Why demonizing others makes us feel better

I find no advantage in parroting points made by every pundit, blogger or pop social media analyst out there. Even if I feel compelled to comment on an over-analyzed issue, I try to approach it differently. I hope this explains to the many people who’ve asked why I haven’t publicly commented on Ferguson, Ray Rice or other recent situations. I’ve intentionally taken time to listen. That’s a dying practice these days. 

It seems that everybody and their mothers are compelled to immediately kick, scratch and pull for as much of the fickle media spotlight as possible. Even many of my colleagues in the professorate are increasingly more interested in truncated television spots than substantive intellectual production and exchange. We are in a dangerous place. 
 
As I have listened to various situational deconstructions recently, I have grown more and more uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve never been bothered by legitimate dialogical contestation. We can grow from our disagreements. I am disquieted, however, by the ease with which many Americans now seem willing to demonize and destroy people with little reflection, empathy, sympathy or even complete facts.
 
As person after person is indicted and convicted in kangaroo courts of public opinion, it feels as if we are slipping into a modern revisitation of Joseph McCarthy’s reign of terror. On a more basic (and nastily base) level, if one calls for more nuanced engagements of Ferguson, Rice or Adrian Peterson, you are labeled a racist or supporter of domestic violence and child abuse.
 
The fact that most of our conversations are shot through the filters of sports and entertainment is not surprising. I can simultaneously admit that I love sports and reaffirm that America is entertaining itself to death. Put simply, sports and sports figures are far too important to us. This sad value misplacement is explainable when we consider the current defective state of our culture. In the midst of our anti-intellectualism, violence, discrimination, infidelity, shallowness and overall anomie, we now look to single out those who are “worse” than us to make us feel better about ourselves. In this debauchery-infested American milieu, many are willing (I daresay even desperate) to play the role of stone-casters and executioners of those they find wanting.
 
Again, I do not shun debate and am not troubled by punishment for wrongdoing. I am, however, highly disturbed by aggressive calls for the lifelong ruin of individuals who run afoul of critics’ and commenters’ bifurcated, strident standards — even if the culprits’ prior records are pristine. The target list grows weekly. Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dywer now join Chris Brown as the faces of domestic abuse ­— never to be forgiven. Janay Palmer Rice is now grouped with Rhianna and Hillary Clinton as women who suffer from a nasty Stockholm syndrome variant that forces them to stay with men they should leave and loathe. After all, they have no idea what the complete realities of their relationships are, who they should love or what’s in their best interests. Their critics have all the answers. 
 
Without the revealing of full facts, Adrian Peterson is the poster boy for child abuse and should never be allowed to play football again because he whipped his sons in a way some people find abhorrent. Before the case is tried, Darren Wilson joins Donald Sterling as the current face of racism. Despite much evidence to the contrary, including emotional protestations from his close friend and Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King (who is black), Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry has been tossed into the grinder and must wear the racist’s scarlet letter as well. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is now the epitome of poor leadership and should be fired immediately. 
 
The message from America’s moral police is clear. “Damn due process. We may be bad, but those people are evil and not only deserve scrutiny and punishment, but utter destruction.” If you don’t absolutely agree with them, they tag you as guilty, too. I have a few queries. Can these people live up to their own standards? If this is the new order, how long before they come for each of us? It calls to mind the question Billy Bob Thornton’s character in “Friday Night Lights” famously asked his team: “Can you be perfect?” The obvious answer is a resounding “No.” But you’d better be ­— or you could be the next “face” of something despicable and never work again.