- Since the Enlightenment, the western world has celebrated the individual. All humans are of equal worth irrespective of ethnicity, gender, social standing or belief, because the human spirit is made of the same priceless substance in everyone. Despite the variations in its fleshy caskets, despite our different smarts, the flame of individual consciousness burns as brightly in all of us.
- The decline of religion has left us with the development of the self as the highest good; identity has become our masterpiece and prized possession.
- The designers of the internet believed in these Classical Liberal ideas – individuality, egalitarianism, freedom from constraint, fundamental human rights, the virtue of development and self-actualisation.
- The levelling, demotic forum of the internet is the individual’s playground. It provides all with freedom of speech, equal opportunities for self-expression, and ready-made audiences and communities. Its anonymity provides us with opportunities for experiments in self-assertion and self-invention because nobody can gainsay our claims.
- But the freedom to say anything allows not only blistering honesty, but poisonous cruelty, exposure to vile things.
- Enabled by anonymity, some users weaponise freedom of speech. They revel in the power their words can have to wound. They seek out the most hurtful things to say. Most online racists don’t seem driven by a sincere ideological belief in their racial superiority. Most seem to have low self-esteem, but they know that, if their victims are from ethnic minority groups, they will be sensitive to racist attacks .
- This is a lawless frontier. Only you can defend yourself, using the weapons to hand: words. The power of these weapons is felt in their emotional impact, their fury, how hurtful they are,
- so you end up “giving as good as you get”. Interactions degenerate into a series of invective drive-bys; exchanges of verbal gunfire, where your prowess is your ability to hurt and humiliate as quickly as possible.
- In these nasty, highly personal slanging matches, where everyone sounds equally unpleasant, how do you justify yourself? How do you demonstrate that you are the good guy?
- Well, you try to establish that your opponent is an internet heretic. If they have offended against Liberal principles – the acceptance of all people, the right of all views to be respected –, then what right have they to be heard on a forum founded on those principles, founded to promote those principles?
- And as these principles were established to defend the oppressed, you establish yourself as the wronged, or their champion, the righteous and indignant, the aggrieved.
- You call out, you shame.
- And then you win.
 I’m not denying that they feel a white tribal identity that alienates them from other groups in society, or that they want to preserve the (perceived) cultural privileges of that tribe.
 The far-right protestors at Charlottesville, who chanted, “Jews will not replace us”, were protesting the removal of Civil War statues – nothing to do with Jewish people – but they knew their enemies, a very vaguely defined “liberal elite”, would find it offensive, and they aimed to shock.