Human beings are prone to exaggeration. In our daily lives, we are given to embellish stories for any number of reasons, especially to give ourselves license to gripe about life’s predicaments. This propensity can go beyond personal complaints, like those concerning a bad neighbor or an annoying friend. We tend, especially, to exaggerate when it comes to the political and social condition of the country. “This is the worst time ever!” or “This is the most dangerous time for America!” or “This country’s going to hell in a handbasket!” are commonplace assertions from every generation of frustrated citizens.
Naturally, sometimes this kind of over-the-top phrasing is deliberate and meant to turn attention in the direction of a serious political or social problem. Sometimes humans need a jolt to pay attention. So we act as if our current problems are entirely new. Of course, we may be facing wholly new issues technologically, with possibly grave existential consequences. But when it comes to human behavior, “there is nothing new under the sun.” No matter how hard the techno-political regime tries, it won’t be able to get rid of humanity’s propensity for good and evil. Weirdly, in many ways, this is our solace.
This is not to minimize the gravity and absurdity of our society at any given time. Times are dangerous, weird, and uncertain but we must ask what happens if we get caught up in exaggerations that today may be all the more powerful because of the multiplier effect of social media and 24/7 media coverage? What happens when the feared changes are not really happening but there is a constant appearance of it before our eyes? Does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
People should be able to recognize a certain pattern of human behavior that is coinciding with the repetitive nature of the algorithms that keep them captive. Take, for example, the recent online explosion of drag queen videos. Be it the video from the Texas nightclub that showed children “dragged” to see a striptease of a man dressed as a woman, or restaurants where drag queens randomly appear gyrating awkwardly around stunned patrons, or the so-called “Drag Queen Story Hour” at public libraries around the country, or confrontations with outsiders or some “culture warrior” who secretly films such events.
As these stories proliferate online, we witness a sick culture on a feedback loop. However real the isolated outrages may be, the feedback itself is useless except insofar as it feeds an algorithmic monster that needs our outrage to live. So, it produces more rage, more anger, and inevitably (and this is crucial) more despair and acedia.
This outrage will not change anything, or at the very least, it won’t change the culture. Some may even take legal action (such as the prohibition of minors from entering certain clubs) but such isolated actions produce only an illusion of change. Whether it’s images of war or images of drag queens interacting with children, it all becomes part of information overload. The gradations of problems disappear until every issue takes on the same level of gravity. The initial rage that people feel will dissipate, but it will turn into powerlessness until it’s replaced by another rage-inducing event.
What’s worse, most will become desensitized to the events themselves, and then there will be no difference between the real infliction of pain on others and more benign cultural issues.
The desensitization of ourselves to critical events is a serious problem for our culture. A perfect example is the #MeToo movement, which turned from legitimate rape and abuse events to a demand for rage against so-called toxic masculinity. The result was that people became weary of hearing the loud and obnoxious voices of women who complained about the mere existence of men until it became a punchline. Ultimately, the only thing #MeToo has actually accomplished with its escalation of outrage is to foster a society either unwilling or unable to hear real and serious rape and abuse claims. It may placate the activists. But it doesn’t help true victims.
America’s fight right now against this outrage addiction disorder is not only political, economic, and social. The blame can be cast broadly but the primary enemy is the one from within. The main battle is spiritual and cultural in nature.
Have things really changed that much from the chaotic times William F. Buckley, Jr. was pushing against? He understood these battles were not merely legal but metaphysical. The circumstances have changed, and the monster may be more powerful as the regime, thanks to all the “hope and change” of the Obama years, now openly supports disorder, but the essence of the problem remains the same. We are not only fighting the corrupt government which embraces disorder but also the citizens who are willing participants in it.
When citizens support things like transgender surgery for children, or “teaching” kindergarteners about sex, or offer their assent to every and all forms of nihilism and narcissism, it does not follow that the emergence of the next absurdity in yet another video, will finally cause people to see what is going on in this country. The hard truth is that some find nothing wrong with it. And what are you willing to do about that?
No matter our circumstances at this point, we remain in a fight between what John Paul II called the “culture of death” and the culture of life. We will not escape it until we realize and confront it.
Relativism reigns supreme, which is forcing a denial of human mortality and humility before God. This continues to be the crisis of the West, and unless we recognize that, we will be stuck in a nonsensical algorithmic loop, designed only to keep us in a technologically driven manic-depressive state. This is our current form of totalitarianism, and it preys upon the human soul. I do not know how long this fight will last, or whether there will be any respite from it. All evil regimes eventually collapse and the only viable option is to keep going in affirming the culture of life.