Icons of a Fickle News Cycle

Those of you old enough may remember the case of Michael P. Fay. He was a young American who was arrested in Singapore for vandalism. What caught the attention of the nation was the punishment: lashes of a cane. It brought out a lot of protesters, but also a lot of defenders. Child abuse was itself a hot topic at the time, and corporal punishment. I remember in the years preceding that how schools tried to say “It’s okay if your parents hit you, but only if you did something wrong and they don’t hit you too much.”

So a country that took a very hard line had its defenders. I remember Newt Gingrich on Channel One, who was asked about it and while he refused to say that he favored caning he said we needed to have a national conversation about discipline.

At some level, the Michael Fay story ceased being about Fay in particular. Or caning in particular. Rather, it was about everything that we were already preoccupied with. He became a stand-in for the impertinent youth. The young punk who didn’t respect his elders and didn’t respect society’s rules. To people for whom this was a big problem in the US, they were glad to see somebody, somewhere trying to get a handle on things.

Meanwhile, a lot of other people were really quite horrified. One might have expected there to be a global multiculturalist view of different laws and customs, but there was very little of that. The national papers and media treated it as a travesty. It was akin to other stories that came out where Americans were caught with drugs in unforgiving societies. Which, of course, also had its defenders in the US as the national crime fever was just starting to break and people were worried about it.

Everything was connected to everything else.

A little over twenty years later, and Otto Warmbier was arrested in North Korea for allegedly steaming a propaganda poster. An international outcry ensued. Other than an American abroad accused of committing a crime and an outcry and a backlash to the outcry, the stories share little in common. If Singapore is illiberal, it doesn’t compare at all to North Korea. Fay was punished and the whole thing passed. Otto Warmbier was returned to the US broken, and died shortly thereafter.

What is interesting, though, is that while Warmbier had critics, they tended to be from the left. Instead of being an icon of impertinent youth, he became an icon of white privilege. A fraternity bro looked at the same way a lot of people looked at young people in Turkish prisons twenty years ago. Larry Willmore loudly declared that he lacked sympathy for anyone who thought North Korea was “a playground for college pranks,” Salon referred to him as “America’s Biggest Idiot Frat Boy,” while Ebony ran a piece sneering at Warmbier for being addicted to the drug of privilege and Huffington Post also felt the incident was instructive of White Privilege.

To be fair, these things were said a year ago before Warmbier’s torn and tattered self was dropped at our doorstep to die. Conservative and libertarian outlets are having a field day with this, but the critics’ biggest crime is probably not thinking things through and recognizing the gravity of the situation in a news cycle where contemplation is a delay nobody can afford and where it’s too easy for people to get ahead of their humanity.

It’s enough to make me wonder how things would look if something like Fay did happen today and captured our national attention. Would Fay still be the young punk or would he be white privilege? Would people who defended Singapore back then see something different in watching a white boy lashed by foreigners? Would the left, in turn, object to a country objecting to a white boy who broke laws being punished for it? And from the opposite end, would Warmbier have been the young punk or a victim of a totalitarian state? Would North Korea being communist have prevented a reversal? Was it a spark of association that drew the lines that they did and decided what the icons represented, or the considered vantage point of ideology?

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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76 thoughts on “Icons of a Fickle News Cycle

  1. Ah so much here……I remember all these cases. And you’re forgetting the two female missionaries who went to Afghanistan and were there when we were pressuring the Taliban to give us OBL. Those idiot girls were allowed in and expressively promised to convert Muslims to Christianity. They did anyway, and at least one guy was killed as an apostate. The girls were put in jail. There was a big brouhaha about it.

    My position on all this is simple: Conform to the laws of the place you are visiting or be prepared to endure the consequences. Ergo, caning for you if you vandalize. Prison or death for idiots who LIE and attempt to convert folks in a theocracy. Don’t do stupid stuff in repressive countries. These are not children.

