Reflection on "When the Mob Comes For You"

Updated: May 2, 2019

Around a month ago, I recorded a podcast interview with Caylan Ford. Caylan had recently been a candidate in the provincial election where I live, and had resigned due to accusations of holding white supremacist views.

Why would I conduct such an interview? This is a valid question. The first thing is that, on reviewing the available evidence, it didn’t seem to me that there was any evidence that Caylan held such views. To arrive at such a conclusion, it seemed to me, required some very creative interpretation. I felt quite strongly that various media outlets were doing this interpretative work, and then continuing to unreflectively repeat it. And I knew that if I was right, it was not only immoral and dishonest, but dangerous—to Caylan, to the public discourse, to a free society, and to the truth itself. We all know what happened to “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”—one who cries wolf when there is no wolf does so at his or her own peril.

[If you want to know more about the whole Ford situation, you might look at:

-Caylan’s own words, here.

-Lindsay Shepherd’s piece in The Post Millenial

-Graeme Gordon’s piece on the same platform]

I haven’t totally answered the question of “Why would I conduct such an interview?”, though, because recording and publishing the episode online was not simply a matter of nobly seeking the truth. It involved, as I knew it would, a fair amount of anger and hatred coming my way. Though this was largely from anonymous people on the internet, I was still shocked to read it, angered sometimes, pained and frightened some other times. But I knew I had, to some degree, signed up for it—and I continued to remind myself that, whatever I was getting, Caylan was probably getting much worse.

(This is a symptom of the time in which we live: A person can be shamed and shunned unjustly; the person who dares to acknowledge or look more closely at the situation is also subject to attack. There is a collective (systemic) pressure on individuals to look away, to not think, and to unquestioningly accept certain narratives. What do you think of this?)

There were some criticisms of the episode that weren’t simply name-calling and vitriol. They can be summarized, I think, as follows: I didn’t press Caylan enough. I didn’t interrogate her. I didn’t “hold her feet to the fire”.

These criticisms gave me some pause, because, in some way, they are accurate. I did not interrogate her or hold her feet to the fire. But why not? It’s fairly simple, actually: I didn’t set out to. I wanted to try and sort out what had happened, by asking her side of the story. And, by and large, I believed her. One might take issue with my intuition or critical thinking in regard to this, but my sense was that we understood one another, and so I was not prompted to hold her feet to the fire. I also liked talking with her—I liked her. I found her very articulate and personable. And I did not feel, or think, or intuit, or sense, that I was being lied to, misled, or "snowed". And of course that affected the way we talked. Why in the world wouldn't it?

Her and I had the conversation that was compelling to us. Granted, she had more skin in the game than I did. This is apparent in the times she actually guided the conversation more than I did.

The interrogation did not occur because the demand for interrogation was not present in the room. The demand had nothing to do with either of us, or with what was happening in the moment. At most, it was a shadow of the expectations that people might have of the interview: That I must be setting out either to clear her name or condemn her further. And it’s an understandable expectation, isn’t it? Why else would I interview someone who was accused of being a witch, if not to try and either see her freed or see her burned?

Well—to see her side of the story. To see what it was like for her to be accused. To explore the nature of the injustice that I saw being committed.

Perhaps, also, to remind listeners that the people we see mobbed, owned, destroyed, and incinerated on social media are people. To show that the soundbite or fragment of a quote we see is rarely the whole picture, and is, more often than not, selected to paint a very specific picture. And to model, through my own action, a process of responsible opinion-building. The way we see headlines, tweets, and snapshots of reality and assume that we know the whole picture, that our opinion is reality, and even that we have the right to act as judges—honestly, I find it abhorrent. It is also—and this is very clear to anyone who is looking—an example of psychological projection in action. And we may be psychologically evolved to project our shadow outwards, but it is far from the best way for adults to engage with the world.

And so I undertook to model a different option. And some may be upset that I did that. They may, somehow, think that Ms. Ford still comes off badly in the interview. They may really disagree with a tentative position she once voiced, in private conversation with a friend, about migration in Europe (and to such a person I might ask, what is your opinion about migration in Europe? Do most of the people reading this even have one? Or is the problem that she explored any aspects of the issue at all?)

I’m glad that her and I were able to present a more in-depth response to the situation than the mainstream media was giving. Moreover, I think that because we were having the conversation that interested us, rather than caving in to the projected demands of an “interrogation”, we actually produced an episode that is worth listening to outside of its immediate context. Whereas the interrogation, in its determined specificity, would have been irrelevant the moment the election was over (or even as it was happening, if you take our own personal interest into account), the conversation produced seems to me to have some relevance beyond itself. We, and the listeners (I hope), learned something about the dynamics expressing themselves through the situation.