Someone is Wrong on the Internet…and Everywhere Else

Brie and Joe created SWOTI and host the SWOTI podcast. The two, self-described “Millennials of Color” wrestle with race, politics, relationships, and myriad items swimming about in the popular culture. In doing so they discover that, well, SWOTI–“Someone is Wrong on the Internet.”

 

Someone is wrong, indeed.

 

Someone is wrong on the internet when Megyn Kelly fears for her life because internet trolls threaten her for asking then-candidate Donald Trump a challenging question–you know, doing her job. Someone is wrong on the internet when crazy websites like World Net Daily, and Breitbart, and Infowars hold the same prominence among a large swath of the American public as The New York Times, or The Washington Post. Someone is wrong on the internet when the conspiracy theories promulgated by honest-to-goodness fake news sites lead to violence. Still don’t think someone is wrong on the internet? You haven’t spent enough time in unmoderated comment sections on YouTube.

 

Or maybe you have.

 

But in truth, what is wrong on the internet correlates with what is wrong in American society; and not to be too grandiose, but this points to what is wrong in the human condition.

 

Confirmation Bias causes us to look for ideas that support our preconceived notions. The Dunning-Kruger Effect means that we’re most confident when we’re most wrong. The Backfire Effect sees us persisting in error especially when offered evidence to the contrary.

 

And to top it all off, we insist that we can understand the unspoken motives of others who disagree with us. This, in spite of an argument I make in a Right Noise episode that states that our ability to understand the motivations of others is even more challenging than our ability to understand our own motives.

 

And so, politics and political affiliation must be understood as an imperfect vehicle of our attitudes, philosophies, and expressions of our life experiences. Therefore, attacking those who disagree with us politically as morally depraved, insincere, or worse, becomes a tiresome self-righteous exercise, devoid of self-awareness (not that I do not make this mistake sometimes, myself).

 

Moreover, it’s unproductive. It’s noise. It’s the white-hot heat of anger in place of the illuminating light of empathy.

 

My opposition to some abortions is not a proxy for a deep-seated misogyny. My skepticism of the wisdom and efficacy of certain government programs does not betray a secret desire to see vulnerable people suffer. My belief in the traditional definition of marriage–however inconsequential politically–is not rooted in a desire to see gay people harmed.

 

Or is it?

 

Maybe politics provides a convenient narrative, wrapped in the flag, that allows me to cling to confirmation biases that insist that the races are created unequal, that women should not be trusted to forge their own destinies, or that gays should be hanged and stoned as they are in so many other places around the world.

 

For some folks, this may very well ring true. Just as there are some people on the left who truly hate the United States and want to see it obliterated.

 

But it’s not true of me, nor is it true of literally millions of conservatives and Republicans who agree with me.

 

Still, insisting that bigotry; or even ignorance; accounts for ideological differences amounts to a naivety that is both overly pessimistic and exceedingly optimistic.

 

My politics is a blurry reflection of my beliefs, experiences, faith, philosophy, privileges, upbringing, ideals, and sense of justice. Not the other way around. These elements tug at each other, and compete with human frailties and sinful failings. I always assume the same is true of my political opponents as well.

 

Understanding that this identity soup simmers in each of us should dissuade you from shooting at Congressmen at a softball practice, or threatening an Iraq War veteran who writes for the National Review. That which is wrong on the internet, and in American life, is not our politics, but the unwarranted assumptions about what our politics say about our personal morality.

 

The mouth betrays our passions. The pen betrays our thoughts.

These are some of the points I hope to have conveyed in my interview with the SWOTI Podcast.

The Moral Limits of Consent

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS STRONG SEXUAL CONTENT THAT SOME READERS MAY FIND OFFENSIVE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.


Todd Nickerson penned an honest and disturbing piece that appeared in Salon about his tribulations as a pedophile.

“To confess a sexual attraction to children is to lay claim to the most reviled status on the planet, one that effectively ends any chance you have of living a normal life.  Yet, I’m not the monster you think me to be.  I’ve never touched a child sexually in my life and never will, nor do I use child pornography.”

Nickerson explains in great detail his commitment to abstaining from molesting children or watching child pornography despite his strong attraction to prepubescent youths. In fact, he writes about himself in a sympathetic light–even as a victim of an overly judgmental society that would do well to accept his sexual preference as long as he does not act on his impulses.

