People have made stupid, insensitive statements since time immemorial. In many ways, that sin of arrogance proves we’re human — proves, too, the frailty of our judgment. All of us, at one time or another, are guilty as charged.
The difference between the dumb comments of the past and the inappropriate remarks of today, however, is the size of our audience. Social media not only amplifies our mistakes but also provides a platform to the people who don’t know when to shut up. The result is embarrassment at best and the loss of a job or reputation at worst.
The latest example of this is an anthropology professor who, I suspect, is now wallowing in self-mortification. Or maybe not. What might elicit a bout of deep introspection in one person sometimes serves as encouragement to continue foot-in-the-mouth behavior in another.
Recently, a now-unemployed adjunct professor, formerly with the University of Delaware, posted on Facebook that Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old student who died soon after he was released by North Korea, “got exactly what he deserved.” Kathy Dettwyler’s post gives the impression she had a very large ax to grind — namely, the entitlement of her students. She called Warmbier “typical of the mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males who come into my classes.”
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She also wrote: “These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade. His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted. Maybe in the U.S., where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea. And of course, it’s Otto’s parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives.”
Not surprisingly, Dettwyler got death threats — because stupidity tends to breed more stupidity.
Dettwyler joins a long list of smart people making ill-advised comments that are based more on warped opinions than verifiable facts. Remember former Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy? He claimed that the government had staged the massacre of 26 first-graders and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in order to garner support for gun control laws and as early as 2013 published blog posts that referred to “questionable” video and photographic evidence of the horrific event. (He reminds me of the Holocaust deniers and the clueless groups who claim the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing never happened.)
And then there are the teachers in Channelview, Texas, near Houston, who handed a seventh-grade honor student a “Most Likely to Become a Terrorist” award. Other mock awards during the fake ceremony included “Most Likely to Cry for Every Little Thing” and “Most Likely to Become Homeless.” Proof of the teachers’ callousness? These awards were given out a day after the suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.
What were they thinking? Oh, wait, they weren’t.
Lest you conclude it’s only in academia where stupid is as stupid does, consider Kathy Griffin’s tasteless and offensive joke. Back in May the comedian posed for a gory shot with what looked like the bloody head of President Trump, who has his own issues with offensive and sexist remarks on Twitter. After it was first posted by TMZ, Griffin was attacked from all sides of the political aisle, and rightly so. She lost a job and several sponsorships, even after filming an apology.
You would think that the public pillorying of these people would serve as an object lesson to the rest of us, but I fear that we’re far too enamored of our own voice and social media’s promise to make us famous — or infamous. Sadly, it won’t be long before someone somewhere will post something inane and horrible, proof yet again that our mouths and our fingers work faster than our brains.