This won’t come as a surprise, but the written word is kind of important to me. I well understand the power of words to lift, to incite, to soothe and to insult. I know how to use words to include and exclude, to connect and disconnect. And because of that, I take them pretty damn seriously.
There’s a lot of talk about being held accountable for your actions, of actions speaking louder than words. But... the truth of those statements doesn’t negate accountability for your words, spoken and written. Nor does it mean their effect is diminished by a callous “But..I didn’t mean it”.
I didn’t mean it is not a magic eraser. I didn’t mean it is not a delete key. I didn’t mean it doesn’t invalidate the fact that it yes, Virginia, those words actually do mean something.
In some bizarre sadomasochistic exercise I derived for myself, I’ve spent the better part of the summer reading and scrolling through the internet. I’ve been searching not only for answers and reasons, but ultimately for a glimpse of humanity.
I’ve been repeatedly and sorely disappointed.
My searches led me all over the place, up and down the spectrum, articles and opinion pieces, real news and satire, but where I kept getting mired was in the murky sediment of social media: The comments.
To quote my husband, comments are “where dignity goes to die”. My father would have said something along the lines of shit flowing down hill.
Neither of them are wrong.
Far more frightening than the death rattle of dignity or obvious brown stain of shitty opinions however, is the undertow of hate and violence which is sucking the rest of us along.
Somewhere along the way it has become acceptable to wish horror-movie violence and slow, painful death upon each other for having a different political view, a different experience or a different way of looking at things.
It’s become acceptable to channel anger–both legitimate and misguided–into personal attacks, bullying, name-calling, and poison-laced threat.
Somewhere along the way, it’s become not only acceptable, but encouraged. It’s become refreshing. It is real. It suddenly fucking cool to loudly give voice to the base elements of human existence.
And like a Shelley mob chasing a Frankenstein monster, others pick up their pitchforks, tie their nooses, and look for the next witch to burn.
The internet has not only given the worst of human nature an amphitheatre, it’s given them an audience and a megaphone.
Tell me, what kind of person wishes rape upon another woman’s child just because of a differing view? What kind of person uses words like nigger or cunt to describe another person?
Do those words make you uncomfortable to read? They should. Words like that are meant to, they hold in their letters generations of hate and bile. I had a hard time even typing them.
What I’ve read down there in the dark dregs of social media has alternately left me in tears, raging, sick to my stomach, and frankly, horrified.
If this is now acceptable social behaviour, what the hell are we devolving into?
In my own small corner of the net I’ve been called stupid, a disgrace to white people everywhere (a particularly proud moment for me), a fan of baby murder, and evil. I’ve gotten off lightly, those things are mild in comparison. No one has wished cancer on my children for one. No one has told me I deserve to be raped with a hot poker or have my family perish in a ghoulish scene out of American Horror Story.
Down there in the bottom-feeding comments, where the fuel of choice is bile, that’s the sort of stuff that’s taking place.
But worse than the hatred being churned out like sausage is the assumption that it doesn’t really mean anything; they’re just words on a page. A few sentences of Helvetica type on a computer screen. Worse than the death wishes and rape fantasies, behind the false bravado provided by the anonymity of a user name, is the idea that the sentiment is lessened or invalidated by a half-hearted apology or a yellow winky face. Still worse is the cowardly manifesto of reverse political correctness, the insinuation that anyone who is offended or horrified is at fault because they are just too damn politically correct.
I’ve got news for those people. Being horrible to other people is not an exercise in freedom from political correctness. It’s being an ignorant, spiteful, hateful asshole.
When you wish cancer upon a member of a different political party, promote violent sexual fantasies on a woman who expresses a different opinion, use racially and sexually charged words, when you attack a parent who has just lost a child, mock a victim of rape, bray for the violent demise of a human being, that’s not being real. That’s not being free from political correctness. That’s not telling it like it is.
And stating, after the fact, that the words you fling out don’t mean anything is utter and complete bullshit.
If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t write it. If you would be horrified hearing those words come out of your child’s mouth, don’t write it. If you would be offended hearing those words spat at your spouse, your child, your parents, don’t write them.
Using freedom of speech to offend, harass, smear and wish death upon others is making a mockery of what free speech is meant to be. Hiding behind the guise of free speech to fill your social media feed with words like nigger, cunt, whore, coon, or kike is sullying the concept of free speech. Freedom of speech in America is about having the right to protest a tyrannical government. It means the freedom to express injustice, to find fault with the those in power, to have an opinion which differs without fear of censorship or imprisonment. Hiding behind that right to promote hateful, ignorant, or bigoted, violent ideals does nothing but slowly erode the sanctity of that freedom.
As the old saying goes, I will defend your right to free speech even if I despise what you are saying. But I will not protect you from the consequences of your speech. Because those words?
They mean something.