The Troll, The Ego, And The Forgotten Virtue Of Compassion

Recently, I found myself in a Facebook debate for the first since the 2008 presidential election. It was on January 10th, the day David Bowie died.  I was sad, along with most of the Western world, and was comforted by a Facebook newsfeed almost entirely composed of statuses from people sending heartfelt condolences. Of course, a few of them set out to prove that they were his biggest fans and that his death meant the most to them, but most were conveying sincere feelings of loss from one of the most important musical figures of the last century. Among the sentimental obits, however, was one big, black stain. No “R.I.P.,” no sad face emoji. Instead, an angry rant labelling Bowie a “rapist,” “monster,” and “predator,” with an article attached about an incident that occurred more than forty years ago. I wish I could copy the exact words, but, in a classic move of the age, that status has been deleted.

It was initially jarring seeing this disrespect on the very day of the death of such a beloved figure, but upon further reflection I wasn’t surprised in the least, considering from whom this intentionally ill-timed status was coming. Alice, let’s call her, is of the Jezebel-reading, PC policing, public shaming, Tumblr-feminist variety. AKA the most annoying person on your newsfeed. Alice’s annoyance has nothing to with being “a female with an opinion”–which is a false point I’m sure she would be delighted to argue. (I am almost exclusively friends with females with opinions.) No, Alice’s annoyance comes from her distinct lack of self-awareness of her imposing self-righteousness. There are so many like Alice out there. People who cling to their “victimhood” as badges of honor and make it a core aspect of their identity. They look for shit to stir as a way of gathering material for their tweets or as content for their blogs. They long for situations to arise where they are “wronged” so that they can write rants to show how right they are, therefore strengthening their own egos in the process. They are constantly “offended” (until the twenty four hour news cycle has passed) and eager to let the world know. These are self-pronounced “social justice warriors,” not truly fighting for any worthy cause other than perhaps minor internet fame and validation from other like-minded individuals who want to feel good about themselves and reinforce their own self-identities.

Bret Easton Ellis discusses this extensively–and sometimes exhaustingly– almost every week on his fantastic B.E.E. podcast. (He also wrote a piece on this matter called Ideology Versus Aesthetics, which is definitely worth a read.) Though I don’t agree with many of his opinions,  he hits the nail on the head when he says that anyone who expresses an opinion that differs from groupthink ideology is considered a “troll” nowadays. Here’s an excerpt, lightly edited, of a monologue where he describes in depth the ramifications of all of the Alice’s of the world:

I hate saying fearless because it shouldn’t be that fearless, but in our current, emotionally-stunted, childlike, snowflake culture, all bothered and twitching about a grown up’s negative opinion about something, it is becoming fearless to say you don’t like something. We’re living in a neutered corporate culture where a grownup’s negative opinion or joke is considered blasphemy, so insensitive. There was a moment in time when you could have opinions and could make them public, and they weren’t always positive, and people discussed them. In the corporate culture we live in, run by oversensitive children, so fearful of discourse and enthralled by upbeat groupthink ideology, a harmless opinion becomes an opportunity for social justice warriors to launch their attacks… What this social media outrage does is turn the marginalized into victims which is so emotionally gratifying to social justice warriors’ mentality. Social justice warriors turn the marginalized into martyrs, which is the real thought crime…This is a corporate culture where everyone gets so emotional over a dislike and pissed at a person who, instead of following the upbeat status quo, remains idiosyncratic. The upbeat status quo is an expansion of Facebook Culture, posting your Best Self, making yourself a little friendlier, a little duller, playing a fake noble you in a fake show. This is what’s turning everyone into a clockwork orange, and what is really at stake here is stamping out the nonconformist.

This resonates with me so deeply. I’ve had conversations with friends–very progressive, die-hard liberals like myself–who agree with this opinion, but are often afraid to express it for fear of appearing racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. It is exhausting having to monitor your thoughts in an age where we’re all accustomed to tweeting whatever comes to mind. Obviously, there are so many real, horrible injustices that take place everyday around the world, and unfair inequality that is built into the structures of so many institutions. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia do run rampant in society. We should be angry, and we should be talking about these things. Bringing these situations and events to light as a way of spreading awareness is the first step toward creating change. But I’m not talking about that. I’m not talking about the issues or real activism, which is, of course, necessary and noble. What I’m talking about has nothing to do with values at all. This has to do with a mentality, a personality type, a victim-as-identity, morally superior mindset. And Alice is a prime example of this.

