Over the years, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, both in uniform as a U.S. Marine and on my own accord, and although this may sound a little too much like a meme you might find on Tumblr, those experiences have indeed granted me a bit of perspective. No, it wasn’t about the deeper meaning of life, nor did I experience some grandiose coming to Jesus moment as I watched the sunset over Egypt, or its rise over Honduras… The most significant thing I gleaned throughout my years or racking up frequent flier miles is that there are genuine and legitimate threats in this world; people who wish to do you harm, groups established on the common values of barbarism, places where hate is the single most prominent driving force for change.
What I learned, is that there are bad guys out there, and more importantly, some of them are really good at it.
This job requires keeping an ear to the digital ground, so to speak, and keeping tabs on things like social media trends, because like it or not, social media now dictates much of how the news gets reported. I might have something I feel is really important to say about how the U.S. military is nearing the end of its second month without a budget while service members die in incidents brought about by a lack of training and poorly maintained equipment, but because that piece doesn’t tie into today’s social media outrage, I watch those stories wither away in obscurity. Budgets are too boring, the issues are too complex, and shit, did you hear about Matt Lauer?
White Nationalists, ANTIFA, sexual predators and lunatics – they aren’t most Americans, but for some reason, most Americans have found themselves embroiled in debate with one another regarding each. These groups are nothing more than vocal minorities that have usurped the American dialogue. We should cast these people and their ignorant beliefs aside, and start having conversations with each other, rather than the straw men we’ve assembled to benefit our rhetorical arguments. The more we assume all Americans fall into one of these categories, the further we get from making any sort of progress, and the longer we ignore significant external threats that don’t cease just because we’re focused on Louis C.K. masturbating.
I’m not attempting to belittle the recent social revolution against men who have abused their positions of power to take advantage of women. It’s a serious issue that both needs and deserves our attention… but even this seemingly cut and dry topic (just don’t treat people like objects) has somehow become a part of the partisan debate, as each party calls for the heads of the other’s monsters, and no one is willing to acknowledge that someone on their own team might be one themselves. This should indeed be an “us against them” scenario, but the us should be the people who think women deserve to be treated with respect, and the them should be the guys committing sexual assault. I’m really not sure how we got to a point where Republicans and Democrats each defend specific slime balls by brandying what-about-isms back and forth like Al Franken’s behavior excuses Roy Moore’s and so forth, and so forth.
The thing is, the way we’ve handled these allegations speaks directly to my broader concerns about our future. We’re so hell-bent on having an opposition to be angry at that we’ve lost sight of looming threats on the horizon. We need to root sexual harassment out of the workplace, but while we take turns pointing fingers at one another, nations like China and Russia, who aren’t nearly as hindered by the need to jingle the keys of popularity in front of their people’s faces, continue to not only close the technological gap between us, they’ve been actively positioning themselves to undermine American diplomatic positions in important global sectors.
I was recently asked why I thought Russia would invest money into using social media to inflame relations between political groups in the United States. To that, I had to respond, I don’t think they did it; they just plain did, and will continue to as long as Americans are more eager to hate one another than they are to take an objective step back and look for ways to make progress. As for the why, that’s simple too: because now we’re so wrapped up in our own petty arguments about serious issues that we’ve lost sight of the ball. My daughter may well not have to worry about Harvey Weinstein when she grows up, and I’m grateful to the brave women that brought about that shift, but we can initiate that sort of social change without ignoring issues like the dire state of our overstretched, under-maintained, and increasingly under-trained military. We can fire the Matt Lauers and vilify the Roy Moores, we can debate about Civil War statues, we can decide to be angry about how many white guys get nominated for Grammys… these social issues matter, but (and I recognize my inherent bias here) can’t we also discuss legitimate existential threats to our lives, our freedom, and our way of life? Harvey Weinstein may not be a threat to my little girl anymore, but war is.
We’re so sure the enemy is on the other side of the political divide, we’re losing sight of the real threats on the other side of the border. We’re so convinced that the villains of our day come in the form of Hillary Clintons and Donald Trumps that we’re ignoring the men and women that are out there right now working 100-hour work weeks with equipment that they can’t repair, all to maintain a military presence in the corners of the world where those real bad guys I mentioned above are lying in wait. I assure you, in the board rooms, caves, houses and huts that our nation’s enemies meet in, they’re applauding our social cannibalism. They see the cracks forming in the great American dam we’ve built over the past two and a half centuries and they’re celebrating our propensity for self-harm.
We’re doing their jobs for them, each and every one of us, and we’re doing with nothing more than our two thumbs, as we feel that rush of justified outrage and embrace an opportunity to “fight the good fight” Twitter promises us is what actually matters this morning.
How many aircraft crashes or Naval collisions do we need to ignore before we demand that our lawmakers do something to fund our military, months after they once again entered into continuing resolution spending? How fortified do we need China’s space enterprises to become before we start to worry about the nearly unfathomable levels of vulnerability not just to military operations, but to our modern way of life, we have in orbit, high above our heads? How much social media outrage heroin do we need to inject into our veins before we realize it’s time to clean ourselves up, and start getting our lives in order?
My profession demands that I pay close attention to our nation’s competitors, and in the year that I’ve worked for SOFREP, I’ve come to realize that many countries employ marketing 101 level tactics in manipulating the way we see the world. Why can they do that? Well, in decades past, it was simple: Russia could say whatever they wanted, and without the internet, there was no way to quickly disprove their claims. Today, they continue to say whatever they want, knowing full well that most people will simply read the headline, take it at face value, leave a snarky comment on Facebook and keep scrolling. We have so much information at our fingertips that we’re overwhelmed, and we stick to the easy stuff: Harvey Weinstein is despicable, Donald Trump should get off Twitter, and so forth.
I’m not asking you to forget about the issues we face domestically. Racism, sexism, education, our infrastructure – this stuff all matters, but as long we choose to focus our tunnel vision on vilifying other Americans, we’re blinding ourselves to real villains – people who are rooting against our very existence. We can and should cast out our own monsters, without closing ourselves off to addressing the hordes of them amassing just beyond Twitter’s purview.
We may not agree with each other, we may not even like each other, but while we argue about the house rules, there’s a war raging right outside our front door – and like it our not, that’s a fight that we’re all in together.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press