What has been happening lately in America has been shocking me. The events of Charlottesville, VA simply didn’t make sense to me. Seeing clips of interviews with ‘white supremacists’ being shared on social media seems like one massive case of looky-loos. It’s one thing to spread that kind of message deliberately but it’s a whole other thing to spread by looking down upon on it, which is what social media seems to be really, really good at. Satire is all over social media and a lot of it is hilarious, but it also often belittles it, which then makes it seem like it isn’t really that big a deal.
Except that it is a big deal. Plus, the subjects of that satire don’t think it’s all that funny and are driven even more to continue what they are doing. I believe the current US president was elected because he wasn’t taken seriously during the election. If we are still laughing about that now, we shouldn’t be. His base of support, the people who voted for him, may have done so out of spite for having been mocked so heavily about their own political beliefs. They didn’t find the jokes from John Oliver all that funny and may have resented the constant barrage of sketches from Saturday Night Live making fun of the leaders of their party. I can see how they would have felt bullied by pop culture. Nobody likes that, no matter what side you are on.
That does not in any way condone the nationalist attitudes now emboldened because of a lack of strong leadership at the top. Even talking about / retweeting / reposting articles about those hateful ideas is spreading those same messages further into society. That is something that we need to be very aware of and careful of doing, even with the intention of showing it up for the ‘evil’ that it is. In this post, I will talk about these things, but there will be no links to any of their messages anywhere in here. That is not an accident. I am writing this only to offer my opinions on it and not promote it further by sending readers to see it again. These messages should be consigned to the loony bin, which is exactly where they would have been placed before social media, which has really given an unrestricted voice to these misguided people.
I am fully aware that this is a wine blog, not a political blog. I have always tried not to make any political statements here because I’ve never felt that it was worth it. Politics and wine are not always fun together. Nothing ruins a dinner party more efficiently than a political rant. The reality of it though is that these awful messages that have been coming out of the American states run counter to everything a wine blog should be. NOT to say something or NOT to speak out about it is now DANGEROUS. I believe that we have reached a point in time where ambivalence or indecision is equally or even more lethal to our society than the hate-mongering that was on display in Virginia.
Clearly these people are not wine people. Wine is about bringing people together. Wine is about sharing. At the end of the day, we all need to eat, sleep, and love our children. Wine is and has long been a part of life that way. I cannot think of a single reason why I would not offer to share a bottle of wine or personally pour a glass of wine for anyone else in the world, including any of these people that spread this kind of hatred. They do not see what they say as being evil, they see it as being socially active and there are a whole lot of reasons for that happening that involves far larger problems such as failures in the education and justice systems among others.
It is far quicker and easier to destroy a bridge than it is to build one. I come from Quebec, where divisions of all kinds have existed within the culture far more than in any other Canadian province in which I’ve lived. It’s taken a long time over many generations to bridge some of them at least to some degree. The obvious division is between English and French but there are others that go back further and are less visible now. Protestant / Catholic and Jewish / Christian devisions have traditionally been big separators but since my generation came of age in school, are not as prevalent as they used to be in my parents’ time. Recently, Quebec has been confronted with the racial issues involving religious clothing such as the hijab and this is going to strain religious divisions again – or at least continue what may have already been there. Quebecois culture has always seemed mysteriously defensive to me and I never really understood that until I moved away. In North America, French culture is, and has been for a long time, a minority, entirely surrounded by English provinces and states. This defensive posture, which from my point of view was often totally xenophobic, has caused many problems for this province which included a draining of the small anglophone population from it (none of my good grade-school friends have stayed in Quebec). I was born in and lived for 21 years Quebec, but I would never, ever say that I was a Quebecois. There were some violent episodes in Quebec’s history that showed just how different we dealt with problems divisions like this in the past.
Other provinces in Canada have similar divisions but they are not, to me anyways, as visible. To be somewhat flippant, Canada can be essentially divided into two – Toronto and Non-Toronto. (Everyone from outside of Toronto will understand this.) Culturally in BC, Vancouver has divisions between people of Asian and non-Asian ancestry, which is something that I noticed when I first moved to Vancouver. I soon learned that there are also regional divisions between “the coast” (aka the lower mainland) and non-coastal regions (aka just about everywhere else, including the Okanagan Valley). And it seems that just about every place has divisions based on sexual orientation, which is just as unfortunate and needlessly divisive, particularly on the micro-level between members of families.
It seemed like we, in North America, were doing so well culturally and artistically, if not civilly. President Obama showed the world that a non-white person could be elected president and govern intelligently and with dignity effectively for two terms without a major scandal. Personally, I wasn’t in favour of everything that happened when he was president such as the use of military drone strikes. The cost of filing a tax return went up a lot for citizens living abroad, and police brutality seemed only to increase, strangely, in the Obama years.
I can’t help but notice that these social divisions really started to grow as the internet and social media started to grow. Some of it has been positive, particularly for social activism, but is this really all good? From the point of view of a white supremacist for instance, what happened in Virginia was, to them, social activism. Social media has allowed voices from Greenpeace to the KKK to unite, gain strength, and spread their messages of whatever. With no check on content, messages of all kinds have been able to ferment and grow beyond their own small world, good or bad. It’s not just environmentalism or social justice anymore, it’s community groups, hobbyists, and industry professionals (such as me with this blog) contributing to the noise.
“Take advantage of the town on its feet
and the frustration when the home town’s beat
Mask and sprays and gas and rags
In backpacks with designer tags.
The rush that pushes you into the crowd
to burn the cars and scream out loud
will be turned against you at the end of the season
There’s a new power now that doesn’t answer to reason.”
I wrote this verse for a song called “Survival of the Mob” which was recorded on The Gala Vanters CD that I did in 2012. This verse is about the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver that happened that year but the rest of the song was written well before that. The power of social media to link us together (and now more often than not it seems, to sell us things) comes with a new power to incite us into action, but like a mob rather than as a civilized democratic citizenry. “Freedom of speech” may need some limits. True, absolute freedom is not really possible because that will always mean that someone else will potentially suffer because some people will take advantage of their ‘freedom’ to dominate or hurt others.
What we really need is compassion, which is something that all religions, at their core, teach and hold sacred. Compassion is something that I find strangely absent from social media in most ways. Other than the occasional feel-good video about how similar we all are, there really aren’t that many instances of exchanges on social media that I have had that could be considered ‘compassionate’. The medium is not really meant for that. For all of its communicative power, the truly human experience of compassion is pretty much impossible through social media. Facebook is perhaps the closest with recent augmentation of the far less binary “Like” button to include other ’emotions’ and some emojis might help, but in reality, true compassion requires being in the same real physical place. Maybe our world is not getting smaller after all? Maybe it’s been getting bigger, perhaps too big. When it gets too big and we get so far away from each other, the possibility of removing compassion grows more and more probable. We then start to allow cancerous ideas to take hold, resulting in mismanaged elections, needless suffering, and potentially fatal societal consequences.
For now, we have to work with what we have, and that means social media. If you have a blog, a website, a social media account of some kind (which most people now do), NOW is the time to speak up. These people’s minds cannot be changed, but they can be drowned out. If social media really is a new type of mob, then we all have to band together to do this. They are well-organized and have bonded together effectively and we need to do the same. They think they have the numbers, but they don’t, and we can clearly out-mob them. They are the minority. We can do this by shouting them down.
But we can’t drown them out if we are just standing there, making no noise at all. It’s time to make some noise.