If you have been online (forums, social media, blogs, and so forth) for any significant length of time you have said things that you regret. If you are a human being, you have absolutely said things in private conversation that you regret. Perhaps you regretted your words as soon as they left your mouth, and perhaps it took you days, weeks, months or even years to realize that what you said was wrong, stupid, immoral or wicked. Scripture tells us in James 3 that no man can tame the tongue, and that the tongue is set on fire of Hell.
This brings me to James Gunn, who said some outrageously wicked things on Twitter many years ago. He was fired by Disney after some folks on the Right decided to get “revenge” for Gunn’s celebration of Roseanne Barr’s firing. Now, I have said before that conservatives are idiots to celebrate Roseanne, who openly wished that people who eat at Chick-Fil-A should die a slow, horribly painful death. She is not and never was on our side. She is violently opposed to us. But some on the Right foolishly embraced her anyway, and Gunn’s words about her termination required VENGEANCE.
Megan McArdle was absolutely right when she wrote that the mob’s anger “long preceded the discovery of the offense, and they are overjoyed to have found a weapon that might destroy their hated enemy.” We should not be so naïve that we think people were actually suddenly “offended” when they “discovered” Gunn’s perverted “jokes” on Twitter. No one gives a plug nickel about the tweets. This was about collecting a scalp.
Given that we have all said bad things, we should be a little more forgiving and a little more self-aware when someone else’s bad speech is revealed. And no, this is not moral relativism. The things Gunn said, even joking, were pure evil. I am not excusing what he said. I am not arguing that the things he said were the same morally as the things we have all said that we regret. I am not minimizing the seriousness of child abuse and how completely depraved it is to “joke” about it.
But if we are going to start digging through things people have said that are ten, fifteen, maybe even thirty years old to play “gotcha” and ruin people’s careers, then it’s only a matter of time before the mob turns on us. The Internet has been around a while, so some of us have a two-decade long “paper” trail. Plus, it leads to a never-ending escalation of the culture wars. The Left collects a scalp, then the Right collects a scalp in retaliation, and then it goes on and on. The reasons to collect a scalp get more petty and farther in the past.
The mob – on either side – will never be satisfied. As more people are targeted for their past words, we will either all be hypocrites as we defend “our side” and go after the “other side,” or we will throw our own people under the bus for years-old or even decades-old transgressions.
People change. People get better. People learn from their mistakes and their sins. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul lists various sins and said “such were some of you.” That is why we should not cut people off from the opportunity to grow as a person, by constantly holding them to wicked things they have said or done in the past. In fact, that is a huge part of the problem with our criminal justice system, because people cannot escape their past even if they are living clean now.
Let’s be more magnanimous. Let’s be less vindictive. And let’s stop escalating the culture war.