There is much to be learned from The Rolling Stone

Justin Marinelli, Senior Writer

When I was in high school, my high school theatre group put on a production of Arthur Miller’s greatest work, “The Crucible” (“Death of a Salesman” is banal, milquetoast, pretentious, self-indulgent, meaningless rambling masquerading as high art). “The Crucible” offers a powerful lesson about moral panics, and it brilliantly exemplifies that Nietzschean imperative to “distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.” The play had a profound effect on me, and its lessons have stuck with me ever since.

Recalling the lessons of “The Crucible,” I kept my head down and my mouth shut when a moral panic erupted following the publication of a Rolling Stone article that claimed to uncover a vicious gang rape at the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. I suspected that all was not as it seemed, and the subsequent events that followed, such as the retraction of the piece and the recent exposé by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism that claims Rolling Stone made mistakes at every step of the editorial process, appear to have vindicated me. Whatever happened, it clearly wasn’t what was claimed to have happened.

People who are shocked that someone would speak less than the unvarnished truth about such a thing betray their naiveté. People are dishonest and duplicitous creatures who will lie about anything and everything, and will double-down on their dishonesty if caught, like a frenzied gambler desperately screaming “double or nothing” in a mad gambit to win back all that he has lost.

Burn the witch. Kill the heretic. Gas the kulaks. The names change but the pattern is always the same. All it takes is one good lie and a target that everyone already hates, and even the most peaceable of people can be stirred to frothing, bloodthirsty madness by the resulting moral panic.

As I stated in the March 27, 2015 issue of The Bucknellian, the will of the mob is the will of whoever is wielding it as a weapon. What better way to impress your will upon the mob than the deliberate incitement of a moral panic? That’s what this sort of thing always boils down to: mad, tribal, monkey politics.

When you succumb to the capricious ire of the masses, you surrender your agency along with it, and you place it in the hands of those who mold public opinion. Who in their right mind would surrender their own free will in order to have the will of another imposed upon them? No one, but the nature of the mob is such that it takes you out of your right mind and makes you malleable, like a chunk of clay in the hands of a sculptor. Does the clay get to choose what shape it will become? No, it never does, no matter how noble it believes its intentions are.

The mob is just a blank canvas waiting for an artist to cover it with whatever designs they will. When you succumb to moral panics like that of the UVA rape hoax, you allow yourself to become a canvas on which self-appointed moral inquisitors will scrawl their designs. If all you aspire to in life is to be a shameless puppet, don’t change a thing. You’ve set yourself up very well for it. If you want your mind to truly be your own, however, you’re going to have to do better than that.

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