Two women recently launched a “#shoutyourabortion” Twitter campaign. The abortions, at a decided disadvantage in the debate, could offer no rebuttal.
“I’ve had 2 abortions,” tweets Clementine Ford. “I don’t have to justify or explain them to anybody. My life is more valuable than a potential life. #shoutyourabortion.”
“#Shoutyourabortion In 1988 a late-term abortion got a teenage me back on track for college, career, & motherhood,” the unfortunately named Ruby Sinreich writes on her Twitter account. Her Facebook page features a picture of mother and child (the one who lived).
First they came for your tax dollars. Now they demand your approval.
Even Planned Parenthood possessed the decency to restrict speaking of harvesting baby parts to hushed tones on candid camera. Their most loyal patrons, at least a few of them, recast their offenses as deserving praise rather than penance.
The hashtag campaign provides great insight into human psychology. We convince through numbers and volume, not facts and logic. Peer pressure persuades. For similar reasons, we pressure our peers to provide affirmation. Those calling a vice a virtue demand everyone else also call the vice a virtue, too. There’s safety in numbers.
The Twittericans who transformed the pound sign into the hashtag seek to transform people into sheep. Interweb culture’s obsession with “trending” topics, symbolized by the hashtag, indicates a moral compass set to the crowd’s movements rather than a fixed notion of right and wrong. If only enough women brag about their late-term “medical miscarriages” or publicize their preferred customer status at Planned Parenthood clinics, the thinking about non-thinking goes, infanticide morphs from a badge of horror into a badge of honor. One almost longs for the days of a “right to privacy” in the wake of this gauche display of hubris.
Even Pope Francis, pontifical descendent of the rock on which Christ built his church, sways to the crowd. His call for Congress to reject “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil” works as a wise warning against Manicheanism or a foolish embrace of relativism, depending on one’s perspective. Putting an emphasis on abolishing the death penalty (legal in Vatican City until 1969), environmentalism, a stateless world without borders (despite the Vatican’s restrictionist policies), and the “distribution of wealth,” while referencing abortion in only oblique terms, makes a follower of the leader of the world’s largest church.
“Words are as strong and powerful as bombs,” Dorothy Day (namedropped by the pope in his speech) maintained. Silence surely overpowers speech.
We increasingly read newspapers, listen to radio shows, and watch programs that flatter, not challenge, our views. The hashtag appears as the Internet’s way to corral web surfers into their desired boxes. As befitting a forum limiting dialogue to 140 characters or less, hashtag argumentation pleases one and pisses off another but doesn’t persuade.
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds,” Charles Mackey pointed out in Memoirs of Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, “it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”
Never has mankind witnessed such ease in herding minds than in the digital age. If we read books instead of tweets, then the groupthink might spark a few heretical thoughts about the penchant for mistaking social pressure for persuasion. And our fragile, other-directed selves, so obsessed over the judgments of the selves that surround, require not merely freedom of action but social ratification of our actions. Like the hashtag, we can’t stand alone.
It’s no longer enough to let your freak flag fly. You must force your neighbor to wave the banner, too. Pay for my gender-reassignment surgery. Bake me a gay wedding cake. Buy my birth-control pills. People shouting “mind your own business” soon make it our business by taking from our business to pay for theirs. This ensures bitter conflict, not social calm.
“A man must be something of a moralist if he is to preach,” G.K. Chesterton observed, “even if he is to preach immorality.” Our society overflows with missionaries without crosses. You shall know them by their hashtags.