Each week in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
There’s a post over at Deadspin’s blog The Concourse that will probably destroy what little faith in humanity you had left.
It’s about a cake recipe that an Australian radio station posted on its website. It was a fairly mundane (but delicious) recipe for a tie-dye birthday cake, but guess what happened in the comments?
Go ahead, guess.
If you said, “I bet it devolved into an argument about politics and/or religion that was absolutely drenched with ignorance and body odor,” then congratulations, you’ve been on the Internet for at least five minutes. (Although, actually, it’s just about politics, so you could have been a little more specific there, sport. Points off for style.)
It takes five or six comments before people start bickering like children, and then another dozen or so before someone brings politics into it for absolutely no reason (“You must be a Liberal [sic] . . . do as I say do [sic], not as I do . . . [sic]”). And of course from there it’s all downhill, as it devolves into grammatical pedantry and Hitler comparisons.
I’ll spare you the details here, since I care about your sanity. If you really want to read the highlights, follow the links above, but it’s probably not something you haven’t seen a hundred times before. For some reason, everything ever posted on the Internet invites the masses to yell at each other underneath it about questions that philosophers settled centuries ago. And if you’re like me, there’s only one thought on your mind when you come across such an exchange:
Who ARE these people?
Judging from the sheer volume of exchanges like this on the Internet, there must be hundreds—thousands? millions?—of barely literate, poorly read, mystifyingly angry people with no jobs, housework, or creative pursuits to keep them away from the keyboard—and they all have a pathological need to insult strangers halfway around the world. Who are they? Where do they come from?
And (sigh) then I realize that I’ve probably been one of them myself. Not every day; maybe not even every year. But there have been moments—when I was tired and needed to blow off some steam; when I had had a bit too much to drink; when I thought “defending the Gospel” was the same thing as calling people stupid—that I’ve engaged in some pathetic trolling as well. Don’t try to pretend you haven’t either. On some obscure message board under a pseudonym, maybe? Maybe with somebody’s racist aunt on Facebook?
I can’t prove that everybody has done it, but I’d stake my life on the claim. If Internet anonymity has proven one thing, it’s this: we’re all more than willing to be absolutely horrible people if we’re fairly certain there won’t be any consequences.
In the Calvinist wing of Christian thought, they call it Total Depravity; those in my little corner are more apt to talk about the Bondage of the Will (which, shockingly, isn’t the title of an Harlequin Romance novel); at the very least, most of us are willing to talk about Original Sin. Call it what you want, but it’s a clear and accurate reflection of reality: we all tend to do whatever we feel like doing, as long as we’re convinced we’ll get away with it.
One of the catchphrases on the Web is “Faith in Humanity Restored!”, and I think the irony embedded in that phrase tells you all you need to know about what the Web has taught us about ourselves. Yes, we sometimes do nice things for each other. Yes, most of us go through life without stabbing someone on the street. And yet—most of us turn out to be jerks. The fact that we need our faith in ourselves “restored” so often is proof that that faith is not well-placed to begin with.
So who are these people writing ugly, moronic and out-of-context comments? They’re my brothers and sisters. Like me, they’re corrupt to the core and lash out stupidly at people they don’t even know over issues they don’t even understand. Like me, they are souls tainted with awfulness and yet possessed with a need to think they’re good people. And like me, they really need a hobby, and they really need more fulfilling jobs, and they really need to read more books, and they really need Jesus.
And just like me, they’ll probably do nothing about any of that.