I read a news story about a man who identified and monitored the activities of a pedophile in his community. The pedophile had abused and destroyed children for a long time--decades. Another level of evil. They self-billed as a street preacher and had some phony ministry that was a ruse to get closer to children. This pedophile had been in and out of the court system, but lived most of his life as a free man. The system, obviously--as systems so often do--had failed American society and the general and individual good, and, more than that, failed children. The pedophile went from state to state, looking for fresh victims. He targeted single moms who couldn't always keep an eye on their kids. He molested kids, he raped kids. One of his victims took his own life. As I said, another level of evil.
So, this other man--a father to young kids himself--starts staking out the pedophile's activities. He goes by his house, parks across the street, watches the pedophile allegedly pretend to wash his car--using just a rag, no soap--so he can ogle children in a nearby yard (or so this vigilante man surmised). The dad had been looking at homes the family might purchase. He does more and more research on the web into the pedophile, and he gets angrier and angrier that this man is free. He decides he is going to so society a favor, and he's going to murder the pedophile. Which he does. I'm not sure how--one had the sense that he went to the pedophile's home, entered it, and beat and choked him to death, rather than used a gun, but that's speculation on my part.
The father then goes on some kind of community Facebook page. And on this page, he puts up a post saying what he did. He's home. He's at his keyboard. He's just picked up some Wendy's, I don't know. He prefaces this by saying that he believes he would have gotten away with it, but somebody needed to stand up and do the right thing. The comments consisted of people thanking the man, having normal conversations with him. He'd say "You're welcome," what have you. I read more comments on another site later in the evening, and it was a lot of the same. (By the way: I would say that most people now think "should have" is "should of," which I find terrifying; our culture, our minds, are just rotting from the inside out; we become more simple and stupid and devolved by the day.)
There were two well-written comments. One person said, essentially, that this guy is another level of evil, he does not deserve human life, but this isn't about that, flawed and backwards as our legal system often is. What it is about is that citizens out in the world, in our democracy, our society, cannot make up their minds to judge and kill another human. We do not have the right to murder.
This individual, naturally, was excoriated, though I find it hard to take an excoriation seriously when every other word is spelled incorrectly. But I almost find that more terrifying. I do find it more terrifying. Because I think that people who don't think, who snap, react, who project, rule our culture now. At every level. But let's be even more precise--they are reactive perpetually. They are snapped perpetually. They project perpetually. It's the default setting, not some gear that one shifts to. I think this is a fundamental change in how humans are now than they were at other times. There is reaction; there is very little thought. There is next to no, "Wait, have I looked at this from every angle, let me take a deep breath or two and turn it over a few times."
Along came another person, and they said that while the downvoting of the earlier comment was inevitable, the earlier poster was correct. It's not about whether a human deserves life, it's about the Constitution. These same people, this person added, would very likely lose their minds if someone took their guns. Or some of those same people. And you can't have it both ways.
This seems very basic to me, that you don't get to kill somebody. There are so many forms of evil out there. Evil is a constant. Evil is more the norm than not the norm; evil is often undetected or not known about yet, which causes us to assume it is not present. But it is there more often, I have found, than not. I am a victim of evil. Bigotry and discrimination is evil. Evil people own my life right now. People I have not done a single unkind or cruel thing to. I don't get to kill them. I can expose them, I can beat them as in win, I can end their careers, all in time, and I will. But I don't get to show up and murder them.
And while I don't know that it is evil, I think it is reckless, selfish, and not very loving, not very protective, to take yourself away, as a parent, from your children. This man has kids. They are kids who likely now will grow up without their father. As a child, I would much rather grow up with my dad. I'd say it's worse to take yourself away from your children. Because they are not going to be the same now, their lives are impacted in negative ways that will always stay with them. They are not going to have the father as a daily presence, and they will always think about, wrestle with, what happened, the choice that father made, and they will also be known, to some degree, by it. Certainly as children. Maybe it will just be something deep in their past when they are forty-eight, which they leave covered there, but there will still be decades of impact and fallout. That's horrible, selfish, non-parenting. But it will make you a hero to the stupid and unthinking, even as you rend the lives of people you purport to care about.
This man was divorced. Maybe he had little in the way of custody as it was, but I read a quote from his ex-wife, who spoke highly of him, so they didn't seem to be on the worst terms.
I also read a kind of op-ed piece last night by Matt Lauer. I never watched him on TV. I would not recognize him if I saw a photo. I have learned that most people in media are some combo of evil, mentally ill, petty to the point of sinister, pretentious without possessing any actual intelligence, cowardly, weak, entirely hypocritical, devoid of empathy, uneducated (by which I mean, in terms of knowledge they possess, not whether or not they went to Yale, which is absolutely meaningless and has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence or knowledge; in fact, in my experience, you are far less likely to possess either if you attended such an institution), selfish, feckless, mendacious, bereft of character or principle. I live this pretty much 24/7/365. I'll be living it pretty hard today, in fact, as I do some things that I really do not want to do, but which I must. These people are ruled by agenda, assumption, their prevailing attitudes. They do not answer to reality, or fact, let alone truth, which is far bigger than fact, and they crave power constantly, no matter how tiny that power actually is. They have no balance, no perspective. The editor of some literary journal with a circulation of 575 that no one has ever heard of, will get themselves, in their diseased brains, to regard that venue as akin to the Kingdom of Heaven, and they guard the gate or this world of worthiness determined by their say-so, which is going to have nothing to do with reality, truth, merit. This is one reason the world is in the state it is. More than that, it's a reason the world is not in a far better state, because if there was principle here, truth, merit, a lot of other problems would be seen in different ways and we'd have an invaluable means of assuaging them, beating them back, dismantling them, moving forward, living richer, happier lives.
