I was very hesitant about jumping on the latest media outrage and initially decided to stay away from the unfolding Jussie Smollett drama. However, after witnessing the case play out and the way people are using this incident to prove points, I decided to jump in for one simple reason: how we are reacting to Smollett reveals more about us than the way Smollett exposed himself. Though I am loathe to predetermine his guilt before his trail even begins, if what is alleged about him bears out and he did in fact hire people to assault him in order to paint himself as a victim of a hate crime—as heinous as that sounds—I would not surprise me at all.
The rush to garner fame and riches inverts the souls of otherwise sensible people and turns rational minds into narcissistic dolts. He could not be grateful being a star on a major TV show and making more money than he could have ever imagined not too long ago; the twin gravitational pulls of ambition and gluttony can never be satiated once wantonness becomes the north arrow on our moral compasses. Smollett is about to find out the hard way what happens when one opens unquenchable windows to avarice and is met by the brick walls of consequences.
Yet, before I jump into the indignation chorus and sing melodies of outrage over this entire episode, perhaps it is best for us to pause and consider the part we all play in this pandemic of ego that is buckling the very foundation of civilization. In a lot of ways, Smollett is a microcosm of who and what we have become as a society—we are waging our collective fingers at our own shadow. Before I go too much further, let me stipulate that these words are aimed at the author as much as they are at the readers. I refuse to be pious about this; I am just as guilty of committing the very excesses I’m about to outline in this missive.
There is a sickness to our society, conditioned over time to seek self-pursuit over collective wellness and indoctrinated since childhood to attain riches at all cost, humanity has transmuted into a virus that is slowly destroying ourselves—we are committing species suicide and making collateral damage out of life. Smollett is a perfect illustration of the illness that is consuming us. What he did was an extreme case of what most of us do these days; so quick to be famous that we gladly fork over our private data and bare the most intimate aspects of our lives for the sake of a few likes. In the process, we give unimaginable powers to companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, along with the corporations they sell our data to.
Popular #apps are reportedly sharing people's sensitive #data w/ Facebook (incl. weight, menstrual cycles, pregnancy status, etc.), even if they choose not to have an account.#Privacy #DataPrivacy #DataEthics #HealthTech #Tech https://t.co/MdycInPQ18
— Steph S. ♻️ (@StephTweetChat) February 22, 2019
The same way that Smollett did not think about the consequences of his actions, we too post and share without knowing what will become of the data we put into the ether for an eternity. On an individual level, the risk could very well be negligible; at least until we lose our jobs for expressing our thoughts or the police come knocking at our doors because tweeted something imprudent under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Yet, the risks we face as individuals pale compared to the harm we face as a society.
During the 2016 elections, it was determined that Google can shift the voting preference of undecided voters by 20% or more. Considering that most presidential elections are decided by less than the margin of error, as is the outcome of the balance of power within both branches of Congress, one company having such influence over the outcome of elections is a story line that even George Orwell could not imagine while toking Cali bud. As if it’s not bad enough that politicians have been co-opted by the flood of corporate money that inundates our political system, tech corporations can now literally socially engineer elections to get their desired outcomes.
But who has time to think about these grave threats to self-governance, privacy rights and our very freedoms when we have selfies to take and hashtag protests to attend? We have been so trained to be about self that we forget to look outside of ourselves. Give a man a mirror and he will stop looking outside his window; I used to say that all the time not too long ago, but I had no idea just how much we have been spun into a collective coma by the cocoons of faux indignation and sensationalism.
Protesting injustice and outrage have become ends unto themselves.
It’s on this front that this entire Smollett saga has really unveiled not only the brokenness of the offender but of the broader society that is quick to be offended. We treat slights as mortal wounds, shades that are thrown treated as occasions to clutch our collective pearls and the mere hint of disagreement greeted with howls and woeismeism. In this paradigm, conversations have been made impossible. A mix of speech policing and feeling protectionism has effectively nullified civil discussions and replaced comity with antagonism.
What we end up with is a society that is easily incited and agitated into outbursts by the very few who wield grievances as weapons. We are constantly being emotionally manipulated to act against our own interests. This entire Smollett episode is a classic example of how we are triggered into mob mentalities as all sides rush to their offensive posture in order to wage identity and ideologically driven jihads against each other. Most of the time, people sprint to social media to rage against injustice not because they care about fairness but because they enjoy using the wounds of marginalized people as a hammer to bash their opponents and to prove themselves right.
The sad thing is that both parties and the media-politico complex as a whole have figured out how to toy with us, they present one sided narratives and turn iniquities into entertainment. During my interview with Matt Taibbi last Thursday, he noted that mainstream media has the best drug in the world, they give their product away for free, it’s perfectly legal to traffic it and, in the end, they profit by treating us as products. The whole of humanity has been turned into a business model by very cunning capitalists who perfected the art of massaging our egos and bending our minds through PSYOPS programs we accept as news shows.
