It is a well-documented fact that Twitter turns the finest minds of our planet into simpering and sophist children flicking inconsequential 280 character bagatelles into the digital ether and that these portentous pronouncements are often misconstrued as High Thought, if not The Truth, about The Way Things Are in Today’s World. And even though I accept the deplorable trolling and the gormless groupthink, and the fact that nobody seems to offer pushback or nuance or a charitable consideration of another viewpoint, nothing could quite prepare me this morning for the lethal combination of hubris and stupidity that I discovered in this tweet from Roger Simon:
Now Roger Simon is not some doddering dude yelling some crazy lager-fueled bullshit at the top of his lungs in a bar. He is the bestselling author of Show Time. He was a long-running columnist at Politico. He has a history of legitimately provoking thought, such as this subtly trenchant piece on how the right-wing media caused a repulsive furor after exposing private messages sent through Ezra Klein’s Journolist.
But here, Simon has clearly lost his marbles, capitulating to the worst “hot take” tendencies that desperate self-appointed pundits retreat to when they’re trying to file six thoughtless blog posts each day that get people outraged and thus tweeting about it in high histrionics. It stands against the kind of journalism that Simon purports to stand for.
I certainly want Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to live as long as possible. But what rankles me about this tweet is how it epitomizes everything that I detest about a certain strain of magical thinking that has increasingly come to replace reason: (a) the guilt-laden plea to donate one day of your life for the greater good (and thus the “better” person), which in and of itself implies that the 10,000 people sacrificed their day weren’t going to live a meaningful day in the first place, thus mitigating the selflessness, (b) the refusal to accept that something as grief-enabling as death is a process of life and thus an existential reality that we all have to accept, which causes us to become stronger and more empathetic to our fellow humans, and (c) the warped “solution” to the troubling Supreme Court situation, cemented by the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh swinging the high court into a 5-4 tilt to the far right, involves Ginsberg hanging on for dear life and that this is the only apparent idea to preserve a politically balanced high court for the next few decades.
The trolley problem is a thought experiment. Plutarch’s Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment. Hell, even The Man in the High Castle is a thought experiment. In all of these cases, the speculative proposition causes us to think about something tangible in our thoughts and our everyday lives. In the case of the trolley problem, we have to come to terms with the morality of whether killing one person to save multiple lives makes us complicit in the singular death. In the case of Plutarch, we are asked to consider whether constantly replacing the rotting parts of a ship ad infinitum means that the ship can indeed be the same as it was when it first started out. In the Amazon television series, we see how 20th century American life under a hypothetical Nazi victory reveals dark quotidian parallels to the world we live in today, causing us to reexamine whether our tacit acceptance of consumerism and comfort might share some qualities with the same vile impulses behind death camps and slaughtering the weak.
But Simon’s proposition has no such larger moral philosophy, much less any realist allegory, in mind. His proposition was so condescending and badly considered that it provoked anger and befuddlement from the left and right. And this sort of nonsense disheartens me. Once again, we have someone who should know better trafficking and even reveling in stupidity (just read his replies on his Twitter feed). And it serves to uphold my thesis that everyone on Twitter — even a seemingly distinguished veteran journalist — inevitably succumbs to the cloying attention-seeking asininity that is systematically tearing this nation apart and preventing us from finding real solutions to very serious problems.