Character Vs. Soundbites: the Post-Integrity Age

As a rule, I try not to offer political or social commentary. I feel ill equipped for such a task, and generally try to focus only on my own immediate world: my own thoughts and feelings, my close connections and relationships.

But as I’ve quietly watched this age of Trump, I’m noticing something that alarms and disgusts me: our willingness to forgive rotten integrity if someone agrees with us.

This trend first came to my attention with Milo Yiannopoulos: an internet superstar, king troll, and head tech editor at Brietbart. I’m not concerned with Milo’s views in this post, I am rather concerned with his integrity.

As I’ve watched his interviews and read his articles, Milo strikes me as an intentionally deceptive, trollish, and narcissistic person. In short, regardless of how true or false some of the things he says are, I judge his character to be rotten to the core.

And yet, Milo is a superstar. He commands thousands of followers. He is worshiped, adored, quoted. He is a jagged sage of the alt-right. His integrity is no hindrance for his followers.

It would be easy to say that this is limited to Milo, but I don’t believe it is. I see this everywhere: we worship public figures who have disgustingly low levels integrity, simply because they say a few things we like. While admitting my own liberal bias, I see this more prominently on the right than on the left, though the left is certainly not immune. It is as if we are in a character-blind age; the only thing that matters are the soundbites they offer us that validate our sympathies, our anger, our biases.

Of course, the crowning example of this trend is Donald Trump. Apparently, character no longer matters – what matters is that he says things that validate our internal anxieties.

Any fool – any snake – can say things that I agree with. This is not enough to stand with them, arm in arm. It is, to me, evidence of a morally corrupt and confused society that we do exactly that. It is evidence to me that we have the leaders we deserve.

I refuse to align myself with someone simply because they say things I like. I refuse to be hypnotized by such a shallow, obviously ego-induced state. I choose to look deeper – to examine whether the person in question is not just saying the right things, but doing the right things.

Perhaps we live in a post-integrity age because focusing on integrity is hard. It does, by necessity, force us into the uncomfortable position of accepting that there are good, upright people who see the world differently from us. It requires us to not dismiss others as evil, uninformed, or stupid because they disagree. This is hard work, but there is no way around it.

Integrity isn’t everything. There are a great many artists, teachers, and scientists I love who have horrible integrity: Mozart, Hunter S. Thompson, Marilyn Manson, Bikram. The list goes on and on. Good character is not a prerequisite for genius, and we must not forget that complexity.

But neither must we be blind to integrity, and I fear that is where we have landed. If we do accept truth from the mouths of scoundrels – as we often must – let’s never forget that they are still scoundrels. If we become blind to the integrity of others – especially those who try to lead – we corrode our own hearts.


One thought on “Character Vs. Soundbites: the Post-Integrity Age

  1. I think this is part and parcel with disenfranchised people happy to have a bully on their side. If I put myself in their shoes, they’ve offered what they believe to be rational, common-sense, practical positions on sexuality, immigration and reproduction; yet they arguably lost the culture war.

    When (perceived) common sense and morality fail to persuade, one is left feeling like they’ve brought a knife to a gun fight. Enter the self-described “dangerous faggot” Milo.

    I certainly have had the feeling of being powerless against the forces of bigotry. I can empathize with their position even if I believe it to be morally bankrupt.


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