What comes after our “celebrity first” age of superficial tweets, memes and soundbytes? Will we all continue to trod a dark path to an irremediable ignorance full of fake facts and real problems? Is there any hope for us?
There are reasons for hope, and relevant local evidence for my boldly optimistic assertion that the road ahead may be brighter than many expect.
First, a friend and former Myrtle Grove Optimist Little League coach shared his son’s recent accomplishment. It would have been great to listen to him tell me the story of his kid’s journey through the Mets’ farm system as we watched him start his first game as catcher at Citi Field. Playing professional sports is one way to be big league. But young Mr. Maximillian Beauchene survived Southern jock culture and long ago discarded the catcher’s “tools of ignorance” to surf the waves of knowledge. He completed a degree in political science and currently has an article (“After Raqqa: The Islamic State and the War on Terror”) published on LobeLog, a foreign policy analysis site.
Completing a degree and publishing an article? That’s big league.
Beauchene wrote shortly after U.S.-backed coalition forces liberated Mosul from the Islamic State on July 9, 2017, and fast-forwarded to the victory celebrations after the next likely liberation, Raqqa, Syria. (They are fighting now.) Beauchene provided a detailed analysis of the current status of the fight against the Islamic State, pointed that we can retake cities like Mosul and Raqqa as many times as want, and questioned, “What’s next?”
I remember Max’s smile at Veterans Park and questioned how many times we would send he, his classmates, and former teammates into the fields of battle without a clear understanding of what is likely to happen—even if they are temporarily victorious. Reading Max’s early contribution to the complex foreign policy field brought a smile to my face. The kid is alright.
Next, the July 20 StarNews headline, “Sex Offender Registry: Effective Deterrent or Step Too Far?” caught my eye. I grinned at the POTUS-free front page. (Although, I’m pretty sure some of POTUS 45’s admitted sexual behaviors might place him on the registry, and prevent him from living near a middle school or using social media.) I read the full article at lunch. The choice of a newsworthy topic, the article’s clarity and balanced tone, and the fact the reporter interviewed key local professionals with relevant expertise impressed me on first reading.
Treatment and management of sex offenders is a complex community issue, with which I am acquainted. While employed by our community mental-health center (Southeastern Center) over a decade ago, I helped develop the Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment Program here in New Hanover County. The registry has always reflected our conflicting fears and values. It’s a “feel safe” measure that has limited utility in reducing recidivism for adult offenders, and has even more complex and questionable effects for youthful offenders.
“Did you read Sophie Whisnant’s article in the StarNews?” My son asked when I got home from work.
“No,” I said. “Is she previewing your next show or something?”
“Dad,” said my son, an artist and Sophie’s lifelong friend, “it’s on the front page!”
I checked the byline, “StarNews Staff Reporter—Sophie Whisnant. Your friend wrote this? Wow!”
Watching Sophie Whisnant onstage in local theatre and dance over the years typically made me smile. She is another product of our local much-maligned public education system and a member of the youth theatre arts community. She is currently a rising junior at Chapel Hill. Her article brought a big-league smile to my face.
Now that Mr. Beauchene and Ms. Whisnant have eschewed the tweet, embraced intellectual rigor and embarked on the road less traveled, what is in store for them? Fame? Fortune? Perhaps. But the only thing they will surely acquire is criticism. Should they continue down the paths they’ve chosen, paths of curiosity, creativity, diligence, and intellectual rigor, they will be branded. Rather than being touted as a member of a reinvigorated and vital Fourth Estate, the free press, some will lambast Whisnant as an untrustworthy member of the “failing and fake press.” Rather than being seen as a new sprout on an enlightenment tree of intellectual excellence, some will label Beauchene as yet another member of the eternally out-of-touch “intellectual elite.”
So be it. I’m not afraid for them, and am increasingly optimistic for the rest of us. The kids are alright.