Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Enlightened Communication

I don’t really have anything of any particular value to add to what has already been said about the attack on the Boston Marathon except perhaps to note that it is further proof of my theory that anywhere up to ten percent of humanity isn’t worth the space it takes up on the planet and every once in a while – increasingly often these days, alas – that group makes itself known in cowardly and violent ways.

At that point it is up to the other ninety percent of us to clean up after them – to heal the wounded, to comfort the afflicted, to bury the dead, to attempt, however much in vain, to restore sanity to a world gone mad because such attempts have value in themselves regardless of their success rate.  Also, to hunt down those responsible for such acts and firmly remind them that taking up space on the planet is not a self-evident necessity and that their presence really is no longer required.

I have spent a fair amount of time listening to newscasts on the radio and reading reports online about the attack.  There were a lot of very thoughtful things said, and many acts of selfless heroism that were noted appropriately.  There is comfort in knowing such things.  And then I made my big mistake by looking at some of the comments underneath the stories.

If you value your sanity, if you wish to regard the human race with any shred of hope or affection, if you still think democracy is a good idea, you will never, not ever, not even once, read the comments section of any major news web site.

The very first comment I read – the very first one – said something along the lines of “Typical Teabagger!”


I have made no secret in this space of my contempt for Teabaggers and their efforts to subvert the American republic and substitute in its place a satanic combination of Gilded Age plutocracy and Iranian-style theocratic rule that would have horrified the Founding Fathers and should continue to horrify any rational American citizen now and for the foreseeable future.

But blaming those attacks on Teabaggers?  With no proof whatsoever?  With information about even the events themselves still sketchy and incomplete?  With the wounded still bleeding?  Seriously? That’s just twisted.

Some people exist solely to remind us that our opponents do not have a monopoly on assholes.

Of course, among those opponents are similar sorts – and in my experience far more of them, which is one of the reasons why they are opponents – and they were out in force too.  My personal favorite bit of evidence that the supply of bodies far exceeds the supply of souls in this world was one particularly vehement Teabagger who insisted (literally even before the smoke had cleared) that this was all a “false flag operation” run by the federal government to make the Teabaggers look bad.

No, son, you’re doing a real good job of that your own self.  Pro tip: it’s not always all about you.

On the other hand, it is interesting to see how he assumes that this is the sort of thing that most Americans would easily believe Teabaggers would do and that the government merely had to slaughter the innocent in order for blame to fall naturally on the Teabaggers.  I’m not really sure how to respond to something that self-defeating, but there you go.

We’ve been discussing the Enlightenment in my Western Civ class for the last month – that fascinating cultural and intellectual movement that began in the seventeenth century by stressing reason, natural laws and progress and has since come to define pretty much all of Western civilization.  Everything that makes up the West today is either a product of the Enlightenment (science, the Industrial Revolution, the Lockean Liberalism that defines both ends of the American political spectrum, and so on) or exists as a reaction against it (Fundamentalism as a Christian movement, Romanticism, the Conservatism that started with Burke and slowly morphed into Nationalism in the 19th century, and so on).  It’s a fascinating topic, the Enlightenment.

One of the central tenets of the Enlightenment is that people are basically good – that they are not the corrupt, depraved creatures of Calvinist thought but instead fully rational and self-interested creatures, capable of discerning their true interests and producing the best of all possible societies on their own.  Spin that one way you get Laissez-Faire capitalism.  Spin it another way you get liberal democracy.  But the key thing is this notion that human nature is essentially positive.

So how did one explain conflict, then?  There was a lot of conflict then as now, and people seemed fairly capable of doing some pretty awful things to one another in the name of their causes even in the 18th century.  How come all those good people were doing all those awful things?

Many Enlightenment thinkers decided that the root cause of that gap was miscommunication.  That people simply didn’t know the full story, but once they did their better natures would take over and conflicts would be eliminated.

Every advance in communications technology since then has been heralded by this same utopian dream of better communication wiping out misunderstandings and ushering in a new age of peace and prosperity for all.  The penny press.  The telegraph.  The telephone.  The radio.  The television.  Esperanto.  All of it.

Thanks to the internet, we now know that this is not true.

The magic of the internet, made possible by the very advances in science produced by the Enlightenment, works against the continued existence of that movement, by showing us in clear detail how intractably squalid human nature can be, even in the face of the strenuous efforts of 90% of humanity to overcome such miserable wastes of space.

The heroism displayed in Boston was real, and nine out of ten is always good odds.  I’m not too worried about the human race.  But do not forget that other ten percent out there.  Rest assured, they do not forget you either.

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