“The nineteenth century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips
off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd.”
- Ida B. Wells-Barnett, “Lynch Law in America,” The Arena, January 1900
It’s fair to say that NZers like their issues small and provincial.
Rarely do NZers en masse display their emotions or grapple with big issues. But give them a flawed person on whom they can unleash those pent-up feelings and invite their moral outrage—a politician calling his colleagues “front bums”; an employers’ representative talking about women’s periods; a broadcaster chastising a lady with a moustache; a comedian impersonating an airline pilot; a group of teenagers allegedly preying on young women; radio hosts with the temerity to question testimony—and New Zealanders can be all over it for weeks in a feeding frenzy of self-righteousness, pointing in public at someone else’s vileness while keeping off the front pages issues that might affect them more directly and in more concrete ways (high rates, high taxes, the loss of important freedoms, the throttling of NZ’s biggest city) and about which they might actually be able to do more, but could care less.
Why talk about issues of more resounding import when you can rear up together and point and call names.
There are few things as menacing as a lynch mob stirred up with moral outrage.
Few things as cathartic as letting off a steam of self-righteousness with one’s peers.
Few things as self-satisfying as expressing one’s own virtue by loud public denunciation of another’s vices.
Few things as indignant as Groupthink out on a witch hunt.
And very little as unattractive.
Our penchant for small-mindedness while the world burns around us is perhaps our small country’s way of handling being small in a world where bigness seems to count. But it’s not one of our most attractive traits.
There ought to be a law against it.