Disagreeing with Muscle-Bound Apes

My father used to sing a song that went like this:

            “Two Lovely Black Eyes – 

            O! What a surprise!

            Only for telling a man he was wrong –

            Two lovely black eyes.”

The joke wasn’t on the ape who did the punching, but on the indignant, self-righteous creep who got punched. The nasty, morally-superior little bollocks got exactly what he deserved[1]. That was the problem with disagreeing with people face to face! 

Lockdown has reminded us that there is no substitute for the physical presence of another individual, if you want to communicate. Humans have spent millennia becoming attuned to each other’s unspoken signals and cues – body language, half-smiles; eye-line. A look of surprise and confusion can inhibit our most undignified childish tantrums. 

That friction and dismay is profoundly unpleasant, although, being profound, we may not be consciously aware of how much we dislike it. Adjusting for it is part of what makes us members of a community, rather than a collection of atomised individuals, tormented by their isolation. Another part is putting up with each other’s insensitive bullshit. 

The young, in all their glorious solipsism, can tune out the distress emanating from their companions. They can view them merely as opponents, revel in the excitement of furious political debate, and triumph in their defeat. But this begins to pale as you get older. It becomes exhausting and upsetting. Or you become aware that it always has been. 

Now, however, social media insulates both trolls and activists from all that because they no longer meet the people they disagree with. Not only are they physically safe, they are protected from the anger of those they attack and insult by their translation into pixels and graphemes. Trolls and activists[2] can be incredibly rude without fear of the consequences. They can destroy an opponent and walk away without ever having to acknowledge their dismay and wounded resentment. They no longer have to grow up. 

The internet fosters a lonely, childish misanthropic solipsism.


[1] This reminds me of the old joke: “What do you call a guerrilla/ gorilla/ terrorist with a gun?” “Sir”. Similar point.

[2] Act-trolls? Tractivitists? 

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