Decline and Fall, ctd.

April 15, 2014

Two items caught my attention yesterday. They are seemingly unrelated. But they both signify a serious sickness in the heart of our society.

The first item was published at Business Insider. One of its writers, you see, had been assaulted and had his property destroyed. His crime? Wearing Google Glass in "the wrong part of San Francisco." While he was first upset at the action—these are, after all, expensive pieces of technology—he soon came to understand that he had it coming. He was wearing the wrong item of clothing in the wrong part of town, so he deserved to get raped assaulted. Here's Kyle Russell, explaining in his own words why victim-blaming is totally cool on this issue:

While I may not be a resident of San Francisco — I live across the Bay in Berkeley, where rent is affordable — or a wealthy young software engineer, I've worked in the city for three years. I'd like to live and work in or near San Francisco for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, anything associated with Google has come to represent gentrification in the city, from the buses that take young software engineers to their corporate campuses in Silicon Valley to Google Glass. This is especially true in areas where gentrification and income inequality have become points of conflict in the community.

People are being evicted or priced out of their homes. What's the difference between losing your home and having property destroyed?

Well, there's a pretty huge difference, involving natural rights related to one's ownership of property and the legal system's treatment of renters vs. owners and the fact that no one has the right to physically assault you on the streets of a major American city because he may or may not believe in some vague ideology that permits such action.

But hey! "Gentrification" and "income inequality" and other buzzwords! Those totally trump our society's interest in upholding little things like "property rights" or "ensuring that citizens aren't subjected to random violence by street rats."

The second item was a write up of the latest episode of HBO's Game of Thrones. (Spoilers ahead for the entirety of the series up to the second episode of the fourth season.)

If you're unfamiliar with Game of Thrones, allow me to set the scene: Throughout the series a vicious little tyrant by the name of Joffrey Baratheon has done all sorts of evil things. He beheaded the show's nominal protagonist—and father of his prospective wife—in the first season. He tried to have his uncle murdered on the battlefield while he hid in the castle keep. He killed a fan-favorite, a prostitute, by shooting her full of arrows. He had another prostitute sodomize a third for his pleasure. He had a rival clan slaughtered, men and women alike, at an event that comes to be known as "the red wedding."

He's a bad dude. And, in the latest episode, he was killed. By poison. To the delight of all and the tears of none.

But taking delight in the death of an evil man is "problematic," as the kids say. Here's Erik Adams over at the AV Club:

King Joffrey is dead, long rot in shit and die a million deaths for eternity King Joffrey—but to actively revel in this plot point is to be no better than the horrific boy king himself.

That is a remarkably stupid thing to write. It is, first of all, untrue: Pardon my literal pedantry, but what Adams is saying here is that taking joy in the vanquishing of an evil person is tantamount to engaging in the evil that person perpetrated. Imagine the real world equivalent: "How dare you celebrate the death of Stalin; that's just as bad as liquidating millions of kulaks!"

On a conceptual level it's almost as silly. Celebrating the death of evil men—the vanquishing of foes, the lamentations of your enemies—is something every confident society partakes in.* And when you lose your nerve, lose that confidence? Well, you start muttering about how we are just as bad as them. You start worrying that you deserve to have your Google Glass snatched off your head and smashed in the street.

It's the death of the west, man. The sort of self-loathing that manifests itself in these posts is poisonous to society—and not at all surprising.

*I still think we should have put on a Roman-style triumph and paraded Osama bin Laden's corpse through the streets of Washington, D.C. So, you know, that's where I'm coming from on this issue.