I haven’t featured Ken White lately, in part because Popehat’s posts are sporadic, unlike those of mad bloggers who habitually post multiple essays a day. However, Ken’s most recent post is the epitome of ethical blogging at its best. It is long, but absolutely worth the time to read. His subject is the internet pile-on against a mentally ill writer named Kenneth Eng, who, Ken points out, was obviously not well, and yet was mercilessly attacked and mocked. Fox News even exploited his illness for some sensational cable moments—shades of Sam Nunberg! Ken, who has written frankly and courageously about his own battles with clinical depression, takes a hard ethics inventory, finds himself and the internet community lacking, and does a superb job—as usual—of clarifying a difficult issue. I have had my differences with Ken, but at his best, White is as ethically astute and clear a writer as there is online, with an almost unfailing ability to point us in the right direction.
He writes in part,
This is, perhaps, the most grim part of the story, grimmer even than our indifference and casual cruelty. If Kenneth Eng can’t be helped successfully, what’s the hope for the millions out there in worse circumstances, some of them potentially violent? Kenneth Eng didn’t slip through the cracks. He got support that, if you described it in a story, I would dismiss as fanciful. What about people without those resources and without that support?…
Towards the end of 2014, with the last of his lawsuits dismissed, Kenneth Eng dropped from sight. I can’t find more references to him. I do not have the heart to go beyond the web and research whether he is confined, whether he continues to relapse without notice, whether he’s even alive. Maybe he’s even better. Maybe.
Why are we the way we are? Is Kenneth Eng a schizophrenic whose illness finds expression through florid racism? Or is he a racist asshole who is also schizophrenic? It makes little difference to the people he abused or threatened or assaulted, the people terrified that he would go on a violent spree, or the people repulsed to see the seemingly mainstream AsianWeek publish his racist screed. It is right and fit that we should support those people and acknowledge how they felt, whatever Eng’s motives were. It is appropriate to protect them. But how should we treat Kenneth Eng? Not, I think, with carefree laughter.
Kenneth Eng is on the other side of viral now, and it’s hard to see him there. But we can still see ourselves, and the view is not always pleasant.
Read it all, and be thankful for the keen mind and integrity of Ken White.