Facebook is a little bit like "Lord of the Flies," without the exotic island locale.
It's a place where people can gang up on you in a virtual lynch mob if you stray from the communal orthodoxy, and they use the "like" button as rope. You have two choices: be shamed into submission or slink away on a life raft.
Mark Zuckerberg's lucrative social experiment started as a way for college students to meet, aka hook up. But when their parents and grandparents staged an unexpected coup d'etat, filling the screen with pictures of meals they'd eaten at Olive Garden, the kids moved on and the adults (I use that term loosely) were unleashed. All of the simmering resentments that post-dated Bush v. Gore found fertile ground and multiplied.
I say this as someone who enjoys social media and has gotten inspiration, education and consolation from people I've never met. More importantly, it's enabled me to reconnect with old friends who'd been lost to time, distance and the inevitable obligations of modern life.
But there is a dark side to the experiment, and I see it whenever I venture onto the pages of people who - let's just say - don't share all of my beliefs. The page owners are rarely the problem, because in most cases they are good and cherished friends with whom I've reached a political and philosophical armistice, usually over food.
No, the problem are the "friends" of my friends, people who would never have shown up on my radar screen if we didn't share that valued point of human contact in our mutual Facebook buddy. They often say that friends are the family we choose. Well if that's the case, these one-degree-of-separation characters are the in-laws-you-didn't-choose, but who you tolerate about as graciously as Job tolerated his boil.
I encountered just such a boil, er, person when my dear friend, who shall remain nameless so as to spare her any agida, posted a comment about Ben Carson. It wasn't the most flattering comment, something along the lines of "you seriously must be a loon if you're going to vote for this guy," but there was an underlying current of respect for those who actually could vote for him. In fact, the posting ended with a solicitation for opposing viewpoints. That is the sign of an honest intellect, one that welcomes challenges.
So, being the type of person who exited the birth canal with an opposing viewpoint on the delivery method employed by my mother's OBGYN, I volunteered my opinion that Carson was a man of great character, starting out with the hardly nuanced "I love him!" One of the reasons had to do with a topic that causes most feminists to pull out their embroidered hankies and hyperventilate like latter-day Dickensians: abortion.
This past week, Carson compared abortion to slavery. It wasn't a new concept. Anyone who's been listening to conservative black clergy over the past few decades has heard the same analogy, albeit from the pulpit and not the debate podium. But here was another chance for progressives to savage a man who is their worst nightmare: a black conservative professional whose appeal transcends the divides of color and class. Here, they seized on yet another opportunity to paint this renowned neurosurgeon as the father of all whack jobs because he had the audacity to compare a slaveholder's proprietary interest in human chattel with a pregnant woman's refusal to see the fetus she was carrying as anything other than a mass of cells to which she had sole title.
And if they were going to attack Carson, it made sense to dehumanize his supporters.
When I suggested that I deeply admired the man, even though he'd made some bizarre public statements, one of these "friends of friends" called me a sadist (after first calling me sick and then looking through a thesaurus to better plumb the lexicon of progressive misogyny.) This person apparently thinks that insulting minorities and women who stray off of the liberal reservation is a blow for social justice.
To make his point, he raised that red herring of . drumroll . incest and rape. He said that anyone who would force a woman to bear and then raise her rapist's baby is inhuman. This is the part where I sigh, and then yawn. Having been in the pro-life movement for a very long time, I'm used to that rape/incest diversionary tactic. If they were smart, abortion rights advocates wouldn't keep going to that dried-up well, because it's been proven that the incidence of abortions triggered by rape is statistically insignificant. According to a 1987 study by the Guttmacher Institute, less than 1 percent of women cited rape or incest as the reason they needed an abortion. Admittedly, this is an old study, but even if that number has increased in the last 30 years, it doesn't change the fact that most abortions in this country are elective, not therapeutic. Carson knows that. So, apparently, did my Facebook antagonist.
I don't expect everyone to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." I didn't do it last week when I savaged Hillary Clinton in a column that prompted one editor from Texas to tell me I owed Chelsea an apology for calling her the "Arkansas virgin birth." Political commentary isn't pretty.
But the vicious nature of the attacks against Ben Carson are worse than anything I've seen since Clarence Thomas was cross-examined over a can of Coke in 1991. Thank God Mark Zuckerberg was only 7.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.