Facebook Comes for Geography

A friend of mine runs an annual charity that is a celebration of all things manly—among them eating lots of bacon-wrapped meats, shooting weapons of gratuitous caliber and astonishing speed, copious explosions involving Tannerite, racing junk cars around a pond, and culminating in the burning of a minivan on a pillar that looks like something out of the ancient, famous contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

That comparison is not likely a stretch. The founder of the event is one Brent Kroeker, a “reformed Mennonite” as he jokingly calls himself, insofar as he remains a devoted follower of Jesus but has no use for the pacifist traditions often associated with the Christian denomination. Kroeker uses events in Kansas and Oklahoma to raise money for another charity—and this is really important to the story—in which he uses his skills drawn from a career in irrigation to drill wells in Niger.

Kroeker recently fell afoul of Facebook’s rules, however. And while Kroeker and Facebook have carried on an “extended correspondence” over his celebration of explosions and gonad-embiggening weaponry, his recent post removal and warning of a perma-ban come not from any of these predictable sources. He was censored for “hate speech.” Because—and please read carefully—he recently reminded readers of his page that his charity supports his work in Niger.

I know. I know. It takes a moment for anyone with even the meanest education to process. But in the cancel-culture, neuron-free social media world, someone first reported Kroeker for hate speech, and then, astonishingly, Facebook agreed that in discussing a real nation, “with a flag and everything” (as Kroeker laughingly described it in his defense), he had dallied close enough to being an illiterate-racist-dyslexic. Facebook removed Kroeker’s post about a charity that funds well-drilling in Niger because they agreed it contained “hate speech.”

It’s impossible to lampoon, and indeed, you might be wrong to try. You’d have to think the decision was motivated only by idiocy, by sheer stupidity. I think you might be wrong. At some point, we need to recognize that these bans are a screw that turns only in one direction, ratcheting ever tighter only on those people to the right of . . . well, I was going to say “center,” but the truth is that anyone to the right of Left can expect to be the constant recipient of these post removals, shadowbans, and outright censorship. 

Your Sin Is Noncompliance

Facebook will surely blame an algorithm, but that rings utterly hollow given the pattern, and given that surely such an algorithm should have objected to the post (and millions of others by people with, I don’t know, maps?) before having been reported? Surely a human, not an algorithm reviews reports of hate speech?

There is also the weird reality that we’re here, again. If you’re a Gen Xer, as I am, you remember the wails decrying the “puritanical” beliefs and rules inflicted upon our young selves by society. We were punished for using profanities or drawing obscene pictures on the homemade covers of our best friend’s textbooks (sorry David). And ultimately, our whining won the day. Nobody could stop you from using bad words or drawing crude pictures! That’s free speech, baby! 

And now, this. We’re back again, only this time there’s no longer the “Puritanical”—or simply Christian—ethic behind this policing that says that we fail to love each other when we are intentionally crude to each other and that only in loving each other may we brighten the path to eternal life. Today’s thought police aren’t motivated by anything like this. They have no eternal concern for you. They have no temporal concern for you. They are the worst sort of Puritans—policers without mercy, not even a means for expiation. Your sin is noncompliance. It cannot be purged. You are condemned, and there is no one who may pay your debt on your behalf. Only your silence and suffering (and suffering in silence) will do.

The argument here is much more eloquently articulated by author Joseph Bottum in his uncannily prescient 2014 book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, in which he argues that the collapse of mainline Protestantism in America has left in its wake a generation of people who love the moral clucking, the judgment, and the punishment part of their former faith, but they don’t believe in the part where our sin has been bought and paid for.

They don’t believe in the Jesus part. They only believe in the stamping out sin part. And that goes a long, long way toward explaining how we got to the new religion of leftism: all pain, no gain.

What Facebook Doesn’t Understand

People like Brent Kroeker don’t make any sense to the modern secular Left, or to the corporate tyrants at Facebook. They cannot even begin to understand what blowing stuff up has to do with Jesus, and with what loving Jesus has to do with drilling wells in Niger. Social justice requires that you recognize your sin, that you’re damned by your privilege and whiteness and maleness and straightness and God knows what else, so you should buy a bunch of bottled water and mail it to, well, maybe some other country in Africa that hasn’t been so careless and insensitive in their name selection. 

But to a man like Kroeker, God loves who and what he made us to be, and our job is always to seek that, not to accept the world’s definitions of “identity”; in truth, it means to reject those labels. The men who attend his events could tell you, but I suspect they’d rather show you. Dammit, it’s fun to burn the shell of a minivan that represents the sacrifices we’ve had to make, that we would make again, for our families, but that doesn’t mean we’re delighted that we had to sell that 1968 Dodge Super Bee to pay for a crib and put a down payment on a proper family car. And in that catharsis, there is great comfort in knowing that you helped pay for another dad, another husband, somewhere else, to draw water from a new well, one that will keep his whole village healthy, allow new crops, and sustain their families. 

Someday, maybe Brent Kroeker will host an event in Niger in which they celebrate the opening of a new $40 million dollar water treatment plant by blowing up the old one. With ample Tannerite and something big, maybe a .50 caliber. Just because.

But meanwhile, if you don’t hear from me again, that likely means I’m off to the gulag because I posted about how ugly the costs of getting into Transnistria have become. Wish me well.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised and updated (February 28).

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About Justin Blessinger

Justin Blessinger is a Professor of English at Dakota State University.

Photo: Encyclopaedia Britannica/Universal Images Group via Getty Images