    Just a bit more on the N. Korean case. What the guy endured shouldn’t happen in an ideal world. But it’s F’IN NORTH KOREA! If you don’t understand where you’re going, that’s on you. Christ, I went to China. When the tour guide says “no cameras here” I don’t whip out my camera! I saw this personally. We were in a building, no pics allowed (no one knows why not allowed, just isn’t), a few people touched / moved their camera, but did not raise them to take a pick, and 4 security guards closed in and started shouting. Think people. Do not temp repressive societies….you’ll loose.

    I’m likely going to Russian in a year or two. I’ll be solely reliant on my GF as translator and cultural guide. Think I’m going to do something stupid like the examples above? HELL NO.

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    • That’s the problem, some Americans go overseas and still seem to think that the norms of a liberal democracy apply. My first lesson in this was the movie Missing. Don’t go to a foreign land and get involved in the politics.

      No, you should get drunk and piss on a WW2 monument.

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      • You know, what you describe here is pretty much one of the things that is meant by the term “privilege”.

        The word has become so incredibly laden with multiple conflicting meanings and laced with judgement, that I don’t generally use it. I can find other words to make my meaning clear. However, “using myself as a yardstick for the world” is a sort of foundational piece of the idea of the word.

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    • I find it interesting that everyone just assumes Otto did what he was charged with. As you say, this Is NORK! He could have tripped on a malnourished child and torn down a poster of Dear Leader as he reached for a hand hold, and by dint of being an American, got arrested.

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      • The part of the story that changed thing for me was the circumstances under which he went to North Korea.

        When I first heard of the story, I thought he went to live in North Korea for 3-6 months as part of some dumb bullshit white liberal (“baizou”) thing where he went there to prove some dumb-assed point. In that (completely made-up) narrative in my head, it made sense that, before he left, he’d take something off of the community bulletin board to put in his suitcase as a memento of his time in North Korea. Like a dumbass.

        Nope. He went to China. As part of going to China, he heard about day trips to North Korea. He signed up for a tour as part of a day trip to North Korea and it was on this tour that he got busted for stealing a poster.

        In that first narrative, it made sense for me to say “yeah, the dude might have done that”.

        In the second one, the far more accurate one?

        Well, it makes about as much sense for me to defend “well, you have to follow the law” as the conclusions of the jury in the Philando Castile case.

        I like to think that the people who are defending North Korea don’t actually believe the bullshit that plops out of their mouths but they’re just plopping statements after the fact once they picked the side they were on by seeing who was in the opposition.

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        • You don’t have to go that far in American history to see minority-Americans arrested on trumped up charges of vague “crimes” like “Nightwalking” or “Vagrancy” and given harsh punishments and harsher punishments than white Americans.

          Hell the same stuff happens today especially if it is young minority kids throwing a kind of loud party.

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          • Oh, you thought I was setting up a “Both Sides Do It”.

            I suppose you’re right.

            We have no grounds to complain about North Korea because Philando Castile.

            Hey, wanna complain about Philando Castile?

            Do you really think that you have the moral authority to complain about Philando Castile when Israel is shooting Palestinians in the streets too?

            Is this one of those things where I should get Maribou to complain about what happened to Otto and make you spend 10 minutes in Wikipedia researching Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack so you have a decent response to her?

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        • “I like to think that the people who are defending North Korea don’t actually believe the bullshit that plops out of their mouths but they’re just plopping statements after the fact once they picked the side they were on by seeing who was in the opposition.”

          This.

          I used to play a game where I’d look at a headline and before going any further, I’d think< "Which side is going to play which angle on this?" And usually I could construct arguments for BOTH sides to take BOTH angles.

          "North Korea imprisons American for Stealing Poster"
          Well, the right can go all law-and-order-y and shake their fist at the dumb kid. Meanwhile, the left will decry human right's abuses.
          Or, the left will go all privileged jerk got what he had coming. While the right will get hawkish about a communist Axis of Evil member.

          Which really just goes to show that we aren't actually arguing about what happened here but about what dominant we want to remain narrative more broadly.

