species of compassion

Last night TNR unleashed this thoughtful, restrained profile of Suey Park by Elizabeth Bruenig. I thought Bruenig played her hand well. The profile genre elicits sympathy for the profiled by its nature, and Bruenig was investigating with compassion, and yet she does not dismiss or trivialize the reasons many turned on Park.

Unfortunate, then, that some are reacting to the piece by minimizing the damage Suey once did. Because she hurt a lot of people and took a hatchet to solidarity in doing so. One strange aspect of social media politics lies in the inconsistent reputation of their power. At one moment, social media is capable of sparking revolution. The next, it couldn’t hurt a fly. “They’re just tweets!” Claims to revolutionary power do not live well with claims to that power’s harmlessness. That tension will be, in the long term, the computer virus that replicates its way into the operating system of Twitter political movements and eventually shuts them down.

I think Suey Park deserves forgiveness. Definitely. But forgiveness implies recognition of bad behavior. And I find it telling, and disturbing, that some feel compelled to whitewash her many cruel statements and proudly politicized callousness in order to make an argument for forgiveness. That’s not how forgiveness works. And it plays into the misjudgment that Park and so many others have made, in this new world of purely moralistic politics: the presumption¬†that blamelessness is a necessary requirement for those whom we would treat well, the notion that only those unstained by imperfection deserve sympathy and respect. If you take nothing else from Bruenig’s profile, take the bare notion that we all have to forgive each other because we all need to be forgiven.