I’m Scared Of The Mob (2018)

I’m a coward.  I’m scared of the mob.

Social Media
Carolyn Bourcier 

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.

There’s Gold In Them Thar Phobias

protestIn the 21st century, grievance is a growth industry — worth billions — and activists are the new entrepreneurs.  All hail the post-industrial economy!  However, milking White Privilege has become such a cash cow that’s it’s getting very crowded at the high end of the social justice and awareness trough.  To put it bluntly, there are only so many dollars Western society is willing to pay to ease its liberal guilt.  So in order to survive, activists are beginning to specialize.

For example, generic “anti-discrimination” branding simply doesn’t work anymore.  It’s too vague.  It’s got too many syllables, too many letters, too much going on, too many things to think about.  It just isn’t sexy.  It smells like pro bono law students and low-rent housing.  Sting and Susan Sarandon are never going to show up to raise awareness (read: money) for “anti-discrimination.”  However, rebrand it as, say, Anti-Islamophobia  — and now you’ve got something a creative activist can sink his (or her) fangs into.

First of all, adding somebody else’s religion to your cause is always a good idea* because everybody knows that only fascists and assholes are against freedom of religion.  So not only do you prove you stand for tolerance and diversity, you’ve also designated your opponents fascists and assholes.  Clearly, a twofer.
*except Christianity — Social Justice Warriors hate Christianity the way Satan hates the wafer.

Two, ya got the whole “phobia” thing going on.  We’ve been programmed from childhood to distrust phobias.  They are, after all, an irrational fear of things like spiders, #13, closed spaces, etc., etc. and people spend years in therapy, trying to get rid of them.  Thus, in one fell swoop, you’ve  declared that anyone who disagrees with you has a serious psychological disorder.  They’re not just voicing a different opinion — they’re sick.

But, I’ve saved the very best for last:

Ya want sexy?  Nothing feeds middle class imaginations like the tale of the helpless victim being rescued by the powerful hero.  This is the stuff Scheherazade and Disney built their careers on: the psychological territory that bodice ripper novels and Michael Moore documentaries are made of — and it runs deep, deep, deep in our subconscious.  So if you want to get into the worthy cause business, the formula is simple: identify a metaphorical damsel in distress, market a rescue mission and people will pay you big bucks for the privilege of being part of it.  Why?  Because, stereotypical or not, The Rescue is a very, very powerful sexual fantasy (on all sides of the gender equation) and people, especially here in the 21st century, desperately want to feel sexy.

Hivemind: It’s No Coincidence

hivemind1I don’t believe in coincidences.  They are the transparent devices of CSI (in its many incarnations) and bad mystery novels.  Over the years, I’ve found that when random acts are connected for no apparent reason, there’s usually a reason.  That’s not to say that I think our lives are preplanned by three beautiful maidens casually spinning and snipping yarn.  However, I do believe that there are way more patterns to life than we’re willing to admit.  Coincidences are just those patterns boiling to the surface.  Let me demonstrate.

In the last 24 hours, I’ve had three different techno conversations with three distinctly different people.  (FYI, two of them were with people less cyber-savvy than me.)  I did not initiate these conversations nor were they planned in any way.  Yet, all three, although totally unrelated, somehow ended up scolding social media for discouraging dissidence and promoting groupthink and behaviour.  No big deal, right?  Social media is a popular topic, and these days, it’s catching the blame for everything from childhood obesity to the assassination of Mohandas K. Gandhi.  However, think about it.  What are the chances?  Three unconnected conversations come up with a consensus — the straightjacket of groupthink — when that very consensus is an unwitting demonstration of groupthink itself.  Irony, yes; coincidence, no — because here’s the hot fudge on that ice cream sundae.  In each of the conversations, the person I was talking to (texting, in one case) used the term “hivemind.”  I realize “hivemind” is a perfectly acceptable internetism, but again, what are the chances?  Especially when two of the three conversationalists shouldn’t  even know the word, let alone what it means.  The laws of anti-chance simply don’t allow for this kind of randomness.

So if this isn’t just a coincidence (which it isn’t) what pattern are we seeing?  The obvious one is that people are concerned that social media promotes groupthink or the “hivemind.”  D’uh!  Take a look!  After you’ve been “awesome” and “amazing” on Facebook, the only other thing you can do is “Like” or “Share.”  There’s no icon for “Bugger off!”  The mere fact that people are mentioning “hivemind” in conversation tells us that, beyond the constant hype that social media is an eclectic gathering of all ideas — a virtual Classical Athens, if you will — there’s an uncomfortable awareness that this might not be strictly true.  People are beginning to worry that our cyber-social world is actually just an assortment of techno rich primitive tribes.  The concern is we are simply digital Cro-Magnons gathered around our backlit campfires with other members of our own group, who, by selection, share our values, opinions and ideas: no others need apply.

This is not a problem in itself.  Generally, like our heavy-browed ancestors, we prefer the security of the clan.  People have alwayshivemind been willing to adhere to the restrictive nature of a group (even a virtual one) in exchange for its safety.  Unfortunately, the by product of this adherence is a suspension of our individual egos to conform to the socio-ego of the tribe.  People are uneasy about this kind of subordination, even if they don’t fully understand it.  That’s why it’s coming up in unrelated conversations.

It’s no coincidence that I was told by three different people, in rapid succession, that social media is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Nor is it happenstance that they all agreed that the monolithic socio-ego of things like Facebook and Twitter are overpowering mere individuals.  The problem is they all used the same terminology – “hivemind.”  And that was no coincidence, either.