“It’s too late to correct it,” said the Red Queen: “when you’ve once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences.”
As I watched the online response to Justine Sacco’s tweet, I thought of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery,” first published in 1948 but quite prescient. In a village there is a ritual that has gone largely unquestioned for generations. There is a box and in the box are slips of paper. Each year, the heads of each family draw slips of paper. One will be marked and then the members of that person’s family draw slips again. Whoever selects the slip with a black mark is the sacrifice. Everyone takes up stones and sets upon the unlucky victim. Every citizen is complicit in the murder of someone who, just moments before he or she was chosen, was a friend, a neighbor, a loved one.
Justine Sacco was not sacrificed. Her life will go on. We will likely never know if she learned anything from this unfortunate affair. In truth, I don’t worry so much about her. Instead, I worry for those of us who were complicit in her spectacularly rapid fall from grace. I worry about how comfortable we were holding the stones of outrage in the palms of our hands and the price we paid for that comfort.