Tuesday, July 31, 2018
A Nation of Meddlesome Ninnies We've Become
We have become a nation of meddlesome Americans. It was not always so. There was a time when Americans did not nark on their neighbors. They didn’t inform on their coworkers. They have not, historically, been the comrades in a communist regime whispering, seeking favor from the authorities, and sending hated enemies to the gulag for minor infractions just for spite. Something in the last generation has changed. Americans have turned into a nation of busybodies, harassing strangers on the web, calling the police or their places of business, and generally feeling entitled to destroy someone's life with whom they disagree. Who needs Big Brother when anonymous strangers will seek to silence, defame, shame, and ruin innocent people when their target violates their personal moral code, not the law and not good sense?
There are a couple forms of this destruction. Over the weekend, I read two articles, one from the New York Times, another at Gizmo, both detailing the menacing behavior of people who should have just minded their own damn business. It is a lost American art, and it needs to come back now as innocent people are having their private lives unnecessarily upended. In both cases, complete strangers distorted innocent activities by their fellow Americans and decided to invade and disrupt someone else’s life. What happened to minding one’s own business?
When did American life so completely change? A few things have happened. In small towns, everyone knows the Town Gossip, the loose-lipped Guttersnipe, the Babbling Drunk. These folks were the exceptions to the rule of minding your own business. Either through overt meanness or carelessness, a gossip passed along their stories at the knitting circle or at the bar. And while these people were often disliked, they were a known quantity and could be avoided. Or, the person who heard a tall tale from these folks could filter the contents through the lens of knowing the character assassin’s tendencies.
Now, with the flat interaction online, filtering for character of a person on a Facebook page or fact-checking the veracity of a character assassin is impossible. An anonymous tip to a cop? Another change happened, too: More mothers are in the workforce, so fewer parents are at home. People don’t know their neighbors and they don’t know the kids and they don’t interact with anyone. It’s easy to call the cops on people one doesn’t know. It’s less effort to be tattletale than a good neighbor.
Public shaming private citizens is now high art to be praised. People go onto the internet, take a picture, and write a post about some heinous sin that must be stopped: Like the crime of the peanut butter sandwich. It’s not your business if someone wears a MAGA hat. It’s not your business if someone wears a Che shirt (though they do reveal themselves as morons and it’s okay to point and giggle). It’s not your business if a parent lets her kid play in the park across the street or take a walk. It’s not your business if a kid is in a car playing a video game on a mild fall day.
Keyboard vigilantes might well expend some effort to better their own lives rather than seek some benign social media user to destroy. Tend your own little catastrophe that’s called life. What a narcissistic, overly sensitive, bitchy culture America has become.