According to modern Western values, meaning and purpose in life are located within the individual. Social-media promotes the idea that self-actualisation is the goal of life, which leads people to respond to terrible crimes by recounting their own experience of everyday racism and sexism. A vague knowledge of various speculative and generalising social theories, has convinced them that such minor incidents are gateway or enabling behaviours and are thus relevant, so it is not inappropriate to connect somebody touching your hair with the killing of George Floyd, or, in response to the killing of Sarah Everard, to point out that you have encountered some unwanted sexual attention at work. It is starting a conversation about racism and sexism. In fact, to suggest it is inappropriate is probably just a way of protecting the racist patriarchy.
Meanwhile, a belief in the virtue of democracy, just because it’s democracy, drives activists to recruit as many people as possible to their cause because the sheer size of the movement will justify their positions.
Slogans such as, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” encourage everybody to get involved in the campaign, and suggest that if you can’t be bothered, or are too intimidated, to challenge every single example of bias, you are betraying your comrades and, crucially, yourselves. Not to stand up against racism, or to doubt the truth of any of the central tenets of the movement, is heresy. You are denying your own identity as an oppressed people of colour or an LGBTQ person, or whatever.
This is an internet age of atomised, international connectivity, made worse by Covid lockdown. In the past, community was an accident of geography. Your people were whatever bunch of bastards you had the misfortune to be living next to. the fact that half of them were embarrassing blood- relatives only made it worse. But you had to learn to put up with their shit.
Nowadays, community is an active decision – a declaration of loyalty. You can view your neighbours with naked hostility and still feel you belong, as long as you keep the faith.
This keeps everybody in line, because, as The Secret Barrister has pointed out, “We are yet to find a society that does not have rules surrounding the behaviour of its members and sanctions for their transgression. Agreeing social imperatives and taboos, and enforcing them through shunning, appears to be instinctual behaviour in primates.” Being a member of a subversive organisation demands a particularly strict form of conformism.
Social-media, the field upon which these battles take place, fosters extreme and confrontational behaviours, because it protects its participants from harm, while it’s algorithms feed their biases and deny them access to alternative views.
 The Secret Barrister, P7, 2019, London: Picador