“I recall an event from when I was 11, sitting in the family jeep with my dad and his friend Andy when a news piece on the radio reported the sexual abuse of a girl, to which my dad said to his friend something like, “They should take people like that and place weights on top of their genitals until they smash.”  Pretty horrific imagery for an 11-year-old to process, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with the abuser…

“I believe all that hatred just serves to reinforce pedophilia in youngsters predisposed to it.  It’s a form of cognitive bias called the Backfire Effect…When challenged on deeply held beliefs, no matter how uncertain or incorrect they may be, we tend to dig in our heels.  With sexuality, that effect is likely magnified because there’s a physiological component, a drive every bit as powerful as belief.”

Indeed, Nickerson intends for readers to reconsider their revulsion to pedophiles and withhold judgment. After all, they are just like him–like you and me: Some people are straight, some are gay. He, and others (a number he believes to be highly understated), desire prepubescent children. Comme ci, comme ca.

This postmodern understanding of sexuality completely undermines the notion of sexual morality altogether. Far too often in American culture, Consent reigns supreme as the progenitor of morality. This logic abides prostitution, pornography, drug use, suicide, abortion, polyamory, incest, and, of course, homosexuality.

However unpopular to admit, Nickerson’s pleas for acceptance vary little from those coming from the homosexual community. Not long ago, homosexuality engendered a similar disgust from the general public. Many states enacted anti-sodomy laws that made homosexuality as much a crime as pedophilia is today. Calling a man a “faggot” invited a fight much like accusing a man of pedophilia would, today, lead to a similar outcome. Clearly, though, there has been a shift in public opinion. Homosexuals enjoy lavish praise from large swaths of our culture for the bravery they show by openly embracing their sexuality. Gay parades draw politicians and companies looking to show their support for a lifestyle that, in its most literal sense, is perverted (from the Latin, describing a deviation from the norm). This shift came about through a top-down attack on our culture’s mores. In the span of a few years, Americans went from supporting the Defense of Marriage Act to legalizing gay marriage. Over the same period of time, the culture was saturated in all things gay, from Philadelphia to Angels in America, from Will and Grace (credited as changing Vice President Joe Biden’s opinion on gay marriage) to Brokeback Mountain, from Boys Don’t Cry to Glee. The defense of alternative sexuality begins with a sympathetic plea, an argument that sexuality is ingrained, cannot (and eventually should not) be controlled. From there, we are asked to be tolerant, then accepting, then endorsing.

Liberals ridiculed Justice Antonin Scalia for presaging, after the Lawrence v. Texas case, that homosexual marriage would follow the Court’s decision. Then, Obergefell proved him correct. After Obergefell, liberals laughed again at the conservative justices’ dissents that saw the Court’s decision opening the door to many alternative lifestyles gaining mainstream acceptance, much in the way homosexuality did. I doubt that anyone believes that homosexual marriage will mark the end of marriage redefinition, or the farthest reach of acceptable sexual orientation.

And today, with gay marriage legalized, with traditional views of homosexuality conflated with racism, we stare down a piece calling for clemency for tortured pedophiles–signed with the author’s real name.

How have we arrived here?

 

The predictable arguments against my reaction to Nickerson’s article will criticize me for equating pedophilia to homosexuality. After all, homosexuals operate within a construct of consent that mirrors that of the heterosexual realm, whereas with pedophiles, “there is no ethical way we can fully actualize our sexual longings,” Nickerson writes, because minors cannot offer consent. Furthermore, arguing that because homosexuality has become normalized in American society, pedophilia will also, does not follow. It is a slippery slope fallacy disguised as valid argumentation.

To these criticisms, I respond that it is exactly the overemphasis on consent that can mitigate pedophilia’s stigma as it has with homosexuality. Homosexuality was never deemed wrong because adult men or adult women could not consent to engaging in homosexual acts. Indeed, homosexuality is wrong because God named it so. It is a sin; like thievery, lying, murder, adultery, covetousness, and idolatry; that Christ suffered and died for. Therefore, sinners like me are called to repent, alongside homosexuals and pedophiles, and be forgiven. Consent has nothing to do with homosexuality’s immorality. Nor does it matter to pedophilia.

Consider, for a moment, that in some states 17 years old is the age of consent. A 46 year old man can bed a 17 year old woman (or man) without fear of legal penalty. Is there any substantive difference between a 17 year old and a 16 year old? 16 and 17 year olds often exist in the same grade level at school. They can even date one another and have sex and have babies. Therefore, what explains the magic number of 17 as the age of consent? Why not 16? For that matter, why not 15? 14 year olds are often sexually mature. Is the discernment of a 14 year old any different than that of a 16 year old? If so, does it vary as greatly as that of a 23 year old and a 44 year old? Surely it does, but not enough to warrant protection for 23 year olds.

