I know I’m always banging on about the correlation between the rise of Social Justice movements and the rise of divisions, hostilities and persecution in our societies, but I’m afraid you’re about to be subjected to some more!
For decades, for centuries even, courageous and independent minded people have striven to correct inequality and injustice in our societies. In doing so, they have addressed the prejudice that both underpins, and is a result of, such discrimination.
Many of their legal battles have been won, and much new legislation (technically) protects the rights of the more vulnerable among us. Along with this, there was a marked decline in overt prejudice and discrimination, and a precipitous decline in its acceptability. The universal and indignant condemnation of prejudice expressed by young people is a testament to the success of those earlier pioneers. The war has not been won, however, although the front line has been pushed forwards from the laws and conventions of the country into the realm of personal attitudes.
The internet, especially social media, has established a monopoly as the sole theatre of this new conflict, and as the forum for its debates.
This should not surprise us. The internet is the largest meeting place of minds that the human world has ever known. That means it is also the largest market-place for ideas and for presenting yourself. Changing people’s attitudes involves dealing with their interior world. It means criticising their character and altering their private thoughts, which are the fundamentals of their identity. What better place for this attempt?
However, the internet is also the church of isolated individualism and solipsism. Its gospels are the testaments of self-assertion; its theology that of self-realisation; its saints the disadvantaged and thus blameless; and its blasphemous heretics who must be burned, are any who question, in any way, the truth of any statements made by the faithful. Its blessings (in common with most religions) include the fact that you do not have to consider the victims of your hatred and cruelties as real people because they are not true believers. And, in the internet’s case, you will never meet them.
But religions create their own demons and fears. The internet is plagued by anxieties born of uncertainty and suspicion. We are so isolated from each other that everything and everyone online is un-knowable, hidden behind screens of typed graphemes. It is impossible to verify the truth because you do not share contexts: personal, physical, cultural, social or historical. Everything is unreliable – fluid and protean. There is such loneliness behind all the international contact.
It was probably inevitable that internet users would end up sitting alone in their bedrooms, worshipping at the shrine of their own feelings. It was also probably inevitable that a medium of such abstraction from real life, and thus such uncertainty, and that relies so much on self-referential data and reading, would develop a sort of half-baked, semi-intellectual culture of rumour, half-knowing and quarter understanding, of mis-remembered statistics and misapplied truths.