I wept no bitter tears when Scott Adams’s “Dilbert” cartoon was dropped from the Cleveland Plain Dealer after he posted a video wherein he declared:
"Based on the current way things are going, the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people. Just get the f*ck away… Wherever you have to go, just get away. Because there’s no fixing this. This can’t be fixed. So I don’t think it makes any sense as a white citizen of America to try to help Black citizens anymore. It doesn’t make sense. There’s no longer a rational impulse. So I’m going to back off on being helpful to Black America because it doesn’t seem like it pays off.”
My non-existent tears remained unembittered when several other papers followed the Plain Dealer’s lead, even though I know we will all miss Scott’s noble contributions to the Black equality discussion and his substantial aid to Black communities. Even though I feel like we’ve lost Paul Robeson, Fred Hampton, and Muhammed Ali all over again.
But then I realized Scott wouldn’t have wanted me to feel any such loss anyway. He isn’t about feelings. He’s about offices and data and demonically elitist dogs in computer chairs.
I come not only to condemn Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” but to bury him.
We are a nation of schadenfreude. That’s the kind of audience we are. When a bigot or bigshot gets taken down, as Andrew Tate was in Rumania, the audience laughs and cheers. Tate’s case is especially funny because the cause of his downfall was his own preening ego which led to his unprovoked reactionary attack on a teenage climate activist. I mean, there’s not much funnier than Tate being grabbed for sex trafficking by Rumanian law enforcement tipped off to his presence in the country by his braggadocious video with a locally branded pizza box in the camera frame, unless it’s Greta Thünberg’s parting words to seal the flame war: “this is what happens when you don't recycle your pizza boxes."
The bully was an obvious bully, the victim refused to be a victim, and in the end the “good guy” won in a way that was highly amusing and poetically just.
However, when good guys and bad guys are not so easily distinguishable, but a clearcut distinction in imposed on the conflict anyway, the amusement transforms from enjoyable schadenfreude through the chrysalis of questionable hostility to emerge as indefensible hatemongering. And I don’t like that. Because it leads to unfair condemnation. And most of us tend to have sympathy for the unfairly condemned, regardless of their crimes.
I loved mocking Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert,” while newspapers including the Chicago Tribune on Monday were dropping the comic strip like a hot Manhattan Project demon core. The shunning was in response to his inarguably racist public remarks.
Despite myriad such examples of villainous, mustache-twirling behavior, especially from the right these days, there are times even currently when things just aren’t that simple. And that is tragic, because then they aren’t as funny. We all know that the best way to ruin a joke is to explain it. Too much dissection of a premise throws a wet blanket on humor. Brevity is the soul of wit, and brevity is best expressed with economy of verbiage.
But certain social phenomena require examination, discussion, nuance, details, finding dots and connecting them, and even a willingness to entertain that arguments from the other side, assuming there is at least one other side, are plausible.
How can we tell whether an argument or a person is worthy of being shunned or must be given a certain amount of respectful consideration? I’m not sure I know the answer. In fact, I’m sure I don’t know the answer. I’m still examining, discussing, trying to be sensitive to nuance, groping for details, and searching for all the dots with a view to connecting them in this regard. And I often fail.
However, it should be apparent that condemnation has become the new national pastime. There are entire cable infotainment channels devoted to it with varying standards of fairness and accuracy. We can forgive these public nuisances their immoral, shoddy methodology because we’ve lived under capitalism all our lives, we’re acclimated to lies as a form of communication, and understand the purpose of these outlets is not to inform honestly but to make money.
We are less forgiving when we encounter individuals who have evidently been pilled one way or another by these cole slaw-brained marionettes. We think, “How can you believe that? How can you perpetuate that? How can you even understand how to breathe when your soul can assimilate such toxic succotash? Do you even have a soul?”
I’ve been emailed or told in person many – like more than six – horror stories from friends in academia or other areas wherein people fear for their jobs. Yes, they are all men and all but one of them is white. None of them is disabled. They are all but one pretty financially precarious, though. And while none of my female academic friends has expressed such immediate fears, they do back up the men’s experiences of having to navigate a minefield of often unspoken rules and to cater to certain demands they find excessive, if mostly manageable. I’ve also been in progressive groups and found myself under pressure to adhere to an ingroup etiquette at the risk of being psychologized, shunned, or publicly humiliated.
