April 2, 2015
I’ve been away from this column for some time now, for two reasons: a number of explosions, both good and bad, in my personal life, and (not unrelated to that) complete exhaustion with the expectation that I articulate a forceful opinion on the news of the day.
I am just so bored with people’s opinions, often including my own. We live in an era of too many takes.
I am bored with all takes on The Jinx, except the following: 1) Television is a goddamned miracle. 2) Gilberte Najamy deserves a book deal and a lifetime supply of foot massages, to be administered by NYPD detectives. 3) There should be a scripted dramedy about bull-doggy amateur lady sleuths, based on Kathie Durst’s friends.
I am bored with all takes on Indiana’s horrid “religious freedom” law that involve 1) any defense of said law, 2) any dismissal of the state of Indiana, the Midwest, or the people who live there as a basically disposable mass of humanity, or 3) any progressive hand-wringing about the businesses taking a stand against the law by threatening the state’s economy. Indiana’s progressive voters are hamstrung by gerrymandering and despair, so what’s left? Sending a clear, effective message that this law is bad for both society and the business community. Driving a wedge between religious extremists and greedy corporate types in the Republican party. Drawing a line in the sand past which creeping theocracy and institutionalized homophobia shall not pass. Invoking the specter of making things worse—and possibly, in the short-term, doing so—in order to make things better. Oh, and P.S., it worked.
I am so fucking bored with all takes on Trevor Noah. Every last one of them, including “I am so fucking bored with all takes on Trevor Noah.” Still, I will single out two that, taken together, come closest to my own: Ijeoma Oluo’s “Admit It: Your Fave Is Problematic,” and Robyn Pennachia’s “Confession: Trevor Noah’s Bad Jokes Annoy Me Less Than Hall Monitors Do.”
But Kate, those two pieces contradict each other in some significant ways! Yes, exactly. I agree 100 percent with Oluo when she writes, “Just like our celebrities and ourselves, the movements we champion are also problematic,” and 100 percent with Pennachia when she writes, “For what it is worth, the word ‘problematic’ kind of makes me want to put my fist through a wall.”
I contain motherfucking multitudes. So do we all.
We live in a society where people say and do things that hurt individuals and entire classes of people simultaneously, and where those hurtful things are frequently backed up by systems and institutions meant to serve us all equally. We also live in a society full of people who get off on scolding others, at a time when it’s incredibly easy for those people to find each other and coordinate a death-by-mosquito-bite attack on a single target.
Further complicating matters, people who get off on scolding others often hitch themselves to people who genuinely want to improve society for all, which slaps a righteous veneer on their fundamental desire to make other people feel small. That’s true of “church ladies” of all genders in every religion; atheists who demand that religious people admit they’re being conned; right-wingers who want to restrict their compatriots’ rights to “sin”; left-wingers so bent on nitpicking others’ politics for signs of insufficient radicalism, they create a climate of fear among people who are, in all important ways, on the same damned side; and also reflection-averse left-wingers who, by virtue of being on the same damned side, feel perfectly justified in scolding every critic along a vast continuum of outrage for excessive outrage.
I scold you all for being so unbearably boring.
If today’s surfeit of takes teaches us anything, it’s that humanity is a writhing hydra of slightly different realities sharing a single stalk, with each head screaming out to be recognized as the true one. This was undoubtedly always the case, but now, each head has its own Twitter account.
The equally terrifying and liberating corollary to this is that we are all now charged with forming our own genuine opinions, irrespective of our immediate peers’ approval—let alone a whole community’s or country’s or world’s—because no one can fucking agree on anything. We are not all sitting around a table together, exchanging opinions that people who mostly agree with us will only object to silently, or very politely. We are not on a playing field where some folks are routinely denied a voice to preserve an illusion of unanimity that benefits a homogenous top tier. We are on the internet, where we can all sit in our jammies and speak to thousands of people at once, each of whom is equipped and motivated to tell us why we’re wrong.
I get it when my fellow progressives say they’re afraid to say anything at all, for fear of the “PC police” ripping it apart, which can feel like they’re ripping you apart, as a person. I also get it when those accused of being “PC police” complain that their thoughtful criticism is being dismissed as hysteria. And I don’t mean I “get it” in the abstract; I mean, I have personally had both experiences.
The solution isn’t to keep fighting about which strain of progressivism is the true one, looking to declare Team Outrage or Team Oswalt the winner, once and for all, so we can all carry on with our lives. These are our lives now, happening online and out loud. So the solution is for each of us to dig deep and find the courage of our convictions. If you believe what you’re saying and doing is true and useful (I don’t even care if it’s good), you don’t need to waste your life defending it to hostile detractors. Just stay focused on the true and the useful—which will sometimes mean adjusting an old opinion to allow that some (not all) of your critics were correct about some (not all) of the things you’ve said and done in the past.
Sometimes, you won’t even get that your critics were right until months or years down the road, and sometimes you’ll apologize immediately to relieve the tension, then regret caving. It’s okay. Life is learning. Increasingly, life is learning to filter out voices that cause you pain without contributing anything of value, and tune in to voices that cause you pain because you need a little suffering to grow.
There’s not one answer to who’s doing left-wing politics right. There is almost never one answer to any question. There is only the truest and most useful answer you can contribute on a given day.
And if you’re stumped for that, just check my Twitter timeline, because my version of reality is the real one, so I am never wrong.