Everything you say, everything you do, everything you consume, and everything you pretend to be matters. This applies when you are home alone in your underwear or in your front yard still in your underwear or surfing the internet anonymously still surprisingly in your underwear. None of us exist in a vacuum. Whether we choose to ignore the pain and suffering of friends, family, or strangers is a choice, even if you choose it by inaction. Our online selves, and the relative anonymity we received from persisting digitally, neither excuses nor absolves us from the duty of being decent people to one another.
When I was younger, I thought the internet was the most amazing thing ever. The last few years have me reconsidering that idea and now I am beginning to see just how naive I was. As a kid in rural Alabama, being accepted by people with like-minded ideals and like-minded interests online allowed me to safely be myself. I could be a super nerd or I could be an atheist. It didn’t matter that I rarely dated or that I hated football.
I used to think that the internet could bring us together, as souls, rather than bodies. Instead of our gender, race, or physical appearance, we could exist as entities divorced from such prejudice and coexist as spiritual, logical, and intellectual codepents.
But I was also a teenager discovering philosophy before I had discovered any of the reality it may have once been based on.
The internet is powerful, but it can be just as powerful for the harmful as it is for the harmless. We have taken what was once a great new expanse of wilderness to explore and have cut it down to distinct sections which fit our biases, our hatreds, and our natural instinct to belong to a particular herd while warring with all others.
It can be troubling to enjoy things online. For example, my favorite meme is the ‘To be continued …’ one that borrows from one of my favorite anime, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and one of my favorite songs featured in the anime’s first season, “Roundabout” by Yes.
Here’s an example:
Basically, the idea is something absurd, but paused just before the full payoff or when you are left most confused by the situation. I swear, I have seen most all of them, or at least the popular ones. For a few months straight, I’d queue up a few compilations on YouTube to peruse in hopes of finding a new one or rediscovering one I had forgotten.
That led me to discovering a really dark truth about these kinds of memes or internet-based humor in general: some are incredibly dark.
Now replay in your mind the same clip above with the same music and joke structure (pausing before the payoff), but replace the pit crew and bear with a plane on 9/11, moments before hitting the World Trade Center or a video that ends moments before someone falls to their death or great injury. Some people on the internet may think otherwise, but it is not as funny.
Fake news and our current president also point to the problems of the internet. We are all entitled to our opinions, but online we can dress them up and pretend they are facts. In turn, others pull from those fake facts and make real world decisions or hold real world hatred in their hearts because of them. This applies on both the Left and the Right in American politics, but it is even more universal than that. If the internet can be a safe haven for someone like myself to express beliefs counter to my everyday culture, then it can, has been, and will forever do the same for others.
That can result in great good or great evil.
Yet, the sword has more edges. We can make things up and find others who believe us or share a similar mentality, but relative anonymity and escapism from interacting in a real way with others dehumanizes those opposed to our beliefs. It isn’t new for humans to fight over opposing narratives, but it really feels like the internet has evolved such tendencies into nastier and meaner reactions devoid of any real humanity.
Here is what I think:
Be understanding, be accepting, and be kind. Fact check broadly, always. Find people you can talk to, not just rant with. Start a conversation with a stranger. Practice the Platinum Rule or at least the Golden Rule. Found yourself on universalizable principles that govern your behavior and stick to them.
There are no solutions to humanity being nasty and mean, but we can always be more humane toward one another. We can (usually) fight for our beliefs without throwing fists. I stand for reason and logic and facts, even in a world where all three of those things have somehow become subjective.
People everyday are hurting. Some of those people you may disagree with or they may disagree with you. There will always be give and take. There will always be compromise when we feel we must not. But you have to listen and be open to the pains of others. It is easy to dismiss rural America as racist or urban America as anti-values. Getting along is harder.
But the opposite of standing up is not sitting down; it is never asking why others are standing in the first place.