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  2. Can multiple things be true? Can Warmbier by a punk partially emboldened by privilege AND someone who got screwed? Can he be victim and victimizer? If so, must be make those things equivalent? People should be expected to face the consequences for their actions. But those consequences should be appropriate. And countries themselves must face consequences as well. If you’re going to act as North Korea has towards foreigners who commit crimes, well, there are potential consequences for that, too. I don’t know what would qualify as “appropriate” but just because North Korea is a government doesn’t mean their actions are right or just. There are multiple bad actors here and we should put them all in the proper context and respond accordingly.

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    • “Can Warmbier by a punk partially emboldened by privilege AND someone who got screwed?”
      I would (and do) say that he was probably both, so yes you are right on that. The bigger problem in my eyes is that he became a stand in for US political positioning, red and blue politics. At that point any subtly about the case and discussion therein gets blown to the four winds. Which is unfortunate. And why we can’t have nice things.

      The fact that any politically charged issues/persona that falls into this trap gets delineated into such black and white parameters is sad, but how else are the derps gonna derp.

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  3. I think is largely right with regard to rules to live by. People take risks just by entering these countries. That doesn’t mean that whatever happens to the person taking his chances is morally acceptable but the decision should never be made lightly.

    With regard to the whole ‘privilege discussion’ I think it just illustrates the racist, bloodthirsty, and religious nature of the intersectionalist left. They’re no different than the Christian moral majority types that have been in retreat since the 90s, they just have a different creed. Anyone who celebrates this this kind of incident can’t be taken seriously, and certainly not when they’re preaching empathy for the victims of our own state’s violence.

    It brings to mind a discussion I saw on this issue on Facebook when Warmbier was first sentenced. Someone had posted an article by a black writer stating that this was a deserved consequence for white privilege run amok (nevermind it’s since become less clear that he actually took the poster). In the ensuing flame war a Korean friend pushed back hardest.
    He pointing out that Koreans are the ones who suffer most from North Korean policies, either due to being unlucky enough to be born there, or entering from the South to preach or locate family. Of course in the minds of those that write that kind of garbage, race (and only in the narrow way understood in some asinine American undergrad diversity survey) is all that matters.

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    • My hunch is that at least some of the outrage, especially among people of color, is that the outpouring of sympathy for Warmbier probably feels like it stands in stark contrast to the relative lack of sympathy extended to people who look like them in the states who are victims of government oppression.

      Whether they are right or not, it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable that a black guy would look at the Warmbier situation and think, “I’ll muster up sympathy for him when you all stop with the, ‘Well, you have to understand…’ every time a black kid gets gunned down by the cops.”

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      • When was the last time that a black person was killed by the cops that the community acknowledged that it was a good shoot? None that I can think of. The continual outrage machine gets old after a while.

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        • notme,
          Fairly frequently, actually. We had a guy who was waving a knife around (civvies tried to stop him, but he ran out of the store), and then the cops got him while he was outside.

          People complain about the cops deliberately and maliciously letting their dogs chew on “non-threatening” people, and then executing the person if they dare to fight back against the police dog.

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          • The problem is that there are real issues there, and those hardly, if ever, get discussed because of the need to break everything down into something gendered, racial, oriented, etc.

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            • will,
              Did you know it’s a criminal felony to moon a police dog?
              The More you Know!
              (I’m pretty sure more ink got wasted on that football bozo than on the police killing someone for defending himself against a police dog that the police didn’t need to sic on him in the first place. Man had a knife, seemed … disoriented? Cops were watching (prudent), but then told him to drop it, and when he didn’t, sent the dog in).

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      • I can (sort of) understand the ‘I’ll muster up sympathy when’ sentiment. What I don’t get is relishing the pain of others. Here’s the link to the Ebony piece:

        http://www.ebony.com/news-views/north-korea-otto-warmbier-kinfolkkollective#axzz4kjgn9So1

        Its a major problem that the subgroup that talks most about privilege consistently fails to distinguish between privilege we want to end and privilege we want to spread. That article (and the many cruder versions of it out there) is what my right wing friends will cite when brushing off my point about why we should care about what happened to Philando Castille or Eric Garner or Freddie Grey.

