The New Puritans by Anne Applebaum

Has social justice become mob justice?

A journalist told me that after he was summarily fired, his acquaintances sorted themselves into three groups. First, the heroes, very small in number, who insist on due process before damaging another person's life and who stick by their friends. Second, the villains, who think you should immediately lose your livelihood as soon as the allegation is made. Some old friends, or people he thought were old friends, even joined the public attack.

But the majority were in a third category: good but useless. They don't necessarily think the worst of you, and they would like you to get due process, but, you know, they haven't looked into it. They have reasons to think charitably of you, maybe, but they're too busy to help. Or they have too much to lose. One friend told him that she would happily write a defense of him, but she had a book proposal in the works.

While watching the high and mighty fall has long been a favorite American pastime, recent discourse has been lacking that even more favored Ideal: rooting for the underdog.

Back in 2009, the "One Percent" meme of Occupy Wall Street hindered that movement because few like watching 99 people gang up on one person. Many fair fight supporters were not won over by OWS because while many bankers of 2005 to 2007 were out to make money, few of the putative 99 could honestly look themselves in the mirror and say that they weren't.

For fair-fight support to be irretrievably lost, that one person has to have crossed some social threshold of repugnance. In this regard, the 2019 novel variant of social justice has distinguished itself by subverting our good natures, ie. it is only successful because the vast majority of us instinctively react with disgust to such allegations.

In seeking redress by appealing to "due process" and our better civic-minded natures, Applebaum fails to address this weaponization of repugnance. Simply calling for more civics and adjudication seems less likely to work out as she envisions and more likely to create something like a House Committee on Un-American Activities.

A better response is to neutralize the mob by reducing its members. Compare the summer of 2020 and the summer of 2021 with respect to riots: going into 2021, it was feared that the riots would return because cities were going back into lockdown; the great non-occurrence of riots was likely due to pandemic fatigue/acclimatization and people getting back to work, ie. some got bored with the lynchings and some just had less time because they were working more.

Granted, engineering a curative economic boom seems to be just burying the excesses of the past with even greater and more-evenly distributed excesses. As resolutions to pandemics go though, what could be more American?