Call-out culture

It’s hard to recognize that you’ve been captured by the spirit of the age if you mistake that spirit for basic human nature, or (worse) a means justified by the end. Which makes it helpful to see a culture very different from your own struggling with a rise in similar bad behavior. This is from Briarpatch magazine, which describes itself thusly:

Briarpatch is an award-winning magazine of politics and culture. Fiercely independent and proudly polemical, Briarpatch offers original reporting, insight, and analysis from a grassroots perspective. As a reader-supported publication, Briarpatch is not just devoted to reporting on social movements — it’s committed to building them.

The article is called A Note on Call-Out Culture, which it describes as “the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others.” You’ve probably heard the term used favorably by those on the left, along with “speaking truth to power” and other similar things. Instances of it may have annoyed you, coming off more as empty grandstanding.

The left is apparently aware of the danger:

What makes call-out culture so toxic is not necessarily its frequency so much as the nature and performance of the call-out itself. Especially in online venues like Twitter and Facebook, calling someone out isn’t just a private interaction between two individuals: it’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are. Indeed, sometimes it can feel like the performance itself is more significant than the content of the call-out.

And here is one proposed solution:

This is why “calling in” has been proposed as an alternative to calling out: calling in means speaking privately with an individual who has done some wrong, in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle of the address itself.

From the perspective of common sense, it’s hard to credit either of these as insightful. How old is grandstanding, or taking someone aside to reason with them out of public view?

But I’d say it doesn’t take too much mental effort to reapply these descriptions to public Christian behavior. How much of our online activity consists of performance and counter-performance, preaching to the choir, rallying the troops, inciting the crowd, exhibiting piousness or zealousness for personal gain? And how much of it deliberately avoids the difficult, uncomfortable, and much less reputation-enhancing work of interacting privately with the individuals in question?

The article goes on to list some specific negative effects on community, and sad to say is much more clear-eyed about those effects than anything I’ve read in a Christian context:

Most call-outs I have witnessed immediately render anyone who has committed a perceived wrong as an outsider to the community. One action becomes a reason to pass judgment on someone’s entire being, as if there is no difference between a community member or friend and a random stranger walking down the street.

It’s a short piece, and worth reading.


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