        Edit to add I think those friends of mine are wrong on the merits but I find it very frustrating when people I mostly agree with politically give them ammunition like that.

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        • InMD,
          Worse is the active erosion of work that was put in to revile racists. Extend and fuzzy-ize that, and you get someone having a genuine disagreement reviled as a bigot.

          Or, ya know, we just termed a particular term around here a “slur”, which, um, what do we do when that’s a common term of use? Do we boycott the shows that use said term? Is it something we should disagree with, shun people for using?

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        • I agree with this and interestingly I see the same kind of logic in blue-collar voters who went with Trump and other Republicans. Sometimes it seems like a lot of people would rather tear down than build up.

          So when I see WWC people who are obviously being screwed by Trump and the Republicans on economic issues, I sometimes wonder if their logic is something life “My life sucks and your life should suck too” instead of saying “We should fight for the benefits that X has.”

          I wonder how much this comes from cynicism. If you think that your life will never get better or the situation will never improve* than maybe you don’t have good reason to fight for privileges we want to extend.

          *Facts on the ground make it a pretty reasonable conclusion that no police officer will ever be held accountable for the killing of black person as long as the police officer is somewhat operating under the color of law and says something about reasonable fear. There are voices on the right that are getting aware that this is a bad thing, David French had a column in the National Review about how the killing of Castile was unreasonable. Yet David French is largely an impotent NeverTrumper at this point. Large parts of the American public seem fine with giving full deference to the police. I’d be rather cynical about change to in these circumstances. Scott L at LGM made a great observation on Clarence Thomas. Clarence Thomas supports race neutrality because he believes that it is the best minorities (especially black people) can hope for, not because he thinks it is good in itself.

          So perhaps there is just an extreme lack of hope and possibly justified lack of hope as well.

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          • So when I see WWC people who are obviously being screwed by Trump and the Republicans on economic issues, I sometimes wonder if their logic is something life “My life sucks and your life should suck too” instead of saying “We should fight for the benefits that X has.”

            Is that b/c you can’t imagine a third answer where folks believe that it isn’t the gov’t job to do such things like mandate health care, etc.?

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            • notme,
              Do I fucking need to post the stats on Disability, the white person’s New Welfare Benefits?

              … seriously, are we done here?

              Because if not, I’ve got a whole internet full of good data.

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          • Saul,

            Wasn’t it before the election that the Univ. of Wisconsin researcher went around in rural Wisconsin and kind of got the message that the folks supporting Trump and were angry about government were mostly mad because they didn’t think it was going to the right people?

            Cramer: What I heard from my conversations is that, in these three elements of resentment — I’m not getting my fair share of power, stuff or respect — there’s race and economics intertwined in each of those ideas.

            When people are talking about those people in the city getting an “unfair share,” there’s certainly a racial component to that. But they’re also talking about people like me [a white, female professor]. They’re asking questions like, how often do I teach, what am I doing driving around the state Wisconsin when I’m supposed to be working full time in Madison, like, what kind of a job is that, right?

            It’s not just resentment toward people of color. It’s resentment toward elites, city people.

            And maybe the best way to explain how these things are intertwined is through noticing how much conceptions of hard work and deservingness matter for the way these resentments matter to politics.

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            • A lot of stuff is intertwined.

              City v. country resentment is as old as the Republic and a lot of country dwellers don’t realize that they receive more money from the cities than they pay to the government in taxes. The metros subsidize rural living in all parts of the country.

              “Hard work” and “deservingness” are also concepts so vague and malleable that they can mean anything to anyone.

              I do hard work. Being a lawyer isn’t easy. It’s a lot safer than working in a coal mine or on a construction site though. But there are often times I see people consider hard work to be purely physical and discounting mental labor and/or emotional labor.

