“Rules for living” have been popular since Moses walked off a mountain, and every generation has their guru who comes up with a set. For my generation, it was the “Sunscreen” speech originally written by Mary Schmich and later put to music by Baz Lurhmann which got set to music and mapped out our futures. This year, it’s Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life which is restating classical myth for directionless people through lobsters and muppets…although Peterson seems to have inspired a few authors to come up with their own lists. And then this week, we had Chris Pratt at the MTV Music Awards give his own list of nine, which…well, here, just watch.
A lot of these are cute and put the crowd at ease: breathe; give your dog his medicine with hamburger; here’s how you hide your poop smell. A few are distinctly religious (“God is real”) and maybe isn’t for everyone, although if you can’t pray, there’s at least something to be said for the healing power of meditation and self-reflection. But two in particular jumped out at me and made me think of the state of the world right now.
“Don’t be a turd. If you are strong, be a protector. If you are smart, be a humble influencer. Strength and intelligence can be weapons, so do not wield them against the weak. That makes you a bully. Be bigger than that.”
“Nobody is perfect. People will tell you that you are perfect just the way that you are, you are not! You are imperfect. You always will be, but there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you are willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. Like the freedom that we enjoy in this country, that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget that. Don’t take that for granted.”
Pratt’s words are something of a panacea for the spiritual state of affairs these days. If you haven’t noticed, people are angry these days. Really, really angry. At everything. Oh, let me stop you there: there’s plenty of injustice in the world, and plenty to be angry about. If there’s a problem or oppression, by all means: step up. But what we’re seeing in the process is that anger, given enough time, warps us from righteous to just angry, all the time, often for no good reason. Changing the world is good. Letting the world change you back is not. Letting the word change you, collectively, is even worse. It’s what Scott Alexander refers to as “The Toxoplasma of Rage,” where anger becomes less about the cause and more about just reproducing itself, over and over, with no purpose.
Nazis are bad, right? But the anti-Nazi rage has us looking for them where they don’t exist, so we had an extremely problematic incident this week where somebody was accused of being a Nazi where they weren’t because a prominent-enough Twitter user couldn’t verify the guy’s tattoo first. An ICE agent was shown in an online ad, and a New Yorker fact checker noticed her had a cross-like tattoo which resembled a Nazi logo…so she Tweeted about it. And that Tweet went viral, because nobody likes Nazis and ICE isn’t exactly popular right now either, so a Nazi ICE agent looks like the exact right amount of awful.
Except that the guy didn’t have a Nazi tattoo, but a distinctly non-Nazi cross related to his military service. Turns out the guy is a combat veteran. One who’s missing his legs. And who does work for ICE, but in a job where he tracks down child predators. This was distinctly the wrong guy to go after for being a Nazi.
Too late; the damage is done and Scott Alexander’s toxoplasma spreads again. Twitter was all over this. Possibly, so were you. You’ve got one set of people who were happy to publicly and incorrectly shame the guy for being a Nazi. Search for “ICE Agent Nazi” and you’ll still find angry posts about it that haven’t been removed. I’ve seen plenty of Tweets which double down on it even after the mistake has been exposed. Of course, on the other side, people are calling for the (metaphorical) head of the journalist who made the Tweet in the first place; she has, understandably, gotten off of social media. Maybe at one time, this would have been an “I done ****ed up” from the Tweeter, and the apology would be accepted, and that’s that, but now we’re drawing lines in the sand over a mistaken tweet.
And then Chris Pratt reminds us: you’re not perfect. Don’t be a bully. I mean, that’s it, right? She f’ed up, badly, but she apologized. This shouldn’t be a national crisis.
This is just one example of many, many problematic aspects of how we process anything today, and it’s creeped into way too much of our fandom, whether we’re dealing with people who don’t like the latest Star Wars or people who can’t tolerate a story decision in a comic book and threaten to kill people over it. We’ve reduced ourselves to echo-chamberism and name-calling and none of this is getting better. If somebody can show me the last time they converted someone by anger-shaming them on the internet, I’d love to see it.
And Chris Pratt says: you’re not perfect. Which has an implied nobody else is either. We’re all varying degrees of ****ed up on this planet and we need to work to make each other better at it. We have opportunities to fix things: if you’re strong, be a protector, but also, don’t be a bully in the process. Too many of us are just resorting to bullying, and it’s not working.
Anyway, the current environment is taking its toll on me. Without getting into the details, I’ve decided I need a mental health break from writing to focus on myself and family. Fandom is unhealthy right now, the internet is unhealthy right now, and it’s rare that I enjoy a comic or TV show on its own terms right now before any discussion of it degenerates into very petty behavior, overly very stupid stuff. It’s crossed into very personal territory, and we’re less interested in attacking ideas and more interested in attacking people. That may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s gotten into elements of my personal life where I don’t need it going, and I want out.
So I’m taking a break. Maybe I’ll be back–I do enjoy reviewing Doomsday Clock–but I need some time off right now. In the meantime, I’ll spend time mulling over Pratt’s very simple advice for dealing with myself in the world, learning to improve my soul and not let the world turn me into a bully.