I'm most skeptical of democracy when I'm driving or interacting with strangers online. How is self-rule possible when people can't even merge correctly? How can folks be trusted to figure out complex political issues when they can't even figure out a four-way stop? Of course I'm being hyperbolic, but really. Yield when you merge and don't drive on the gore.
And then there's the internet. I've had a mostly negative experience writing and publishing things online. The pay is low, particularly the more prestigious the outlet. Free internet content is subsidized by the people who create it. Which of course is not fault of the editors, who are themselves often harried and overburdened and can run the gamut in character from someone like Artur Rosman, who is as intelligent, kind, and humble a person as you'd ever hope to meet, to the one editor who never responded to my pitch but instead stole the idea and wrote it himself. I love writing ("someone hit the big score / they figured it out / I was gunna do it anyway / even if it didn't pay"), and can't ever imagine leading a life where I didn't write, but by FAR the worst thing about writing for the internet is the hate mail.
Case in point: I wrote an article for The Atlantic way back in 2014 about the racist origins of St. Louis's Veiled Prophet ball. Apparently the piece was picked up by a bunch of random internet people and used to attack an actress that I don't know anything about. I don't know the details. I don't care. The entire thing sounds idiotic. Whatever the VP Fair used to be, it is not that now. My own memories of the fair had more to do with an air show and fireworks than a "legacy of racism", and I'm sure that most people in St. Louis have no idea at all about how or why the ball originated. Should participation in the VP fair be used as a cudgel to attack people? You'd have to be pretty bored and overly sensitive to think so. Now, this actress may have done something else worthy of condemnation and people are using the VP thing to strengthen the case or something, again, the whole thing sounds beyond idiotic to me so I'm not going to dive into it; but if winning an award at the fair is the only allegation standing against her, then the case seems pretty weak. Well, what can you do. Mobs are idiots. And yet somehow, the (admittedly not much) hate mail that I've gotten about this "helping to smear" this actress or whatever, surely is piggybacking on the same moronic energy of the very people they're reacting to. Parasitically, as it were. They think they're pulling in different directions but they're all part of the same disgusting online rat king.
Imagine actually engaging emotionally with this VP/actress cancelling thing. Then imagine taking the time to look ME up, someone only tangentially connected. Then imagine actually using a fake name and email address and then sending me a form message denigrating me for being on the wrong side of this moronic online [enter provocatively colorful phrase here]. It would take a loser of such epic proportions that the mind reels. Insults don't hurt me personally since I'm an emotionally stable adult, but this is how hate mail gets under my skin: it undermines my faith in the rationality of random strangers. To me, reading these things feels like watching someone merge onto a highway without yielding. It isn't exciting or dangerous or whatever, it just leave me with a dull sense that people are too stupid to help themselves or each other.
And so this is my cynical takeaway from a brief moment when I "trended" on a platform that harvests the best parts of your brainwaves in order to turn your mind into a pachinko machine. It wasn't fun. It wasn't exciting. It just underscored how vapid our culture actually is. And I'm sorry I was involved at all, even as a footnote.
Now get offline and go read Gorgias or a drivers ed manual or something.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor