A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I’m a coward. I’m scared of the mob.
One of the problems with observing our modern world is you spend most of your life in fear. This comes from having an opinion and voicing it outside the comfy confines of your own head. It’s a truism in the 21st century that, whenever you say anything about anything, you’re going to piss off somebody. Most people get all free-speech-macho about this, but when push comes to shove, everybody knows that our society is unforgiving around unguarded opinions. More importantly, when the mob turns against you, you’re punished severely. This is why we’ll never produce a contemporary Mark Twain: the consequences of unedited thoughts, in today’s world, are just too dangerous. Far better to be momentarily safe than monumentally sorry. Thus, people with pens tend to stick to the road most travelled. Unfortunately, that road is crowded with dumbass clichés. Future anthropologists who attempt to piece together our society from the mountain of evidence we’re going to leave behind will conclude we had an unholy obsession with heterosexual white men. They are the nominated villains of our time, so naturally the record will read like a bad John Grisham novel. It’s a sorry state, I suppose, but it beats the hell out of our world according to Suzanne Collins and E. L. James!
Actually, there’s no real problem with history recording our time as the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool. None of us are going to be around to be embarrassed by it anyway. Nor do we have to worry about future chroniclers calling us cultural cowards. They won’t be the slightest bit interested in our existence. After all, you get historical ink from speaking up, not lying down.
The thing that burns the bacon, however, is that having set the table for a vigorous and dynamic dialogue, we’re now scared skinny of the food fight it might create. Just look around: we have a mostly educated public with the information of the ages at their fingertips (literally.) We’ve cracked open the Old Boys’ Club and now have instant access to all manner of ideas from everywhere and everyone. Furthermore, we live in a free society, where (for the most part) the rule of law gives free range to these ideas. Life is good, right? Wrong! The first thing we did with this intellectual banquet was set dietary restrictions. Not to beat the metaphor to death, we’ve populated our world with so many sacred cows that, in the land of intellectual plenty, we’re starving to death.
It used to be that the only thing that governed public discourse was civility. There was decorum in our discussion. For example, we didn’t call each other names – like alt-right asshat and snowflake libtard. Perhaps certain subjects were handled delicately, but there was never any thought that they should be avoided. In fact, it was a matter of honour to shine light into the darker parts of our society – distasteful or not.
These days, those days are over. We have more conversational taboos than a tribe of Borneo headhunters. (No offence, headhunters!) There are a ton of subjects in our world that are simply no longer open for discussion. Some of them I can’t even name in these pages without hollering up a verbal lynch mob. In the past few years, this list has expanded exponentially. Soon the only subjects anyone will feel comfortable commenting on will be Donald Trump’s infidelities and the zombie apocalypse.
People like me, who know enough about history to understand what the mob is capable of, are cowards at heart. It’s one thing to go Vaclav Havel on the powers that be and strike out against censorship and oppression. After all, history shows us that eventually the pen is mightier than the sword. However, it’s quite another to stand alone in front of a self-righteous mob of social media trolls who are gathering the torches for a good old-fashioned Twitter roast.
In these troubled times, I do not fear the endless apparatus of the omnipotent state. It’s the Eagerly Offended anarchy of social media that scares the crap out of me.
Full Disclosure: I originally wrote this is 2013 but had to do some editing because things have gotten a lot worse in 5 years.