Editor’s Note: As Josh takes a week off, please enjoy this column from about this time last year. Unfortunately, we as a country are still trying to hash out this issue.
We are told — in elementary school science classes, in college philosophy seminars, by “Big Bang Theory” writers just after their mid-morning tweak — that, for every reaction, there is an equal yet opposite reaction. The natural world, at least at the atomic level and above, seems to back this up: our universe is a symphony of mathematical precision, even if we do not fully grasp the extent of it all.
Physics, after all, is reliable. It must be, for our own peace of mind and sense of place in the whole of existence. Otherwise, we may as well resign ourselves to our roles as specks of ant-s**t in the great gibbering Lovecraftian universe: logic, order and faith are not just dead, but never were in the first place. Life — and all that came before or after — is void of significance.
Is it that dire? Cosmically, no. But it’s difficult to know where to place one’s faith; gods are ephemeral, formless, subject to man’s interpretation, for better or worse. Perhaps, though, they do indicate that the idea of equal reactions holds some merit: if man believes he has a deity at his back, what is to stop him from committing any act in that god’s name?
People, speaking of man, are even more of a dicey proposition. Faith in a person is one thing; faith in mankind is naïve at best, self-damning at worst. Here, history and context are what matter: I trust a handful of people with my closest secrets, my deepest, most vulnerable thoughts, and with my life, because they’ve given me no reason, or choice, to do anything else.
Taken in a broader view, humanity tends to make great strides forward based on the concentrated efforts of one person or a group of people at a given time — that success billows out and has a ripple effect on society, thereby irrevocably altering it. Mankind as a whole, though, has typically shown itself to be more bloodthirsty and assimilationist than anything else. There is cause for worry because there is no other reason, or choice, to do anything but.
Which brings me, as most things do, to Twitter. I know. I KNOW. I use Twitter mostly to brag about beer, which is kind of like using your two minutes during open mic night at the Apollo to repair a VCR. As it is, I’m still sort of figuring out the nuances of the whole thing. I don’t really use hashtags all that much, but I understand what they’re supposed to do, and oh my god I sound like I’m 80 years old so let me just get on with this.
The hashtags #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter have been trending pretty regularly on Twitter in response to, specifically, the death of Eric Garner, and more broadly to the alarming and infuriating streak of young black men being gunned down or otherwise assaulted by non-black police officers. The act itself of starting a hashtag is typically a fairly innocuous one: usually less than a dozen keystrokes. In these cases, however, the action-reaction relationship disintegrated: heaven and hell alike were unleashed.
We are, of course, going to touch more heavily upon hell. As the issue gained steam, apologists for the officers — let’s call them, oh, bigots — responded with the slogan “I Can Breathe.” A cadre of men were photographed in New York City wearing shirts bearing that phrase, with a sign that further elaborated “Thank You for Your Service.” No less than Jon Stewart has already eloquently decimated the validity of doing such a thing, so I’ll simply echo him here: punishing officers who abuse their power and position within society is not mutually exclusive with supporting officers who do the right thing.
More recently, the hashtag #AllLivesMatter has been making the rounds. It’s one of the sneakier, most oft-utilized forms of latent racism: on the surface, there’s nothing untrue about the statement. All lives matter. Yes, yes indeed they do. But saying something like that in the course of co-opting a slogan meant to bring awareness to pervasive, ongoing cultural problem that affects a very specific demographic — AND carries a ton of historical implications and baggage — is irresponsible, harmful and ignorant. If the hashtag and slogan had come about on their own accord, apart from these tragedies, then maybe we could talk. As it is, it seeks to undermine a legitimate issue.
This is what I mean by the inequality of action-reaction when you boil it down to online interactions: it is both true and untrue. One hashtag meets its counterpart; each seeks to execute a similar, opposite act and yet, it highlights inequality on a more major scale. Worse yet, it highlights the stasis in which we find ourselves when it comes to addressing the problem. Until things change on this front, until someone is taken to task for these deaths, we continue to defy physics, and to invite oblivion.