People in western democratic nations are deeply conditioned to believe in the value and equality of each individual human being.
As a result, we are convinced that self-development is the highest possible good and purpose in life.
But, in this era of internet-mediated self-expression, where truth and proof are unobtainable, you are what you say you are. Self-development now consists of making statements of your values and claiming your eudemonic aspirations as achievements.
These unfalsifiable claims can be made with such ease that they leave us unconvinced and suspicious of each other, but also, most importantly, of ourselves. We know that what we are saying about ourselves isn’t quite true. It’s how we want to be seen. The sense of falsity and fragility in our online personas worsens the crises of identity we all feel as we try to construct ourselves.
Internet users seem particularly prone to such angst, as the sheer volume of voices online leads, ironically, to the anonymity of nearly everyone. How can we gain the recognition we all crave without exaggerating our claims?
We have become particularly dependent on validatory feedback from our online communities and particularly vulnerable to accusations of being hypocritical, or not staying true to our common beliefs, of not being who we say we are and being abandoned, in disgust, by our people.
It is in this environment that social justice movements have prospered. Precisely because our societies venerate egalitarian principles, we all want to be considered liberal and unprejudiced. Having those characteristics is what makes you a good and valuable member of our societies.
Accusations to the contrary have enormous power, especially now, when the vast arenas of the internet have amplified public shaming and humiliation beyond our wildest nightmares. Harnessing the power of mass condemnation must be truly intoxicating. Even governments and big business, both concerned with demographics, have to take note.
Accusations of racism are even more potent as previous generations of social justice campaigners managed to make the term “racist” extremely insulting without addressing the underlying causes of racial inequality and the assumptions that form around these disparities.
In this atmosphere, accusations are devastating acts of existential destruction. Digital citizens will do anything to disassociate themselves from peers who have been so accused, and will indulge in the most flagrant virtue-signalling to get themselves out of danger. If millions of people feel they have to buy into your moral and cultural pronouncements, just to prove they aren’t worthless, you will wield an enormous amount of power.