Or… The Rise of the Hall Monitors

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt did Joe Rogan’s podcast back in January, and a snippet from that airing was helpfully offered to me by Youtube this morning. The topic of that moment was the “when” of the advent of the social justice warrior (SJW) culture. They offered several memorable quips, including “call-out culture,” “credit for public denunciation,” and “most sensitive person standard,” as descriptors for the who, how, and why of this movement. I flashed back to another pithy turn of phrase, “personal bureaucracy,” offered by columnist Heather Mac Donald and discussed in a recent blog post. These all describe the person who craves external validation, who wants to fit in with the cool crowd, and who sees the pathway to both via the wielding of power, however petty, with no regard for those upon whom it is wielded.

The advent of the “like” button on social media platforms may turn out to be as great a social toxin as racism, if it continues to manifest and metastasize. It has created a feedback mechanism that turns people outward in their pursuit of happiness, so that, instead of finding that happiness through internal satisfaction and individual achievement, they get it by having lots of people validate them through the clicking of an icon. If you become dependent on the good will of strangers to validate how you feel about yourself, you become enslaved to their worst whims. And, once those validators realize their power, they’ll bend you to their viewpoint (and punish you if you don’t comply) as they seek their own form of externally-validated satisfaction.

Haidt points to the year 2014 as the beginning of SJW culture, and while the elements that created it can be traced back about a decade further, it is truly shocking to consider how rapidly this call-out culture has turned people against each other, in a stark, binary, Manichean good-vs-evil way.

People of a certain age may remember the Brady Bunch episode where Bobby was made a hall monitor, and took that assignment to heart, proceeding thereafter to narc his siblings out to his parents. This business of publicly calling out any perceived transgression of a constantly-evolving set of rules reeks of that same hall-monitor mentality, where people who often have an ax (real or imagined) to grind take especial glee in tearing others down. The power wielded, individually, is usually minor-to-trivial, not even rising to the level of petty martinet. Ineffectual power can be incredibly frustrating, but the frustrated now have, thanks to technology, the ability to amplify their middling mewlings by chanting in unison, and thus becoming a dominant voice that does have real and destructive power.

From the scrum emerge taste-makers, people to whom the hall monitors will look to for the rules they are to enforce. Those taste-makers, in turn, compete for hall monitors, and the loudest and most outraged ones will provide their loyalists the most tools by which to tear down others and feed their narcissisms.

The movie The Usual Suspects is centered around the interrogation of petty criminal Verbal Kint (which earned Kevin Spacey an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) by FBI Agent David Kujan (ably played by Chazz Palminteri). Agent Kujan finally gets Verbal to “admit” that his co-conspirator Keaton (played by Gabriel Byrne), a former cop, was the mastermind of the whole operation, was the mythical Keyzer Soze (spoiler alert, and if you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you, Kint himself was actually Keyzer Soze and had made up most of the tale he told Kujan). Verbal’s next-to-last utterance, a rejection of Kujan’s urging him to turn state’s evidence against Keaton, was “I’m not a rat, Agent Kujan.” Of course, he had nothing to “rat” about, but the sentiment is one that has lubricated human society, both civil and criminal, since time immemorial.

No one likes a rat. No one likes a narc. No one likes a tattle-tale. No one likes a squealer, a stool pigeon, a canary, an informer, a gossip, a fink, a snitch, a finger-pointer, a tale-teller, or a yenta. No one likes the hall monitor, or the sibling who runs to the parents, eager to get you in trouble. Yet, it is the rats that have assumed power in present-day society, and it is publicly ratting someone out that gains these people social accolades, attention, likes, followers on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and a feeling of power over others. And, in a seething mass of rats, the loudest squeaker, the one who finds the most to screech about, the “most sensitive person,” is the one whose voice often rises above, and who gets the external validation he has been taught to need and crave.

Of course, a “rat” in the criminal world is someone who reports criminality to the authorities, and serves society in doing so. Our social justice rats, on the other hand, may believe that they are unmasking wrongdoing, that they are the white knights defending the weak and oppressed (the minority of the populace that considers themselves progressive activists is overwhelmingly rich, white, and college educated), that they are actually engaging in social justice, but the reality is that most of them are simply feeding their neediness by tearing down anyone they can, whenever they can, for whatever reason they think will sell to the taste-makers they adulate. And, destroying the society they purport to champion in doing so.

The fundamentally destructive nature of this phenomenon means that, ultimately, even SJWs are not safe from each other, as committed progressives Mark Ruffalo and Lena Dunham learned a couple years ago. The Mafia may have its Omerta, Verbal Kint may not be a rat, but as there is no honor among thieves, there is no loyalty among SJWs.

Ours has become a culture of rats, where telling the world about someone else’s transgression, no matter that it’s slight or even fabricated out of nothing, brings external reward and approval. It’s caustic, and vicious. And, it’s self-perpetuating and self-amplifying, because those who try to drop out of the rat culture (or, worse, work against it) find themselves besieged and beleaguered.

Is there a way out of this mess, that doesn’t involve fracturing the nation? Only when the beleaguered majority stands up and says “enough!”

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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