Lots of people who were around before the advent of the World Wide Web blame the Internet for the apparent decline in people’s respect for one another in the past 25 or so years. They imagine that the ability to remain anonymous, the tendency of people on social media to form thought-bubbles, and even Donald Trump’s Twitter account have made inroads on people’s sense of honor and dignity.
I’m an optimist, so I accept that little has changed since I was a kid, and that in any society, most people are dishonest, uninformed, corrupt, incompetent, and self-serving by default and to varying degrees at different times. This has always been true and always will be until the warm, although admittedly abrupt, embrace of a multitude of glorious mushroom clouds erases us all in a giddy thermonuclear rapture.
Many of the people we tend to see as good aren’t manifesting their truest impulses; they’re suppressing them. They are able to do this more effectively than everyday louts, thieves, rascals, cretins, and gropers, and they nurture this often unnatural behavior in themselves because it minimizes their own discomfort.
In all but a very few cases, people like me who discarded the idea of having kids early on are just taking up space in the biosphere, producing nothing of value with the idea being to stay amused while creating as little additional worldly harm as possible until the final buzzer sounds.
People who do have kids manifest something of a paradox. By introducing more emotionally fragile and self-aware creatures into the mix, they are by definition guaranteeing that the world will include more misery than it would had they properly governed their genitals. On the other hand, good parents don’t want kids who grow up to be just like them or others around them, because they realize that most of us could stand to improve by a factor of about ten before we should even be allowed in public. They want their kids to be better than they are. This is noble and exhausting, but also largely futile, because the raw materials are wanting.
Blaming the Web for the offensive things people write is like blaming the human larynx for the offensive things people say. At the same time, I have allowed my own standards to erode. Watching people sincerely call for decency in the very same threads in which they glorify a pugnacious and stammering insult-factory has been the last straw for me. People like these deserve to be rebuked for that kind of astonishing hypocrisy. I got into it last night quite unnecessarily with a cadre of squawking Trumpists who in the end expressed considerable ire and dismay at my profligate use of terms like hillbillies and waddling NASCAR fans, which were not directed at anyone present. I even announced that I was doing this because I was following the President’s example of telling it like it is. Of course, their support of “honestly” only applies when the insults are aimed at certain pockets of humanity.
Place two people a given distance apart and offer them a means through which to interact, and more often than not, one or both of them will emerge with a greater burden of disappointment and disillusionment than before. It doesn’t matter is the conduit is two feet of space on an airplane, an Internet connection, a telephone, or a series of written or typed letters. The exchange doesn’t have to be severe or chaotic, and the letdown it doesn’t have to be immediate. But the odds favor it happening. (Note that I am not writing off friends or friendships. “Most” and “more often than not” are not the same as “everyone.” Even if only 10 percent of the people you encounter are worth keeping in your orbit, that’s still a lot of people. I myself even have close friends, which I suppose is just one more point in the dataset of humans who lack insight.)
Imagine how awful it would be if the shit-cherry on top of the curdled-milk sundae of life proposed in religions were real — that there actually was a Heaven from which we would all have to observe this ongoing pitiful circus for eternity. Billions of mouth-breathers sitting in our celestial luxury boxes, arms linked, listening to a ceaseless dubstep track rich in harps and watching the people below screw things up and suffer over and over and over in an endless manic loop, all of them courageously clinging to the illusion of their own competence and worth.
(I’m considering including this in my church sermon tomorrow, so suggestions are welcome, even the dumb ones.)