Shouting into the void: “I’M MAD AS HELL… and I don’t have anything better to do right now”

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Internet out­rage is some­thing peo­ple love to par­take in; even when a sto­ry isn’t true, is in­com­plete, or is ob­vi­ous­ly be­ing sen­sa­tion­al­ized. It’s be­come an in­sti­tu­tion that bor­ders on the dog­mat­ic. Websites will whip their user­bas­es into a self-righteous fren­zy and di­rect them at some per­ceived ill in the world. The fe­roc­i­ty of this rage is matched only by its brevity

mad side 1The lifes­pan of your av­er­age on­line rage-storm is usu­al­ly the lifes­pan of your av­er­age fart (or how many sec­onds Anthony Bruch goes with­out some­one rail­ing his wife). We are be­set by out­rage, and mobs of head­less chick­ens just look­ing for the next cause to fap them­selves raw over and ejac­u­late their white-hot opin­ions all over so­cial me­dia are just a click­bait ar­ti­cle away from their 2 min­utes hate.And the me­dia has tak­en to am­pli­fy­ing this rage. They will fea­ture people’s tweets as if 140 char­ac­ters of someone’s un­mit­i­gat­ed on­line re­tar­da­tion is some­how more rel­e­vant than what a team of trained broad­cast­ers can muster. I guess crowd-sourced rage fills dead air.

The low­est form of rage is usu­al­ly the slack­tivist hashtag.Pretty much all of them lack the autis­tic stay­ing pow­er of some­thing like Gamergate (which I will ad­mit has had its fair share of cringe mixed in with the suc­cess­es) and their im­me­di­a­cy is hu­mor­ous once the fer­vour dies down. People switch from hy­per­bol­ic ur­gency on an is­sue that is ap­par­ent­ly life and death only to go back to talk­ing about Kim Kardashian’s ass or how they “fuck­ing love sci­ence!” even though they would have an aneurysm try­ing to do a dif­fer­en­tial equation.

Outrage, and the urge to be seen to “do some­thing” — when do­ing some­thing usu­al­ly en­tails 10 min­utes of post­ing on Facebook — has been turned into an in­dus­try. There is no more ex­haustible re­source in the uni­verse than stu­pid­i­ty, but im­po­tent rage comes in as a close sec­ond. And com­bin­ing the two is a great way to by­pass people’s frontal lobe and tap into those nice juicy emo­tion­al responses.

I think the first big ex­am­ple of this kind of re­tard ac­tivism on­line was “Kony 2012”, a con­fus­ing tale of African war­lords and snake oil sales­men cul­mi­nat­ing in an ar­rest for pub­lic mas­tur­ba­tion. No re­al­ly, the guy jerked it in pub­lic and van­dal­ized cars whilst drunk. It was a whole thing.

Gross pub­lic mis­con­duct aside, the feel­ings of those tak­ing part were very real and ur­gent to them in the mo­ment. They were re­al­ly, re­al­ly out­raged by this whole Kony sit­u­a­tion… un­til they weren’t. This wasn’t the first high-profile on­line ac­tivist cause, but it was the one I think had all the hall­marks of mod­ern hash-tag slack­tivism: it was ini­ti­at­ed top-down by a slick mar­ket­ing and a PR push, it was put out as a “good vs. evil” sto­ry, it had some in­jus­tice that peo­ple who con­sid­ered them­selves en­light­ened and pro­gres­sive could fix, and cru­cial­ly it was al­most cer­tain­ly a com­plete lie meant to raise me­dia pro­file; to push a right­eous seem­ing agen­da and make cold hard cash in the process.

People mak­ing up caus­es or at­tach­ing them­selves to what­ev­er is ‘trend­ing’ is a symp­tom of what I’ve dubbed “con­ve­nience ac­tivism.” Social me­dia is like an ac­tivism drive-through; peo­ple can’t be both­ered to go out and find a wor­thy cause, that’s too much like hard work. Some peo­ple don’t want to set up their own cause be­cause that’s even more work, so they find ways to get that feel good hit of “jus­tice” with­out any of the legwork.

Most of all they want to be mad at some­thing and have a good self-righteous shout at the world. That’ll fix it! Just shout at it. Don’t even get up from your desk — hell you can even do it from your couch on your phone. Go on, put some emo­ji in there too so peo­ple know how these ur­gent is­sues make you FEEL, then go back to watch­ing Two and a Half Men re-runs and main­lin­ing mi­crowave­able pizza.

