July 12, 2012

Speak No E-vil

I'd like to begin with a quick question: How on Earth is our world supposed to improve if every time we come up with something magnificent and revolutionary all we can do is use it to belittle and exclude others?  To say that the human race gathers together to do something extraordinary only once in a blue-moon would be overstating the matter, but it seems like every time we do, some people get it into their heads that this is the new way to prop themselves up above everyone else.  Doesn't this fatigue anyone else? ......Do you all know what I'm talking about?  No?  Okay, okay...buckle up, ‘cause this one's a doozey.  And it's not all fun and games.

The Tragedy of the Great Equalizer

In the annals of American History, there is a smattering of truly remarkable, earth-shaking, game-changing events, such as The Declaration of Independence, The reunification of the Confederacy with the Union, The Women's Suffrage and Liberation movements, and Civil Rights to name a few.  Let me add another event to that list that most of you probably don't think of as "on-par" with the previous: The Birth of The Internet.  "Bwah?!" I hear you say.  Yes, the creation of the interconnected network of computers that once went by the moniker "ARPANET" belongs right up there in the pantheon of major game-changers that make up the history of the good ol' US of A.  No, I'm not being facetious...well, not entirely.  I'm adding it to the list because it has a lot in common with those social movements I just mentioned.  Unfortunately, not all of the things it has in common are good, and that will be the primary focus of today's discussion.

You see, when we break them down, each of the movements mentioned above had a similar set of goals: Unification and Liberation. In the case of Independence Day, the express purpose of our declaration was to unify the colonies and liberate them from the tyranny of King George III of England.  The Civil War was fought largely with the goal (from the Northern perspective anyway...I am a New Yorker) of bringing the Southern states back into the fold of the US and liberating all the people living under American democracy from, in one case, slavery, and in another, economic hardship due to failing agricultural/industrial sectors and war.  Women's Suffrage?  Civil Rights? I bet you can figure it out, but just in case: Bring together the oppressed minorities (i.e. women and non-whites) throughout the country and liberate them from an untenable lifestyle and outright oppression and subjugation by the established authority (read: white heterosexual cis-gendered males). 

So what about the internet?  Well, while the explicit goal of creating the internet may not have been Unification and Liberation, that's pretty much exactly what it did.  The advent of a stable means of connecting disparate groups of people easily and with no real restrictions of time or space has brought people together like never before.  We've seen people come together for an incredible variety of reasons over the last couple decades, all thanks to the simplicity and ease-of-use made possible through the internet.   Hell, some of you wouldn't even know what I'm thinking without the internet!  And as for liberation, well, do I need to spell it out?  The freedoms of speech, assembly, etc. have never been more practiced and expressed.  You can literally say whatever you want on the internet to spark a discussion or engage with whoever you want.  It's what I do on this very blog, and it's what each of you does by exercising your right to read it.  It's unregulated, it's unmonitored (mostly) and it's a magnificent tool for expressing yourself.  And therein lay the tragedy.

If you think back to my opening statement, you'll recall that I have observed a pattern endemic to these kinds of massive unification and liberation movements that I find distasteful.  Well, let's not mince words; it's outright infuriating.  See, as wonderful as these various moments in history were (and still are), there has been another consequence of their happening that seems to occur without fail: the emergence of a small, but very VERY vocal minority who abuse their new-found (and even deserved) liberation by using it as a tool of oppression. In each case I mentioned, an otherwise noble and necessary undertaking has been made the bludgeon of a few very insecure, attention-hungry fools who are ruining the good name of their cause. 

Not long after Independence, a war began in the US that took the idea of "free and independent states" to its logical extreme when the once-unified country split down the middle over a dispute about how far freedom could extend.  Obviously I'm oversimplifying, but the basic idea is that the Civil War was largely a byproduct of an over-politicized notion of freedom as expressed by various constituents of the newly liberated country.  And once the union did finally get over its disagreement, the halves remained loud and proud about their respective "sides" during the war to the point where, to this day, people proclaim that the Confederacy was the home of "real" patriotism and the Union was full of "elitists".  Pathetic. 

Now look at Women's Liberation and Civil Rights.  Both were incredibly powerful movements that were desperately needed in the "Land of the Free".  That melanin-content could be a reason to discriminate or that an entire half of the population of the world was inferior simply for having different genitalia was and is unconscionable in a country that touts "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" as its mantra.  Everyone who took up those banners and declared themselves a proponent of equal rights for women and minorities was right to do so.  But look what a few of those same people have managed to do to their cause: Too many minorities have decided that their original state of oppression entitled them to simply "blame whites" for their unfortunate circumstance rather than take responsibility for their lives in an age where they have some (albeit imperfect) equality.  Too many women have decided that their oppression entitled them to "blame men" for their tribulations regardless of the situation.  The result: both Civil Rights and Feminism are viewed in certain circles as, at best, a joke, and at worst, a hammer to strike down any voice of dissent that comes from a non-minority or non-female voice.  This is not what Civil Rights and Feminism were or are about.  This is simply UNACCEPTABLE.

We're running long again, so let's return to the internet with all this in mind and finally get to the point of all this.  In short, this is happening again.  The internet is a magnificent tool by its design and has untapped potential to bring us together in more ways than could have been imagined even 30 years ago.  In many ways, it already has.  Anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or even general forums and blogs has witnessed this capacity and its ubiquity.  But what have some of us chosen to do with this?  They use the anonymity and slang (often dubbed "Netspeak") as a means of excluding the people who "just don't get it" or who haven't decided to marinate themselves completely in the culture and rituals of the internet.  They use it as a tool for spewing hate-speech of all kinds at people who can't "fight back" simply by virtue of not being in the same room.  They've used the lack of consequences as a license to ignore even the most basic rules of courtesy.  These behaviors are tainting the genuine greatness of this medium and giving a false impression of the wonderful communities it makes possible.  And for what?  So a few 12-year-olds (even if they're 35) can vent their insecurities at will? This cannot be allowed to stand. 

I love the internet and what it can do.  I'm a proud proponent of a free and open internet and I will fight against any who tell me that it needs to be chained and restricted.  But the flip-side to that is that we must take responsibility for our community.  We must prove that we deserve this freedom. These people who have used it as a platform for hatred and exclusivist behavior should no longer be tolerated.  The right to speak does not grant you the right to be heard, nor does it give you the right to impose your "freedom" on the freedom of others.

Like any problem, this one will not go away if the good people of the world choose to do nothing.  I'm tired of seeing people shamed on forums simply for not "knowing" something they're "supposed" to know.  I'm fed up with hearing about the hate poured on people just for having a dissenting opinion.  But, most of all, I'm sick of seeing a tool for unification and liberation being used as a means of excluding those who don't kneel before its alter and submit to the iron-fisted rule of the people with the loudest megaphone. 

If anything I've said has ever motivated you to do something new, please let it be this: Do not stand for this behavior anymore.  Refuse to play by the rules of those who don't even understand them.  Do not let what should be the greatest melting pot on Earth turn into a stagnant sewer.  Help us all make the internet the inclusive "miracle" the world so desperately needs now.

I'm Trevor, and that's my Frame of Mind.

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