Conflagrations of internet outrage all seem to follow a predictable pattern. A recent flare-up of outrage over a Twitter joke by comedian Stephen Colbert is just the latest manifestation of the endless cycle of imaginary outrage that has become permanent feature of the internet. In brief, a relatively humorless tweet supposedly making fun of Asians was released from the comedian’s The Colbert Report Twitter feed. The tweet was noticed by a 23 year old female “freelance writer” and “activist” of Korean-American ancestry, who promptly decided to declare a crusade against alleged anti-Asian racism. A profile of Ms. Park has described her personal struggles:
Park had her own struggles — primarily an eating disorder that she said lasted nine years. It was not until she started attending the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign that she got into activism. She and her friends called out the administration for not cracking down on the use of an Indian chief mascot that had been retired by the school, but still lived on unofficially at sporting events.
Ms. Park appeared on HuffPost Live for an interview, where she came across as a neurotic, frustrated whiner. The interview was notable for this final exchange between her and host Josh Zepps:
Park: I feel like it’s incredibly patronizing for you to paint these questions this way, especially as a white man. I don’t expect you to be able to understand what people of color are actually saying with regards to #CancelColbert.
Epps: Being a white man doesn’t prevent me from being able to think. It doesn’t prevent me from being able to have reasoned perspective on things.
Park: White men definitely feel like they’re entitled to talk over me. They definitely feel like they’re entitled to minimalize [sic] my experiences, and they definitely feel like they are somehow exempt and so logical compared to women, who are painted as emotional, right?
Zepps: No one’s “minimalizing” your right to have an opinion. It’s just a stupid opinion.
Park’s “#Cancel Colbert” crusade was picked up by veteran screamer Michelle Malkin, a conservative pundit who thrives on the type of baiting, bashing, and attention-seeking that, in primitive times, were primarily reserved for star witnesses before the medieval Inquisition or jury trials for witchcraft. And so the latest firestorm of internet outrage was born. The three stages are by now relatively clear:
Stage 1: A random comment or event is injected somewhere into cyberspace.
Stage 2: A marginalized, neurotic person notices it, and seizes upon it to feed their attention-seeking impulses or repressed desires. Social media is used to generate a frenzy. Statements are cherry-picked for maximum impact, or simply invented. The person has a typical “accuser” or “informer” mentality. He or she is animated by hatreds and inner neuroses, but revels in the attention gained by simply making accusations. This is the type of person who would normally become an informer if he or she were living under an authoritarian system.
Stage 3: Other parties and media outlets join in the frenzy, more out of boredom and curiosity than anything else. Fake, insincere discussions about race, gender, sexism, racism, feminism, or any other politically correct topic ensue, and eventually fizzle out, with nothing meaningful having been accomplished.
Fake outrage in action: an accuser emotes about the unfairness of the world
Such is the predictable pattern of internet outrage conflagrations. And the predictable result is the resounding nothingness that remains at the bottom of the pot, after all the water has boiled away. They are tempests of nothingness, they are firestorms of vacuity.
One is reminded of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of the “eternal recurrence.” According to Nietzsche, all of the events in this world were doomed to be happen over and over, in an endless and horrible cycle of repeated manifestation. The idea is an old one, appearing in Hindu philosophy as well as the doctrines of the Stoics and Epicureans; and Nietzsche himself probably took it from Heinrich Heine. The doctrine is not so incredible as it seems: if the universe has an infinite lifespan, and there is a finite amount of matter with a finite number of combinations, then it would seem to follow that the same events could unfold again and again.
Nietzsche confronts the horror of the Eternal Recurrence
Yet we can imagine poor Nietzsche nearly going insane while thinking of the nightmarish implications of his “eternal recurrence” doctrine. And this was in the 1890s, far before the internet age! One wonders how quickly our modern electronic madness would have shattered his fragile nerves. The Roman poet Virgil, who was viewed as something of a prophet in the Middle Ages, echoed the same idea of eternal recurrence in his fourth Eclogue:
Now is come the last age of Cumaean song; the great line of the centuries
Begins anew. Now the Virgin returns, the reign of Saturn returns; now a new
Generation of descends from heaven on high…Yet will a few traces of old-time
Sin live on, to bid men tempt the sea in ships, girdle towns with walls; and cleave
The Earth with furrows. A second Typhys will then arise, and a second Argo to carry
Chosen heroes; a second war will be fought, and great Achilles be sent again to Troy.
Amid all the fake outrage, no one noticed a bit of contemporary news that would be far more deserving of Ms. Park’s and Ms. Malkin’s outrage. The city of Detroit just announced that it would cut off the water utility service of Detroit residents who were delinquent on their water bills. And how many are in arrears? About one-half of the city residents—over 140,000 people—are behind on their water bills. If over half the residents of a metropolitan area are unwilling to pay for water, it speaks volumes about the decay of the infrastructure in that city. I would guess that many other American cities have a similar situation, as they continue their downward spiral into poverty, debasement, and barbarism. Where is the outrage over this? There is nothing, not even a whisper. The barbarians are not at the frontiers: they are already inside the gates, and are multiplying from within, with the fertility of the simple-minded.
One is reminded of the civilizational collapse in Western Europe in fourth and fifth centuries A.D., as Rome’s aqueducts and water system in Italy and Gaul slowly silted in and became unusable, as poverty, ignorance, and barbarian presence combined to throw the water system into disuse. The marshes near Rome ceased to be drained, as they had been under the Caesars; and slowly they arose again, and became breeding grounds for pestilence and malaria. From a population of over one million, Rome’s population in the Middle Ages shrunk to under 50,000. It was the triumph of poverty and barbarism. But, of course, it would be asking too much for someone like Ms. Park to think in these terms. For she is one of the barbarians. She is part of that historical ferment of decomposition of societies.
I wonder if Ms. Park is as angry about Detroit’s collapse as she is about internet ethnic jokes
For her and Malkin, being an accuser is an end in itself. Accusing stokes the inner fires of repressed feminine libido, brings inner rapture, and satisfies that related feminine lust for power and attention. The proliferation of informers and accusers is also a symptom of decomposition among nations. The rise in the power of accusers and informers proceeds alongside the stifling power of political correctness, and the strangling of independent thought. Tacitus says, in Annals IV.7:
It was indeed the most deadly blight of the age that prominent senators practiced even the bases forms of accusation, some with openness, and many in private. Nor could any distinction be traced between outsider and relative, between friend and stranger, between the events of the present and those of the past. Both in the Forum and in private homes, to speak of any subject was to be accused. For every man was rushing to be the first in the field and to mark out his victim, sometimes in self-defense, but usually through infection of what seemed a contagious disease.
Fake outrage and false accusations are now the favored tools of those who take delight in sacrificing the public good to their own private passions. The unrestrained exercise of these passions—which the media age enables—multiplies the bacteria of societal decay. It continues with a sure and steady velocity.
Perhaps, in millennia or aeons hence, when the next momentous recurrence of our civilization rolls around as Nietzsche and Virgil cyclically predicted, we will do better.
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