What YouTube is teaching us about ourselves, is that the fall of humanity into sin and evil is real and historic and true. I think J.R.R. Tolkien would have been fascinated about how Humans, Elves, Orcs, Dwarves, and Trolls manifest their various natures in the comments made on just about every piece of music on YouTube, and how clearly the dark and civilized sides stand arrayed against one another. But it gets worse. A High Elf in one conversation can be a Troll in another. No wait, it gets even worse. Someone who behaves like a troll can look at himself in a mirror and see a knight in shining armor. After all, aren’t you doing society a service if you publicly call all the Germans (or Swedes, or South Africans) in the world “dumb f*ck faces”?
It’s so damned complicated. Where does Martin Luther fit in? After all, he fought great evils. But he did not always do it in civil terms. He would draw cartoons of the pope and his retinue being ‘born’ out of the anus of the devil. Not on his blog, obviously, but in the printed pages of the nascent mass media. Luther, a great hero of the Reformation, but a dirty scrapper, if there ever was one. But he wouldn’t be considered a troll, if there had been Internet in his time, because he was a public figure polemicizing in the public space, just as Thomas Payne was. I guess I’m beginning to sound like “why can’t we all just get along?”
There is a dangerous side to mass communication. Someone like Julius Malema, a man with tens of millions of armed and willing and hate-filled followers in South Africa who sings in public (and on YouTube) that all Boers must be killed, is preparing the ground for genocide in the classic pattern that has been observed and described by Genocide Watch. This is how it begins. Apparently, he cannot be stopped. From whose hands will the blood of his victims be required (because the killing has already started, and has been going on for years). When you look at the very real fruit of hate-speech on the Internet, the lines between a homicidal maniac with too much power and too little intelligence, and the thirty-year-old gamers who live in their mothers’ basements and type insults just for a laugh, begin to blur. And we start moving back to Thomas Hobbes state of constant ‘warre’ between all men, in which you only stay alive if you’re sufficiently armed and properly allied.
Tolkien would have been more than fascinated. How often and how eloquently did he not describe that feeling I get when looking at the hateful, irrelevant bile spouted in the comments sections of just about every form of social media. How often does Tolkien not speak in his books about the gathering gloom, about dark things stirring in Middle-Earth? How frequently does he not warn that all that is decent and noble and honorable is simply leaving this world? He tells how the Elves are gathering at their harbors and leaving this world in their ships, because this place is simply too polluted to be home to anyone and anything that even tries to live a decent life.
Is it not enough that each one of us has evil in his or her own nature to be fought and controlled? Is it not hard enough to just maintain the veneer of civility that keeps the now rotting fabric of society together in one more or less coherent piece? And now even that thin veneer is peeled off by the anonymity of the Internet. I used to feel angry and sick if people spewed up all over the pages of any type of conversation that was attempted, but now I just feel a great sadness.
People confuse technology with civilization. There is a civilization and a lot of technology in Japan. That’s just a happy coincidence. There is very little technology but a lot of civilization at a rural Zulu beer-drink, because there are customs and laws there, and in that place old men are not Social Security liabilities but a repository of wisdom, law, and experience. But there is very little civilization on the Internet as such. There are many blogs of concerned citizens that show evidence of decent people. Not all of them are the work of erudite and even somewhat pedantic individuals like myself. Some blogs are typed in haste before dinner by gardeners whose nails are still dirty, with bad spelling and incorrect grammar, saying: “Hey guys, you know what, my new chicken poop tea is doing miracles with my tomatoes!” But THIS is civilization! THIS is culture! Joe Everyman sharing his enjoyment of his garden with anyone who cares for living, growing things. And then the troll comes along and comments: “What the &^% do u know abt gardning anyway you stupid *&^*&^!!!” Shame, shame, shame on you trolls! You don’t know what you’re doing!
Hostis humani generis (Enemy of the human race)
Under Roman law, pirates (and certain other categories of people) were living outside the protection of the laws of any specific country (hence the term out-law), and were therefore fair game for any armed force to be killed on the spot as “enemies of the human race.”
I propose that the citizens of the Internet align and ally themselves into humans and oppose the enemies of the human race as just that: enemies of the human race. Yes, I understand that that involves each person deliberately claiming his or her space on the high ground. I realize that it involves some hypocrisy: “I’m one of the good guys.” I don’t care.
In this fight, we have no weapons, because the moment you start typing invective, you have joined their ranks, and the lines are, once again, blurred. By process of elimination, there are only two options left: moderation of comments on websites, and ignoring the trolls. All that yelling about moderation being related to censorship is nonsensical: if you cannot recognize hateful speech, don’t make it the problem of the remainder of the humani generis. As for ignoring trolls, that might turn out to be very effective if it could be done in a concerted way. That might just separate out the feces they write and make it easier to skim off the scum and read what real people think