Trolls and the Human Spirit: Keeping the Love in the this Cycle

It took the Emmanuel Nine survivors a week to forgive Dylann Roof, Taylor Swift still hasn’t forgiven Kanye West. It is one of the most shocking aspects of the human condition that murderers are forgiven by the families of the victims while the heartbroken of high school relationships will still burn their exes in effigy at thirty-five. As a logical Asperger’s person, I have a statute of limitations on how long I remain emotional about stuff and after enough time has passed, I’ll break bread with any of my former opponents. Yet, sometimes over a decade after the asinine mishap, they won’t break bread with me. Neurotypicals don’t seem to have that statute of limitations.

It amazes me the sheer amount of hatred that people can hold over so little for so long. One of the places where this disturbing trait of neurotypicals for immense levels of irrational hatred arises is in online vigilantism and in the political discourse. In an age where Russian trolls almost literally role-play Lucifer tempting unwitting folks to sink to their lowest natures by inciting them to the most base and vile of human emotions, that of hatred, it seems to be of utmost importance that the propensity for that emotion among the citizens of the polis be addressed. As a religious man and a man with hippie inclinations, my hope is, of course, that we strive for the ideal of universal siblinghood but if our love for one another falters at the sight of an offensive social media post or some interpersonal fallout then the hope for that siblinghood of any degree wanes.

On the ground, I have spoken to many people about this issue and the general response is that while they may agree that the discourse need be more civil, when it actually comes to acting that out it’s like a drug addict begging for another day. Both in the political and personal spheres, people will cling to their asinine animosities for dear life. Again, it may be an ex, an ex-platonic friend, a former bully, a politician, a pundit, anything. As I am of more Aristotelian than Rawlsian disposition and as my left-wing Christianity lends me ever more toward the gushier and wetter notions of the humanistic ideal, my worldview believes in universal peace, love, and all those good things and many of the people I have pressed on the issue of civilizing the discourse and especially their relationships have claimed that their more utilitarian and dryly deontological worldviews do not require they aspire to those virtues that I would hope they do.

However, the price for their Faustian bargain of keeping their hatreds is a quite metaphorical loss of their soul as much as it is a literal one. It was that burning fuel that gave us Trump and le Pen and Brexit and Bolsonaro and Modi and all of the other nationalists. Just like conspiracy theories and pseudoscience can travel between the fringes like from Paltrow to Jones, so too can emotions. If you drink that poison, they will too, and when they do the results are very dire. As I’ve written before, we have a Rawlsian society in which emotions are supposed to be absent from the public sphere and morals and ethics are to be reduced the maximum possible amount but in creating a society devoid of love or fraternity we not only lose the elements of humanity that are benevolent but also the very liberal system that Rawls was so desperate to perfect because the pluralism and civic engagement democratic government requires necessitates not a mere coexistence but a positive embrace of the rest of the polis.

In the end, on the most macro scales of geopolitics, the micro pettiness of individuals were the particles that collectively pushed us into an illiberal and dark paradigm. One cannot psychologically separate the personal and the political and therefore it is imperative, not only for one’s own character but also the fate of liberal democracy, itself, to make the uncomfortable sacrifices human affection requires. One cannot maintain a liberal society where tribalism is respected and hatred unopposed. Like beating the Coronavirus, preserving liberal democracy entails not only public participation but private sacrifice of the most mundane scale on an hourly basis.

Returning to the top, I’m going to make a novel and hopefully humorous segway. It is so ironic that the biggest celebrity feud on Earth began during an award presentation for an album for which the biggest hit was literally a happy ending to the most famous fictional feud of all time. Later, she would entitle an album after a year synonymous with a happy ending to a global feud. Just like that year, while the world believed love had won and the future was bright. Bosnia, that darling, cracked a grin and said “Hold my beer!” So, after what may be hyperbolically described as a month, Eastern Europe was having war and hatred again. When it comes to breakups and bad blood, Yugoslavia looked to Taylor Swift, cracked a grin, and said “Hold my beer!” For all Yugoslavia’s spectacular breakup lacked in humanity, it compensated for in ostentatious production value.

The jubilation of 1989 became the genocide of 1995. Never forget, liberalism cannot survive tribalism. There is no more obvious example of that than the sagas that played out in the bloody gutters of Sarajevo and Belgrade. Which was arguably as much a failure of the Yugoslavian dictator Tito’s approach to abating nationalism as it was the nationalism, itself. Namely, letting it fester underground while doing nothing effective to cure it. In a very different way, that is happening now. The hatreds are festering, only regulated so they don’t manifest violently, and there is no effective cure. I don’t know if the current nationalism and tribalistic hatreds will lead to genocide or not. There have been multiple genocides over the past decade including against the Yazidis and the Rohingya and I wouldn’t put it past this decade to make them bigger, bloodier, and closer to home. What I can say for certain is that whatever occurs, that unless we stop taking the bait there isn’t going to be a happy ending.

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