On the first day of this year, I remember a conversation with my friend Ivan about Justine Sacco, director of corporate communications for IAC, best known to the world for this tasty tweet:
Was it in poor taste? Sure.
Is it the best thing you could write, especially when you’re going to that continent to work? Naw.
Is it the worst? No.
Is it worth losing a job over?
The point is that Justine Sacco did lose her job because of that. Anonymous family members came out of the woodwork to speak to ABC News about how devastated they were, the company talked about how sad they were. Hashtags flew all around the place about how disgraceful it was. And it’s all because in our world, that is now the price of being wrong. Welcome to 2015.
The Price of Being Wrong
Now, I’m not going to decry the rise of political correctness like Donald Trump and his ilk, because generally that’s a way of asking, “Why isn’t it cool for me to be an asshole anymore?” Just because we don’t think it’s cool for you to call a Native American a “spearchucker”, that doesn’t mean that you’ve actually lost anything.
But I’m also not gonna be your liberal Messiah, either. When Louie C.K. says stuff, he’s a comedian. He says things that are counter-intuitive and counter-culture. Whoopdee doo. If someone says they’re not a feminist, it means they’ve chosen not to subscribe to your interpretation of a complex political movement. Suck it up.
The point is that everywhere, the price of being wrong has gone up.
- Donald Sterling gets the hammer of god thrown on him because of things that he said.
- Paula Deen can’t shove butter into her face before millions because she allegedly said “nigger”.
And this isn’t a post dedicated to defending these individuals from the consequences of what they say, because, being grown ass men and women, they can defend their own damned selves. But it is to say that we might think about reducing the cost of being wrong if we want anyone to learn anything.
In a recent interview, President Obama remarked on the rise of new political correctness on college campuses, saying, ”
I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view…you shouldn’t silence them by saying, ‘You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.’ That’s not the way we learn either.
I could use the recent examples of Richard Dawkins questioning aspects of the Ahmed Mohamed story, or Matt Damon giving a cringeworthy explanation of diversity to a successful black woman.
Like I said, this is not excusing them or even agreeing with them, but to ask, “And what if they’re wrong?” Well, then…I guess they’d be wrong. And as any amateur educator can tell you, you don’t destroy a student when they get something in your class wrong, not if you want them to participate or learn anything. (Especially don’t continue if they’ve both apologized, you twit. They LEARNED something. That’s what it’s all about, right?)
The Future of Atheism + PC Culture
I became an atheist because I was not afraid to be wrong, and that spirit is what drives learning. When we put the price too high, that’s what causes people to double down on the madness, either because they can’t afford it, or they refuse to pay it (I’m looking at you, Ken Ham.)
But if we don’t somehow reduce the cost of being wrong, we risk the possibility that no one will ever challenge us again, that they will always be deathly afraid to question, and therefore, unable to learn.
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