James Maynard Keenan on Twitter: A Schism in the Age of Communication
Let’s examine an extremely callous denial of wrongdoing.
No doubt our readers are well-aware of some recent controversy which arose about a week ago, and will probably receive only increasing coverage going forward via big name blogs, publications and social media accounts.Through those variety of platforms a conversation will be taking place, gestating and evolving into an organism whose behavior and consumption will be beyond the prediction and power of those who gave it birth.
That conversation started with some deeply disturbing, revealing and hopefully healing tweets regarding some sexual events involving one particular famous rock star. Shortly thereafter, a certain Mr. Mosh Hoff of a relatively infamous Hell Toilet made an excellent contribution in framing that discussion in a properly grave social context as well as in an encouraging and thought-provoking manner.
But after the great dust cloud of comments settled, one could already see the schism begin to form, and in other blogs and information platforms whose business model relies on shallow emotional leverage in order to garner the attention of viewers, the hordes of gossip-mongers and head-in-the-sanders foam at the mouth for a chance to spew their unhinged bilge out into the world, the feeble and short-sighted attempts to garner recognition and self-gratification.
At its true heart, this story is not about a rock and roll vocalist and the gritty details of what he has and hasn’t done throughout his career of moral gray areas and personal exploits. And it isn’t about preserving one’s own view of a just world by disputing the studies underlying the fact that 1 in 6 women have experienced a sexual assault, because at the end of the day 1 in 100 would still be 3 million in the US alone, and as a holder of a moderately advanced college degree I can tell you that would still be exactly 3 million too many.
What this story is about, is how we as citizens and human beings interact, communicate and respond to one another, especially in times of great distress and crisis, and how we can all become stronger through empathy and support, even through something as seemingly simple as considerate listening.
And in that arena, in the garden of thoughtfulness that Mr. Hoff tried to cultivate, we have already gone far astray and failed the opportunity that was handed us to better understand ourselves and improve our lot.
But perhaps a concrete example is needed, some kind of sign post by which to measure where and how we went astray, and what better point of reference than the rock and roll man’s personal and official social media response itself.
An anonymous user pours a painful account of their past experiences out into the public space, exposing a source of personal shame and self doubt. They are explicit in detail and events, but for the purpose of acknowledging and exorcising their past more than any true legal pursuit of justice. The individual and veracity of details remain extremely plausible yet unknown at this time.
His initial statement is to insult the victim, accuse them of being a liar, and then lay blame on them for undermining the very movement they seek to partake in. His second is to disparage those who initially responded with empathy as having been duped by falsehoods only seeking attention and also devoid of content. The third is about being as dismissive as possible, both in regards as to what he needs to do, and also rendering the convenient excuse of the real-world intrusion. And his final remarks are a fittingly poetic piece of condescension as he switches to a directly accusatory tone and makes clear that he was too busy achieving greatness to be bothered with the concerns of ordinary unenlightened folks.
While I do not believe a single Tweet such as this to provide sufficient grounds for rendering any kind of clear indication or amateur legal judgment on any individual or event in question, what it does make painfully clear is that in his Tweet he has inadvertently created a conveniently condensed statement that exemplifies everything wrong with how society responds to the pleas of victims who seek acknowledgment and understanding, who more often than not simply want nothing more than for their pain and discomfort to end and to feel that they can be a whole and accepted member of society free of shame.
For when a victim cried out in need of hearing and solace, he responded with derision and said it was all in their head, implying that any pain they felt was their own doing.
When someone tried to be courageous and bravely interact with the world by baring their secrets and doubts, he responded with dismissal, and that any concerns they may have had were irrelevant and not worth his time.
And by now, those types of responses should be sounding familiar, as they are frequently the go-to knee jerk reactions often displayed by this intra-connected human community whenever someone comes forward with a painful admission that some demon has been gnawing at them in varying states of denial for years, because whether we like it or not, we still live in the world where it doesn’t even occur to people that referring to sexual assault behind a dumpster as ‘a little action’ is inappropriate.
And that, dear friends, is why these kinds of things take 18 years to come to light. That is why sexual assaults are criminally underreported as a whole, and even less so to law enforcement, where there is only a brief window in which the recourse of true legal justice is even a remote possibility.
Because when it comes down to it, even in the rare case where a victim may be exaggerating, mis-remembering or generating falsehoods, there is still something to be gained by listening and empathizing first and making sure that people throughout our communities feel heard, valued and safe, before casting any kinds of judgments or defensive rebuttals. And that applies to the accused as well, who are also certainly entitled to space for being heard and respected. Listening to a victim is not the same as convicting the accused, and civil discourse and due process are neither one in the same, nor mutually exclusive.
In some ways, I even feel a sense of pity for Mr Keenan, who must have felt shocked, saddened, perplexed and even worried upon hearing this news. It would have been a far healthier response for everyone involved for him to have expressed as much, both for his own sake and the sake of the conversation taking place. He could have changed the tone and set a good example by attempting to show any degree of vulnerability and reaching out in any way, even if only via a seemingly meaningless and casual medium as Twitter.
This would have been a far more appropriate and respectful response:
But the opportunity for a better conversation has already passed, and elsewhere on the planet there are already thousands of keyboards hammering away with all manner of unseemly content as everyone digs in to their mental comfort zone and fortifies their mind against the thoughts and pleas of others.
So instead I leave you all with a handy closing reference to one of the unsung hip-hop greats and my personal favorites, this time discussing how easy it is to perpetuate cycles of violence through lack of understanding.
But dehumanizing the victim makes things simpler
It’s like breathing with a respirator
It eases the conscience of even the most conscious
And calculating violator
Words can reduce a person to an object
Something more easy to hate
An inanimate entity, completely disposable
No problem to obliterate