As I mentioned, I hadn’t engaged in any sort of online argument since the 2008 presidential election and, more specifically, the Prop 8 debate. I was all up on it during that era, and it was right around the time that a family friend commented, “If we allow men to marry men, what’s next–can men marry dogs?!” that I realized the needlessness in having any sort of heated online “discussion.” Not only does it bring out the ugliness and ignorance of others hiding behind their screens, but ultimately it’s pointless because nothing is ever going to be achieved. Nobody in the history of Internet arguing has ever conceded and said, sincerely, “Yes, I understand your point. I am wrong and you are right.” That’s never happened in my experience and I can’t imagine a scenario when that would occur.

So I kept away from debating on the cyberwebs for the last five years. But let’s face it: I’m a Scorpio moon and my grandpa was a lawyer–it’s in my blood and my star chart to *occasionally* feel argumentative.  And so I was on January 10th, when I came across Miss High And Mighty’s obnoxious Facebook status declaring that we shouldn’t be celebrating the immaculate David Bowie, but rather should be crucifying him. Feeling riled up, I took the bait, though I did so in a very innocuous manner. I simply posted a link to an article I’d read earlier that day that referred to the Bowie rape accusation. One of my favorite bloggers, The Coquette, had responded eloquently and articulately to an anonymous Internet user who asked, “‘David Bowie had sex with a 13 year old.’ Should I be resisting the urge to comment this on everyone’s Facebook posts idolizing the guy?” In a piece titled “On the sins of David Bowie,” Coke responded:

Yes, you should be resisting the urge. Mostly because you don’t seem to have your facts straight, but also because it’s a nuanced situation.

First of all, Lori Maddox by her own admission was 15 when she had sex with David Bowie, not 13. You can call it splitting hairs, but I think that’s a significant difference. At 15, Lori did not look or act like a child. She looked and acted like a fully developed woman. Obviously, she wasn’t, but that’s where things get sticky.

Secondly, David Bowie was not predatory or coercive. By all accounts, she wanted to have sex with him. Lori Maddox was a teenager who wanted to fuck rock stars, and by golly, that’s what she did — for many years, and with many rock stars. That’s fine. Good for her, but again, things get sticky when we get into the nuances of teenage sexual agency.

The girl in question, Lori Maddox, wrote an essay for Thrillest called “I Lost My Virginity To David Bowie,” wherein she expressed zero regret at having sex with the singer–quite the opposite, actually. She’s still bragging about it all these years later. She also speaks proudly about getting in bed with Jimmy Paige and Mick Jagger, too, while underaged. Coke ends her piece with this:

Let’s not forget that we’re also talking about early 1970’s glam rock hedonism and debauchery of such epic magnitude that it’s really unfathomable by today’s standards. That shit was messy, and whatever David Bowie’s sins may have been, the man was also a visionary artist and positive cultural force who spent half a century creating incredible music and making huge strides towards public acceptance of LGBT and gender queer identities. That shit was important, more important than anything you or I will ever do, so maybe you should resist the urge to make snipey Facebook comments to people who are genuinely feeling his loss.

Mic. Drop.

Before I chimed in, another boy had tried to defend Bowie, but Alice immediately shut him down, saying, “You aren’t a lawyer, you’re an architecture student.” I wanted to point out that Alice isn’t a lawyer either, she’s an Instagram model, but I really didn’t want to make waves or be mean. I simply posted the link to the above article and went away. Two days later, Alice responded to me in multi-paragraph essay-format fashion. And that’s when things got messy. Back and forth we went, defending our positions, nothing getting resolved. Soon other people started getting involved, including, at one point, her own mother, who ended her tirade with, “And, yes, [Alice] is my daughter and I am damn proud of it!” (Uh..?) Halfway through the chain of debate, after her third essay, Alice stopped responding entirely. She exited the conversation with, “I hate Facebook. I refuse to discuss any further through the lowest form of communication.” (Note: based on the number of selfies and rants she posts, I would reject the notion that she *hates* Facebook.) I stopped responding, too.

Real life went on and I forgot about the incident altogether. A few days later, I opened up my handy Followers app, as I do from time to time, and discovered that Alice had blocked me on Instagram. Then I checked Facebook; unfriended. I looked for the status that initiated all of this, and that was deleted, too. I wasn’t necessarily surprised that I was iced out, but I was annoyed. We had a civil discourse on a situation that had literally nothing to do with either of us. If she didn’t want to hear a dissenting opinion, why would she launch into a controversial diatribe on such a public platform? I felt bad, though, because she must have been taking all of this personally, even though nothing that we were talking about had anything to do with the two of us and no personal remarks were exchanged at all. I sent her a text message letting her know my intention was never to attack her, I just shared my differing opinion. I told her that I still really liked her as a person and valued our friendship. We weren’t actually friends, per se, but we were more than acquaintances. We’d previously connected on a deeper level in college regarding our anxiety and depression. I always had a respect and understanding of her from afar, even if I disagreed with her. I genuinely felt bad that she felt bad. I wondered how she could dispose of our quasi-friendship after something as trivial as a difference in opinion of a dead rock star’s sex life.

