I’m old enough to remember a time when the average home had three TV channels and a few radio stations. Some people had more than one newspaper, but in many towns it was one paper with maybe multiple editions through the day. I grew up in a house with two TV channels, which is why I never developed the TV habit. My father would come home with the newspaper, which he read after dinner. He was a working man so he read the evening paper. Salary men read the morning paper.
The point here is that it was not that long ago when mass media was a narrow pipe allowing for few voices. In order to get on TV, you had a long apprenticeship. That meant most of lunatics were weeded out before they got in front of a camera. Newspaper columnists spent years covering local stories, writing obituaries and following cops around town reporting on crime stories. Getting a column was a big deal and reserved for middle-aged men who could be trusted to keep it between the ditches, even if they drank at breakfast.
The communications revolution has made the pipe infinity larger. So much so that anyone with a little initiative can reach a broad audience. The trouble is the number of responsible, sensible people is fixed. That means the pipe is now full of nuts and morons hooting and bellowing at us, drowning out the few intelligent voices. The megaphone is now in the hands of the dumbest members of society. Here’s a good example.
The video is horrific. Madison, Alabama police officer Eric Parker slammed Sureshbhai Patel into the ground hard enough to paralyze him. There was a time when lynchings were carried out by mobs. Now, we have created a much more formal process of carrying out violence against oppressed and marginalized people. Badges and uniforms are handed out so that those we place in authority can intimidate and repress those that we think are less worthy of life. The temptation is to say that Eric Parker is an animal and dismiss the entire situation. The truth is that Eric Parker was simply doing what we paid him to do.
The dirty secret about the attack on Sureshbhai Patel is that a homeowner called in and reported him as, “…a skinny black guy, he’s got a toboggan on, he’s really skinny.” There was also an ominous report that he was getting close to a garage. The police showed up quickly for “a skinny black guy” in a white neighborhood close to a garage. These are racist thoughts perpetuated in white neighborhoods around our nation every day. The police first thought they were going after a black man.
Upon arrival, Officer Parker realized Patel did not speak English. Instead of having patience, Officer Parker grew more aggressive. How many times does this same situation play out over and over again throughout our nation? People who are unable to understand and speak English are treated like shit. What makes us think that our language is superior to every other language on earth? The truth of the matter is that the only language that our whole nation is fluent in is the language of violence and oppression. Officer Parker simply played out the way that we treat immigrants all the time…we push them around, treat them with suspicion and tell them to go home. What began as racism, turned into xenophobia and ended up in a crime of hate.
Ever since I heard about the story, I have not stopped praying for Sureshbhai Patel. When I told a religious friend of mine how concerned I was about this story, I was chastised, “If he is Hindu, then you need to first and foremost pray for his salvation.” Who the hell is going to pray for our salvation? We are an evil, intolerant and oppressive people in desperate need of an antidote. The first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem. For the love of God, can we please stop and admit that we need help?
The Huffington Post is pretty much just a platform for lunatics like the person who wrote the above report. If you actually click through the links to the news reports, you learn that this is a case of a gung-ho cop in a small town, something all of us have encountered at least once. The town quickly suspended the cop and is charging him with assault. It’s a shame this old man got hurt, but these sorts of things are bound to happen in a big country with 300 million people.
To a mentally disturbed person, this is something more sinister. If you run “Reverend Jeff Hood” through the google machine you quickly learn he is a crazy person. He’s probably harmless, but giving him a platform to broadcast his brand of crazy is irresponsible. When you’re trying to fill that huge pipe with content, however, you quickly run out of sane people and have no choice but to dip into the lunatic bucket.
There’s no mechanism in modern societies to deal with this phenomenon. Maybe people just ignore it all, but I doubt it. The downward drift of public discourse in the last three decades suggests the coarsening is proportional to the size of the pipe. The above story was on the front page of Yahoo today, which is why I noticed it. Some number of sensible people will read that nonsense and think it is legitimate.
It’s getting harder and harder for me to remain a sunny optimist.