Democrats have perfected the hustle of treading on our pains, selling us hopes and then stepping on our backs to advance their own agendas.
Before “the other side” gloats a bit too much, don’t think that Trump, Republicans and MAGA supporters are not guilty of doing the same thing as Democrats, a lot of people within the “progressive” community and some within the“black” community did when they rushed to judgement before the facts were gathered with respect to Smollett’s case. Last year, the minute officials alleged that Mollie Tibbetts was killed by a man who was in America illegally, the conservative news hounds were tripping over themselves to sound the alarm. If Mollie was murdered by a “white” guy, you would never have heard her story. But because she was killed by a Republican bogeyman, all the sudden the assholes at Fox News and Breitbart decided to care about human suffering.
Donald Trump led the charge as he shamelessly latched on to a most xenophobic narrative to further his own political agenda, he could not be any more disrespectful and repulsive if he was found tap dancing on Mollie’s grave. Trump, in this way, is a perfect president for our time, a septuagenarian who has the grace of Rasputin and the maturity of a fetus, he is an outward and grotesquely magnified manifestation of the society we have become. He treats every dis as a pretext to unleash torpedoes, every policy decision he takes is to enhance his ego, and he can’t go a day without turning even the most somber occasions into moments to brag about his pea brained intellect. Trump is not our president, he is our projection.
I think we hit peak humanity sometime in the 20th century—most likely right before the bloody 60s—and we are now devolving back to our pure ids. In the process, we are morphing into tribes of injustice hunters and vindication seekers. We don’t really care about equality as much as we want others to acknowledge our struggles. Sadly, in a rush to seek vindication and monopolize pains, we become islands unto ourselves. At the core of our woes are our egos; pride and the need to win at all cost is destroying our society and our future with it. If you want to know how a few thousand oligarchs can subjugate nearly eight billion people around the world, it’s because they have conditioned us to be #MeFirst instead of saying #WeTogether.
As I noted from the outset, I am not preaching to you nor is my aim to be pretentious. I too struggle mightily with my ego and the need to be right at all times. Moreover, too often, I seek acceptance instead of embracing myself as I am. After all, the article I originally wanted to write was about windows and brick walls—the way that smiles cover up the walls of sadness we all struggle with. I scratched that idea and decided to write an article titled “Bloody 60s: the Decade that Aborted Leadership in America”, a write up that would have explored how the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm fundamentally altered the soul and spirit of our nation.
But then my ego kicked in, I know the articles I write about the human experiences and the hurts we all endure only get a fraction of the hits that my articles about politics and current events garner. So I decided to write about Smollett instead but only after I made the decision to present this topic in ways that edify instead of adding logs to the fire. As I was reflecting about this decision to pivot away from depth into the gutters of sensationalism, I came to the realization that all these things are interconnected. The windows and brick walls are who we have become, presenting ourselves one way through technology while we suffer in reality. The 1960s did alter our society in a very foundational way; the giants of the past who served humanity replaced by moral midgets of our time who only serve their egos. This is what happens when a society is currently leaderless and is instead led by selfishness.
Smollett in this way is not the source but a symptom of the sickness we refuse to address. We jump from outrage to outrage wailing against injustice only to expend our energies and go back to status normal the minute the indignation du jour stops trending on Twitter. Remember Iraq? Remember Standing Rock? Remember Flint? Remember 911? The first tragedies are the acts, the greatest tragedy is our indifference. We think we are doing something to advance the cause, in reality we are being conditioned like Pavlov’s dog and medicated by the troika of politicians, pundits and media personalities—all on the payroll of corporations—to act against our interests.
We keep biting at the catnip that is thrown before us as a sea of humanity is being indentured into a life sentence of poverty and dependency. The rest of us are but one or two missed paychecks from joining them on concrete pavements. I guess in a way, the Smollett incident is not so much an opportunity to fix our broken society but a temporary reprieve to hide from it. This was the very theme I brought up while discussing this case on Alex Pierson’s show on Friday. Smollett could have used his fame and fortunes to help others who cry tears of sorrow in silence. Jussie chose to chase even more wealth and acclaim, he is learning the hard way that using people’s pains to advance his own cause leads to unending woes. Sound familiar? Jussie is the man in the mirror. #JussieJustUS Click To Tweet
Post script: Let me clarify one thing, I used the word “generation” in the title of this article. I really hope that people don’t take that a judgement against millennials and those who come after them. Blaming young adults for the mess of this world is the worst form of woeismeism, handing them a bleak future and then telling them to stop complaining is the audacity of chutzpah. This article is a critique of our time and not meant to rebuke any one group of people. Instead of trying to fix blame, let us work together to fix this sickness of ego that is cratering society. One last thing, I will use this week to write about the other topics I mentioned earlier and publish two articles covering the decade that aborted leadership in America and the struggles we all carry in our hearts. We have to identify the source of the disease and then figure out why we hurt before we can mend what sickens us.
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.