On Friday, November 24, 2017, the online dictionary website, Dictionary.com announced that the word “Complicit” was selected as the site's “2017 Word of the Year.”
According to the Dictionary.com, the adjective defined as, “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others,” was selected as the word of the year based on the fact it was the most searched word for 2016.
Interestingly, the modern colloquial use of the word complicit does not entirely agree with Dictionary.com’s definition.
This is not to say that complicity should not be the “Word of the Year.” In fact, I personally believe that complicity should be the entire “Theme of the Year” in the United States. However, I say this probably not for the reasons everyone assumes.
The popular view is to associate complicity to a particular politician, celebrity, or public figure. However, in my opinion, the reason that complicity should be America’s “Theme of the Year,” and potentially if we are not careful, the new national identity of the United States, is because in 2017 we discovered just how complicit we all are willing to be.
Ultimately, there is no better place to demonstrate American complicity than in the news media articles that featured Dictionary.com’s announcement for the “Word of the Year.”
As I scrolled through the various stories on Dictionary.com’s 2017 Word of the Year, I noticed a remarkable trend.
For media outlets that were Left-leaning, the photograph attached to the story’s headline was either Ivanka Trump or Donald Trump.
According to Dictonary.com's metrics, search for the word complicit spiked three times during 2017.
On March 12th, after Saturday Night Live aired a spoof commercial for a perfume called “Complicit,” in which Scarlett Johanson played Ivanka Trump. On April 5th, when Ivanka Trump told CBS This Morning, “I don’t know what it means to be complicit.” Lastly, on October 24th, when Senator Jeff Flake announced his retirement saying, “I will not be complicit.”
Therefore in all fairness, according to the data, it isn’t entirely unfair to associate complicity’s 2017 popularity with Ivanka Trump.
Indeed, it was immediately following the words association with her that most people searched for the definition.
In contrast, Right-wing news sites featured pictures of Harvey Weinstein or simply a screenshot of the site’s definition of the word. Most of these sites failed to mention the association of the word with Ivanka or Donald Trump.
The differing symbolic views of why complicit won Word of the Year by the conservative media outlets were not entirely accurate, considering there was very negligible data to suggest any spikes in word searches during Weinstein’s fall from grace due to sexual improprieties and alleged abuse. However, this by no means should take away from the fact, that indeed the accusations of complicity in Weinstein’s behavior weren’t implied.
Ultimately, there is no better evidence for America’s theme of complicity, than these two differing views by the news media, on a meaningless statistic that will be little more than a footnote in the annals of history.
If one were to engage in objective observation of the last year, they would discover the unsettling trend, whereby people are willing to look the other way, condone, or be complicit to bad behavior provided a person, saying or doing something, represented their “team.”
We all have an unfortunate habit of basing the merit or morality of a person’s behavior against the behavior of any group that is contradictory to our own “tribe.” Ultimately, what “tribe” is what is irrelevant, and instead the most important factor relates to how closely a person relates themselves to a particular “tribe.”
For example, if “Tribe A” has a member who is accused of sexual misconduct, often times the people who associate themselves with “Tribe A” are able to mitigate the morality of the behavior of the accused, by comparing it to behaviors that have been charged or associated with “Tribe B.”
Essentially, the member of “Tribe A’s” behavior might be bad, however, by comparison, it doesn’t seem as bad as “Tribe B’s” actions, therefore the result is that the member of Tribe A’s behavior becomes, “not really that bad at all.”
Ultimately, we have seen this occur time and time again, and it truly has not been limited to one “tribe” or the other.
There, of course, are some fairly negative side-effects of this rule of ethics by comparison.
For one thing, the members of any tribe are most concerned about the views of those associated with their tribe. Tribe A cares about the supporters of Tribe A and assumes there will inherently always be a biased view of them by Tribe B. Therefore, provided the supporters of their tribe can diminish or condone their bad behavior there is no reason to hold themselves to a higher standard. In fact, the entire standard itself shifts.
This is the next problematic outcome of ethics by comparison.
By judging the ethical character of a person against the misdeeds of another, it creates a sliding-scale of moral values. Essentially, there no longer exists some hard- line that demonstrates humanity’s conscience moral code. Instead, the line between right and wrong becomes a sliding scale of wrongness vs. wrong.
Most problematic is that the “supporters” of a “tribe” represent the people, whereas, in the examples, we have seen over the past year, the “members” of a “tribe” represent the leaders of the people.
By having a willingness to engage in "ethics by comparison," we create a system in which we are willingly defending behaviors that we know to be wrong, and we know as “the people” we would not be able to get away with committing.
The result is a creation of the very system of entitlement that tells our leadership, “You’re better than us.” – “You can get away with more and have more privilege than us.” Essentially, we are creating a system of democracy where we are blessing off on our leadership becoming like royalty.
In the end, we have no problem calling out other “tribes” bad behavior. However, the cold hard truth is that we are all complicit in our refusal to hold our “tribes” to the high standard they should represent when it comes to being leaders.
Ultimately, the blame for refusing to hold the leadership or members of a tribe accountable for their misdeeds lies squarely in the hands of the other in-group tribe members and supporters. Remember, as I already said, the most influential persons in any “tribe” are those other members and supporters.
Assuredly, everyone reading this has associated the word “tribe” to be representative of a particular group of people. Now, I have purposely used the word tribe and not defined any one particular faction, because I cannot stress that the characterization of a “tribe” is irrelevant.
Democrat; Republican; Liberal; Conservative; moderate; progressive; police; civil rights group, etc. – The titles are irrelevant, we all do a poor job judging ourselves before we are willing to judge others. We all have a bad habit of holding our own personal opinions, beliefs, interests, and philosophies in a higher regard than we do anything contradictory.
In my opinion, we have an obligation to not allow any of our “tribes” to be infused with bad or immoral behavior; because if we do, and our “tribe” becomes unethical or immoral, we ultimately have no one to blame but ourselves. Instead, we should be demanding that our leaders represent themselves as people we want our children to look up too, instead of being people we want our children to avoid.
When we police others before we police ourselves, we can easily find ourselves going from a slippery slope to tumbling down Nine Lives run at Breckenridge Resort. Essentially, we shouldn’t be willing to compete for having the least-worst behavior. Instead, we should be competing to engage in the best behavior.
At the end of the day, we should never be happy having to make a choice between two evils. Instead, we should demand that we never have to choose evil. If not, then none of us should be shocked if we are governed or led unethically if we are willing to bend ethics of the people we choose to lead us.
Leadership should represent something that makes us want to be better people and overcome our own bad behavior. Leadership should never represent something we use to condone our bad behavior and try to say that it is good.
The reality of having good leadership begins and ends with the people's willingness to not be complicit, just because someone is a member of our "tribe."
Eventually, that may be the saddest and most detrimental aspect of our willingness to be complicit. We the people, end up forgetting just how powerful we all really are, and that our moral standards are only upheld by our willingness to define them as the standard in which we will accept.