Honoring what is left of the Fourth Amendment, I should say, at the outset there is nothing wrong with the right sort of privacy — good fences build good neighbors, don’t make love at the garden gate, keep your Stasi wiretaps out of my phone calls — all of that. No one should be forced to either be an exhibitionist or a state-informer against their will. I’m not talking about your right to keep your silence, or your dignity.
Likewise, most of us buy peace, in our workplace, our families, our churches, by keeping our mouth shut, and this too can be a good thing. When a thirteen year old girl stretches a fashion experiment in a way that fails horribly, discretion dictates we let the girl discover the error on her own. When a husband and wife let loose with soul-cutting insult, confined to their bedroom, a wise child would not broadcast this spat to the neighbors, especially when mom and dad appear happy with each other the next morning.
I’m not talking about the times when we bridle our tongues for sound reasons. I’m talking about a different kind of privacy–the privacy of cowardice and submission.
The Battle Will Be Televised, Shared, and Liked..
I am coming to believe that most people under thirty, these days, have felt the bitter sting of social media cancellation on some level. Sooner or later, all of us say something that leaves the other sheep thinking we’re really a wolf, or a loon. (“Wait, that sounds like unvarnished privilege on display. Are you some sort of white supremacist?”) Before social media such an exchange may have resulted in nothing more than a room going silent, and an awkward memory. Now, the moment is on video, or in print, screen-grabbed for eternity. When your moment of candor — which was never outside the Overton Window to begin with, and likely too utterly truthful for brain-dead CRT types to understand — when that moment gets broadcast beyond the people who know you personally, out of context, it can result in a tidal wave of hate mail, boycotts (social and economic), and even anonymous threats of violence. This season’s bloody untouchable banner is wrapped tight around your head and it stains not just you, but your immediate family and friends, who have to spend their time explaining why you aren’t a Covid-denier, super-spreading misinformation and discriminating against people of color, on the side, just for kicks. (On one level, it’s not even about the “sin” itself. It’s about having a sinner to kick around, to keep the horde feeling sinless.)
This happens to people over thirty, as well, but when you reach that point in life where you don’t care about pleasing fools, it doesn’t sting quite as much. On the other hand, if you think back to high school, and how important it was, even if you weren’t popular, to at least not be the odd one inspiring laughter as you walked by, perpetually unaware of who was throwing the spit-balls, it might tell us something about the younger generation’s immense fear of social media shaming, because it’s the old shaming, but on internet-fueled speed. I’ve talked to young people who are intensely afraid of sharing any post, from anyone, even the most wholesome and innocuous, for fear someone would read their affirmation in the wrong way. They want to keep all of their friends, and their peaceful strangers peaceful, at all costs. As some of our own family members concluded, simultaneously, in a driveway conversation one day: “if you want to have good friends, keep it superficial.”
Staying utterly superficial on social media won’t make you popular, but it won’t turn you into Jack the Ripper either. Staying superficial in life itself, however, creates a dangerous vacuum into which the Jack the Rippers of the left gleefully jump, make fortifications and hold sway. They know we are private people who want to stay more or less private, protected from the mob, so they use our silent privacy to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk — and pretty soon theirs is the only conversation to be had.
Why Good Kids Go Bad, or at Least Weird
Over the last five years, I’ve talked to conservative parents, many of them even homeschoolers, whose adult children give every indication of embracing every woke merit badge on the Marxist sash. One of them even posted, approvingly, the Communist Manifesto a few months ago. Rainbow-colored “Ally” graphics adorn their profile pictures. Many have glowing things to say about Bernie Sanders. In evangelical circles, they gravitate towards Russell Moore, Matt Chandler, and Tim Keller, with the necessary peer-pleasing disdain for Doug Wilson and Jeff Durbin to boost their street cred. In some cases, the singular brutality of George Floyd’s arrest resulted in a wholesale embrace of BLM’s nutty social agenda. They can, of course, be counted on to make a kind of barfy expression if someone mentions “Donald Trump.”
For parents who saw themselves building a “city on a hill,” it feels like a bitter disappointment and a betrayal, but how did it happen? I propose at least one reason is our intense need to remain private, safe in our cultural ghettos, protected from the mob, protected from the price of an honest conversation.
The College Weirdo Who Stole Thanksgiving
There’s a story like this one in most families: your adult children come home for the holidays from school, or just their new lives in the city, and they bring along a full-fledged social justice weirdo. In some cases, they don’t even need to bring a friend along. They play the part themselves. Let’s call this person “Gene-Jean” to keep it gender neutral. In this mix, Dad says something like, “so, Jeannie, my dear, any new young men on the horizon?”
..to which Gene-Jean , or its friend, replies: “Isn’t that a little hetero-normative?”
Dad laughs, a little uncomfortably, but Gene-Jean is polite and wide-eyed, even courteous. Away from home, Gene-Jean has absorbed a pure diet of gender-liberty and net-zero emissions. No contrary opinions are allowed in her cult. She is the post-Christian version of a crusading 19th century pietist. Instead of wiping out lust with Graham crackers, she is fighting social injustice with a “teaching moment” for her own backward family members.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful,” Gene-Jean says, with genuine concern, “but it’s questions like that — the assumption of heterosexual attraction — that leaves queer people with no option but suicide.”
Dad, having now inspired mass-suicide, feels mom’s hand on his arm under the table. It’s the “let this one go” grasp. Mom is begging dad, silently, not to engage.
Many times, the conservative, privacy-loving family allows Gene-Jean to go on for hours, uninterrupted, giving her anti-Christ version of the Sermon on the Mount, simply to buy the peace, and their continued privacy, because everyone knows, certainly mom and dad, that Gene-Jean’s army, away from home, is powerful–if not in numbers than in sheer volume. Who wants to upset, really, someone on an Antifa jihad?
We kid ourselves with excuses..
- “Look, I work for the county, and I’m one of the few conservatives there, so I want to remain a voice with influence, even though — uh, on this occasion — I’m not going to use my voice. I can see this conversation being posted on the internet.”
- “The most important thing is keeping the family together, even if we disagree, and that means me being silent, so that our disagreements don’t end up on Facebook.”
- “I’m in a very public business and I can see the Instagram crusade against me right now.”
Sometimes we go down without a fight, and who ends up winning that fight? The one who fought, of course. Gene-Jean. Gene-Jean was seen to have had such a compelling argument, no one dared confront it. The conservative, Christian family thought they were being polite, but they were confirming for Gene-Jean their surrender to the superior ideas of the academy and the city. “My parents really must have been separatist wackos, because they were too afraid to even speak to Gene-Jean.” Gene-Jean, like a virus, infects every cell in the family.
A few years later, you see Gene-Jean’s little brother sporting a hammer and sickle on his Instagram profile.
Division is Healthy Stuff
A few of my own children have begged me to stop writing altogether, to forfeit all social media presence. They usually appeal to my wife to make the petition. My wife knows me better, and I’m left to wonder whether they take me for an embarrassing fool, or a truthful, if convicting voice–or somewhere between the two. One of them sought “Christian” family counseling, and the result included the advice to “seek distance.” You know the verse: “if your brother sins against you, seek some distance. Avoid all family functions.” No?
As parents, as seniors, as the older, theoretically wiser generation, we can’t simply wish to be liked. We need to risk being hated. We need to risk very difficult conversations. That’s part of our job description, even it means being scorned publicly. I’ve lived in this scorn for sometime, and guess what? The water’s lovely. I know where I stand with people. I know where my friends, and where my enemies, really live–and I have this consolation from the God-man himself: “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.”