Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Dunking on Delroy

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2020 | 12:34 AM

Delroy Chuck’s major error was to apologise. Don’t ever apologise to a mob, and certainly not if what they’re accusing you of is nonsense. It won’t end well. By very definition the hive-mind of social media, once activated, intends to use you as ‘an example’ for some wider programme they’re interested in advancing. Guilt or innocence is beside the point.

We all, I’m sure, are familiar with the basic outlines of the story. Based on a comment and a chuckle, the justice minister became the target of any number of social media lay preachers who, to borrow a basketball phrase, took the easy lay-up and dunked on him. His grave sin and error? To suggest a one-year statute of limitations on civil claims for employment-based sexual harassment.

To me it’s another kind of dunking. The modern-day version of the ‘ordeal by water’, where suspected witches were submerged into the depths. If they came back to the surface it meant they were definitely guilty; if they sank and drowned, they were innocent. But oops. Too bad.

Either way there was a dunking on Delroy who for the time being is at the bottom of the lake but who will, in time, surface again (guilty!).

Here’s how I see it. We have, most of us, unwittingly enrolled in a vast social experiment facilitated by social media. It’s not going well. Much of social media is toxic. There is, of course, the in-built exhibitionism which has its ups and downs. But I’m talking about politics here, and when it becomes a forum for political discussions and debate the toxicity immediately skyrockets.

ECHO CHAMBER

For one thing, social media tends to provide people with an echo chamber that feeds some of our worst impulses and darkest emotions. It’s a horror show of gaslighting opponents, demeaning and dehumanising some approved ‘enemy’, confirmation bias, and deliberate distortion.

Worst of all, it encourages a herd mentality and a hive mind. There is precious little evidence that people think for themselves, seek out alternative opinions, or challenge themselves about the fallibility of their beliefs. Why do any of that when it’s so much more pleasurable, and easy, to live in constant outrage. Can you believe the minister said THAT?

There are, in fact, good arguments for why the statute of limitations should be a year, as the justice minister was suggesting. Horace Dalley’s suggestion of two years isn’t unreasonable either. It’s a debate! For there to be a claim in such a circumstance, the accuser would have had to submit a report already. It isn’t unreasonable to say that after that there needs to be a time-bound limit within which a complainant must act. But anything like that was completely lost in the ‘discussion’.

Now I understand that sometimes one must unleash fury, and that my targets won’t be similar to those of others. But you at least owe it to yourself to choose worthy targets. A few seconds of dialogue from a lengthy parliamentary committee meeting is hardly a good candidate.

To make it perfectly clear, nowhere and at no time was it suggested that sexual harassment isn’t a serious issue in Jamaica. It is. It’s appalling what many women have to endure. Furthermore, nowhere and at no time was it suggested that the criminal sanctions for sexual harassment ought to be limited. So what was the hullabaloo about, exactly? The wrong tone.

This manic tone policing is a very short step from thought policing. I’m not sure there’s even much of a difference. And I’m not signing on to it, and neither should the justice minister or anyone who cares about resisting this pox of extreme political correctness swallowing us up.

There have been various discussions as to whether the most egregious portion of Chuck’s statement was disavowal of #MeToo, the chuckle, or just the temerity of a man to think he could have anything at all to say about law regarding sexual harassment.

My own view is that it was the perfect combination. One must not laugh, chuckle, chortle, or otherwise fail to approach the new altars of political correctness with anything but humble trembling and on a bent knee. Furthermore, one may not express caution or even disbelief in any of the virulent social improvement projects dreamed up by the mad people in America. Parenthetically, it’s funny how those most concerned about US Imperialism just borrow wholesale the manias developing there.

PAST COMPLAINT

The Gleaner’s editorial even got in on the act. In fact, the newspaper went dredging up the past and resuscitated Chuck’s past complaint that Ruel Reid had been improperly treated to a showy dawn arrest made for public consumption. It noted that Chuck’s daughter was Reid’s attorney, which to my mind is of no relevance whatsoever. But pause for a moment.

The purposeful and orchestrated humiliation of Reid did nothing to advance his prosecution, and was a travesty. I say that as one who was very critical of Reid. But that showboat arrest is exactly the sort of thing I want my justice minister to speak out against, and my complaint would be that he doesn’t do it often enough when it happens to other people (like the hapless youngster who foolishly cursed off the PM at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis), not that he did it in that instance.

Anyhow, the amount of fake and gerrymandered emotionalism in all of this was stunning. And it runs in many directions.

For example, there was something highly comical about Kamina Johnson Smith, an otherwise generally sensible smaddy, tiptoeing in to Chuck’s rescue when she had been personally responsible for the defenestration of AJ Nicholson a few years ago for making a joke the petty tyrants determined was ‘offensive’ – the catch-all phrase for this social Stalinism.

Incidentally, for those few who might be able to absorb the news, constant outrage isn’t a great way to live. And you may want to also be aware that your outrage is a commodity, often procured through trickery, dishonesty, misleading headlines and selective reporting, and then bought and sold upon the open market. The more outraged you become, the more you give your attention and focus over to it. And that’s actually what’s on sale at Facebook, Twitter, etc. You aren’t paying for those platforms, so YOU are the product, and your focus is what’s on the menu.

It’s far preferable when the focus turns to something important instead of mob lynchings for an improper tone. Publicise the names of sexual predators – that’s a good start. Make reporting and whistle-blowing easier – that’s another good programme. Sensitise the police so that this wickedness when it occurs is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly – makes perfect sense. But hauling and quartering a man because you get a clip of a joke he made taken out of context? Get a life.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.