We have been taught, by our Enlightened Liberal forebears, to value the individual. The internet has sold itself on its ability to give voice and value to every single user. This is what makes it egalitarian. Internet engineers and Social Media platform designers, with their talk of disruptors and hackers, have promoted their wares as being demotic grass-roots products, used by rebellious and anarchic individualists, who thumb their noses at faceless conformity. Each follower of a campaign, subscriber or contributor, each like, is a singular mind, drawn to the internet because it values their individualism, and for its potential for self-expression.
The strongest mode of internet self-expression appears to be indignation. Perhaps users need the sharpness of its venom to penetrate the barriers that isolate us. The ghostly, uncertainty of the internet, where the very existence of your companions is doubtful (1), is no substitute for the physical presence of another living human being.
In any case, users revel in their ability to challenge and confront in safety, and the leaders of political movements like to harness this energy. Invariably their projects are focussed on condemning affronts to that core ethic – the inalienable right to be valued equally as a unique, singular identity.
But we have been connected to millions of people – a literally inconceivable, brain-dazzling number of separate consciousnesses.
Certainly, that’s a great asset to internet-based campaigns. They can rely on this connectivity to generate truly enormous, powerful mass movements with little effort. To harness the power of the mob, campaigners identify an oppressed section of society which is being discriminated against by a prejudiced majority or ruling elite. It is an unusual crusade that gains traction by fighting for the rights of one specific bloke in one specific situation: “End Discrimination By Ursula Against Brian!”
However, because we’re unable to hold such variety, such plurality in mind, have resorted, once again, to generalisation, to typifying. This is hard-wired into our primitive brains, one of our ancestors’ most effective survival traits (2). Once again, we have started identifying groups or types of people and then treating them as if they were a single person, moving, thinking and speaking as one. This allows us to employ traditional, graspable narratives (“A wrongs B. B deserves retribution”) to make sense of the world.
So we arrive, once again, at tribalism.
(1) Are they telling you the truth? Are they who they say they are? Are they a bot?
(2) The “once bitten, twice shy” technique that allowed us to predict future threats and thus avoid repeatedly poisoning ourselves or wandering, repeatedly, into the Hell-Pig’s lair.