Over the weekend, two people looked at each other for a few minutes and the Internet erupted in a fest of crazy.
I sensed that this story was probably a nothing-burger from the get-go. And yet I wasted I don’t know how many hours of my short and precious earthly existence trying to figure out what “really happened” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC last Friday (January 18, 2019, for those reading in the future).
If you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about count yourself lucky! Seriously. I envy you. I wish I had no idea what this was all about. Because all it was about for me was a complete waste of time.
I don’t even feel like recounting the events. Here is an article that seems to sum things up pretty well. Here is another article that also sums things up, but allows you to save face (a little) if you still enjoy believing the worst in people. And here is the best article by a Buddhist about the whole mess. It’s far better than the one you’re reading right now.
Short version: A video started making the rounds on Friday that supposedly showed a bunch of white teenage boys in Make America Great Again hats surrounding a Native American elder playing a drum and harassing him.
If that’s what had actually happened, it would have been newsworthy. But that never happened. And the news media, if they were doing their jobs at all could have known that easily. I suspect most of them did, but many ran with the story anyway. What really happened at the Lincoln Memorial did not merit any attention at all. See my links above for a fuller account if you need one.
The incident at the Lincoln Memorial was beyond trivial. But what happened on the Internet in the wake of that non-incident deserves looking into. Internet-fed vigilante mobs have already been responsible for numerous deaths by lynching in India. I’m concerned that it might be only a matter of time before we start seeing that happen over here.
What really bugs me about this — and the only reason I’m bothering to waste even more time on the story today — is that at least one prominent Buddhist leader also jumped right into this fray. Exactly like all the other numbskulls who immediately believed the story, this Buddhist leader started re-posting unconfirmed nonsense on a Twitter account with over 35,000 followers (I have just over 9,000 followers on Twitter).
When I first saw the video in question, my initial reaction was that if this really did happen it was terrible. But I also thought, I’m gonna have to see a lot more evidence than a minute-long video and a three sentence description before I buy a story like that. One thing I knew I was not going to do was re-tweet something that smelled as much like a hoax right from the outset as this story did.
It turns out the firestorm started with a tweet from a fake account whose business was trying to start shit like this. And they succeeded brilliantly.
It stuns me that American Buddhism has sunk to such depths that even one (or more?) of our revered and famous “masters” are getting caught up in this kind of garbage. It is shameful and embarrassing.
I worry that some of our “Buddhist masters” are far more concerned with cultivating an image based on a political position than they are in investigating the truth. If that’s the case, then Buddhism in this country is in even sadder shape than I thought.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. I sure hope I’m wrong! Maybe I should give this “master” the benefit of the doubt. At least what appeared on the social media account I saw wasn’t like Reza Aslan’s and Kathy Griffin’s calls to violence. It was just a couple of re-tweets of what turned out to be misinformation.
A lot of people got caught up in the feeding frenzy over the weekend — after all, it was reported breathlessly by the so-called “legitimate news media.” Maybe being a Buddhist master is no assurance that a person won’t sometimes get caught up in the same kind of nonsense the rest of the country gets caught up in. After all, I myself wasted way too much time over the weekend investigating this nothing of a non-story. Then I realized I’d actually spent time trying to analyze the inner workings of the mind of a teenage boy based on a facial expression captured in a video. What a joke!
But for the love of the Three Treasures, I think we have to be really careful about this Internet mobbing stuff. Seriously. People are already being killed over this kind of thing and tensions are running very hot in this country.
People in supposedly “leadership positions” in Buddhism should not be adding fuel to these fires.
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