Where are the men?
In March 1964, the New York Times reported that dozens of people heard the anguished cries of 29-year-old Kitty Genovese as she was raped and murdered outside her Queens, New York apartment but did nothing. The Times was lying. The lie worked, though, because we've also seen things happen when people should have intervened to stop something but refrained. Now, thanks to ubiquitous smartphones, we're seeing that, in 2021, there's an epidemic of passive Americans watching tragedy strike.
Many of us have seen recent videos in which something terrible happens and bystanders capture the event on an iPhone or other devices. The carjacking of an Uber driver, and his subsequent death at the hands of two teenage girls in D.C.; the vicious beating of an Asian man on a New York subway; and the ghastly assault of an elderly Asian woman in New York — all have shocked the senses of a country nearly numb from a constant stream of appalling images.
These events have several things in common: they take place in public spaces, are witnessed by other people, and are recorded on digital devices. The most important thing these events have in common is that no one stepped up to stop the aggressor. In all three events, people watched as an innocent person was savagely attacked, and no one lifted a finger to intercede, except to lift their phones and hit "record."
In 1964, believing the Times to be truthful, the public was outraged that a young woman could be raped and murdered within earshot of dozens of her neighbors and no one would come to her assistance. Now we view a video of naked violence without pausing to consider who recorded it and why. Who was present? Where is the outrage? Where were the men?
There are myriad explanations for why men are impotent in these situations. It could be that men are less virile, as is evident in falling testosterone levels. It could be fear of litigation; of being sued by the criminal. It could be the absence of actual empathy, from real human contact, as opposed to "virtual" empathy, gained from watching digital media. It could be simple fear.
Perhaps it is none of the things listed above; perhaps it is something deeper and much more damaging. Maybe we have lost sight of Truth — the idea that there is a universal right and wrong. Instead of a shared concept of good and evil, we now have billions of individual worlds of relativity. Each of us constructs a reality not based on good and evil, but rather on a spectrum ranging from pleasant to unpleasant.
When we see a fellow passenger on the subway savagely beaten, we find it unpleasant and hit record to share the unpleasantness with others. When we see two girls carjacking an Uber driver, we record the unpleasantness for our Twitter followers. When we see an elderly woman beaten to the pavement and kicked in the head, we have more unpleasantness to post on Facebook.
Men, in these situations, should not post on Facebook or Twitter. They should not be recording at all. Men should be acting. Men should know what is good and what is evil and act accordingly. But in a virtual and relative world, men do not act; they experience and share those experiences via a post to social media. It is as if the act of recording and posting the videos is to form a consensus on the unpleasantness of the event and to develop a sense of outrage. But outrage is feeling, not an action.
There is a theory in moral philosophy, emotivism, that proposes that moral claims within a statement can be reduced to the expression of feelings — that there is no moral value outside of how an individual feels. When we witness an act of evil in the emotivism framework, the nature of the evil is reduced to a feeling, and the imperative to act is obscured. This explains why we see evil acts perpetrated in the presence of passive men who do nothing to intercede.
Emotivism blends well with our culture. Woke-ism and emotivism combine to define a culture devoid of moral imperatives based on good and evil and instead require only a consensus of feelings. Thus, we can burn down businesses in dozens of cities when a (former) felon dies as a police officer holds his knee to the suspect's shoulder blades because we have formed a consensus of outrage. The murder of the Uber driver, the beatings of the Asian man on the subway, and the beating of the Asian woman on the street lack consensus; therefore, no action is required.
Men do not step up because they no longer recognize good and evil. The men are still around us, but they have been emasculated by their feelings.
Chris Boland can be reached at email@example.com.
(Correction: An earlier draft of this article said that the police officer killed George Floyd. That is not this publication's stance and we have corrected this essay to reflect that fact.)
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