Burning outrage

One of the problems today is the polarisation of society and the dogmatic nature of the extremes. This is never more evident on social media, especially so in the wake of events such as the shooting in Christchurch on Friday.

I follow twitter pretty avidly, and though I sometimes wonder why it’s because I’ll occasionally come across a piece of news or information, or a perspective, unavailable elsewhere. Our news services are anodyne these days and the reality is if you really want the full scope of news around the world you have to go underground. For me that’s the great value of twitter – it’s a way in to news you wouldn’t otherwise see. Unfortunately you need to deal with the ratbag views and general shoutiness.

It’s never more shouty – or feral or rabid – than after some event of consequence. As I generally follow those I’m more sympathetic with much of what I see generally accords with my politics, though I’m exposed to the other side to. Even though most of the views expressed are in the same neighbourhood as mine oftentimes I am left bemused by the tone and the violence with which those views are held. This is a problem.

I’m known as a man who knows his own mind and who has some strong opinions, but I also hope that I’m a reasonable man. By reasonable I mean I’m willing to listen and consider alternative views and will discourse absent of anger. That doesn’t mean I won’t express the occasional scathing opinion, but I’m well aware that I’m not going to change anyone’s opinion by getting shouty and aggressive.

This is the issue, however. There’s a lot of shouty and aggressive language. It’s clear that people don’t care what others think. They’re not interested in understanding the broader picture, and certainly not in debating an issue. The person they take issue with is an enemy they despise. The point is shouting louder than the person opposed to you.

I find this deeply dismaying. It’s dispiriting to read these exchanges because nothing is ever advanced. That’s the dogmatic nature of the views. If you don’t agree with me then you’re the enemy. Lost in this is any sophistication or nuance, and with that any possibility of coming to terms with a person or situation. Nothing can be achieved unless we seek understanding, and nothing resolved until we find an answer that doesn’t involve belligerence or abuse.

You might say to me, but how can you be balanced when it comes to events like in Christchurch? Naturally, I’m like most people, I’m horrified and angry and – of course – there can be no defence of what happened. It happened though, it’s a fact, and I’m interested in why it happened. My views are polarised on this too, but my ears are open to understand better. It’s easy to vilify these terrorists as some kind of cypher, but the fact of the matter is until last week they were a just another person. I can heap scorn and abuse upon his head, and on those sympathetic to his views – and I do – but to reduce them to mere symbols undermines our capacity to decipher motive and cause.

In this battle between there’s a lot of collateral damage. More moderate voices are caught in the crossfire. There have been several instances of this over the last few days, but one particularly is instructive.

By and large most people supported eggboy’s actions in smashing the egg against Anning’s skull. I’m one of them. In fact, I reckon it’s one of the best forms civil disobedience/protest I’ve seen for many a day. There were some though who questioned the act. These were moderate, generally reasonable people as horrified as the rest of us by what happened in Christchurch. Their opinion was that we shouldn’t be encouraging ‘violence’ on public officials, no matter how deserved. Now it’s ridiculous to suggest any equivalence between acts, and I would argue that the alleged violence of the eggboy was anything but. I understand their point, however, even if I strongly disagree with it.

I’m happy for them to have their opinion. I don’t demand agreement. I don’t expect everyone to believe as I do. Democracy, after all, is about the right to have different opinions – and the difference in their opinions really is pretty innocuous. Or so you would think. And yet any who ventured to share this opinion were buried beneath an avalanche of abuse and ridicule way out of proportion to the act. Their words were twisted into a kind of apologia for Anning and, worse still, as some kind of support. It was totally unreasonable, but that sums up a lot of twitter at least – generally unreasoning.

There is one person I follow with whom I exchanged some friendly opinions and byplay early days. In more recent times I can’t bring myself to interact with her. This is an intelligent and otherwise compassionate person but, one could argue, over-engaged and rigid with dogma. There’s not an issue she won’t comment on serially. She must post hundreds of tweets every day. When things are normal so is she, but then there are issues that trigger her, and events which lay bare the raw anger inside, for that is what it is. It’s ugly to watch, like a bully who won’t stop teasing and harassing and abusing. This is what it’s like, a feral pile-in whenever someone holds an opposing view.

This is someone I liked, but this is way unhealthy. Let it go, take a breath, think twice. There’s probably some impulsion to express those red hot opinions, but ask yourself why. The world isn’t about to be changed by you ridiculing someone.

This is how it is though for many – the burning need to express outrage. Was it ever so, or has social media enabled this? There’s no scale, it’s either zero or 100kmh. I may be old school, but I can’t understand, and can’t believe we can ever become an integrated society until we begin to come together.

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