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This is part of what has cre­at­ed the cul­ture of “so­cial jus­tice war­riors.” In some ways, they suf­fer from a form of ac­tivism obe­si­ty. They con­sumed too much con­ve­nience ac­tivism, and now they can’t stop. Their hunger is ab­solute, and with every step their out­rage grows more and more un­healthy. They need a cause, any cause, to con­sume and re­gur­gi­tate into a ag­gre­gat­ed hash­tagged mush.

I see it con­stant­ly. Activism in­vad­ing hob­bies so ass­holes can go I’m touch­ing your stuff! I’m touch­ing your stuff! I’m smear­ing my ide­ol­o­gy all over your stuff and you can’t stop me! They are the  tod­dler who can’t stand an­oth­er child hav­ing a toy, with the same un­con­trol­lable bawl­ing tantrums when some­one tells them no. All of this is then pro­ject­ed back onto any per­son they dis­like in a hail of tweets and Facebook posts in­tend­ed to shame.

Being an­gry at the “right” kind of things is a form of so­cial sig­nalling. It’s a way to show to the right peo­ple that you are so­cial­ly con­scious and back­ing the right caus­es. People used to con­spic­u­ous­ly give to char­i­ty, and rich hip­pies used to chain them­selves to trees, but now they just write 140 char­ac­ters about how much they hate manspread­ing, or white peo­ple, or what­ev­er Salon or Gawker has whipped them up into an in­dig­nant rage about this time around. The “an­gry right-winger” is a long stand­ing stereo­type, but the spit­ting bile I see now comes from ag­ing hip­sters who refuse to get their heads out of col­lege long af­ter they’ve flunked out of their lib­er­al arts degrees.

And this all doesn’t do any­thing. You aren’t do­ing any­thing pro­duc­tive. The mon­ey to grand caus­es are most like­ly go­ing into someone’s pock­et. The lofti­er the rhetoric of­ten the big­ger the con. Why not make things bet­ter in your im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment? Help a friend out, help a fam­i­ly mem­ber out, or find some vol­un­teer work.

Just. Fucking. DO. Something.

You have the pow­er to make your lit­tle en­clave of this world just that lit­tle bit less shit­ty. You don’t need to make every act a pub­lic dis­play; the real im­prove­ments in this world get done by those who qui­et­ly roll up their sleeves. If you just sup­port good caus­es to glo­ri­fy your­self then you are mere­ly a narcissist.

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I don’t write these pieces be­cause I think I’m chang­ing the world. Look at what I called this se­ries: “Shouting into the Void” I know what I’m do­ing is most like­ly a blast of hot air into emp­ty space. I just don’t care. I just have to get it all out so I can sleep a lit­tle bet­ter at night that’s all. My writ­ing is a pure­ly self­ish act, and I do it be­cause i en­joy it. If some­one can find com­fort or be­come in­spired by it, then it is the best kind of bonus.

But I have no il­lu­sions to my anger be­ing a trans­for­ma­tive force for good like a le­gion of cloned Stepford stu­dents are be­ing taught to be­lieve. You can’t fix this world, it is too big and the is­sues too com­plex. But you can fix yourself.

As the Kendrick Lamar lyric goes: “Shit don’t change ’till you get up and wash yo’ ass Nigger.”

If you’d rather I quote the Bible: “Why do you look at the speck of saw­dust in your brother’s eye and pay no at­ten­tion to the plank in your own eye?”

They mean the same thing. Don’t be a self right­eous hyp­ocrite, and start chang­ing the world where you have the most agency — your­self. You can sup­port all the right is­sues, have all the right pol­i­tics, and at­tack all the right tar­gets and still be an in­cred­i­bly shit­ty per­son. If you think your world­view is so su­pe­ri­or to every­one else’s, and that you have the right to take to so­cial me­dia and vom­it bile all over it then don’t pre­tend you are bet­ter than the “trolls.”

We live in an age of pro­fes­sion­al trolls; hate mon­gers who pre­tend to be the voic­es of com­pas­sion and moral au­thor­i­ty. These are the cor­rupt preach­ers and dem­a­gogues of our age. Snake-oil venders and which hunters who lead fick­le bands of peo­ple with noth­ing bet­ter to do with their time, and noth­ing else to at­tach their ego to.

You could say these rants are the ed­i­to­r­i­al equiv­a­lent of an­swer­ing the door in a dressing-gown hold­ing a bot­tle of whiskey. But when it’s 3am and I can’t sleep, at least I still have the cre­ative en­er­gy to put it on the page. Am I adding to the prob­lem? Maybe.

But at least I know I’m an asshole.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
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