The internet is base humanity writ large, with all the failings and injustice and illogic sprayed across it, to be picked over by the aliens who’re probably even now deciding to give us a miss. It’s an unwinnable game, but one in which the scores are clearly displayed.
Successful use of the medium involves positioning oneself as guardian of the Sacred Knowledge — and handing it out viciously and indiscriminately, truthwads fired into the crowd as from a greased t-shirt cannon. The ultimate goal skitters somewhere between Education (we must increase awareness) and social homogeneity. You shall not suffer a witch to live! The edifice of online dialogue is a castle of certainty, built on a feeling of ultimate righteousness… founded on grounds of terminal relativism. Respect the other persons truths — at least, as long as they fit within the contemporary framework of acceptable range.
There is no absolute truth, except the rarified feeling that progress (itself a sly misnomer) is always in the right direction. If progress is not in the mandated arc of liberalism, then it isn’t progress. (Stop staring at your screen all the time, you monster, for example.) Of course, there are a lot of areas in which the human race has advanced in a good way, and bully for that. Medicine, for example, is handy. Women can vote now, excellent! I think there are a few ways in which we’ve gotten worse as we’ve gotten older, too. But denying that progress is king is awful heresy.
I suppose a lot of it stems from point of view. The human spirit craves certainties, but when you’ve rejected the system-stabilizing existence of a deity, you’re forced to rely on relative truths to keep things ordered in your mind. Living is an exercise in accepting without question a large portion of the sensory input you receive — in order to stay sane the brain has to sort of fudge a lot of the material it digests, into excretable truth-pellets.
There’s a lot of inadvertant dishonesty in the relative truth game — all you really end up doing is replacing theism with humanism, in a nice fat pill that goes down easier than the tasseled scarves and clanking thuribles of simpler times. “Human beings are ultimately good” is the bizarre illogic that overlays the constant thrust of Progess.
Well, of course they aren’t! Just look around. People are vile, selfish, violent beasts by nature. Fear is the main thing that keeps most people in check: fear of censure, fear of ridicule, fear of social exile.
For religious people (an odious term if there ever was one) there is a putatively nobler impetus to right action. It’s a different kind of Fear, which has confused thousands of Bible readers with its complexity. This kind of fear — the fear of God — is an entirely different thing from the instinctual fear. It’s not the quivering of a mouse hiding from the cat, but the trembling of an athlete’s muscles as they wait for the starting gun. To do the right thing, to draw close to God, to look to one’s eternal life after death — these are the motivations that should ideally motivate a person of faith.
But subtract God — that which exists outwith the natural realm — and all you have left is this vague and sterile idea of each of our good actions “moving forward” the race. It’s toothless, but if you don’t examine it too closely it’s very comforting. Because everyone, deep down, wants to feel like they matter, that what they do has a cosmic effect.
The point of this isn’t really a criticism of lack of belief in a deity. I understand doubt, and I can sympathize with it. There is actually not as much difference as you’d think between the people that have no absolute truth and burn for progress, and the people who believe in a deity but lovelessly interject a lot of stultifying laws and opinions on the world around them without much logical reason.
The point is that setting oneself up as an infallible holder of the line against the barbarians is ugly no matter what stance you take. It’s double-ugly, I think, if your Hadrian’s wall is built of anecdotes and emotions, rather than reasoned facts.
Condescending segregation into Us and Them is the way the game is played. “Human beings are really good at heart… apart from these bigots,” is the nonsense sentiment that pervades. Each side of the debate (and in America that means Liberal / Conservative) sees its best chance in dehumanization of the other, and seizes it eagerly.
So too much grumbling and rumbling on the internet purely consists of social and ideological positioning. All conversations are based on principles of progress — how is this moving along. You are either part of a problem or the solution. Other people are always part of the problem, it turns out, except when you are writing a retrospective on how you were once part of the Kyriarchy but now you have learned and have changed and please oh please accept me once more into the ranks of the righteous.
Make sure you’re on the right side, eh? But you gotta keep up on all the news if you want to do that. How about a few hate-retweets to give your followers something to mock? Maybe a Medium article: Is It Time To Do X? or We Need To Talk About Y.
It’s all hateful bunk. There shouldn’t be sides of such magnitude! Complete agreement on all issues is an awful way to count your friends. Neurological homogeneity shouldnt be a prerequisite for co-existence. It’s ok to disagree, even on the big things, as long as you’re willing to examine your justifications honestly.
Until we can admit, religious or anti-religious, Left or Right, that we are all broken people with a tendency to do more harm than good, we’re going to keep erecting shrines to self-satisfied windbaggery. All the careful positioning in the world isn’t worth a damn when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes as well. Man wasn’t born to live contented, nor to wriggle himself till he’s comfortable, either.
Published on August 18th, 2014