Matt Lauer sounds pretty horrible to me. Given what I said above, you would not be surprised that I am not surprised if he is horrible. But I don't think that Ronan Farrow is any better. I don't think he doesn't lie, I don't think he doesn't manipulate a system that is already rigged in his favor. I don't think he cares about the truth. I think he cares about power, perception, glory. I think he is a lucky sperm who came from money, who had almost everything in life handed to him. I don't think he has had to earn anything, and I think his rise coincided with an age that is not concerned about truth, but rather advocacy, which is generally a long, long way from the truth. Advocacy and activism is usually about the individual stating how much they care about advocacy and activism; it is rarely about their so-called causes, truth, or helping their fellow human. It allows them to think a certain way about themselves. It allows them to cut corners and be a horrible, splenetic person so long as they are underwritten by the socially accepted causes of their particular mob--and make no mistake, they are entirely reliant on a mob, not critical thinking, not individual thinking. They can do nothing without either a preexisting mob, or the certainty that a mob will follow them; they cannot do a single thing in this world as an individual. Never. It's mob-think and mob-behavior. My feelings on The New York Times are known--after all, they are sufficiently bigoted that they have banned coverage of my books, which is sick, which is remarkable, which is remarkably sick--and I saw that they ran an op-ed on Farrow the other day, which cued Lauer to run his piece as well. I find it almost impossible to believe that this man was not a total scumbag. But he also was not convicted of some of the things he was accused of, and he also was not even accused of some of the things--by alleged victims--that the general public seems to view him as completely guilty of.
I read his piece, which is a fair criticism of Farrow's methods and motives. It is fact-based. The picture that emerges is that of two odious, self-serving, selfish, manipulative men. One is a demon, the other is a savior. And they don't seem that far apart to me. In some ways. I think bad is bad. I don't invest my time or my energy in parsing what kind of bad is worse. I feel like I know the world pretty well, and it is my job to know people, to know humanity, for that is the root of my work and my art, everything I am oriented towards. I know that the publishing world is its own cut-apart form of evil, and hypocrisy, so whether Farrow is somewhat better than Lauer really does not matter to me. But Farrow is not some agent of the truth; he's an agent for himself, for how he is perceived. I've learned, too, that when someone, especially in publishing, does something so small, with the tiniest bit of effort, they talk about it as though they had strapped the Colorado Rockies upon their back and walked across the entire North American continent. You see it on Facebook when one of these fools, for the first time in nineteen months, writes 189 words of a new short story. They brag about this, people do the "You go girl thing, you're amazing, wow, I wish I could do that" slathering in the comments. Each of those people, I know, are people whom, if they received a story from me, would automatically reject it or never reply, because of what I do, and achieve, constantly. We are at fundamental odds because of what they are, and what I am. They keep me from getting to market. They are one of the factors keeping me from getting to the world. Farrow had the money, the connections, the privilege, he was the right things at the right times, and so much was handed to him. He had the celebrity contacts. Because of his name. He boasts often about fact-checking, but again, the Rockies metaphor. As the Lauer piece showed, not a lot of fact-checking was actually done. Not in terms of realty. In terms of how publishing people think? Sure, a lot. Which means very little.
But the comments. I am, as a quick glance at this record will prove, far busier--one may try to find whatever adjective one likes to quantify how much busier--than anyone. Not most people, not all but a few, but anyone. That is proven by my output alone. I have no interest in Matt Lauer. But I read this piece. I took the few minutes to do that. You know who didn't do that? Almost everyone who commented and almost all of the tens of thousands of people on Twitter who posted about it; and in almost every one of those posts, there was evidence of a joint purpose--to denigrate someone else, but more than that, elevate the poster. To show moral superiority. Intellectual superiority (never mind that so many of these people expressed themselves in the exact same phrases, social media cliches, broken grammar). They put forward untruth after untruth. Things that have been disproven and are a matter of public record. But they didn't care. They had motive and agenda. It's all about the cause, and it's all about the cause that makes the person expressing themselves in anger and hate look just and moral. None of this is about right and wrong. It's a shell game of right and wrong. For Farrow, Lauer, the people on Twitter, the people commenting on the article. They all do what they accuse the others of doing. The forms are different, in terms of the specs, but there's no truth or seeking of truth involved. None at all. It's about perception, and acquiring positive perception, at all cost. It's not about reality. It's not about others. It's selfish, it's sick. The heroes and the villains are now equally sick and equally un-principled.
Our society is in the shape it is in, for one reason. It's not COVID-19. It's not Trump. It is because we have completely turned away from the truth. The single worst thing in our society right now, the thing people turn away from the most, the thing people will invest the least effort in finding, the thing people absolutely cannot face, often, in themselves, is the truth. That's it. Make this world about truth, and society and the human condition and culture and democracy will improve and rise up in direct proportion. Make things about what they actually are, not what you want them to be, or sickness tries to twist them to be. Would people have to be stronger, braver, would they have to deal with pain, have to deal with acceptance, would they have to find a way to process, rally, move on, move forward, try different techniques? Would they actually have to open their eyes? Yes, yes, yes. Would the publishing system as we currently know it--for the people who actually care enough to know it at all--have to go entirely away and be replaced with something better? Yes. But the revolution that comes, that truly changes this world, is going to be a revolution of truth.