Whatever it is,
I’m against it!
No matter who has started or commenced it
I’m against it!
— Sung by Groucho Marx in Horse Feathers
I had never crossed virtual paths with MrBeast until last week when my son told me a little bit about him and that controversy that he roused by doing some Truly Horrible Things (THT).
My son reads my articles with an amused tolerance and doesn’t often bother me with his critiques. But the sheer horror of MrBeast’s beastly actions motivated him to implore me with a respectful lack of urgency to have a look and then to write an article.
He was right. And here it is.
MrBeast has a sunny, infectious presence on line. You would too if you had his millions of followers, more than the population of most nations. In this video, this young-looking guy with a neatly trimmed beard had embarked on a project — he was going to bring sight to a whole lot of blind people.
Devotion to doing actual, concrete good can heal our fractured country far better than sneering or contempt.
And here he goes, arranging for one person after another to receive the fairly simple ophthalmological procedure that removes cataracts and restores vision without much down time or pain. MrBeast asks for their reaction, and the people are amazed, delighted, or moved. The video follows MrBeast doing this around the world, helping a population that seems as diverse as the Village People or today’s Sesame Street.
Oh, the horror!
Who wouldn’t become a Woke Warrior when confronted with such appalling insensitivity? The headline in TechCrunch read: “MrBeast’s blindness video puts systemic ableism on display.”
For what kind of a subhuman does not understand that giving clear vision to those who lack it are displaying a horrific, systemic hatred of those who are blind? What other explanation could there be for acts which denigrate the worth of the blind community, and for dog-whistling that anyone who cannot see isn’t really human, and so inviting violence against them? Whoever is not aware of anything so obvious is criminally negligent and anyone who supports this aptly named beast is an accessory after the fact to his crimes.
Pardon the irony.
The TechCrunch author didn’t quite put it that way. But we can rely on the Woke love of of linguistic hyperinflation, a trait well-represented among the Cancel Cult.
Here is a snippet of what the author wrote:
The biggest problem with wanting to “cure” blindness is that it reinforces a moral superiority of sorts by those without disabilities over those who are disabled. Although not confronted nearly as often as racism and sexism, systemic ableism is pervasive through all parts of society.… At a fundamental level, MrBeast’s video is inspiration porn, meant to portray abled people as the selfless heroes…
Inspiration porn! There is a concept. I can just see it taking over the Internet and luring people into doing inspirational things for ALL THE WRONG REASONS! Helping others may perhaps be permitted under the First Amendment (evidence that it is a dead white cis-male thing), but where is the shame in relieving difficulties and solving problems? Intersectional victimhood is the peak of virtue. To undercut the glorification of victimhood is to subvert the entire Woke project and we can’t have that.
And here is where I want to stop and make a turn.
If there is anything worth conserving, it is the message of Western monotheism that people are created in the divine image and are capable of changing their lives for the good. There is always the spark of good within any lie, and sometimes it is better to expose that spark than to attack or lampoon the lie.
So, after the lampoon, let’s look at that spark of truth.
The TechCrunch author has a real point when he speaks of how some look upon people with disabilities as morally deficient. I don’t doubt that that is so, just as there still are people who view differing skin color as evidence of such a deficiency. God’s Kingdom is still not ruling everyone’s heart.
That is no small thing and the author is right to condemn it and to call for us to do what is necessary to remedy this ill.
When the world can be improved, we should not settle for second best.
The problem is that the author is stuck with the unstated assumption that only moral deficiencies can be rectified, but not material or physical wants.
There is a teaching recorded in the Mishna, a Jewish compilation almost 1900 years old: “Who is a wealthy person? One who is satisfied with his (or her) lot.” There is no end to what we can want, and therefore even people with lots of money may often be unsatisfied with what they have — they want more. Wisdom teaches that contentment is therefore a choice to control one’s wants.
But it does not mean that this teaching is suggesting that no wants are proper. And this is especially true with health, something so important that when faced with a serious threat to our physical well-being, Jewish law teaches that most all laws are temporarily set to the side until the threat is averted.
The core teaching is simply that unrestrained material desires can never be satisfied.
The TechCrunch author suggests in a similar way that people who seek a physical state that cannot be achieved will miss out on the satisfactions that are attainable even without perfection. That is a meaningful point.
He suggests further that people who live with unique challenges find unique opportunities, so that their experience is not one of disability, but of unique ability. That point needs to be heard even more than the first.
But these truths are covered over by the author’s unexpressed premise of a zero-sum game, a mindset that underlies and diminishes the value of the left’s often-apt social criticisms. If someone solves a problem, in this perverse mindset. it must be because someone else has been victimized. This premise is deadly. It undercuts the possibility of striving together for solutions by cynically proposing that all solutions are just magicians’ tricks, shell games to deceive the gullible.
The end of that premise is this utterly perverse characterization of MrBeast’s bringing effective and welcomed help to thousands of people as “inspiration porn.” Can there be a more deadly embrace of cynical fatalism than that phrase?
This is the result of many centuries of the exaltation of abstractions, the signal idolatry of the modern world. Whatever doesn’t reduce to our model of the world is denied reality.
But good is not created by modeling alone — it has to be brought into the world which our bodies inhabit as well. Evil, too, is insoluble as an abstract problem, whether the evil of bad moral choices or of those evils, like blindness, that come from nature. Evil requires a response in the real world that transforms whatever is wrong so that it is wrong no longer.
In all this, blame plays the smallest of roles. Redemption is the relentless focus.
It is an immense project. We need to encourage each other to engage in it, however imperfect we may be.
Neither we nor MrBeast are perfect. But better to be like MrBeast and bring about good, even if we are still imperfect in doing so, than to spend an inordinate time in trying to make sneering contempt seem hip.
Devotion to doing actual, concrete good can heal our fractured country far better than sneering or contempt. That holds true for all of us. If we can point to the truths that are being ill-served by our opponents’ mistakes, we go a long way towards re-establishing a vigorous democratic culture. What could be more persuasive of the truth of our own position?