Last year, my wife and I went to the World Cup. When we got home, my wife posted some pictures online and wrote a short blurb saying how much fun we had in Russia.
The first comment was, “I see, so now you support a country that oppresses gay people.”
Well… fuck you too, buddy. Apparently, all soccer is off limits as long as someone, somewhere is being oppressed.
Here’s a similar story, different person, different issue. A friend’s father, who is religious and old, posted on Facebook this spring, “Happy Easter everyone! God bless you.”
First comment: “Stop shoving your religion down people’s throats, no one wants to hear it.”
Yes, friends, the internet has achieved its final form: absolutely everything—everything—is now offensive. Can’t a sweet old man just enjoy his chocolate Easter bunnies? No. No, he can’t. Can’t a woman enjoy a soccer game while exploring a different culture? Fuck you. That’s what.
And this doesn’t even get to me… someone whose words literally reach millions of eyeballs online each month. I’m used to criticism. But these days, I get called some combination of racist/sexist/homophobic/socialist/fraud on pretty much a weekly basis no matter what I say or do. I’ve been compared to Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Richard Simmons. A recent Amazon review called my entire book sexist because of one possible interpretation of one sentence. The other week, a journalist in New Zealand compared me to alt-right neo-nazis for no other reason than because I’m a white male and my book title tells people to not give a fuck.
There are moments when I’m writing now where I get anxious about what pronoun to use when making a joke. If I use “he,” I’ll get messages from angry right-wingers complaining that I’m a man-hating, pussy-whipped commie. And if I use “she,” I’ll get messages from angry social justice warriors telling me that I’m part of the patriarchy, and I’m sexist, and white-cisgender-straight-male privileged, blah, blah, blah…
Even articles as innocuous as my Kant article, one of the most brilliant men in history, gin up angry emails about misogyny and sexism.
People, he lived in the 18th century. Calm your tits. Calm your dicks. Calm your… err, [enter your preferred body part here]. Can we have some historical context, please?
For the last few years, I’ve written a number of articles on how the internet is fucking up our culture in a lot of weird and unexpected ways. I’ve written about the attention economy, the age of outrage, and how online media promotes conflict and tribalism. I’ve also written about how things like terrorism, school shootings, and Trump are products of this social environment, more than causes.
But every year, things somehow seem to get even worse. We’re still looking for rock bottom as a culture. And every year I hope we’ve found it, but discover we haven’t. The media gets more fragmented and angry. Politics get uglier. The quality of journalism continues to decline (on both right and left). And people seem to be more polarized on more topics than ever before.
Unfortunately, as a writer, I must rely on publishing online. I rely on engaging with a wide and varied audience. But as that engagement becomes more and more tainted by absurd comments, then it a) makes it hard to get any feel for what actually matters to most people, and b) ruins my day.
My strategy over the years has been to try my best to float above the fray. Most of the things that I write about are pretty universal experiences, therefore I’ve tried hard not to unnecessarily get bogged down in politics or ideology. Instead, I prefer to write about these politics and ideologies from a bird’s eye view. I’m proud that I’m read by people on both the right and left (that’s rare these days) and neither side has ever seemed to be able to correctly pinpoint my political beliefs.
But the sad fact is that we seem to be reaching a point where the only way to survive in the current media hellscape is to pick a battle and fight on one side of it. That’s where all the attention is. And if you can’t draw the attention, you’re done. One by one, I’ve watched other prominent bloggers and thought leaders get sucked into some politicized bullshit. Some have gotten sucked in against their will. Others say, “Fuck it,” and pick up their sword and ax and dive right in. In both cases, it’s painful to watch.
I hate to say this, as my politics lean left, but the left wing has become one of the worst culprits of this lately. The pathological smearing of anyone who doesn’t toe the identity politics line is immediately shat on and labeled all sorts of unreasonable things. In the US, the conservative media lost their marbles years ago, and have since relentlessly pursued a strategy of divide-and-conquer at any cost. It’s sad to see the mainstream liberal media resort to the same mindless groupthink.
Meanwhile, I’ve become disillusioned with pretty much… well, everything. And I don’t think I’m alone. A couple of years ago, I lamented that internet publishing had become saturated and it was more difficult to find new audiences. At the time, my feeling was that most people’s attention had moved on to audio and video. And while that’s largely true, I think another factor is that people are just fucking sick of it all. I know I am. I read maybe ⅓ of the news that I used to. I only listen to a couple of podcasts and basically read no blogs anymore.
Instead, I bury my head in books. Offline. Alone. It’s glorious. They’re usually old books, written long before any of this mess started. And many of them are about the struggles and tensions far greater than anything we can imagine today.
It’s such a strange time because, by pretty much any objective measurement, the world is better today than it ever has been in history. Yet, everyone seems to think we’re fucked. I get that disconnect is always there to a certain extent, but by the way people are behaving, you would think World War Three was upon us.
I’ve spent much of the past year ruminating on this. And it’s not just happening in the United States, but all over the world. It’s not that people are disagreeing more, it’s that we’re getting worse at tolerating those whom we disagree with. And in a world where political stability requires people to abide those they disagree with, things become scary.
These ideas and experiences—and let’s be real, this despair—inspired me to research and write my next book, Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope. It’s my take on why all of this is happening, what started it, and what, if anything, we can do to undo it.
People ask me if I’m hopeful for the future. That seems to be a very common question of everyone these days.
I think I take a different angle than most. Whereas most people are desperately looking for some form of hope to get them out of this mess, I think it’s likely hope that is driving us into this mess.
But that’s a story for another day…