June 11th, 2020

What motivates public figures to make incongruous public statements

Over the past few days, humanity has been busy trying to show how crazy it can be when present in groups. Tommy Lee Jones said it perfectly in his role as Agent K in Men in Black: "A person is intelligent. People are stupid." A similar perfectly matching quote comes from a famous demotivational poster about meetings: "None of us is as dumb as all of us." A single person is usually capable of being intelligent and rational, but in groups, human beings regularly reach levels of insanity and stupidity which would rarely be achieved by a single person thinking alone. Perhaps this is because people have the self-awareness to realize that if they thought of an idea themselves, it might be worth considering that idea for a moment to decide whether it makes any sense or not, whereas in groups, people are perfectly willing to assume that if everyone in the group agrees on one idea, that idea must be true, and the matter does not need any further consideration.

Many of the insane ideas we've seen on prominent display are not new. The idea that if one person experiences injustice, setting cities on fire, stealing televisions from stores at night, and killing a bunch of people who had nothing to do with the incident will promote justice is not a new idea, but one that we've seen repeated several times throughout recent history (and to some extent, less recent history as well, although of course without the televisions). A more recent idea which has come to great prominence is the idea that it is racist to say that all people have equal rights. It was once considered progressive to say that human rights are universal and apply to all human beings, but now people have gotten so crazy that they consider it racist to say this; instead, you must specifically focus on one racial group to the discrimination of all others, because that is how you end racism. You might want to read that sentence again: In a world of many different racial groups, people are actively promoting the idea that the solution to racial discrimination is to promote the interests of one race to the exclusion of others. The fact that people actually believe this shows just how disastrously people get their minds tied into knots when they adopt fanatical ideology. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights famously declares: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights". Who knew that the UN was a racist organization all this time?

One idea which is also not new but has been attaining a vicious level of virulence lately is the idea that people should be forced to speak out against whatever society wants them to speak out against. It used to be that people were encouraged to speak up about relevant social issues, but now there is a whole element of troublemakers who are promoting the idea that people should be shamed and intimidated into acting as mouthpieces for a particular movement.

The practice of people making impassioned statements in inappropriate venues has a long and storied history, and it's sometimes perplexing what causes people to choose a particular moment and place to take a stand for whatever they want to take a stand for. Michael Moore's acceptance speech at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003 was poorly timed, with Moore choosing to take the moment that had been set aside for him to express his gratitude to instead start screaming "We are against this war, Mr. Bush! Shame on you!", but Moore is known for this kind of fanaticism, and considering that he was there to collect the award for Best Documentary, it at least seemed to fit in with his work. Much more of a head-scratcher is when people who are more pure "entertainers" seem to think that anyone is moved by their self-righteous efforts to suddenly act like they are political activists. What exactly motivated Marlon Brando, upon winning the Academy Award for Best Actor, to send a Native American activist onto the stage to make a speech about Native American rights at a time when Brando was supposed to be there? What was it that motivated the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, normally a pretty hip person, to make even more tone-deaf speeches about Tibet's political status during his acceptance speeches for music awards which had nothing to do with what he'd decided to preach to people about? It's well and good to have a cause, but have the decency to know when is the right time to promote them instead of trying to trap people into a place where they're forced to listen to your propaganda. Regular readers of my blog know that I'm not the kind of person to hold back on expressing my opinion, and I've expressed many opinions in the past which most people would vilify me for, but even I know when and where is the appropriate place to make such opinions known. I'm not forcing my opinions on anyone here; I am expressing them on a blog which people choose to read, and if they do not like what I've chosen to say, no one has to read it. The statements from Moore and Yauch have all the sensitivity of those people who stop random strangers on the street to say "Excuse me, I'd like to take a few minutes to talk to you about the Lord".