Thusly, the consent game can be manipulated to bypass the very notion of sexual morality.

Moreover, American culture insists that one should only struggle toward moral ends if failing to do so infringes upon another’s liberty. In other words, sexual morality is fluid, and sexual expression shall not be socially curtailed unless a participant does not or cannot consent. How can we, therefore, tell homosexuals that their strong sexual preference should not be relegated to an emotion, never to be acted upon; but pedophiles must live repressed? Is not the sexual desire for children as strong as a homosexual’s desire for a same-sex partner? Or a heterosexual’s for an opposite-sex partner? A standard must exist to promote healthy and moral sexuality and staunch immoral and predatory alternatives.

True morality, untainted by the caprice of postmodern influence, names homosexuality an immoral aberration. Therefore,  just as homosexuals were expected to repress their desires, pedophiles should be urged to repress their own. Likewise, married heterosexuals should be urged to repress their own desires for other sexual partners. Without clear guidelines about sexual morality, sexual morality ceases to exist beyond arbitrary definitions of rape.
In closing, I admit that Nickerson is brave. He, also, is tortured and deserving of pity and in need of prayer. I regret that he was molested, that he’s missing a hand. I regret that he struggles to find work, and I am pleased that he foregoes sexual contact with minors. That said, his message is a dangerous one. Decreasing our collective disgust of pedophiles does not show compassion. Normalizing pedophilia will harm our society. Mr. Nickerson should continue to fight his impulses, recognize that we live in a fallen world and that we suffer greatly as a result. He should repent and be forgiven, rather than conflate pedophilia with homosexuality and with heterosexuality. Sexual morality is real, and we fail to uphold it if we restrict its parameters to the limits of consent.

Opposing Political Correctness without being a $#@*!

To be sure, Trump’s candidacy tarnishes the Republican brand by playing into a caricature of us: dumb, boorish, mean, wealthy, white and misogynistic. Trump doesn’t act alone, though. He graced the debate stage because more Republicans prefer him to Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, or George Pataki.

 

What’s wrong with us?

 

Frank Luntz’ debate focus group highlighted how many Republicans walked into the debate viewing him positively, but were disgusted with him by the night’s end.

 

“I was repulsed by it,” one respondent said.

“He was mean, he was angry, he had no specifics, he was bombastic,” said another.

 

Most Republicans are surprised that they were surprised. Of course, Trump lacks substance. Of course, Trump is bombastic. This is why we detest him.

 

When asked about his abrasive, offensive style, Trump offers the red meat his supporters gobble up in droves.

 

“Mr. Trump,” Megyn Kelly asked at the debate, “one of the things people like about you is that you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter…You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’…Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments on women’s looks. You once told a woman on the Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees…How will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”

 

To this question, the crowd roars in amusement. Trump pouts and delivers:

 

“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct…What I say is what I say.”

 

In spite of Trump’s ugly rhetoric, the crowd cheered. Luntz’ focus group ticked positive. And 24 million people saw the Republican frontrunner defend vile comments against women. Luntz, himself, says that conservatives were not responding to Trump’s sentiments about women as much as to his negative feelings about Rosie O’Donnell, but his point is largely irrelevant.

 

This moment in the debate highlights a problem we have on the right. Political correctness represents a legitimate problem sometimes. The problem with political correctness is that the essence of what is described gets lost in euphemism. Islamic terrorism becomes “workplace violence.” Baby becomes “fetus.” Retreat becomes “redeploy,” etc. To Trump supporters, and too many other Republicans, though, opposing political correctness offers cover to say offensive things without reproach.

 

What Trump said about Rosie O’Donnell is cruel, disrespectful and unnecessary. What Trump said about the woman appearing on Celebrity Apprentice is deplorable. When he says these things, and gets a high-five from his Amen-choir at the Church against Political Correctness, it puts him in the position of defending ugliness. When we cheer him on, condone his antics and make him our frontrunner, we endorse the “crass frat boy” behavior, when all we really wanted to do was defend truthful language.
Republicans must be more mindful about our perception. Yes, we need to fight for our principles. Yes, we must be brave enough to deliver unpopular news. Yes, we must stand against political correctness. But the opposite of political correctness isn’t hate speech–it’s truth.