All around me, people are engaging in all sorts of post-hoc adjustments of their initial public reactions to the Covington High School incident. I’m going to engage in a tiny bit of smug here, because I neither had nor offered any knee-jerk response to the initial video, so I had nothing to walk back, to apologize for, to contort into something less obviously wrong, to mine for a shred of “see I wasn’t totally wrong” dissembling, or to deflect and make a “big picture” argument to cover my ass.

Right now, you can find countless “teaching moment” opinions peppering the web, almost all of them written from their default perspectives. The Left says “we screwed up,” but still finds fault with the kids’ being there, with insufficient adult supervision, with MAGA hats, and with whatever hypocrisy angles they can find (one such, that a “tax exempt Catholic school [has] the balls to send children to a political protest”). Some of those on the Never-Trump Right who leapt to condemn are also picking on the MAGA hat angle while feeling a bit more righteous and a bit less abashed about their original reactions. And, some who immediately leapt to the kids’ defense are spiking the football, in that they’re extrapolating anecdote into a universal truth about press lies and fake news.

Common in all this are caveats against rushing to judgment in the future, as if this is a revelatory moment unearthing deep, hidden wisdom.

That’s the bullshit. We’ve known, forever, that rushing headlong is usually a bad idea.

When angry, count to ten before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred. — Thomas Jefferson

Children (well, any children that receive a semblance of instruction on getting along in society) are taught to “count to ten” if they feel an emotional reaction. It’s a classic tool of anger management, and we’ve all heard it. Prior to technology, where the only reactions we could hot-take quickly enough to defeat a ten-count were of the face-to-face variety, it served us in a real, physical, face-preservation capacity. Counting to ten is a good way to avoid getting punched in the face. And, oftentimes, if you truly had pent-up rage at someone or something, the ten count would let you quash it until you got somewhere by yourself or among friends, where you could vent without risk of reprisal. It also gave you a chance to cool your blood and decide if your hot-take was legitimate.

The advent of cars provided us with a “safe space” where we could react without a ten count and not risk getting punched in the face. It’s why we’ll scream things at other drivers that we’d never dare say if we didn’t have a couple tons of steel and glass protecting us. Fortunately, the vast majority of road-rage is mere venting – we are neither heard nor noticed by those against whom we rage. Thus, if we get something wrong, if we later realize that we were in error, or that the other driver might be someone who deserves a bit more consideration (e.g. an elderly person driving slowly), we can simply let go of our rage moment, with no need to mea culpa and with no one knowing of our error.

The Internet, however, makes for a worst-case distortion of the factors that previously made for polite society and measured responses. It provides even better shelter than our F-150 or Prius does, without the muting/no one notices aspect. It gives us a place to put forth an instant reaction completely immune from punch-in-the-face retribution, but then immortalizes that instant reaction. And, it gives everyone on the planet the means to scold us, or worse, if our instant reaction is wrong.

All this tells us that a figurative count-to-ten, a withholding of judgment (or at least sharing that judgment), is as or more vital on the Internet as it is in a face-to-face situation. After all, if you lash out at someone face-to-face, and it doesn’t escalate into a physical altercation, you’ve got a chance at defusing, at reasoning things out, at apologizing if necessary, and at putting the whole thing into the dustbin of forgotten history. Not so, the Internet. You can delete your post, or even your social media account, but if your initial response was noticed by enough people, someone will have screen-capped or otherwise saved it. The only safe assumption is that anything you put on the Internet is forever.

Yes, we all make mistakes, and we can all adjust opinions as we learn new facts. If our original opinions were well-formed and based on reliable and sufficient information, we can justify them even as we correct them. But, the only way to render such opinions in the first place is to count to ten.

Besides, the hard truth is that no one cares if you react instantly. No one gives a shit if you dog-pile on a hot button, instead of waiting a day to respond. No one will notice your initial silence during a rapidly evolving story. So, do yourself and the rest of us a favor next time some outrage emerges. Shut the [redacted] up instead of repeating to the world what a million others have already hot-tased. You’ll be better off.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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