              The racial angle often gets expressed in terms of “those people are ‘cutting in line'” What is this line? How long does it last? When do “those people” get to the front of the line. The problem with vague language like this is besides having no basis in fact is that it can be used to deny full equality for decades if not in perpetuity.

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            • mark,
              A bit of that is unfamiliarity with the concept of Professor. If she had simply said, “I’m a reporter”, they’d have been perfectly down with that. TV teaches us about reporters, in a way it doesn’t teach us about economic professors following the watermelons.

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              • you have to learn how to present yourself.

                I had a friend in grad school who was out looking for populations of a particular plant on CRP land. She learned FAST that if you wore a seed-company hat (or a John Deere hat) instead of a Nature Conservancy hat, people saw you as at worst a mostly-harmless kook and maybe at best, someone looking to do things to help the waterfowl population. If she wore the Nature Conservancy hat, a not-insignificant number of people assumed she was “from the government and there to ‘help’ them” (even though TNC is technically an NGO).

                I’ve also learned I tend to get a better reception if I say “I teach college biology” than if I say “I’m an ecology professor.” Both are true, but they have different implications.

                And yeah, it kinda sucks, but then all stereotyping kinda sucks, and what I get is probably less than most people.

                (I really hate the “Oh, you’re one of those people who’s paid $75K to work 10 hours a week eight months out of the year.” Um, not quite on all counts, but it’s hard to convince people of that)

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        • I don’t have time to read the article but taking your summation of it, I agree with all the points outlined here. This is evidence of the continued escalation and radicalization of our divisive culture. It isn’t enough to say, “Hey guys… wait a sec…” It must now be, “Hooray for pain!”

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      • My hunch is that at least some of the outrage, especially among people of color, is that the outpouring of sympathy for Warmbier probably feels like it stands in stark contrast to the relative lack of sympathy extended to people who look like them in the states who are victims of government oppression.

        American minorities aren’t oppressed by North K standards. A bad year in NK can have the gov deliberately destroying everyone’s life savings. A really bad year in NK can result in cannibalism and/or mass murder. A good year in NK has the gov putting people to death because they’re too successful, trying to leave, or not worshiping their leader.

        American minorities gain power via their victimhood, so admitting some other population is MUCH more oppressed is a bad thing.

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    • Kazzy has a good point here. The source of the rage is not that hard to find here. There was tons of sympathy across the media for Warmbier (deservedly so). But the same media is often callous to a black kid who was killed by a cop for playing with a watergun.

      There are going to be people here that come in an go against Kazzy and I for saying this.

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        • I’m not defending “What about-ism” as much as I’m trying to understand the motivation behind a particular response.

          I also think this is at least somewhat different than traditional “What about-ism”, which I understand to be a way of deflecting responsibility by pointing towards the faults of others.
          “You guys are jerks!”
          “What about that time you guys were jerks?”

          Here we have…
          “Those guys are jerks!”
          “What about that time you guys were jerks to me?”

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        • My actual position is more or less what I said above… Warmbier made a bad move acting a fool in North Korea, but did not deserve the sentence he got or whatever caused his ultimate death. North Korea should be admonished for this and the various other human rights abuses their country continues to perpetrate. I hope our government takes this seriously but acts with judiciousness and through the proper means.

          And, when the time is right*, I hope that those who (rightfully) express outrage at state oppression in Korea can also find room to express outrage at state oppression in the states.

          * By which I mean, let the family grieve before we fully politicize this issue and make it a culture war battleground.

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    • That’s why my go to insult for this part of the Left is Calvinist. It makes a lot more sense than warrior based on their behavior and will probably get them riled up more to be called Social Justice Calvinists.

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    • As Kazzy notes above,

      This is the perennial problem of what to say about asshole victims. White kids of a particular social stratum and age routinely get away with destroying other people’s property. In many cases it is excused as kids just being kids. In the right circumstances, it is glorified as a political statement against oppression.

      At the same time, clearly 15 years in prison is excessive punishment for stealing a poster.

