It’s been a little while since I have been destroyed by existential dread, but when it comes to human suffering, the western world never seems to disappoint. The issue dejour is that some beta-male-chauvinist spent too much time on 4chan and then drove a van through a crowd of people. In an age of school shootings and white power marches, I now have to contend with radical misogyny as well. Thanks Obama! Somewhere along the way, weird white dudes stopped being trolls and started being terrorists. Somehow Asperger’s Power Dorks(tm) have been turned into weapons.
As a weird white dude, this disturbs me more than Nazi Bullshit because I can’t help but feel that something that I was once a part of has been co-opted for truly awful purpose. The alt-right using memes to spread their bullshit was one thing, but this is something much worse. It’s a gateway drug to indoctrinate Asperger’s Power Dorks(tm) into Nazism.
You will have to forgive my linking to one of those Alt-underground blogs. I am keenly aware of the tendency of crazy blogs to reference other crazy blogs. This particular post captures something that I have been thinking about for a couple of years now: the radicalization of the bowels of the Internet, my former home. Years ago, before I found a home with the hacker community, life “Away From the Keyboard” was tough for me because I felt very much like an outsider. I felt that I was connected to something not of this world. Not just to the technology but to the pro-free speech, pro-privacy, anti-corporate counter-culture of the Internet. It was a connection that made me feel like some sort of alien in my Midwestern/corporate/suburban surroundings.
I also felt (and still feel) that the Internet is being slowly ruined by a kind of corporate-led gentrification. The ‘Net is supposed to be the wild west. It’s full of weird, dangerous, and scary things that corporations have felt the need to keep out by building firewalls (both digital and metaphorical). Google safe search and the Facebook feed are extensions of those same corporate firewalls. These companies are algorithmically encroaching into the minds of people. They are hijacking the national conversion. And, they are neutering one of the last places in the world where Free Speech is possible. In response, I was determined to “keep it weird” by trolling the “Normal People” that would wander in to deep end of the pool. I and others like me would ridicule them for being, for lack of a better word, unenlightened. Trolling people was my way of “Freaking out Squares” like Homer Simpson did in that one episode of The Simpsons:
“Copyright is based on censorship man!”
I was having a few laughs at Normal People on the Gentrified Internet who weren’t at all equipped to deal with the Uncivilized Internet creeping into polite society. Dabbling in a bit of satirical/ironic homophobia is not a nice thing to do, but back then, I was not nice. I was angry and territorial. As coping mechanisms go, going to a part of the Internet that you don’t care about and ruining someone’s day is basically like shooting Heroin. Life Away From the Keyboard was filled with Normal People which was a source of alienation. Pointing out that Normal People don’t belong on the Internet was form of stress relief for me. I always knew that everyone belongs on the Internet, I just didn’t want them to fuck it up for the rest of us with their Squareness.
I mean, fake Internet points are cool, but have you ever made someone really mad? Talk about a rush! When I finally found a place to belong to, I mostly put trolling behind me. Mostly. I had matured. Mostly. I learned to let other people enjoy things. I learned that being who you really are on the Internet is actually really brave and that ridiculing people was just me being one of those Gen X Cool Guys that doesn’t believe in anything. I also learned that while starting arguments and saying crazy shit in public forums is fun, that same behavior is being directed un-satirically and un-ironically at people who are trying to make the world a better place. Also, deadpan sarcasm is great way to make your Facebook friends think that you have severe mental problems.
My point here is that there is a major difference between rudely reminding someone that you can Internet better than they can and what is happening today. Like so major.
You see, the awful parts of the Internet used to be a place of perpetual flux. Sure, there were people there being weird and angry at the world, but there were others who were making fun of the weirdos and celebrating their failures. Whatever you tried to do, it failed. Being an EdgeLord and trying to make a statement always drew mockery and criticism. Either someone found fault in your statement and you got mocked for it, or someone with a deeper understanding than you mocked your lack of conviction.
There was no recognition; there was only mockery. In that mockery, growth was supposed to happen. Getting housed by people that Internet better than you forces you to think harder about what you are doing. It sounds awful, but the process of failing and then being mercilessly mocked for it [hopefully] matured you into a calmer, more enlightened person. At least that’s what it did for me.
Something happened in the time between then and now. It went off the rails somewhere. Maybe too many people like me abandoned the bowels of the Internet and the EdgeLords took over? I parted ways with that form of Internet culture years ago, and now I feel like a part of my history has been stolen from me. And, maybe I am partially responsible? I don’t really know.
What I do know is that what I once was, is not what this is. Doing it for the lulz is not the same as doing it specifically to harm others. Even if there are people still doing it for the lulz, those lulz are somehow empowering other people to do awful things. It was lulzy when I did it, but it’s not lulzy anymore. I was not an incel. I was not a Nazi. Those assholes have stolen my history.