I want to believe all victims, but not all victims are honest, despite the risks they might take simply for speaking out. Further, in a room full of victims, there is often pressure to honor the one who makes the case for representing a social identity that’s the most victimized, systemically and experientially. I’m for the triumph of victims over their oppressors. But the victim competition. I condemn it. I’m over it.
I like to think that if I were in a group exploring alternatives to the unfair constructs we and those more vulnerable than us must endure, we would be tolerant and fair to a Scott Adams or an Andrew Tate until they had proven themselves to be intolerable beyond a reasonable doubt. I like to think I would demand fairness and tolerance from others in the group but that we would come to something like consensus once the Rubicon of insensitivity and dehumanization had been crossed.
Then, and only then, would we condemn. That’s what I’d like to think about the company I keep. Let’s avoid making martyrs of our enemies. They’re good enough at declaring their own martyrdom based on the crazy lies they invent. Let’s not help them.
It should be easy to see that this is not a blanket condemnation of condemnation. I love condemnation. Who am I to speak out against the national pastime? And I trust that overreach and exaggeration, unwarranted castigation and stigmatizing from the left is far less frequent or destructive or systemic than that constantly hailing down from the rulers and their tools on the right. Even though it comes from a place of defending our allies and our siblings and our comrades and our principles, I want us to be more forgiving than those who fuel the engine of global and human destruction. Just not tolerant or forgiving to a fault.
And that’s how it is with the majority of true activists among you. With all an oppressive economy can throw at us, I see most progressives, leftists, left-liberals, socialists, et al – at least outside the confines of Twitter and the podcast judgment machine and cable infotainment – being brilliantly constructive at best and at worst at least taking care to minimize harm to the vulnerable. As fractious and obnoxious as our fellow travelers may often be, we are a credit to the tradition of holding the powerful accountable when we are careful to be at our best.
Condemnation is only one tool for chipping away at the hegemony of the greedy, powerful, and violent. It can also be fun and educational. Let us honor it and participate in it as such. Down with the bastards who would dare to keep us down!
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Last Friday, December 9, 2022, in Detroit, in the midst of a performance by Cyrus Chestnut and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra of selections from the Vince Guaraldi score of the cartoon Christmas special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” someone shouted a slur that either was the N-word or included the N-word. None of the news outlets are saying. The orchestra maintained their focus. Audience members interviewed afterwards expressed disgust with whoever shouted the slur. WXYZ, Channel 7 news in Detroit, reported the story, as did the newspaper—whatever newspaper means these days—The Detroit News.
Cyrus Chestnut is black, as are some members of the DSO, as are people who were in the audience that night. Charlie Brown, a fictional figure, is, despite his surname, white. In the Lieber and Stoller song, “Charlie Brown,” written for and recorded by The Coasters, all members of which were black, Charlie Brown was probably black. But the N-word slur-slinger most likely targeted the players rather than the subject of the music.
Vince Guaraldi, the composer, was white, although his mustache was black. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the slur was aimed at the black instrumentalists on Friday.
I should add that I’m only assuming it was the N-word based on the way all the news outlets have skirted around what exactly was shouted. It was definitely an anti-black term of derogation, but it could have been the Coo-word or the Sp-word. Those possibilities seem doubtful, especially the latter, given the reported reaction of the audience.
But it’s odd no one’s reporting that it was the N-word. As a euphemism, it’s the most easily communicated via the press. Maybe there’s an unwritten AP-style rule whereby an outlet is supposed to give the N-word the least amount of publicity possible, even in its euphemistic form.
The article in The Detroit News has a comment section. If you can imagine, the comments section is inhabited by a grotesque menagerie of primates throwing feces. There are comments denying that the occurrence ever took place, despite the vast number of witnesses and the fact that the Orchestra announced on its Facebook page its sadness in regards to the incident.
“The DSO is deeply disappointed by an incident that took place towards the end of Friday night’s concert when an audience member shouted a racial slur. Racism and bigotry have no place in Orchestra Hall, and behavior like this is unacceptable. We are currently investigating and will enact a permanent ban once we identify the ticketholder.
“Live music is a profoundly human experience that taps into our emotions and provides us all with a sacred space for listening. We apologize that this space was violated. We appreciate our audiences so much and hope to see you back at Orchestra Hall soon.”
