Our Sin Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Our Sin Is Not A Zero Sum Game January 22, 2019

I sinned. I reacted impulsively and opportunistically to the Covington Catholic drama with my hot take on how disrespect for other cultures is rooted in an understanding of truth as the exclusive purview of Christianity.

It was also a sin for the Covington Catholic kids to make fake tomahawk chops and chant “Heyah! Heyah!” when Omaha elder Nathan Phillips was beating his drum.

It was also a sin for the Black Hebrew Israelite sidewalk preachers to taunt the Catholic kids with homophobic slurs.

It was also a sin for people to make death threats against the kid smiling smirkily in this photo and for people (like me) to project character qualities onto his facial expressions.

It was also a sin for journalists to jump recklessly on a story whose full complexity was unknown in order to get the scoop and score the most hits.

It was also a sin for right-wing pundits to assassinate the character of Nathan Phillips in order to achieve their agenda of making the Covington Catholic kids into martyr heroes and turning every national drama into a referendum on PC culture.

I didn’t see anything Nathan Phillips did that was obviously sinful though I don’t think he recognized the degree to which the boys had been baited by the street preachers. Since he has been the most humble voice in all of this nonsense, I suspect he could probably think of something he could have done better.

Guess what? None of these sins cancel each other out. If I write an article about how disgusting it is that right-wing pundits have tried to paint Nathan Phillips as some kind of provocateur instigator, that doesn’t cancel out the stupid impulsivity of my own reaction to the whole situation. Neither does showing a video clip of Nathan Phillips walking toward the Covington Catholics suddenly mean that it’s perfectly okay to mock his culture with fake tomahawk chops and heyah heyah chants. And if I say hey notice this, that doesn’t mean I’m saying some other aspect of the situation doesn’t exist.

In the cesspool of postmodern social media, we leverage one person’s sins to cancel out another’s. Because postmodern arguments get reduced to categorical invalidation of the other side rather than critical thinking and growth. Everything is swept into a monolithic pile of evidence that the other side is completely illegitimate, untrustworthy, overly sensitive, spoiled rotten, stupid, etc. At least that’s what seems to happen on the macro-narrative level. Look at those racists; all conservative Christians are racists; look at those knee-jerk libtards calling kids racist before they know all the facts.

In the midst of all the ugly noise, there are many real people saying valid, truthful things and calling out real ugliness. It is true that white liberal pundits will throw anybody under the bus who they need to in order to give themselves the higher moral ground of being “objective and fair.”

It is true that some people are privileged enough to have an expensive PR firm ghost-write a public statement for them that turns public sympathy their way, which doesn’t mean that hiring a PR firm is an unreasonable thing to do if you’re getting death threats and people trying their best to ensure you’re expelled from high school and black-listed from every college you apply to because smirking and not stepping aside in a confusing moment cancels out every good thing you’ve ever done.

It’s also true that the direct eye witness testimony of Nathan Phillips ultimately doesn’t count for shit compared to the Eloquent Objective Analysis of white people at Reason, The Atlantic, etc, which is one more bitter confirmation for people of color watching this that their stories will never be believed by white people.

These truths are not swept aside by the recognition that our disembodied, sensationalistic social media discourse can create a toxic mess that ruins peoples’ lives. And saying that lives can be ruined by social media does not cancel out the lives that are ruined without it or the political empowerment that is gained through it. It just isn’t a zero sum game. Yes, I forgot that every day, but it’s so important to our humanity to say it like a mantra. This isn’t a zero sum game.

The real insidious evil is that billions of dollars are being made off of the hysteria we get baited into. Outrage is incentivized over actual thoughtful political organizing and cultural education, because outrage makes money and it’s as quick and easy to indulge as masturbation. And it’s very hard as a blogger not to get sucked in. Because when I write about the wholesome things I should be writing about, nobody wants to read it.

If I wanted to pull a Jesus juke, I could tie this post up in a nice little bow by saying all this moral complexity is the reason Jesus died on the cross so we could stop trying to figure out whose fault everything is and just hand our blame over to Jesus. That’s what I believe and yet saying it doesn’t cleanly resolve everything. But somehow I hope that I can learn to respond to things that come up in our world with more of Jesus’ wisdom. I’m a sinner and the world is complicated. I will try to do better.

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