Yes, the Internet is where stupidity lives, but I believe that the greater problem is how the Internet perpetuates impersonal anger. Although the classic examples of unorganized Facebook rants and mean YouTube comments still hold true, I believe the Internet has evolved. There are now forums where people can express their bitterness at society, and although I believe that bluntness is lacking in our interpersonal communication with others, I see this bitterness as incredibly counterproductive. I see this bitterness as upholding a new standard of extremism that causes people to ignore the valid points being made on the Internet. In this article, I will focus on the Social Justice Warriors of Tumblr and how, well their ideas may not be extreme, the way they execute their agenda by simply telling people they are wrong without any explanation constructs a cyclical Internet culture where anger creates more anger.
I first learned about Social Justice Warriors when a girl I knew from high school started posting their agenda on her Facebook page. One of the posts she re-blogged that made me both amused, confused, and incredibly bemused was, “Don’t call yourself a misandrist if you are not opposed to trans men as much as cis men…under patriarchy all men are the enemy.” Seriously! How is this productive? How does this make me want to support their cause? Yes, it makes me uncomfortable, which was probably the point, but it also makes me see them as pretentious people who, instead of actually listening to what others have to say, angrily banter on the Internet discussing whom to hate. I may be idealistic, but progress is about creating more understanding, not more hatred.
I don’t think I have the right to tell people what to be offended by, but I do believe that just because you are offended by something doesn’t mean you need to ignore the opposing view. I know how difficult and unfair this sounds, but it’s the cold, hard truth. In order to actually change the racist, sexist, classist mentality of our society we need to construct delicate change. By calling people racist, sexist, and/or classist, we are putting them on the defense. By putting them on the defense, we are strengthening their discomfort with progress and causing them to organize amongst themselves. This just breeds extremism on both ends of the spectrum.
I’m not a social scientist, but I see places of discussion and learning like Carleton recent production of The Vagina Monologues as being very productive places of progress.
This production explained women’s anger with our patriarchal society. Instead of just calling men sexist, there was an explanation behind this mentality. Now, it wasn’t a short program. It was around 2 hours long. I think this shows the true problem with the Internet. People have such short attention spans that calling people racist, sexist, and/or classist without an explanation causes people to pay attention. Certain words just hold more power. However, just saying these worlds and acknowledging their presence in society is not enough. People know that these forms of inequality exist, but they either don’t want to or don’t know how to change. We can’t do anything about people who don’t want to change, but we can educate people who genuinely aren’t aware of how their words and actions perpetuate inequality. We also need to form our own ideas of what is right and wrong. Simply saying you are “progressive” doesn’t meant anything if you haven’t challenged your inner-biases. Saying you hate Fox News and Bill O’Reilly isn’t productive, especially if you don’t know why you hate them. Yes, extremism can have a liberal bias as well. My challenge to everyone reading this article (a challenge I will partake in as well) is to discuss controversial, sensitive topics with those around you. If interpersonal discussions on these topics don’t take place, I’m afraid the Internet’s toxic environment will spread to our everyday lives.