Charlottesville is Feeding Our Rage for Rage

By Joshua Charles Published on August 15, 2017

I have feared for quite a while that social media is causing us to lose our sense of balance and reason. The last few days have offered plenty of fuel for that fear. During the riots in Charlottesville on Saturday, news feeds on Twitter and Facebook on Saturday were rolling ticker tapes of mass hysteria.

Of course, the media and the left wing commentariat used the violence in Charlottesville as a cudgel against President Trump and anyone who voted for him. That’s what they do.

But too many conservatives also jumped on the bandwagon — seeking to outdo each other on social media with rage and condemnations. They didn’t just denounce the rancid white supremacists. (Really, what could be less controversial?) They claimed that the President’s statement on Saturday was too vague. And they attributed this, not to the timing, but to malice.

When he issued another statement on Monday, in which he named “KKK, Neo-Nazis,” and “White Supremacists,” they dismissed it as too little, too late.

What We Did Not Know

This isn’t fair, and it doesn’t fit the facts. When the President made his statement on Saturday, there was no confirmation of deaths. The police had neither caught nor identified the driver who allegedly murdered one woman and injured many more.

Thus, not only was the dust still settling on the crime itself, but we didn’t know who did it, what his motives were, or anything else. Could we make educated guesses? Sure. But that’s it.

We also did not know the details about the other deaths. The reports continued back and forth for several hours. The media first reported that 3 deaths were a result of the car attack. Governor McAuliffe even confirmed this. Later we learned that 2 of the deaths were cops who died in a helicopter crash. We still don’t know what caused the crash.

What We Did Know

What we did know when the President spoke was that there had been a white nationalist protest in Charlottesville. We also knew, as reported by outlets as diverse as the New York Times, USA Today, and Fox News, that there were far left “counter protestors.” According to some reports, they started the violence. This included the group “Antifa,” which has been causing mayhem for months, and Black Lives Matter (BLM).

BLM may not be inherently violent. But some of their protests have led to violence, vandalism, and deaths, and some have featured violent and bigoted slogans. Remember the murders of five cops in Dallas last summer?

And yet, the media described these violent groups merely as “counter protestors.”

In truth, the white supremacists on one side and the Antifa vandals on the other are both hostile forces. Both are nasty extremes that represent few real Americans. Both were looking for a fight, and both got it.

Thus, especially given what we knew at the time, the President’s statement about violence “on all sides” was correct. I’m not always happy with this President’s actions or words, but that’s a fact.

President Trump also named “bigotry” and “hatred,” which he condemned “in the strongest possible terms.” These terms are spot on for both white nationalists and leftist totalitarians. The very same day, the Justice Department announced the opening of a civil rights case.

So why the hysteria over his first statement? Why could he, and we, not wait for the facts?

Social Media as a Rage Machine

Social media has become a rage machine, in which the madness of mobs quickly overtakes common sense and decency. It encourages us to pre-judge facts (as in “prejudice”). It beckons us to pounce rather than ponder, to tweet rather than think.

The President’s harshest critics would have attacked him no matter what he said. But I think there’s some else going on that we all need to face.

Social media has become a rage machine, in which the madness of mobs quickly overtakes common sense and decency. It encourages us to pre-judge facts (as in “prejudice”). It beckons us to pounce rather than ponder, to tweet rather than think. 

It also strokes our sense of virtue and self-worth. We long to get likes, retweets, and shares. This thrill to rant, vent, and rage without knowledge, context, history, or prudence is one of the great banes of our time. Such things don’t matter for Social Media Warriors, but they should to citizens, no matter what “side” they’re on. We must confront this social acid with the old-fashioned virtue of self-control, especially when it involves matters as weighty as life and death.

It’s a sort of parallel to the actual violence we saw in the streets of Charlottesville, for those who sit at computers rather than march with banners. We need to resist this temptation, not feed it. We need to wait for facts, not surrender to passions. We need to love truth more than tweets.

“Facts are better than dreams,” said Winston Churchill. We ought to be willing to wait for them before we further feed the rage consuming our society.

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