Still, the naysayers said “nay,” accused The Detroit News of ginning up a racially divisive story, and asserted it was a leftist strategy to draw attention away from all the black-on-black violence in the city.
I have a theory about all that rightwing concern for the black community and how often black people hurt each other. My belief is that there’s a contest going on in the racist imagination between white violence and black violence. The right wants black violence to be seen as proportionally worse than violence by white people. Further, they want leftist violence, which they tellingly lump in with black violence, to be recognized as worse, more erratic, and more incidentally numerous.
There is a widespread rightwing stance that the BLM protests of 2020 and the January 6 white supremacist assault on the election and the Capitol should be compared, and that the BLM protests should be considered the more destructive. Rightwingers whine that not enough black and like-minded non-black protesters were prosecuted, injured, or killed for protesting.
Further, they tend not to detect a pattern of red-pilled mass-murders when tallying up the kills by rightwing gunmen but seem able to detect antifa everywhere a gun goes off or a building burns. They always bring up Steve Scalise, the one verifiably anti-Republican shooting, which didn’t end in any fatalities except for the shooter himself, 66-year-old James Thomas Hodgkinson.
Their oddly lopsided tally of leftwing violence, to which they add incidents in their imagination similar to the Bowling Green Massacre and the adrenochrome-drinking Democratic vampire cabal, becomes all the more cockeyed when they fob off all rightwing rifle-rabid mass-shooter incidents as “false-flag” operations perpetrated by the secret government, which is of course kept alive by consuming child adrenochrome.
It is impossible to have a rational discussion about the subject with a Republican, especially one who leans toward the Trumpian end of the spectrum. I have tried. If you point out that the BLM protests were provoked by police killings of black men and women in situations where killing was not an appropriate option, they will defend the police. Some will tell you that black Americans invite police violence because of their behavior, due to a culture of distrust and disrespect for authority. They basically force the police to kill them. And then when they succeed, they get angry at the police, who are only doing what the black people forced them to do! It’s a Catch-22 for cops! Not only are they violent, black people are irrational and unfair! What makes them loot and burn buildings in their own neighborhoods? Irrationality! Slavery ended over a hundred fifty years ago! They live in America, the greatest country in the world except for all the gay pedophile communist Jews controlling everything.
To show they aren’t racist, rightwingers will pivot to blaming white liberals for perpetuating black poverty and stoking black resentment. It’s really the left’s fault. The black population in the USA are really just the poorly-raised children of liberals! This twisted analysis penetrates deep into the resentment of the white male supremacist who believes that liberals are feminizing the men of our society, making them helpless whiners, deferential to the desires of women and minorities but who suppress their own, who only want a handout and are jealous of the real heroes like Donald and Elon.
Not only that, but, according to careful historical analysis by Fox News entertainers, the left itself is stoking the ammo-drunk rightwing backlash. Even though, according to them, rightwing violence isn’t actually happening, during the moments when it’s rhetorically convenient to acknowledge that it is, it’s all the left’s fault. “Another day in Weimar,” squeaks a Fox News smarm excreter, which is their way of saying, “The left is provoking the right to be violent against the left once again.”
The rightwing white male Christian supremacist reaction is comparable to one of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s mythical “five stages of grief,” the stage of anger. They’re stuck in the “anger” stage. What are the reactionaries grieving? Something that never existed: a world wherein they could busy themselves through the days without ever being reminded that there were concerns and needs different from their own. A time when nothing stood in the way of their expression. No social considerations blocked the striving for the satisfaction of their wholesome desires.
They resent being reminded that the world isn’t made up only of them, living as they want to live in their parochial ways, and they mourn the time when those reminders didn’t exist. It’s not a good grief. It’s a bad grief, because it is based on the loss of something they never had. They grieve the loss of an imaginary condition, a singularly pure state. A peculiar institution, if you will.
Thus we found ourselves last Friday evening being assaulted by a resentful racist who went to the symphony expecting to enjoy some blue-eyed jazz from one of his beloved childhood holiday cartoons only to lay eyes on a stage filled with players led by a musician of color.
Of course, my interpretation could be entirely wrong from beginning to end. Whatever happened, though, it’s a symptom, and not a symptom of anything good.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Happy holidays!