Sweetening The Hostile Environment

Facebook. Groupthink. And the Impunity of Anonymity.

My father once told me about a cellmate of his who suffered from depression, and a solid dose of it to boot. He was provided medication of some kind, but he never took it. The guy said the depression was something he understood and could rely on, whereas the meds created some kind of dishonesty. That’s how I absorbed what Pop told me, anyway, and it’s an ethos I’ve followed when faced with rocks and hard places: Appreciate the honesty of a difficult situation.

It sounds a lot like tough it out. But it isn’t, really. It’s more closely related to, accept the things I cannot change. Maybe I’ll add that to my Top 5 Super Power wish list, to approach every problem as though the effort to take it on is not as viable as simply waiting for karma to settle the score at its convenience. Karmaman. Karminator. Karmatron.

‘Whoa!’ you’re thinking, right? ‘What are we if not willing to impact our environment?’ Some will say nihilists, while others victims, while others lazy. But the terrorizing truth is that a huge swath of us is simply very easily assimilated, opting for the most convenient way out from under any given stressor. It’s why the news doesn’t just state the facts, because the powers that be know the majority will assimilate given just a nudge in the right direction. It’s also why children don’t often fall far from the tree, relative to the forest.

Facebook is full of groups, private closed entities where people delve into their chosen vices behind a facade of privacy, sharing their thoughts, and memes, and links to examples they feel support their positions. I was invited to a group designated as a place for debate. I knew a couple of them. Most I did not. Others I could not, as they were ghost Facebook accounts, anonymous entities with names like Pork Master Positive and such. Over time I grew to really enjoy many, who number over 200 now.

A number of the members were pretty smart, able to back up their arguments with studies and numbers and polls and by making appropriate connections. Others could reference history, either by having been alive and paying attention at the time, or just being well read. While impressed by those able to fight with numbers and graphs, I was more impressed by those who referenced causes and outcomes. They typically were the better writers.

There were trolls who flew through. I garnered a reputation as the troll killer, and it was fun as an exercise in being colorful with language. But over the course of 8 or 9 months, I started to recognize something troubling — those who had no argument at all, yet a fierce adherence to some pretty messed up ideologies, hysterics, and myths. What made it worse was groupthink.

The events subsequent to Ferguson were hot-button topics, and a clear division within the group became apparent. On the one side was the Tea Party-Conservative Red base consisting of struggling-to-make-ends-meet combat and rear vets and gun rights radicals, which knew its way around struggling to make ends meet and the AR-15; and on the other, a contingency of Blue-bleeding Liberals that knew its way around a library and argumentation. There was some crossover, but not much.

In the semi-anonymous group, it’s really easy for members to fight what he or she thinks is the good fight, and give it their all in an attempt to change the things they feel they can. But behind the screen it happens that people often fight under the wayward impression that they’re winning, when in fact they’d started the fight armed with failed arguments, be they racist views defending police actions or attacking government assistance, or the gun fetishists, or xenophobic types lashing out with hardly a leash around their necks. They were essentially wearing suicide vests of explosive ignorance laced with the jagged edges of the hatred they harbored toward their own situations. But throw in a few head-nodding friends arguing the same erroneous angle, and they’re suddenly victors in a Holy Crusade, celebrating in an intellectual grave, DJ’d by groupthink.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. — Captain Willard

It was fun and games until I found myself one day, lower than low, trading unfamiliar insults with a troll, some step half in-law employee brother of a Mid-West Obama-hating group member. I’d been alerted that new trolls had entered the group, so I went hunting. It started out normally, but then spun into a bad trip in a Saigon hotel room.

The next day I was stunned. Some of it was regretting that I’d lost my normally laid back composure. But the rest was pure disappointment that I’d put myself in the same room with these assimilants, and I realized that I was writing just to read myself write, having long ago accepted that these were people I could not help. I was embarrassed.

Realizing how serious this groupthink was, I set things up just so. I posted an image, perhaps the most iconic image of the Sandy Hook shooting, along with some inviting language, and watched as horror ensued.

One thing was clear, nobody knew who the woman in the image was. And when one started with the insanity, the others fell in. The ardent supporters of gun proliferation who pontificated patriotic expertise in Second Amendment rights attacked the “screeching bitch” with the type of disgust and voracity you’d expect from a pack of drunk frat boys thrown the limp body of an inebriated sorority sister. One or two of them recognized that something was afoot, but the rest continued to thrust their fingers into wherever they could. I let the comments stack up for a day or so before I summarized them over the same picture, and re posted.

Her name is Jillian Soto.

Jillian Soto is sister to Sandy Hook victim Victoria Soto. Her image appeared in the media, whilst falling to pieces into a cell phone during the immediate aftermath of the shooting. But to this mob, she was the open door to Nanking where inner fetishes were free to explode in an environment including like-minded individuals, and where they would never be held accountable for their attack.

It takes a lot to offend me. And I wasn’t offended by it, personally. This was something I could not change. This was the hard stuff. But what I experienced I can only describe as the collective offense of everyone who’s lost someone to a gun. I was horrified. I was disgusted. I had a physical response I’d never felt. And coming from me, that’s huge. I felt not the desire to take up the cause as an intellectual sophist, but as a real believer in the issue, who had just felt an evil disturbance in society.

As a whole, this is something that we absolutely must change.

I left the group immediately, and have no idea how the fraternity reacted. I was asked by the group’s founder, who I like very much, to come back, assured of my importance to the group. But I’d seen Helter Skelter, and wanted nothing more to do with it. I was no longer just an observer watching a circle-jerk of a few poo slingers in a plastic-lined basement, but a witness to a sickness of humanity that’s infected this country, organized and perpetuated by straw man arguments hatched by politicians and corporations and religious zealots who know they can secure votes and stir passions with philosophies they wouldn’t dare subscribe to themselves, but will leverage instead to garner support and division within those lacking the ability and fortitude to know the difference.

It’s some kind of Jacob’s Ladder, only real.

So many Americans have assimilated by default, by laziness, by both moral nihilism and righteousness at the same time, and it’s turned into an orgy where the animal urges of the inner self, normally controlled by frontal lobes, are free to run rampant, and in groups. There are frogs. There are locusts. And there is the American Derelict, encouraged by the tools of private and or anonymous groupthink.

Here is a very simple guideline to what is and what isn’t acceptable on [our site]: Would you show your content to a 9-year old child before an audience consisting of a priest, a police chief, and Oprah? No? Then you should think twice about submitting it to [us].

Writing the community guidelines of a social video website, I penned the above, already cognizant of the way people behave in front of people, compared to anonymously. Now, I’m no saint. In fact I’ve been called the devil by a number of people. But I know the value of accountability.

What to do. . .

My Dad’s old cellmate is probably dead by now. I don’t know. But I picture him frequently, sitting in a silent cell, with his hands on his knees, staring at the point where the concrete wall meets the concrete floor. I can imaging the weight of depression crushing him, and his indifference to the pain. The silence is my Siren. How comforting to accept everything as that which I cannot change. But there are people out there who, when given the chance, won’t just talk of terrible things in the shadows of anonymity, but will act on them given just the right amount of group.

Are we ready for that?