People are also beginning to violate the age-old rule of not stepping on other people's moral alignments. Historically, people who are in the habit of giving to charity or publicly supporting charities have been, if you'll excuse the weak joke, charitable toward each other in accepting which charity someone else chooses. There are many different charities in the world, and some of them could be seen as promoting more urgent causes than others, but there has generally been an unspoken rule of conduct that you do not criticize another person's choice of cause for being less worthy than yours, because there is always something in the world which could be argued as more urgent or more worthy than something else, and so people who embrace any particular cause have generally been allowed to do so: If someone supports a charity for children's education, you do not criticize their decision to do so by declaring "But there are children dying out there! Don't you think it's more important to address that need before turning to education?", because that kind of petty infighting just prevents anything from getting done and turns friends into enemies.

This basic respect for other people's chosen causes is now being violated by the premise that "If you are not supporting the specific cause which I demand you to support, then you are automatically its enemy". The slogan "silence is violence" has been trending for the past few days, the idea being that if you do not speak out against what people think you need to be speaking out against, then you are automatically supporting the other side. This is the very definition of a false dichotomy, and it is a common trick used by destabilizers who want to guilt or intimidate others into working for them. People who have nothing better to do than stir up conflict are now trying to force public figures to make public statements which support causes which they have nothing to do with, on the basis of the idea that if someone does not parrot what you want them to say, they are supporting injustice. It never seems to cross anyone's mind that maybe people have their own lives and are busy minding their own business instead of taking the time to make public statements on every possible cause that exists in the world. The only thing which matters to these destabilizers is that people say what the destabilizers want them to say; otherwise, efforts are made to shame them into oblivion.

This corresponds to the relatively new term "cancel culture", the idea if someone is not politically or socially agreeable, you "cancel" that person by shunning them and making them irrelevant, rather like the way people who did not conform to the party line were "disappeared" in communist societies, where people who held opinions that did not represent the "acceptable" ideology were edited out of photographs and had their names removed from any records which might have mentioned them. Cancel culture is just a more recent manifestation of this same idea, except that instead of being practiced by governments, it's now being practiced by everyday people who think that if any actor, musician, or other entertainer or public figure does not represent your views, it's time to "cancel" them.

Here we see the pressure under which public figures are placed when they step into public view. An actor or singer is not just an actor or a singer; they are a public figure who may make public statements about controversial subjects and who thus will often be used as pawns by various political causes. In the midst of this environment, public figures are under significant pressure to say what is expected of them, because otherwise they might be censored. Just as writers who lived in communist states and wrote texts which were critical of their governments suddenly found themselves unable to get published, just as American actors who were suspected of being "Communists" were blacklisted by Hollywood in the mid-20th century and suddenly found themselves unable to get acting roles, we see this same pattern repeating in public figures today, except that with the rise of the Internet, it is easier than ever to broadcast the message: "This person isn't saying what we want them to say. It's time to cancel them".

The entertainment business is still a business. Some people might like to believe that artists enjoy a fair amount of freedom to say what they want to say, but this isn't really true: If they say or do something which doesn't agree with current public values, they're gone. Consider how difficult it would be now for Bill Cosby to restart his career. The once-loved comedian has fallen from grace to such an extent that even if he were to ever produce something again, no one would be able to see the work for what it is. No one would watch a new Bill Cosby movie and say "You know what? This movie is funny, and that's reason enough for it to have merit, regardless of what the actor does in his personal life". The world just doesn't work like that. People do not separate works of art from the people who create them. Whether they should or not is another question, but an entirely theoretical one.

Some people may take issue with this point, particularly in the context of celebrities like Moore and Yauch, insisting that both were sincerely devoted to their causes, not motivated by profitability but by something higher than that. That may be the case, but that doesn't mean that those people get to force their ideology onto the public in a venue which has nothing to do with whatever they thought was so important that they had to interrupt a pleasant evening to preach about it. In any case, it is immoral to intimidate people or otherwise try to force them into becoming a mouthpiece for your movement. People have the right to remain silent. People have the right to choose their battles. It is a crime against humanity to try to force people to advocate for your cause, or to accuse them of being your enemies if they do not rabidly scream the words you want to hear from them. You can stand up for what you want to, but you do not have the right to demand or even expect that other people will stand next to you. Even so, there are a lot of people who try these kinds of dishonest tactics, and that's what motivates public figures to make incongruous public statements.