Look, I use the internet on a daily basis; hell, it’s probably an hourly basis. It makes my job easier, it lets me read newspapers from all over the world, I get to listen to the Allman Brothers on my phone whenever I want, watch entire seasons of shows I don’t even like just because they are there, and even get to watch CFL games. The internet dominates my life, and, in general, I am grateful for it. Just last week, I got to read all about the racial politics of South Africa, checked my fantasy football team, and then read lots of opinions about the U.S. government from papers in Germany, Jordan, Australia, Canada, China, and Saudi Arabia. It’s an amazing thing. All of that being said, the internet is the worst.
I have no idea when stating an opinion became an act of war, but the wars of the Comment Section of any political article rage with vitriol I would assume has typically been saved for, like, terrible drunken Thanksgiving dinners. I actually read a comment today that finished with “I hope you burn in hell.” With such refined discourse seen as acceptable–or, perhaps, necessary–in order to facilitate one’s opinions, the real question isn’t if such opinions are valid, but if conversation via the internet, the so-called fantastical Wild West of human interaction, really represents your ‘average’ person.
The problem with using ‘average’ in anything that doesn’t involve sports statistics is that it more often denotes the middle of wildly polar opposites than it does an actual moderate, true representation of anything. Categorically, ‘average’ statistics don’t mean nearly as much as ‘median’ statistics do. However, in what way is there a ‘median’ person? In the United States, the dilemma of procuring a ‘median’ person has to do with inherent discrepancies in how we see ourselves: we are the exceptional members of the world and, as such, we are all special snowflakes whose opinions matter. To reduce ourselves to mere statistics would be the end of the United States civilisation as we know it. This, of course, is why ObamaCare is bringing the apocalypse upon us, sure to commence at any point in the future, as healthcare will, apparently, make us all the same–enfeebled and dependent on the government for all of our decisions.
First, the ACA is a terrible piece of legislation, but not because it ends the United States as we know it; we are not on our way to some sort of Sharia law communist enclave of heathen activity (I really read that once), nor are we close to turning into Canada or whatever strange fears the far-right feels like conjuring up depending on the day. The ACA is an agreement between the White House and the private insurance companies to get millions of more people on the insurance books, paying premiums, all under the guise of creating affordable insurance. It merely takes a step in the right direction, but Congress failed to properly vet it, nobody knew what they were voting on, and it, essentially, gives yet another handout to major corporations. The complete failure of our congress people to actually read bills they vote on has to be the single worst part of our government. Think about this logically: you are a health care provider, you are told you can no longer charge higher premiums for pre-existing conditions, but, in exchange, you will get thousands upon thousands of more policyholders. You, the company, will be getting full premium pay, through some combination of policyholder and government subsidies. You get to charge more for younger people who, previously, got low premium plans or none at all. You have added billions of dollars in revenue with the risk of paying out more in claims. In what way is this a socialised health care law? It isn’t, and the fighting over it should be in its failure to actually promote true healthcare change, not this bullshit about the Obamapocalypse. Of course, if we actually attempted real change, like getting rid of Medicare and implementing a single-payer Medicaid for everyone, then the shouts from the right would at least be appropriately topical in decrying the socialisation of the United States, so, in reality, the tea party should secretly conspire to promote such a plan in order to extend their time in the bully pulpit.
Second, and this is most important, nobody whom you have voted for in a federal election gives a damn about you. You are not a special snowflake to them because you have not contributed millions of dollars to their campaign. You do not and will not ever matter; they will fake it when necessary, they will bleat out nonsense involving the words “the American people” this and “the American people” that, but at no point will you be of importance. They want your vote, they want your money, but they do not want you to actually exist. Your existence, regardless of political affiliation, means you are a possible hindrance to them keeping their job. They, like you, average American, want to make sure there is a paycheck coming, but, unlike you, average American, their position requires them to feign altruistic notions–these are called townhall meetings, handshaking, terrible TV ads involving those awkward shots of said politician “strongly investing” in regular-people interaction. The key component here is that the United States is an exceptional country, but that does not make us exceptional people; we are not unique in that regard, our homogenous state or lack thereof is irrelevant; we are, instead, non-special snowflakes who are told, constantly, that we are Personal Responsibility Warriors with American Can-Do Spirit born of our Distinct Individualism. This gets repeated over and over by the people we vote in who actually think the opposite of us. We are numbers, we are districts, we are gerrymandered groups of people pushed into pockets where our votes can be pre-counted–you are not an individual, you are a pre-determined statistic. That’s your American Citizen sovereignty.
That is, to me at least, quite depressing. And a bit hyperbolic, I’ll admit. And yet, prolific hyperbole is, of course, standard internet rhetoric. I’m merely keeping in line with acceptable speech patterns here.
I am often baffled at the level of cynicism I accept as normal from myself.
When considering this built-in feature of American-ness, this reverence for Self-as-Unique as cultural characteristic, it makes sense that the idea we should in some fashion be responsible for others in some “forced” way would be alarming. It creates a strange dichotomy: we see ourselves as important and individual, yet, we also cannot see that what we do in our day-to-day lives has long-term consequences because we can only see the impact as something immediate to ourselves. By telling a younger adult that his/her higher healthcare premiums will actually allow others who have no access to healthcare to obtain it, we are asking people to recognise their role on a much larger, non-personal level, to actually consider the ramifications of where a dollar goes and where it could end up. It means having to consider something that does not inherently have anything to do with ourselves, but has everything to do with a social structure dependent on selflessness. The thing that makes no sense is we do this everyday; we trust the people in other cars to know how to drive, we order food made by other people, we ask questions and make payments and interact with strangers when the need arises and we do so with the faith that all these transactions are done with honesty, with the idea that our interests are considered important. As a socioeconomic cultural structure, these transactions represent socialist thinking. But to admit that would require self-awareness that what we do affects what others do, not just those whom we recognise.
