So what makes me the big expert on Disrespect as a topic of conversation? Answer: the same thing that makes you one. It’s just like “Madge” told us on those old TV ads for Dawn liquid detergent: You’re soaking in it.
You’re soaking in it and I’m soaking in it, and when we look at social media, we realize the whole world is soaking in it. It hit the actual world like a Tsunami not long after we all went online for the first time. Now we live in the movie Waterworld, only the waves that buried us are digital.
Before social media, nobody had any experience at holding conversations, sometimes intimate conversations, with complete strangers on an instant, real-time basis, with no personal contact, and with few consequences, if any. The telephone didn’t prepare the world for it, because while we could talk to strangers on the phone and reveal whatever we chose, we did not have the rest of the world listening in and offering opinions, opinions, opinions on every. Single. Thing.
Human beings never before had the experience of making ourselves feel smart by catcalling some stranger’s opinion, opinion, opinion, for the benefit of other strangers, and with no reward for doing so.
Well, okay, drunks in bars. Priests. Scientologists.
But we also seldom had the ultra-mean-girl experience of being humiliated by a stranger in front of other strangers, to the disgust or delight of still more strangers. And if we did it was a rare, traumatic thing.
Now the insults, the little embarrassments, the outright humiliations that get laid onto us are meted out by folks who, for all we know, are sitting on the toilet creating an uninhabitable environment in that little room while they offer up their ridicule of your recipe for marinara sauce and then forget to wash their hands. Don’t tell me one has nothing to do with the other. We have entered an age where stench can be communicated online.
Here’s the fun part: The only possible cure, the only way to lighten up that dark picture, is what computers geeks call a binary choice. Heh-heh-heh… With that one nerdy term, we have just landed right back in my office. Because back at Sing-Sing we learned all about binary choices before cell phones and home computers existed. The “internet” was Morse Code banged on plumbing pipes. But we knew all about binary choices, pal. We knew “binary” is fancy for two ways only. On or off. Yes or no.
Like do you want to pay your bookie or do you prefer broken legs? Simple stuff.
And the binary choice in front of us when it comes to our Great Pandemic of Disrespect is to turn the “on” switch to the “off” position. I don’t mean unplug and move into a cabin. Just turn the Disrespect mode to off and leave it there. It’s a risk-reward thing. We use it at the track.
If we can’t treat everyone as if we admire and respect them, we can at least leave the disrespect game. We can ask ourselves what it ever got us.
I got a wonderful lesson in the importance of respect. when I was a boy who didn’t know better than to admire the Mafia men around me. Violence aside, the made men of the neighborhood maintained a respectful attitude. Maybe it was for no other reason than to keep bad consequences away from themselves, but result was a civil and livable system. The major flaw being theft and murder, but no system is perfect. The respect part worked.
The Japanese culture knows it. How do they manage to live on top of each other in conditions even most New Yorkers couldn’t take? Respect. It doesn’t mean they feel respect for each other, but they sure as hell convey respect with everything they do and the way they do it. With them, disrespect isn’t cool and sophisticated, it’s crude and stupid. I’m feeling a little more Japanese just thinking about it.
There’s homework today, Richie-fans. Please get on any social media platform and surf, but do not engage for ten or fifteen minutes. Take note of the people who are really out there typing LOL and LMAO to ridicule someone else until the skin peels off their fingers. Imagine a room full of them, turning their condemnations randomly in all directions. Would you want to sit with them or would you, like me, prefer to have Vinnie the Mook chop you up in a meat cooler down on Fourteenth Street in the Brooklyn Meat Market and fucking get it over with?
Hey – you remember when “LOL” meant Lots of Luck, and “LMAO” was the sound that came out when somebody who was too drunk to stand up suddenly needed to be let out of the car?
Aretha Franklin got it right. The rest is for losers.