Inevitably, with every controversial event, the outrage flows. Umbrage is taken. People are pissed about what other people say or didn’t say, implied or didn’t imply, etc. People leap to “set the record straight” and defend the honor or this person or that person. Millions of words are sent to battle from every corner (and mine now join them).
So it is with the death of Kevin Ward Jr. who was hit and killed by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart.
The truth is ...there's nothing new under the sun, and human nature hasn’t changed that much from the time of Adam. People have always jumped to conclusions, passed judgments, taken umbrage, said stupid stuff, been cruel, ridiculous. I’m sure in 1776 you could have found the entire spectrum of what we see with Stewart/Ward about the Declaration of Independence.
The difference is that in 2014, it’s easier to hear them. Consider: in 1776, some guy with a wild-ass theory about what the Declaration is, why it was signed, what kind of conspiracy is at work, etc. goes to the pub and spouts off and maybe 20 people hear him. Even in 1955, same deal. People ranging from wise to idiot spewing, conclusion jumping, unfairness … but nobody hears it. What? The guy gets interviewed for the radio, TV or newspaper? Then maybe a between 10,000 and million see it. But what are the odds? Usually the crackpots and voices of reason alike have had a limited audience.
Fast forward to 2014. As we say in media studies, freedom of the press applies to anyone who has one. That is, if you have a press, you have freedom to use it. Nowadays everyone has a press. It’s called the Internet. Submitted: same level of spewing and idiocy and unfairness and conclusion jumping per capita as 200 years ago, they have a larger ability to be heard. Facebook, Twitter, free, super-easy-to-start blogs … everyone has a megaphone.
And yet …
So many people feel it’s their duty to launch into heated indictments of how society has decayed into a rot. Insert the retweets and congratulations for decency well defended. Just look at all the insane people spewing off about the Ward/Stewart incident! Case closed! Proof positive! Society is rotting and we’re all doomed.
Please. First, let’s do the math. If four million people watch NASCAR and just 0.1% (one tenth of a percent) of them have lunatic theories, that’s still 4,000 people. With 313 million people in the United States, if 99% are incredibly awesome and respectful, that’s 3.13 million idiots. There have always been crazies. If anything, social media gives us access to more countervailing, rational thoughts and theories we can use to counteract the crazies.
So what should we do? Condemn the crazies? Write stirring blog posts and editorials demanding reason and exhorting us to be better? By all means. Write on. It definitely can't hurt.
Maybe it will help. Maybe it will help some crazy see the light. But, as Shakespeare says maybe it’s, “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
But spare me the "society is rotting!" vibe. I don't buy it. In general, I think more ability to speak is better than less. When more people have a voice the unwelcomed side-effect is you hear from more crazies. That’s the dark lining of a silver cloud. There’s lot of pollution and filth on the Internet, and it’s easy to find, but would life be better without the Internet? I believe the Internet is the most personally empowering medium in history. For that I’ll put up with the dark lining in the silver cloud.
So let’s not smash the megaphone just because it serves both good and bad (according to our unique opinion of which is which). Don’t indict the channel for the content. Calling for the destruction of the channel (DAMN TWITTER, I WISH IT WOULD BURN!!) takes away the voice of the rational to spite the irrational.