Her response to my text message was not what I was expecting. In three intense paragraphs, she said she lost all respect for me and condemned me for “insulting all victims and survivors of sexual assault.” There is absolutely nothing funny about sexual assault, but I couldn’t stop myself from laughing out loud at her comment. ALL SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT are upset at me because I don’t think that David Bowie is a monster predator? Absolutely ridiculous on every possible level. Yes, in terms of the textbook definition, Bowie would have been guilty of statutory rape. But neither Lori, nor her mother (yes, her mother was aware of their relationship) pressed charges, because it was one hundred percent consensual. When Jesus was born, Mary was about 13 and Joseph was estimated to be 27. Why is nobody picketing that relationship? Because of the context. Because of the societal circumstance of the time.

At the end of the day, there’s no point in further defending my position on the Lori Maddox/David Bowie situation. That would be missing the point. It doesn’t matter which one of us is right or wrong. It all comes down to a difference of opinion. Despite what it sounds like, I genuinely hold no negative feelings toward Alice, though she now clearly harbors resentment towards me. On an egoic level, I certainly have my opinions about her, but on a higher, cosmic level, I love her. I love her as a human being. I don’t care for her on a personal level, as this person called Stephen, but from a greater perspective, I genuinely do love for her. I know this sounds like bullshit, but it isn’t. This disagreement we had, the Facebook debate and the aftermath, it doesn’t affect how I feel about her. I can understand why she blocked me. I can understand from her perspective why she feels as passionately as she does about the Bowie thing. I can understand the social justice warrior mindset. I can disagree while understanding, and accepting, and, ultimately, loving.

Opinions are just opinions. Ever changing and unreliable. Opinions, as well as personalities, are formed through biology, genetics, social factors, cultural factors. We are not our opinions. Who we truly are goes beyond opinions, goes beyond the thinking mind entirely.  We are all one consciousness. Our egos are all different, shaped by so many unique factors. We can’t fault others for their world views and personalities and identities. I can’t fault Alice for who she thinks she is. It isn’t my right to hold her to an ideal, to an expectation of who she should be. And that goes for ourselves, too. I can think she’s deluded for her opinions, but the truth is: we’re all deluded. We all see ourselves as separate from nature, separate from the animal kingdom, separate from each other.

If I can tap into this mindset, my higher self, my love for Alice can extend to others, too. I can love Donald Trump. I can love religious extremists. I can even love Steven Avery (who I am convinced is one hundred percent guilty of rape and murder–sorry ’bout it!). If I can try to see the world through others’ eyes, I am able to love more fully. Love doesn’t mean agreeing, it means understanding and accepting. And this is such an important virtue that is missing from our generation today. There is so much intolerance, from both sides of the political aisle, because of one thing: a lack of compassion. Alan Watts so brilliantly and beautifully explains the truth behind this forgotten virtue:

Who would I have been if my mother had married someone else? I might so easily have been you. I so easily might have been born in China or India. Why do I feel that the world is centered in this place? You jolly well know that the world is centered where you are. This gives one a very strange feeling, the realization that other people exist in the same sense you do. Everybody’s name is I, that’s what you call yourself. So there will always be I’s in the world. Every I is, in a sense, the same I. We all might’ve been anyone else. So long as there is consciousness anywhere, there is I. You then, in a way, look out through all I’s. And that perhaps is the secret of the great virtue of compassion.

Nobody talks about compassion these days. Compassion isn’t sexy. Compassion isn’t trendy. It isn’t productive, or life hack-y, or self-serving at all. The rewards of compassion are quiet and internal. It is inherently humbling. I started writing this essay with the intention of making a point about the state of society, before recognizing a deeper truth. That Alice and Bret Easton Ellis are two ends of the same spectrum. They represent opposite–but similar–functions of the same mechanism known as the ego. The ego loves to be offended, and the ego loves to be annoyed. The ego loves to write think pieces about #OscarsSoWhite, and the ego loves to write counter-responses rebutting that argument. Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong? Both parties exist as two sides of the same coin. The antidote to which is, of course, awareness and compassion.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Troll, The Ego, And The Forgotten Virtue Of Compassion

  1. 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼 I truly love this. Albeit I have had my fb rants in the past, I have sworn to keep myself from putting my two cents in if it may start a ridiculous argument. Plus I sometimes look back and think “what the hell what I going on about?” So why even bother saying anything if my opinions about the matter may end up changing completely in the future. The way you brought it all together in the end was perfect. 👏🏼 #loveovereverything

    Liked by 1 person

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