      A further complicating dynamic is that lots of places are nicer to Americans than they are to their own citizens in cases like this precisely in order not to ruin relations with America. For instance, Fay’s sentence was reduced from 6 to 4 strokes of the cane just because Clinton appealed for clemency. Warmbler happened to screw up in a place where pax Americana ran out.

      Schadenfreude, even if not a particularly pretty emotion is perfectly understandable here.

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      • At the same time, clearly 15 years in prison is excessive punishment for stealing a poster.

        Clearly no one here understands the real nature of the crime committed.

        The crime, no matter what it was called, was actually blasphemy or whatever. That poster was of NK’s living god, the man who rides a unicorn, does not shit, writes a dozen books a day, and who proved himself the world’s best golfer the first and only time he picked up a set of clubs.

        Picture Christ still alive, actively performing miracles, and his most ardent followers running the country in his name. That’s North Korea.

        A “pissChrist” type event, and that poster counts, is taken seriously there. 15 years is a gift, being beaten to death by your fellow prisoners or the guards is expected.

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        • I hate to be a contrarian, but what Wambler did was unspeakably evil. North Korea is the poorest, most oppressed country in Asia. They people have been beaten into submission and brainwashed. Most of the population is badly malnourished because they don’t have food. They don’t have freedom. They don’t have hardly anything, anything except Communist propaganda posters. And he tried to take one, which would have left them with nothing at all. How sad it would be for starving North Koreans to sit around thinking “We don’t have any food to eat today, and now we don’t have that spiffy Communist motivational poster, either.” :(

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  4. Oh good essay. Very tough questions.

    I think the Internet is what changed things. This is an old article on Warmbier from the time of his original arrest and punishment:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/la-sha/on-the-revocation-of-whit_b_9531122.html

    According to the author, her mother cheered the punishment that Fay received in Singapore back in the 1990s. My guess is that since the Internet 2.0 was non-existent back then, there was not enough media to provide platforms to the “white privilege” views. But the Internet and other factors like changing demographics and events (we are a lot less white now) are making the “white privilege” voices be heard and there are enough wide-spread platforms for them to do so.

    I sense that there is a lot of rage going on in the world and our psyche’s right now and everyone seems to have endless supplies of it. Trump supporters are outraged. Trump critics are outraged. White people are outraged. Minorities are outraged. And so on for a million times. Sometimes it feels like we are being consumed by a virus causing pure rage.

    I can understand the sources of the rage at time but it seems like another part of human nature wants revenge more than they want fairness.

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    • Not such tough questions.
      Information well-established in policy studies.

      It describes the focal point (jargon term here) for policy shifts (additional jargon term).

      Very few people had any support whatever for police roadblocks for fishing expeditions.
      Then some drunk hit a schoolbus in Tennessee, and it turns out he was arrested for DUI umpteen times before.
      MADD had a field day with that one.
      Not that they really needed listening to a car radio while intoxicated as a criminal offense, much less a potential felony.
      Just that they can’t give ground because the whole thing is monolithic in scope.
      Raise the limit to 1.01 and millions of innocent children will die.

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    • It’s worse than you describe. Outrage is what gets you attention. It’s what gets you reshared, retweeted, commented on, “liked”, and so on.

      And we spend so much of the time on the internet focused on that somebody somewhere who said something crazy, extreme, and outraged. And we’re outraged about it.

      Upthread relates a conversation on Facebook that included somebody who is a black writer and someone who is Korean. The names don’t matter. I don’t mean to pick on everyone does this sort of thing these days. We’ve become obsessed with the opinions of people whose names we don’t know.

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    • Memes are viruses, yes, and they are self-propagating.
      However, I’m pretty sure outrage is being used as a tool for controlling people like you.
      Because if you’re constantly being dragged by the nose, well, you aren’t actually fixing the real problems that are going to destroy Civilization As We Know It.

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    • I sense that there is a lot of rage going on in the world and our psyche’s right now and everyone seems to have endless supplies of it.

      +1. Or maybe, +10. I was just this morning reading some “callout posts” that people I follow either liked or retweeted on twitter and was just suddenly SO TIRED. (And have done the “block retweets from this person” in a couple cases).

