong, and are therefore the purest among us. The problem is, that’s not innocence at all; it’s ignorance. Innocence is a state of having committed no wrong, while ignorance is simply an absence of knowledge.

Shielding one’s self from knowledge of evil is a dangerous practice because of that very fact. It’s possible for someone with full knowledge of both good and evil to maintain his innocence – in fact, that same knowledge may help him in this endeavor. Knowledge allows us to analyze a situation and discern what could bring about the most good. It gives us the power to make a conscious choice to do good in the face of evil. Heck, Jesus himself was tempted by the Devil, and he turned out pretty fine.

On the flipside, ignorance can be misconstrued as a petty excuse for performing evil. I can take money lying on the table without knowing that it was meant to be spent on my father’s diabetes medication. I could have stolen without full knowledge of the act, and possibly worse. While my conscience may technically be clear, that doesn’t erase the fact that someone could be suffering because of my ignorance. And yet, a chunk of Philippine society seems to be okay with this. Tito Sotto himself tried to pass off his latest act of plagiarism as an honest mistake – he simply didn’t know that the words he spoke were those of Robert F. Kennedy translated into Tagalog. “Oh, he didn’t know,” I imagine folks thinking to themselves, “I guess it’s fine. He meant no harm.”

Except, of course, harm was done to the spirit of intellectual integrity. The very least he could have done was own up to his mistake and apologize, but he rode out his ignorant “innocence” and ran away laughing. If that’s the way we’re going to define “innocence”, we’re in deep shit.

Going back to the man who wanted a censorship board for books (BOOKS!!!), his position is clearly in the “Ignorance is Good” camp. He wanted to protect his daughter from the knowledge of sex and drugs and rock n’ roll, and wants the government to have a hand in this action. Never mind, of course, that his daughter could very well have been doing the nasty long before she got her hands on the book.

The tragedy of this whole thing was that this father completely missed out on a teachable moment. If that were my daughter, I wouldn’t have lost my shit over the debauchery in 50 Shades of Grey. I’d get a little peeved that she wanted to read such a shoddily-written turd of a book, but not about the subject matter. Every kid’s got to learn about sex some day, after all. What I’d have done was read the book with her and talk to her about what’s right and what’s wrong with it. I’d have taught her that while sex is a perfectly normal – and fun – act, the character in the book is putting herself in a bunch of risky situations. I’d take the time to discuss the finer points of safety with her, including the consequences of doing it too early, with the wrong guy, and all that other stuff.

What I wouldn’t do is hide away something she’d already read, is probably confused about, and might want to try out because of adolescent curiosity. I’d rather my daughter was fully informed about sex rather than go about it like a blindfolded monkey feeling its way through. I can’t control her, but I can do my damned best to make sure she knows what she’s getting into. She might end up learning something valuable from her old man, to boot.

As I mentioned earlier, the “Knowledge versus Ignorance” argument was the original point I wanted to make. I read through his entire note one more time, however, and noticed something else that should be said; something that all that talk earlier about the Internet Lynch Mob is finally related to. See, in his haste to type out his note, the father referred to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” as “The Perks of a Wallflower.” Twice.

It was a hastily-written note (or, at least the part of “Wallflower” was), and likely a knee-jerk reaction to the books his daughter sort of read. All this agony was over an idea that probably seemed well-thought out, but was lacking in analysis due to emotional urgency. He saw something he found wrong and immediately posted his thoughts for the world to read, without first pausing to see what his daughter was thinking.

Isn’t that what the Internet Lynch Mob has been so good at, these days? Split-second reactions that snowball into the posting of personal details on social networks and the hate-texts that follow? Poorly-done “memes” that ridicule drivers who very understandably drove into a flooded street because it’s hard as fuck to see just how deep that water is from a car’s vantage point? Claims of elitism from a clearly-sheltered girl who, for once, saw something positive – albeit rather melodramatically – in an experience thousands of individuals absolutely hate?

Maybe we can all slow down a little and make room for discourse. Maybe we can learn to listen to other sides for a change. Maybe, just maybe, we can put the pitchforks down for once and make social media the bridge-builder it’s always had the potential to be. We all just need to calm the fuck down.

Except against Sotto. I fucking hate that he’s in the Senate. He needs to go.

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2 Responses to Knee-Jerk

  1. Todd the Liber says:

    We live in an information age. The harsh reality of living in this age is we all must test our reality of ideas in the only way we can, (unless a technological singularity pulls us into layers of information we can not understand, only stand in awe) which is by bouncing our reality into the realities of other people.

    Your views seem fairly well grounded in western religion, with ideas of good and evil, God and man, ignorance and innocence, which are all valid ways to look upon the world if you happen to be a hairless ape wondering where all your rocks went after the end of the stone age.

    I think the worst part about living in America in the information age is that almost everyone these days has a stick up their ass about being right, in the know, knowledgeable, or well read.

    It seems to me that the “sin” people are most worried about is being proven wrong, unintelligent, or just plain stupid. People seem interested in only making sure everyone understands the correctness of their stance, which is almost always well rooted in emotion and has lost all but the last vestiges of logic or good reason.

    Look at all the tv shows today filled with all these CSI people who can read information all is mortals could never get from some mundane object, or Dr. House, or the other countless shows like these. These are the Heros of the information age, we like these Heros because they play into the deeply embedded desire we all share to be that smart or aware in our ability to understand.

    I think this is what is driving us to grab the torches and pitchforks as we ready to storm the castles of idiots that want to ban the books as the answer to the ideas that may spoil their wallflower. And if there is one thing we should have learned from history, it is that man is rarely at his best when his blood is up talking about the evils others do. However, the wise will continue to chronically write down the events hoping that the next age will do a little better than what we did, and then we find that last thing escaping Pandoras Box, hope, the only thing we really are left to cling to as we live this life,

    • I’d just like to make it clear that I don’t necessarily subscribe to religious beliefs – I was merely working within the father’s religious framework to better illustrate my points as related to his views. It’s in listening to and speaking in the other’s language that we learn to connect, after all.

      Regarding your points, I don’t think concepts of good and evil, and of innocence and ignorance, are bound to religion. “Good” consists of what is beneficial, and “evil” the detrimental. I acknowledge that this can be relative to the viewer, but surely a mean can be achieved within the confines of a society, or even a partnership. We wouldn’t be able to co-exist with others if it weren’t for this undefined average otherwise.

      As for innocence and ignorance, they’re truths separate from religious ideas. I’ve defined them more appropriately in the post itself, so I won’t bother repeating myself here.

      I can’t say for certain that I know what it’s like in America, but it sounds like we’re in the same situation here. The senator I mentioned profusely in the post is one of those people. There are a lot more where he came from. I have to say, however, that although emotion can often lead to irrationality in the light of reason, a balance can certainly be achieved between feeling and thinking. Emotion fuels cognition with passion, and emotion can often give purpose. The folly of a lot of people (myself included, at times), is that we often get carried away with either extreme.

      The conclusion to which you’ve arrived is rather bleak, in that you end by saying hope is all that’s left for us to cling to. We have the means to affect change and achieve harmony; all we need is the willingness for people to work on it. An idealistic thought, yes, but a shade greater than hope. Incidentally, this is where emotion can come in handy – hope and the drive to realize it are driven as much by emotion as they are by logic, maybe even more so in darker times.

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