We fucked it up again. As a society, we took yet another ‘teachable moment’ and we found a way to fuck it up. We fucked it up because we’ve abandoned the notion of a nuanced world. We fucked it up because we wanted Michael Brown to be a completely innocent victim, because we wanted Officer Darren Wilson to be a villain, because we wanted Michael Brown to be a thug, because we wanted Darren Wilson to be a hero, because we wanted Michael Brown to be a racist, because we wanted Darren Wilson to be a racist.
We fucked it up because we didn’t even bother to look at them as people. We immediately made them into symbols. For the most part we didn’t bother to look at what little evidence was available to us. When we did look, we only talked about the evidence that supported what we wanted to believe.
We fucked it up because we’ve become a society eager to be offended. Eager to be outraged. Eager to blame others. Eager to justify our own particular position and eager to malign those with whom we disagree. We fucked it up because we weren’t really interested in what actually happened, or why it actually happened. We fucked it up because we insisted on packing what happened into specific narratives.
Was Michael Brown a ‘gentle giant’? Yes, sometimes. Was he also a thug? Yes he was, sometimes. Was Darren Wilson a villain? Yes, sometimes. Was he also a hero? Yes, sometimes he was. Were they both racist? Yes, of course they were, sometimes. Because ALL of us are complex, because none of us is just one thing.
What happened in those few minutes in Ferguson was a cascade of spontaneous escalating events shaped by years of experience. What’s happened in the days and weeks following those few minutes has been shaped by people trying to wedge what happened into inflexible ideological storylines.
But there was a period — a few hours, maybe a couple of days, maybe even as much as a week — when it might have been possible for us as a society to try to understand Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. To understand each of them as people, not simply as symbols of what we fear. To understand why each of them acted and reacted the way they did.
We’ve had a lot of those ‘teachable’ moments in the last few years. We’ve fucked up most of them. We fucked them up because our immediate instinct is to polarize, to defend our position and vilify the other, to justify our view and make the other view illegitimate. We fuck them up because we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that we might be even partially wrong, because we refuse to accept the others may be partially right. We’ve fucked them up because we believe winning is more important than understanding
I’m pessimistic about the future of society. I’m also optimistic. (ALL of us are complex; none of us is just one thing.) I’m pessimistic because of Ferguson, because of Newtown, because of Ukraine, because of the mid-term elections, because of Syria, because of Ebola fuckwits, because because because of so many things. But I’m optimistic too, because same-sex marriage is now legal in 35 states. Because Dr. Matt Taylor made a complete and sincere apology for wearing a stupid, sexist shirt to announce a major scientific achievement. Because the guys behind Gamergate have failed. Because the Pope blessed a male stripper’s parrot. Because despite all the unrest, the Ferguson Municipal Public Library remains open today. Because as awful as things are, they’re not as awful as they could be — and because they’re getting slightly less awful all the time.
The failure to indict Officer Wilson is actually another ‘teachable’ moment. Most people have no idea how a grand jury works, or the purpose it serves, or why grand juries exist, or how they’re flawed. Maybe people in Ferguson can go to their public library today and learn about grand juries.
Of course, all across the nation library funding is being cut. Libraries are cutting hours, cutting staff, closing branches. That’s another ‘teachable’ moment we’re almost certainly going to fuck up.
The only good thing about all these ‘teachable’ moments is that each of them forces a few people to actually learn.