      I dunno. I see a big difference between Fay and Warmbier. For one thing: caning hurts, but you know? you get over it. Whatever happened to Warmbier in prison in NK (and we may never know exactly what – it could be anything from “Yeah, he had drugs on him and ODd to avoid prison” like they claim, or it could be he was beaten to the point of a concussion causing a coma, or it could be some kind of Mengele-level stuff, who knows?), he’s not getting over it.

      I remember among my parents’ generation, the attitude in the Fay case was “He should have known better” and a general shrugging acceptance that “the punishment is pretty harsh given the crime, but that’s Singapore for you” but there seems to be more outrage over Warmbier. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s different cultures (NK is pretty much a dystopian hellhole; Singapore is often seen as “strict, but it seems very clean and orderly”), or the 20 years or whatever that has elapsed, or the difference between being caned and being dead.

      I will say it’s kind of a bad show if anyone mocks Warmbier for privilege NOW. Maybe they didn’t know better back when he was arrested and the presumption was that somehow someone would be able to intervene and get him released, but even being a “fratboy a-hole” isn’t grounds for death. But there are a lot of people these days who seem to have their “little lists.”

      And yeah, if Warmbier did what he’s alleged to do, he was seriously stupid, but….

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      • Singapore is more trust worthy than North Korea. With Michael Fay, you could safely assume that the allegations were true and that Michael Fay got due process of the law even if the punishment seems un-modern by Western standards. North Korea is not trustworthy, so we really don’t know if the are telling the truth about anything regarding what Warmbier allegedly did or what happened to him in jail. Even assuming that Warmbier did attempt to take a propaganda poster as souvenir, we can also safely assume he didn’t receive anything vaguely resembling justice and due process as Westerners understand it and that his given punishment, fifteen years at hard labor, is not a punishment that vandals should receive.

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    • I can understand the sources of the rage at time but it seems like another part of human nature wants revenge more than they want fairness.

      I don’t necessarily mean to impute this claim to Saul, but I find it rather irritating whenever people talk as if revenge and justice were mutually exclusive. I would contend otherwise: revenge, properly defined, is very often exactly what justice requires.

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  5. There were people on the right that took delight when Otto Warmbier was first arrested. You just need to look in the comments section to find them. It was authoritarianism in action. These were people without a shred of sympathy for anything remotely anti-American but they were entirely unsympathetic to Warmbier because he broke the law to them or did something risky even by going to North Korea and should suffer the consequences.

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  6. I guess I don’t get it.

    Isn’t the issue with the situation in North Korea proportionality? That is, stealing a propaganda poster should never result in hard labor and/or coma and death.

    Now, a good caning; that seems appropriate.

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    • That is, stealing a propaganda poster should never result in hard labor and/or coma and death.

      Maybe to our refined western sensibilities but it’s really up to the NK gov’t isn’t it? Shouldn’t visitors to their country respect their laws?

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      • No, I recognize you’re trying to make a cross-cultural deflection argument… but I’m not a relativist squish. Proportionality is a principle that can be applied and judged – perhaps not perfectly; but sufficiently that the statement is defensible.

        You are free to make an argument that the punishment is proportional to the crime; but I have neither denied the crime nor denied that punishment has not been merited. On what grounds would you call it proportional?

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        • It’s NK, so they decide what is proportional. Why should we judge them thru the lens of western privilege? A lot of places have laws i don’t like, which is why i either don’t travel to those places or if i do, i make sure i obey the local laws.

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          • You should travel less, then; because I assure you that you do not know all the laws; and if you don’t know the laws and can’t judge or have some reasonable expectation proportional punishment, then even the limited travel you admit is a foolish risk.

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    • Lee,
      Funny, i didn’t think you even noticed.
      Oh, right, that’s because you didn’t notice.
      I can cite multiple instances of the use of a blatantly anti-semitic character, and not one call to boycott the show that’s promulgating that form of racism.

      Of course, that’s the joke.

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