There is an ageless question about what makes people in a group become tyrants and intolerant savages when you know that, as individuals, they give every appearance of being bright, articulate and rational.
Some of the finest minds in the known universe have struggled with this apparent paradox, but have not come to any stunning insights on the dynamics that turn ap0parently reasonable people into dictatorial thought police.
Just check out the idiocies and intolerances immediately evident on any social network. Not just now, but ever since chat rooms and interest forums have existed.
Doing that appears to offer up powerful evidence that rationality is in full retreat across the Western world. The most imbecilic demands that entirely ludicrous propositions be met not only with respect, but an absence of rational critique, abound everywhere.
In itself that should not be surprising in terms of the usual crazy shit like flat earth theories, US mainstream politics, European fringe politics, and zealotry of every shade, but also some that is not even visible in the electromagnetic spectrum (without special ‘moron’ goggles).
The really worrying stuff comes in the guise of ‘consensus’ acceptable ‘ranges’ of opinion and thought. Like those which emerge from a self-regulating Google Plus ‘community’.
It seems that in any group of three or more people, there is an immediate drive to establish rules and punishments for infractions against rules that don’t yet exist, and transgressions that have not yet occurred. It’s pretty clear that there’s an unhealthy paranoia attached to any social impulse these days, and an expectation that ‘rules’ WILL be breached (still well before there are any to breach) so we MUST man the barricades NOW to stop that from ever happening.
In this blind, self-righteous rush to prevent every possible transgression imaginable, it emerges that the people driving the creation of rules are not really looking for the ‘safety’ and absence of ‘malice’ and ‘trolling’ they use as justifications for the laws they want to enact. What they really want is a guarantee that no one in the group will be permitted to disagree with them, or at least with a ‘consensus’ view noisily proclaimed by a small busy-body, self-elected elite as THE STANDARD to be followed.
That is not enough, however. Even if no breaches of the newly established holy commandments ensue, their existence means that they MUST be exercised, which requires the fabrication of malefaction and ‘perpetrators’, including the confection of victimhood and harm where none actually exist.
I have seen this very imperative take root and infect the rationality of otherwise bright and engaging people online. Once the zealous rule-machine gains just two or three really shrill, self-righteously censorious voices, people just don’t want to say: ‘Hey, stop it. What you’re doing is infinitely more odious than what you’re complaining about.’
And so, we have communities that require you pass tests before being allowed to join, like the lobotomising ritual that you read this, that, and yet another ‘FAQ’ (styled on the notoriously readable software licenses everybody skips but clicks as having read and agreed to). It’s almost certain that anyone who agrees to do this just to join a chat group is going to be the same kind of arsehole who could conceive of such a system to be necessary or advisable in the first place.
Perhaps the worst of all online absolutisms comes from nerdy, technocrat determinists who insists that the certainties of mathematics apply also to human beings. But that’s not enough. More than the moronic certainty that mathematical determinism applies to human behaviours, means and ends, it must be MADE to apply by DEMANDING subservience to a set of rules that is then devised and imposed by said nerds. So these self-appointed evangelicals of ‘science’ hound everyone who thinks the humanities and arts have something to say about the human condition, and endlessly quote really stupid Star Trek witticisms (ie, not witty at all), to ‘correct’ people who are actually a fair bit smarter than they are.
Marginally less odious are the religious urges, which are actually far more common online with secular religions, particularly politically correct ones. These can range from insistence on demonising anyone who uses particular words to crusades against people found guilty of having ‘offended’ the delicate feelings of some of the countless fragile professional victims, who need to say no more than they feel offended for that then to become the incontrovertible truth of the matter, regardless of whether such offence was intended, executed, or could be even remotely read into complained of words or images.
The overtly deistic stuff is still pretty obnoxious, with continuing demands that it be taken seriously, as if rationality were something to be negotiated away. A recent comment I saw arguing ‘I am a Christian, but I can discuss my religion like a serious adult’ made me cringe about the imperviousness of this guy to his own ignorance: starting with the premiss that you freely admit you adhere to an infantile Bronze Age superstition, how is it possible to treat you seriously, let alone as a responsible adult? It’s almost like saying: ‘I know I’m crazy, but let’s be serious in discussing the truth of my delusions.’
And then there are the sub-religious politically deluded space kidettes, who just KNOW that their take on issues and people is just so much more insightful and accurate than anyone else’s, even as they discuss issues from the towering height of baseless ignorance, lovingly nurtured by family, friends or milieu in which such ideas have currency, and in which the facts never get in the way of rhetorical reinforcement of existing prejudices. A bit like the Victorian Labor Left or Greens Party (in Australia).
Well, a pox on all their houses, I say, for their crypto-fascist impulses. Like an entirely new generation of little jackbooted storm-troopers they go merrily forth into the ether to spread the gospel of intolerance, ignorance, and the self-righteousness of the truly stupid, all the while undermining the strength and vitality of Western liberal democracy.
You will see them any time you come across those cringeworthy, meaningless words like ‘inappropriate’, or ‘uncalled for’, or ‘unhelpful’, or, indeed ‘offensive’ as if the mere act of uttering such nonsense negates rationality or alters the meaning of the words or images being complained of to MAKE them unacceptable by some miraculous transformation of malice and sado-masochistic desire alone.
At first, following my own instinctive prejudice about such matters, I was inclined to conclude this was an American social trend, announced and made obvious in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Miller’s Crucible, and the HUAC disgrace of the 1940s and ‘50s. A sort of deep seated group mind-fuck that necessitates occasional mass hysteria, followed immediately by a kind of ‘cleansing’, sadistic torture-murder of heretics, realised concretely in the purging of witches, communists or the politically incorrect, where none ever really existed, but where expedient victims were found and convicted on maliciously fabricated evidence.
But no, the impulse seems to be every bit as powerful in Canadians, Brits, continental Europeans, and, most disappointingly, Aussies, even though I already knew that Canberra is is full of hysterically proselytising politically correct, imbecilic, anti-intellectual zealots and would-be tyrants.
Perhaps just as bad as the zealots who drive the witch-hunts and make the thought control demands are the silent bystanders, who say and do nothing to oppose or calm the hysterical lynch mobs, but I guess none of this kind of totalitarianism would ever succeed without such collaborators. A pox on their houses too.
This, then, ladies and gentlemen, is the online thought police you have all seen here and there. Resist them wherever you come across them. They are a scourge worse than the most deluded of fools who will earnestly convince you Wall Street is populated with saints or that Collingwood is the greatest football team in history.
Good night and good luck.