Imagine this scenario: you and a friend are in a new town and you visit a pub. The place goes silent as you walk in. It’s full of Neo-Nazis; there’s a massive Nazi flag behind the bar; old-style skinheads straighten up from the pool table, hefting their cues. The barman says, “We don’t serve P***s/ N*****s/Faggots/Paddies [take your pick] in here.”
You pause for a moment, weighing up your options. Then you look the barman in the eye and you say, calmly and deliberately, “Fuck You.”
A glorious reaction.
And then they kick you to death. Or, at least, half to death.
I’ve given you a flippant scenario: melodramatic and filmic, but all around the world people are beaten, hospitalised, even killed for being, in some way, the wrong race at the wrong time. You’ve got to be careful. Far from being heroic, the reality could be permanent damage, crippling pain and fear and humiliation, cursing yourself for being such a reckless moron; at worst, lonely terror as the last blackness envelopes you, bereavement and grief; never to see friends, parents, children again; never to achieve your goals, or even to see another sunrise touch the treetops outside your bedroom window.
My problem is that I cannot shake out of my head the notion that this would be a glorious, heroic thing to say – the indomitable spirit, all that Invictus shit: a feeling of elation at that moment of defiance.
I think this is because we have been so thoroughly convinced of the rightness of self-expression, as part of our eudemonic aspirations, that we have forgotten that just because something feels satisfying to say, doesn’t mean it is the right thing to say.
Appropriately, it feels wrong to state this, but that is evidence of how deeply we have been brainwashed by the cult of individuality.
This has wide-ranging implications for how we conduct ourselves in all sorts of situations, especially in the arena of the internet. There, all aspects of consumerist individualism are amplified, and silly, immature posturing (as I imagined above) is actively encouraged. If it feels satisfying, it is good and right, we are told. We are “speaking truth to power”, even though the trolls we are challenging are insignificant little gobshites, driven by a rage of impotence. It is “our truth” and we must express our truth, no matter how intolerant and mean-spirited, because self-establishment is the purpose of life.