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Political Mercury

When will the lion’s lynch mob come for you?

8/12/2015

Maybe you’re yelling at your kid a little too much in the grocery. You hear your own voice raised, recognize the fault in it as Lucky Stars spill from the cereal box your son, with snot-nosed precociousness, ripped wide.poli-164660724

Perhaps, you’ve screamed something at another driver you regret because it’s tinged with some stereotyping. A near sideswipe. An almost T-bone at the intersection. You want to pull back the words as they are coming out, but mortal misses and political correctness are hardly good playing partners.

So you’ve gained some weight. The pants are tight and the shirt doesn’t stretch enough to cover the posterior as you bend over in a store to reach for a lower-aisled product. Thankfully, you think, no one saw that. Or did they? And were they fast enough on the pocket draw for that phone?

In all of these situations, and in scenarios we can’t even summon in our wildest dreams, we are but two clicks — one from a cellphone camera, the second to upload to social media — away from international ignominy.

We are a nation of 319 million people, and about as many cellphones equipped with cameras. Big Brother is here, and he is us.

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Say the wrong thing. Do the wrong thing. Or simply overlook the routine, say, by forgetting to hitch those suspenders snug enough, and you’re exposed, a ready target for the digital lynch mob, Internet trolls on sentry duty to mine your life and ruin it, for the scoring of political points, or the sick fun of it. Hashtags are the new nooses, and Twitter is a tree with strong branches for the swinging bodies of publicly executed reputations.

So you think Cecil the Lion is a real life Simba, his killer, the big-game hunter from Minneapolis, an awful man. Maybe you even agree with PETA’s outrageous call for his hanging, an actual one, with gallows and ropes and a neck-snapping fall. Or you see the dentist as the victim of a thrill ride gone bad. He paid to hunt, and his guides, the operators of this amusement venture, failed or cheated at their jobs.

Are hunting and zoos good things? Do they raise awareness and funds with a few animals to better the many? Or are they pure human cruelty?

Fair questions. Room for debate. Not any more. America goes for the kill.

The frightening legacy of the Cecil the Lion episode is a realization of the speed with which a mob can descend into a life — any life — and dismember, disembowel. They’ll run you out of Facebook, close your websites and chase you out of home and office.

Like the Minneapolis hunter, you may have done what thousands before you did. But you did it at the wrong time, in front of the wrong person. You caught a gap in the Great American Outrage Machine, landing in the rare lull amid the gusts of a Donald Trump provocation or the high winds of a Jenner photo upload.

Yes, maybe you are deserving of the fine or the prison time, and even a dose of shame. But it all happens before the facts have knocked on the front door.

And it’s that front door that should really scare us,

Walk out of it, cross some other group’s self-determined line of what’s right and moral (never mind the laws) and you’ll be in the digital cross hairs, naked on the public stage, before you can blink to shake the iPhone camera flash from your eyes.

Steve Jobs fashioned himself something of a God. Turns out, he wasn’t so far off. He put power in our hands — to define and destroy — that humans, at least those as little evolved as we are, should have had the humility to reject years ago. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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