The sin of snark is rudeness, the anti-snarkers say. Snark is mean. And meanness and rudeness are the worst misdeeds in the world. So Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of AIG, told the Wall Street Journal that the hard-working, heavily compensated employees of his disastrously run company were being persecuted—that the critics of AIG, “with their pitch forks and their hangman nooses,” were “sort of like what we did in the Deep South. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.”
Ever since the global economy imploded, the people who imploded it have been talking this way. The plutocrats are hurt that anyone should resent the power of wealth. They spent the past election fretting aloud about “class warfare,” which under the rules of smarm means any mention of the fact that classes exist, and that some classes have more or less money than others. Why should it not be pleasing to learn that these people’s feelings are so tender? That even as they fly their helicopters over the broke and frustrated masses at whose expense they have profited, they perceive that they are despised?
The plutocrats are haunted, as all smarmers are haunted, by the lack of respect. Nothing is stopping anyone—any nobody—from going on a blog or on Twitter and expressing their opinion of you, no matter who you think you are. New media and social media have an immense and cruel leveling power, for people accustomed to old systems of status and prestige. On Twitter, the only answer to “Do you know who I am?” is “One more person with 140 characters to use.””
I can remember the day Mandela got out of prison. I was drinking beer with a half-dozen serious social activists, classmates in the training program at Habitat for Humanity’s International Headquarters in Americus Georgia, sitting on the front porch at Justice House, right across the street from the little Sumpter County jail where they used to take Dr. King when they really wanted to scare him. All of the darkness seemed to lift from that place that day when we heard the news about Mandela, and there on the verge of walking out into the world to fight our own little piece of the good fight, we felt like there was no way our side could lose, like there was no way justice could lose, like everything could and would change for the better, and soon.