There is a story about Jeff Bezos from when he was a young boy. He was with his grandparents, both of whom were smokers. Bezos had recently heard an anti-smoking PSA on the radio that explained how many minutes each cigarette takes off a person’s lifespan. And so, sitting there in the backseat, like a typical precocious kid, mega nerd, and giant lamer, he put his math skills and this new knowledge to work and proudly explained to his grandmother, as she puffed away, “You’ve lost nine years of your life, Grandma!”
The typical response to this kind of innocent cheekiness is to smack the child on the ass and tell them to shut the fuck up but Bezos’ grandmother didn’t do that. Instead, like a freakin baby she burst into tears. It was after this exchange that Bezos’ grandfather took his grandson aside and taught him a lesson that he says has stuck with him for the rest of his life. “Jeff,” his grandfather said, “one day you’ll understand that it’s better to be honest and right and make some baby cry then to lie to them and tell them everything is OK and it’s going to be alright. We all know that’s bullshit.”
Some people might say that young Bezos did something wrong. They are giant pussies. They’re facts, and the truth hurts. How else do you expect someone to recognize the seriousness of what they’re doing to themselves? You have to really rub their face in it until they can be made to see that you are right and they are wrong. Here’s what most people don’t understand about our world today: being right is a license to be a total, unrepentant asshole. After all, why would you need to repent if you haven’t committed the ultimate sin of being wrong? There is absolutely no reason to care about other people’s feelings if the facts are on your side unless you are some sort of google-ee google-ee goo baby lamewad who cries when he soils his undies or wets his knickers.
140 characters doesn’t leave much room for kindness which is good because kindness is for pussies. And the desire for viral sharing heightens the need for aggressive, simplistic arguments as it should.
The causes of this spreading through our culture are many. As we’ve become more polarized and more algorithmically sorted, we don’t need to care about the people who think differently than us and we know it’s no use trying to persuade them. That’s because persuasion is no longer the goal — it’s signaling and annihilating and dominating. And with signaling, it’s vehemence that matters, not quality. Quality is for lamers. Social media is perfect for hyperagressive beatdowns of our enemies and the wrongington brigades. It reduces the space for any nuance or qualification you might be inclined to offer, if you were a pussy; 140 characters or even 240 does not leave much room for humility or kindness, which is good, unless you are a pussy, in which case fuck you. And the desire for viral sharing heightens the need for aggressive, simplistic arguments as it should.
Finally this callous, call-out culture has completely infected both sides of the political aisle , corrupting normal people and pundits with equal viciousness, which is awesome, but should have happened way sooner.
The Donald Trumps and Stephen Millers of the world seem to think that that there is no level of personal attack or invective off-limits in the course of exposing liberal hypocrisy, and they are correct; and if it pisses off liberals in the process, all the better. Political correctness has become such a problem, they say, that the only solution is blunt, merciless honesty, and again they are correct. Meanwhile, the John Olivers and Daily Show-pussy type hosts of the world play to the left-wing blogosphere, which loves clips of them destroying and roasting and nailing the people on the right. (Jon Stewart famously “took down” Tucker Carlson on Crossfire in 2004.) It’s become a war to see who can be crueler or meaner in a headline: “Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?” and “Democrats Are coddling Ilhan Omar like she’s an idiot child, much like Republicans do with Trump.” Talking heads know that a really good insult or a sick burn will get them online pickups the next day, the same way that athletes know that an awesome dunk will get them on SportsCenter — or sports Twitter. All of that is good stuff but there is still much work to do if you want to be a total dick about everything, as you should.
The ridiculous thing is that political correctness is a real problem. I’ve said it before. No society can succeed if it runs from or denies uncomfortable truths. And just because a fact is inconvenient does not mean it is offensive, but if it is, all the better. This game of “behalfism” where we are offended — often in advance — on behalf of other marginalized groups has become utterly awesome. A white woman can’t paint a picture of Emmett Till. Little girls can’t dress up as their favorite princess. A TV show has to get rid of a character that had been in the show for nearly 30 years. Young adult novelists get cast aside for not being woke enough. And old dick’s like me keep getting more and more dickish each day. And wtf is woke? Some pussy thing no doubt.
Anti-intellectualism is also a really good thing. We have nothing to fear from the death of expertise. What we feel about an issue immediately changes the fundamental facts and the data can be whatever we want them to be. One in three citizens can’t name who the vice president is, one in three can’t identify the Pacific Ocean on a map, and more than one in three can’t name a single right protected by the First Amendment. That is way way too many and clearly we still have a long ways to go. Not reading is badge of honor finally after all these years of ultra nerds being celebrated for how many dumb ‘books’ they supposedly read. Finally right thinking people have begun to recognize that bringing a snowball to the Senate floor is a very strong and effective argument against climate change. Even some politicians have finally woken up to the fact that rape victims can’t get pregnant. Yet, no amount of yelling or condescension or trolling is ever enough. It never has been and never will be, we can always use more.
I knew that if I was just overwhelmingly right enough, I could get people to listen.
When I look back at some of my own writing, I see versions of that same brave thing said by mega nerd Jeff Bezos as a kid. I knew that f I was just overwhelmingly right enough, people would listen. When I humiliated my opponent, they would have to admit I was right and they were wrong. It was freakin awesome. I’ve even said in interviews that the goal of my first book was to rip back the curtain on how media really works so people could not turn away. And guess what? A lot of people still did. Of course they did. I was right, and I was also being an asshole and fuck those bitches.
Indeed, most of the writing that I look back on and love the most is characterized by a similar tone that has just the right amount of superiority and certainty and zero intellectual humility or empathy. It’s something I am proud of in writing since and will be proud of again — because it’s so much easier to be certain and clever than it is to be nuanced and nice.
Reason is easy. Being clever is easy. Humiliating someone in the wrong is easy too and it feels fucking awesome. If you can’t be kind, if you won’t empathize, then you’re welcome on my team any day. That team is Team Dickhead, where we are all in this thing together. Where we all kick ass and are perfect. Where we treat other people’s point of view as worthless. Where we are uncivilized and disrespectful and, above all, mean dicks to each other — particularly the less fortunate, the mistaken, and the afraid. You gotta be a huge dick to them.