Monday, August 19, 2013

Why So Hateful, Internet? Rage And The New Entreprenurial Self

Hey internet -- why so much hate?

There's a theory out there that the reason people are so hateful to one another on the internet has to do with 1) anonymity, which means internet people can dish out the hate without having to take it and 2) e-distance = dehumanizing.

OK, but actually I'm not buying it.

One reason I'm not buying it is that when it comes to 1), pointing out that people can do something is hardly an explanation of why they do do it. I mean, if someone were to burn down your house, and you said "Why??!" and they said "Well, there was a can of gas and a match and I knew I could get away with it ..." -- It wouldn't be much of an explanation.

But if 1) is useless, 2) just seems false. Why would you bother randomly hurting someone who couldn't feel pain? You wouldn't. Nobody who felt they were dealing with a non-person on the other end would take the time and mental energy to be rude and hateful. Who cares about hating on a machine?  If rage could be dissipated by cruelty-to-machines, we could just set up little stations where people could shout at robots and feel all better and the real world would be a peaceful quiet place.  I hope you share my feeling that is not going to happen.

No -- this kind of rage and hate make sense only when the target is humanized, when you are actively hoping they will be damaged and hurt by what you've said. 

So unfortunately I think what we're seeking is less an explanation of hate on the internet and more an explanation of Generalized Rage Disorder in the Modern World. Internet isn't really "internet hate" but more like Hate, As Seen On The Internet.

Having coffee recently in a neighborhood off my beaten path, I overheard several conversations that seemed to me to suggest possibly explanations for our Generalized Rage Disorder. They all seemed variations on a theme: Mid-Level Guy has to give Entry-Level Supplicant advice on Reeling in Clients/Pleasing Top Level Guy/Making Numbers. They were all expressed in the most hateful tones of condescension and this-is-for-your-own-good ness. 

You'd have to be Mother Theresa not to leave a conversation like that in some kind of rage.

And really, if you think about it, the "entrepreneurial" self" required by today's neoliberal paradigm, in which branding and not being a chump are tops on everyone's to do list, entails that strategies for making other people feel bad are quite rational. The more other people are beaten down, the more you can get out of them for less, and the less threat they are to you in competitive advantage.

If that's where it starts, we know where it goes from there. Everyone knows what it feels like when the world is out to make you feel bad: it gives you a feeling of rage: You want to pass that bullshit on.

It's like Pay It Forward, but with hate instead of love.

If internet hate is like a thermometer measuring our cultural Pan-Directed Anger Syndrome, I'm putting our current readings somewhere around: Call 911! Now! Before it's too late!


Amy L said...

I totally agree with you about the lack of explanation in the usual explanation of internet rage. I feel that way about popular discussions of sociopaths, too. Their cruel behavior is supposed to be explained by lack of conscience and lack of empathy, but those don't explain it at all. You still have to explain why they want to hurt others, what they get out of the cruelty.

Patricia Marino said...

Hi Amy L., I hadn't thought about the connection but that is really interesting. Leaving motivation out of the explanation is almost like assuming a default motivation of cruelty which only conscience and empathy normally keep in check ... which in turn seems a strange and implausible theory of human nature.