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!