It’s been a little while since I have been destroyed by existential dread, but when it comes to meaningless suffering, the western world never seems to disappoint. My issue dejour is that some beta chauvinist spent too much time on 4chan and then drove a van through a crowd of people. In an age of mass shootings, murdered journalists, and white power marches, I now have to contend with radicalized misogyny as well. Thanks Obama!
Somewhere along the way, weird white dudes stopped being trolls and started being terrorists. Somehow the Autism spectrum has been weaponized.
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 bad enough. Memes never did anything to anyone but be awesome, so why drag them into your racism? This is something much worse. It’s some kind of gateway drug to indoctrinate nerds into this weird form of Radical Fuckery.
Back story time
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 technology, but to the pro free speech, pro privacy, anti intellectual property and 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 Internet was once the wild west. It was full of weird, dangerous, and scary things that corporations have felt the need build firewalls around, in both the technological sense and the metaphorical. Google safe search and the Facebook news feed are the ultimate expressions of those same metaphorical firewalls. These companies are complicit in the algorithmic dismantling of the open Internet in to “TV with a buy button”. They are hijacking people’s thought processes. 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 Real Internet” creeping into polite society. Dabbling in a bit of satirical and 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 on the Internet 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 frustration and alienation. Pointing out that Normal People don’t belong on the Internet because they’d be happier somewhere else was form of stress relief for me. I mean, I always knew that everyone belonged on the Internet, I just didn’t want the normies to accidentally fuck it up for the rest of us by confusing the Internet with television.
Fake Internet points are cool and all, but have you ever made someone really mad? 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 yourself on the Internet is actually really brave and that ridiculing normies 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 without satire or sarcasm 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.
They don’t think it be like it is but it do
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 stumbling in there to be weird and angry at the world, but there were others there who were making fun of those weirdos and celebrating their failures. Whatever you tried to do, it failed. Being an EdgeLord and trying to make a shocking statement always drew mockery and criticism. Either someone found fault in your logic and you got mocked for it, or someone went harder at it than than you and they mocked your lack of conviction.
There was no recognition; there was only mockery. In that mockery, I think that growth was supposed to happen. Getting housed by people that Internet better than you forces you to think harder about what you are doing and saying. It sounds awful, but the process of being mercilessly mocked [hopefully] matured you into a calmer, more enlightened person. At least that’s what it did for me.
Today 4chan and other awful Internet spaces are basically terror training camps for weird white dudes to become… Some kind of Autistic version of Al Qaeda I guess? For a lot of these dudes, once being white and male is no longer a competitive advantage, they won’t be able to compete at all. Sure, they’re the master race or whatever, but based on the pictures I’ve seen of their Nazi marches, those bros are inferior specimens. Take away their racism and sexism and all you have left is crippling anxiety and bad skin.
Something happened in the decade between my time as a troll and now. It went off the rails somewhere. Maybe too many people like me abandoned the Real Internet and the EdgeLords took over? I parted ways with that form of Internet culture years ago, and now I feel like a significant piece 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, however mean spirited, 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. These assholes have stolen my history.