Karen and the Cancel Culture
The smartphone video of a woman screaming at a black man in the Central Park Ramble and calling the police to come protect her from what turned out to be a birdwatcher has gone viral. The woman had taken her dog off its leash so it could run around but that is against Central Park rules that requires dogs to be on a leash in the Ramble. The black man took the video as the woman frantically tried to call the police while holding on to the collar of the squirming unleashed dog.
The black man posted the video on Facebook and Twitter where it immediately went viral with people denouncing the woman as a Karen. A Karen is an Internet meme that depicts a privileged white woman freaking out or calling the police on innocent black people who are; using the community pool, not wearing a mask or other activity that somehow disturbs the ordered realm in which the Karen resides. Time Magazine calls these freakouts “shameless displays of entitlement, privilege and racism.”
But there is another emotion that may be in play here. Fear. The black man that was asking her to comply with Park rules had invaded her “safe space.” She felt violated. It may have been racist for her to fear a black birdwatcher, but it is hard to understand her violent reaction except coming from raw emotion being pumped out by her amygdala. But there is a price to pay for such outbursts. Central Park Karen was fired from her job and may lose her dog as well. By the way, when the police arrived neither of the people involved in the disturbance were still around (a good use of police resources in a city where the incidence of gun violence has increased over 200 percent in recent months according the New York Post).
Karens are not the only people seeking safe spaces. Students all across America are reacting violently to intrusions of conservative thought into the safe space of the university (which was never supposed to be a safe space in the first place). Their violent reactions have created the so-called cancel culture where university groups have to disinvite speakers and guest lecturers that might potentially offend the minds of young people making them feel “unsafe.”. With the closure of most university campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this sense of outrage has tumbled out onto the streets.
New York University Professor Jonathan Haidt believes that helicopter parents over-protected their kids such that a whole generation grew up unable to cope with life’s normal difficulties, which almost everyone encounters from time to time. I remember when I was a kid in the fifties, I used to ride my bike miles and miles away from my house when I was around ten years old (and that was in the big city of Chicago). But with my kids, they were only allowed to ride their bikes around our neighborhood and were not supposed to cross any of the big streets that surrounded the neighborhood. Luckily, my grandkids are being raised free range.
I think this all comes from the tremendous expansion of news coverage that we are exposed to. When I was growing up our little neighborhood was an isolated sanctuary. We didn’t hear about murders and rapes, child molestation or other horrible things that were happening all around us. But by the time I became a parent, the evening news was full of that kind of news coverage. So, parents of the baby boomer generation felt the need to protect their children from all the evil that was “out there” even though it had probably been out there all along. Now, with the Internet and the proliferation of smartphone videos, these dangers are in our face every day. But we lack context. The police killings of unarmed black men seems to be an epidemic but is actually pretty rare (from 8 to 25 in 2019 depending on the source). The world may not have changed very much but our sense of security has been shattered.
The tragic killing of George Floyd was all it took to light the fuse of black frustration and Gen Z angst. The Black Lives Matter protestors were justifiably angry but most of the protests were peaceful. Many white people, many of them young and many of them students, joined in. It seemed that people all across America were joining together to reform society and eliminate hate and racism. But reform was not what some of them had in mind. Some protests degenerated into rioting and looting. Police precincts were attacked. Statues of Confederate leaders were torn down or beheaded.
Soon it wasn’t just the symbols of the Confederacy that were being attacked. Statues of the Founding Fathers were torn down because some of them had been slaveholders. A statue of Ulysses S. Grant, a man who had done more to free black people as General and protect them as President than anyone else, was smashed. Anything that smacked of the Enlightenment or capitalism was a target. Statues of Christopher Columbus and Father Junipero Serra were vandalized.
These protestors claim (as is also claimed in the New York Times’ 1619 Project) that America is an irredeemably racist country and that the capitalist economic system was based on slavery and remains racist to its core. They don’t want to make America a better place. They want to get rid of America and all it stands for.
A lot of the anger on the streets is aimed at America’s Enlightenment principles and the civilization that has resulted from the application of those principles. The rampaging protestors do not understand that the Enlightenment did not create racism and slavery, it was the Enlightenment that ended slavery and is trying to end racism as well.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Hoover Institute fellow, said in a recent YouTube video that America was the only country - let me emphasize that - the ONLY country in the world, in the history of the world, to fight a war to end slavery. Slavery has existed since the dawn of civilization. The Egyptians built the pyramids with slaves. Chinese emperors were buried with slaves to attend them in the afterlife. The Roman Coliseum was built by slaves.
The Enlightenment principles set forth by 17th Century philosophers were increasingly adopted by countries around the world, beginning in Europe in the 19th Century. England abolished slavery in 1833. Russian serfs were freed in 1861. Brazil ended slavery in 1888. China didn’t abolish slavery until 1909. Slavery was common in the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa and exists there still today.
And Linnaeus did not create the science of taxonomy because he wanted to divide human beings into different races in order to justify the enslavement of black people as some people claim. He was just trying to discover how this world we live in works. That is how the scientific method functions! A scientist develops a hypothesis about something and then conducts experiments to confirm the hypothesis. If the experiments do not support the hypothesis the scientist must abandon that hypothesis and develop a new hypothesis in line with the results of the experiment. Too bad we don’t do that with ideologies.
The United States fought a bloody Civil War to free the slaves because of Enlightenment principles. It was Enlightenment principles along with the free market economic system that guided America and its allies to create a stable and prosperous world order out of the ruins of two world wars. Although there is still more work to do, it has been Enlightenment principles that have gotten us this far and it will be Enlightenment principles that should guide us forward.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali said in the YouTube video that in Somalia, where she was born, her life was full of tyranny and oppression even though the dictator at that time, Siad Barre, was of her tribe and clan. She goes on to say that more Africans want to come to America than to stay in Africa. The Black Lives Matter organization, however, appears to want to figuratively return African-Americans back to Africa and its tribal past. But will this really help black people in America?
The worldview of the Karens, the cancel culture kids, and the Black Lives Matter organization is framed by lurid and biased media reporting, Internet memes and smartphone videos. But we know that this is not reality. This false narrative of increasing danger and racism denies the true progress that has been made by Western civilization over the last three or four centuries.