The internet and rise of the web was supposed to be the moment when we as a species and global society would shed our preconceptions, stand equal amongst ourselves in all things and promote and celebrate the rise of collaboration of thought and form in all things.
What we got instead is worse than what we had before. Yes we can share thoughts with people all over the world. We can have a conversation with someone from the edge of the map as if they were right here. We can share and converse about various topics and ideas. Collaborate about joint ventures and expand our understanding of the world and the people in it. And we can do it in respectful, understanding manner that allows opposite opinions to exist in harmony.
If we chose to.
Instead we do what we always do. We, the birds of a feather, flock together. We seek out like minded individuals and form communities around not the diversity of those ideas but on how those ideas best reflect our own world view. We seek communities that do not challenge our already carefully crafted narrative about how the world should be but instead we seek out security and safety in the knowledge that we are not alone in our views and draw strength from that. All that is fine and dandy. Well mostly fine. A little dandy. In the vicinity of dandyhood. Security is good. Safety is good. Feeling comfortable is good. Until…
Someone challenges the doctrine.
Recently there was an incident. An employee of Google shared a memo in Googles internal forums. From what I have gathered, it was about women in tech and an argument about why there are not that many women in tech. A valid topic to ponder on. The memo was leaked (press hilariously called it a manifesto as if this guy was a cult leader or something) and in order to protect their brand, Google took action. They decided to fire the person who wrote the memo.
Then all hell broke loose.
The action to fire someone over their opinion is controversial enough. The reaction to the memo itself by large audience is a whole another thing entirely. Most reactions I saw, were horrible to witness. There was no civilized or thoughtful rebuttal of the memo or its contents. There was no discussion on whether the memo had any merit. No. Instead what happened was a large scale attack on the person who wrote the memo. The reaction of the community to an opinion that was unpopular was akin to this:
For those unfamiliar with the image above. This is from a movie called 300. In it, a Persian messenger travels to Sparta to deliver terms to the Spartan king. The king is less than enthusiastic about the messengers’ message so he does what any rules of engagement respecting monarch does *sarcasm*: he kills the messenger. For some reason people seem to find this breach of warfare protocol funny. I don’t.
Some might notice I haven’t spoken a single word about the contents of the memo. Because it doesn’t matter. If the memo had been akin to Mein Kampf or the Witches hammer, it wouldn’t matter. What matters is how we as a society, decided to react to such a message. We didn’t attack the message. We didn’t say “I don’t agree and here’s why”. Instead we attacked the messenger. We as a community, decided that humiliating and shaming a person for their unpopular opinion that we just didn’t like, is an acceptable response. And that was ALL the arguments we provided. Because we didn’t like it. No laws were broken. No rights violated. Just our egos and sense of security due to an opinion that clashed with our carefully crafted bubble of echoes. And we lashed out.
There was another incident. This was much more severe and happened much more quickly. A person tweeted something. This tweet may not have been politically correct and certainly was in poor taste (I believe it was meant as a joke). I recall it was somewhat racist. But mostly I recall what happened. In less than a day we as a community, destroyed this person. We destroyed her credibility, we destroyed her reputation. She apologized. We kept hitting her. She broke down in tears. We kept hitting her. She begged for mercy. We kept hitting her. Death threats were sent. Trolling and humiliation ensued. We the mob decided that this one person should pay for her error of judgement with the harshest possible way. We felt so threatened by her opinion that she had to go.
A third incident that comes to mind, is that of a gaming streamers by the name of PewDiePie. Most recent of the three. What did he do? He uttered a word so heinous apparently that people are unwilling to even repeat it. They use euphemisms like “the n-word” to describe it. The voldemort of dictionary: negro. From what I have gathered about the incident is that in a heat of a moment PewDiePie called a player by this slang term. In live stream for all of his millions of subscribers to hear. What did he do then? He apologized. It may not have been the most heartfelt and teary confession of sins but it was an apology. However we, the wolves of the internet, the guardians of truth and justice, the justice warriors, would not let him get away with something like that. Uttering a world we find offensive and daring to think that an apology would do. No. An example had to be made. Here is our change to pour all our hatred of ourselves for everything the word represents to the shoulders of one man. Now we can be free! Right? Unlike most people, mister Pie did the unthinkable and actually noticed his error and apologized for it before the public outcry. He acknowledged that he was wrong. What did we, the civilized people did with that apology? Crucified him with it.
These few example are symptoms of a disease that seems to plaque us as a society. We don’t like being uncomfortable. We don’t like change. When change does happen and opinions enter our orbit that we are predisposed against, we are psychologically conditioned to react defensively. Since we live in the illusion that we are anonymous or at least that we have an army behind us, we are much less restrained in the internet. It becomes easier to brand someone a “traitor to the cause” since there are no real life consequences like that. Would you utter out the same insults to someone to their face? Probably not. Numerous people have been crucified in the altars of echoes just to make those echoes sound a little louder. They have been brought humiliation and psychological torture of akin to putting someone on the rack while waterboarding them and pulling out their fingernails and finally setting them on fire. For no other reason than that their opinions were different from your own. How does our treatment of unpopular and uncomfortable opinions reflect us as a society and as people? How do we fare if we were to judge ourselves by the same enthusiasm we judge others?
We all have opinions that are not popular. We all have ideas that are not popular. We all have thoughts that if revealed would brand us racists, bigots, rapist, murderers and a whole category of other evil. With the atmosphere being what it is we keep those opinions and ideas to ourselves. We dare not utter them out loud because we are afraid. We are afraid that if we bring out an unpopular topic, we are harassed for it. We are afraid that our notion of subject x is so controversial that people will nail us to a cross over it. And when uttering out or even suggesting alternative ideas becomes a “crime” punishable by virtual death and torture, we are diminished. How can we understand the world around us better if we do not explore alternative ideas? Yes the idea might be wrong. The idea might be unpopular. But examining that idea gives us insight into not only ourselves but the world around us.
Attacking the messenger is a cowards way. Attacking the messenger is the easy way and often prompted by fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. When we attack the messenger, we confess that we have no alternative message that could compete. We have no argument against the message so we punish the messenger for proving to us how unintelligent we are.
And sometimes. Sometimes. We punish the messenger because his message makes sense and we hate ourselves for agreeing with it.
And when that happens to you, I say this: whatever god you believe in, may he/she have mercy on your soul. For you are truly lost. Alone in the night.
And the night is dark and full of terror.