The frightening aspect of the Internet Comment Board, then, is not so much the vitriol, although it is absolutely crazy, but how much it highlights our actual lack of individuality. What people appear most fearful of is a change in how they view themselves and their society, a society they recognise best as one filled with others just like them–to each group, that group is normal, average, the median American. The homogenous grouping of people combined with the belief in a unique experience makes the world scarier, the evolving society a thing to stop, to discourage, all in the name of Personal Right and Opinion.
Again, the anger often expressed on the internet in regards to political articles has to do with an entrenched desire to have an opinion that is “right,” as well as to defend oneself against a terrible change. It’s the second part of that sentence which determines the vitriol. Having an opinion means you inherently believe you’re right; it’s what an opinion is–the expression of a self-believed truth about something. My opinion is that both major political parties are terrible because they are in the pockets of big banks, big corporations, and major donors. I believe the banking sector does not just need reigned in, but essentially redesigned, with strong regulations, CEO pay limits, and derivative and speculative trading on things like oil should absolutely be banned. People who disagree with me, I consider to be wrong. However, at this point in time, I do not wish them to burn in hell, except for the Koch Brothers, two people whom I consider top candidates for worst humans currently in America.
The construction of this opinion as Right vs. Wrong, however, creates a dynamic where we start to believe that defense of an opinion instead of analysis of it becomes far more important. On a completely logical level, I understand what the Kochs are doing–trying to make as much money as they possibly can; that’s capitalism; they want to perform it at an extraordinary level. What I actually disagree with is their willingness to let greed dictate their lives, and their lack of long-term thinking beyond their bank account, which means I appear to disagree with their capitalistic drive. And, of course, to disagree with capitalist drive is to supposedly prove my un-American-ness.
In the world of political article internet commentary, the easiest way to classify the fights is in this American vs. un-American context. The righteousness of either side–conservative or progressive–emanates from a desire to protect a personal vision of the United States. However, as I’ve said before, such visions of the U.S. are faulty because neither of those countries exist. The United States, at this point, is an ogliarchy run by major corporations with money available to dump into lobbying–on both sides of the political spectrum. What this means is the same type of jokes I make about how the reddest states need/use the most government funding, an “irony” that I assume vindicates my socialist leanings, is the same joke that somebody else would make about taxing our way out of debt. What the jokes ignore is the lack of awareness implied on the jokee, not because we are saying that the Other does not know the inherent “irony” associated with it, but because the irony, such as it is, almost always has to do with the jokee’s built-in sense of righteousness; the joke is a take-down, but a take-down is not way to change somebody’s views, no matter how many movies tell us otherwise. Real discussion, real analysis is the only hope, and, yet, the jokes eliminate the analysis, make people defensive, and defensive people will never listen; they are too consumed by the need to reassert their correct-ness.
It’s not that we hate the Other [well, sometimes, clearly hatred is the only driving force]; it’s the pressure to defend one’s uniqueness within the safety of a homogenous group. However, instead of citizenry of the U.S. being seen as homogenous, we base it on geographical, ethnic, religious, political, or any other type of sub-grouping one can think of. The classic idealisation of the American Individual prevents us from seeing anyone other than those we accept as part of America–the other is not an Individual, the other is a threat.
The absurdity of all this is that if we are actually uniqure, it inherently implies everyone else is an other, which makes a homogenous group impossible. So, instead, we actively select our group, create whatever artificial boundaries we need, and make decisions based upon that. I don’t see this as wrong, but I do feel that when we start creating opinions/policy, both foreign and domestic, with the intention of eliminating possible threats to our oxymoronic state of Unique-as-the Same, then all we are really doing is finding ways to isolate ourselves. Isolation invaribly leads to defensiveness, defensiveness invariably leads to an inability to properly approach problem-solving. Progressivism, therefore, must not only shoulder the weight associated with creating a balanced social structure, it must also use its shoulder to push the boulders of entrenched traditional thinking.
The United States right now has a limited ability to accomplish much without the use of force–even bills passed in Congress are often referred to as “pushed through,” as though implementing a law is a physical task. If you want to know what the United States is, ask yourself this question: Would a drone strike on U.S. soil from a foreign entity constitue an act of terror? Because if you say yes, and that there would have to be retribution, then you have just declared the United States a terrorist organisation. Which we are. We have conducted countless drone strikes with the belief that we are allowed to do so because we are more powerful; it has nearly destroyed our ability to assert real foreign policy, and we accept no responsibility for our destruction other than to declare we’ve earned the right because we got attacked once. We are no different than the bully we cheer against in every movie who lashes out over and over in an attempt to reassert his dominance.
What I really hate is that having such an opinion is akin to announcing that I hate the U.S. I do not hate my country. I hate what my country is doing. I believe we already have a socialist structure in place, but we refuse to fully acknowledge it, and that embracing it does not mean the end of our society as we know it. What I’m tired of is the immediate link of being American with an overly-idealised notion of America; such thinking lacks long-term vision, prevents us from adapting and growing, and, most importantly, continues to further isolate us from an increasingly interactive global market. In Facebook terms, nobody likes us, and that matters. And what the comment boards reinforce is the impossibility to enter dialogue hurts us, and that the lack of dialogue is active participation in a power grab. The perception is the United States is a desparate power–a warmongering, power hungry, data devouring behemoth–who can no longer see past its own bloat; just like normal life, the reality of the ‘median’ American citizen, no matter what you think of yourself, has little to do with the perception of our country as a whole. It’s the same thing we do to nations everywhere. The question is if we can change it.