Monday, June 13, 2016

Yoicks! And Away!, or Poo-Tee-Weet?

One of the Internet’s least endearing attributes is the slavering hunger its denizens have for reactions.

Did something bad happen – like the massacre at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 50 died and 53 were wounded at the hands (or bullets) of a madman? You had better react, and react now. And appropriately. In a politically-correct manner. Or you are part of the problem.

Confession time:

I’m tired of reacting.

I feel like Daffy Duck, trying to rob yon rich slob of his money in order to feed the poor, a la Robin Hood. No matter how many times I react, there’s a tree in the way. And just when I think I’ve got it right, smack, there’s that pesky rock.

Not getting my meaning? Let’s look at a few reactions.

Inappropriate, as far as I can tell, per the denizens of the reactionary Internet: Thoughts and prayers.
Appropriate, as far as I can tell, per the denizens of the reactionary internet: Candlelight vigils; the shading of profile pictures in whatever shade is deemed appropriate for the latest atrocity.

There is sincerity and emptiness in both reactions – but those making the reactions see only the sincerity in their reaction and the emptiness in the other, so both, as far as social media goes, are pretty much empty gestures at best or grounds for screaming matches at worst.

If you react, you show solidarity. Empathy. Understanding.

If you don’t react, you show coldness, indifference. Callousness.

In the eyes of the reactionary internet.

Do not tell me how to react. And when I react in a way you or your ilk deem inappropriate or ineffectual, bite your tongue and concentrate on your own reaction without condemning the reactions of others.

And if I do not react at all, do not assume I have no reaction. My reaction may be personal, private, or internal.

And – worse yet, worse yet, oh ye seekers of truth or whatever the hell it is you seek – when I react please parse my reaction and cheerfully identify its weaknesses to the world so all may know my reaction was not appropriately reactionary enough to merit a reaction in the first place.

To insist that everyone react demonstratively and in the same manner reminds me of this (taken from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago):

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). ... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause, rising to an ovation, continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop? … After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first! And in the obscure, small hall, unknown to the leader, the applause went on – six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly – but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?

The director of the local paper factory, an independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left would not falter…

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!

The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel. That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.”

Here’s what they’ll find on my Form 206:

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. (Romans 12:14-15)

And I sincerely apologize if my Christian reaction triggered you and all you want to do is parse its inefficacy rather than take the time to communicate with another human being about the sincerity of that reaction. I know it’s a reaction, not a reaction, but I will not apologize for that.

And if that’s not reaction-y enough for you, I offer the following:

It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds. And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

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