Today we are going to discuss something that should hit close to home to many of the people who decide to read this. It is social media behavior, not as criticism, but in observation. People tend to allow their full outrage to blossom in response to some faceless void ranting a point-of-view they dispute. In many ways this can be liberating. Sometimes it’s even fun. But mostly–and give me a little leeway here as I attempt to provoke this–it serves only as a reflection of internal bias, pettiness, self-loathing pride, and an angry desire to blot out the rest of the world.
I have my personal opinions and, at times, try to fight for what I believe to be true. But generally, and this is intentional, I look at issues with an anarchistic subjectivity. I listen to, and comment, on opposing sides and attempt to provoke a deeper discussion. I will take any contrary side, left or right or hysterical or rational and it is, to me, more tool to get down to some vague portion of human understanding (it’s not like any of this can offend me when all I am seeking is true belief.) People are far more honest when they are angry.
Here’s an example: When someone likes a person, and supports them, but realize that whatever it is they might be doing or thinking is foolish, we still try to save another person’s feelings and let them know that it’s okay to be wrong. At funeral eulogies it is nearly impossible to speak about the dead as they truly were in life. We gloss over the flaws, the peculiarities (unless they are somehow charming) and the terrible taste they may have had in whatever it is that their life amounted to, and just play the heartstrings and mourn how much we are going to miss this person. And it’s not that these thoughts are untrue. It’s just . . . we avoid the diversity of the individual’s life, ignoring the realities that made the person who they actually were. Whatever they hated, their intolerance, even their bigotry–which is always an important characteristic in understanding exactly who someone was–this is reduced to “He always had kind words to say,” and “She loved everyone,” followed by tears and a nod to the heavens. This becomes the legend we will remember as time goes by and new life moves on, forgetting the details of the past.
But in these online discussions: debates and arguments and smug, snide games we choose to play, attacking people by imposing the same doubts we have about what we believe, and trying to reduce the world into a bitter, bickering family that will never truly get along, have released a toxic smog into the world. We take sides. We think of the world more as a team sport, and we root-root-root for one side and denounce the other. It becomes a rivalry not about subtext, but basic instincts. We block out everything that is not in favor of our ideas and transform those we refuse to hear into a demonic other–a group to be named and generalized, then tossed into the ash heap of disposable, dangerous humanity that we wish would cease to exist.
This is how racism works, how sexism and all the other nervous human forms of hatred that make the world such an intolerant place. And yet we are today a lot more isolated than we used to be when war was about banding together to defeat a true common enemy. Now nearly all of the fighting is just angry words, the exploitation of technology to propose an attack or boast like a child “I know you are, but what am I?”
Here are two examples of comments I have received on Twitter, which is the murkiest testing ground of this sort of aloof hatred. I have been called, in the same conversation and based on the exact same things that I wrote, both “A liberal snowflake crying because Queen Hillary didn’t win,” as well as a “Motherfucking Nazi, me and all my other MAGA clowns.” And I sit and laugh and wonder, fully aware that I tried to be an equal opportunity offender, that I never once supported anyone, and I marvel at the diversity of reaction to a single thought. Most of the time my full statement is not even read, just skimmed and turned into presumption, not only because people are so lazy when trying to discuss serious topics, or are so thin-skinned and humorless that they jump to the first conclusion, but because they really do not care what anyone else thinks and wish for a peaceful variation on a socialistic world that is only peaceful because everyone allowed to live is exactly the same. It is the dream of a righteous dystopian fantasy.
As these groups break up into warring factions they tend to develop similar styles and comments and languages. To return to those two examples above: The MAGA folks–a group of generally fed up and hopeless people who are more interested in denunciation and revenge than actually standing for anything (and we could of course rename them throughout history as the exact same type of reactionary they represent today)–they are angry all the time and angry at everything, yet they try to mask their outrage with cynicism, pretending that everything is beneath them and that they do not even mistake you for a person. But if we were to strip away the mask, all these opposing viewpoints are taken very seriously. It is almost as though nothing else matters to them, attacking opposition gospels by calling them stupid and naive and refusing to accept that people might feel differently than they do. People stand for nothing other than telling others that they’re wrong.
Listen to some of the more common claims–“those people are getting paid to protest!” or “It’s backed by some Communist elites and One World Government cabals seeking to destroy the world!” There can be no legitimacy to a different perspective with this yammering with fingers in your ears. Everything becomes a sinister lie, people lying to themselves and the entire world for unknown reasons. They are inauthentic, the right wing claims. The attackers get very personal, jumping to odd conclusions based on the generalization that all people think the same. They undermine the very humanity of their targets and embark on a quest to destroy.
The left is really no better, playing the same sort of arrogantly condescending game. They shriek about one-sided corruption and an absolutist vision of how things are meant to be, then rage over being called a cult (ANTIFA? Isn’t this gang the height of hypocrisy? They fight against fascism by copying employing fascist methods. Fortunately this is a very small group of activists who really don’t believe in anything, just like their insane right-wing counterparts, coming full circle to being the exact same thing as their leftist rivals, both wishing to permanently change the world and outlaw every word that opposes their immoral faith.
These assholes on the left tend to try to sound smarter than those they target, trying to show off an advanced vocabulary for no other reason than the presumption that their enemies will not understand (a questionable tactic in a debate, considering its goal is to baffle their rivals). And the left are every bit as righteous, every bit as sarcastic and cynical, and every bit as intolerant as their equal and opposite numbers on the other side of the field of play.
These arguments really are this trivial. They favor nothing, and stand against everything else. On-line clutter trapped with 140-280 characters, angry people embracing the irrationality of their rage against themselves and the rest of the world. These conversations are an exercise in self-loathing. If there is never any goal about teaching someone a new idea (and of course from a singular perspective), then the game is a dog fight to the death. And in a shattered world like this, who dares to pretend that anything they believe is right?