Painful Truth: Consequences hard in panopticon world

How does society judge the people whose beliefs are so odious that they demand action?

If someone tells you they didn’t vote for the party you prefer, you probably wouldn’t punch them in the face.

But what if they told you they voted for a fringe party you particularly despise?

What if they said they don’t believe in voting at all? Maybe they believe that all mainstream politicians are dupes of a conspiracy of extradimensional lizard people, or that women shouldn’t vote, or that the vote should be restricted to only white property owners?

Could you get along with them? Should you try?

Should you just punch them in the face?

(Morally, I think it’s fine to punch Nazis. A bloody nose is the least they’ve got coming, karmically speaking, for their desire to oppress and murder millions. Practically, Nazi-punching might get you arrested, so use your own judgment.)

Here we get into the difficult bit. Nazis are garbage people. Obviously racist and misogynist and homophobic twits? Not going to be on my Christmas card list, and I’m going to avoid dealing with them, personally or commercially, whenever I have that option.

So we have a shared, and variable, level of tolerance. We can have friends and work with people across party and religious lines. That is for the best! It allows us to change and grow together, to exchange ideas without exchanging gunfire.

But there’s another division, emerging from the fact that we always have a circle of tolerance.

Some of the biggest clashes we’re having right now aren’t between people with different beliefs, they’re about how we enforce those circles on the people who step outside them.

A woman in Alberta went on a racist screed in public in a restaurant. Whatever “the mainstream” looks like in Canada is going to condemn her behaviour.

She’s since lost her job.

I say that’s fine. She embarrassed the heck out of her employer, who was probably frantic to disassociate the business from her odious words and actions.

Maybe you disagree. Maybe you think that woman’s firing was fine, but there were other situations where a firing wasn’t warranted.

I’m not arguing here that we shouldn’t have consequences (see above re: Nazis deserve a fist-full of knuckles).

I’m saying that the debate over the appropriate consequences is only going to get more intense.

Twenty years ago, that woman in Alberta would still have her job, because no one would have filmed it. Back then, if you left your hometown, and acted like an awful, awful person, the chances you’d face any blowback were minimal. You could walk away from your crappy, racist behaviour and go back to your everyday life.

Now, we put our lives online. We can film anything, anywhere.

We live within a near-perfect panopticon, one we built for ourselves out of camera phones and Facebook shares and viral tweets.

So every day, you can see a story of someone doing something awful. And every day, we get to have the debate over consequences again.

I have no idea where it will end. I fear, not that we will go too far, but that we won’t go far enough. I worry that we’ll get tired of it all, and allow some of the worst people in the world a little more latitude in their speech, and in their ability to spread their vile ideas.

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