The Internet has given all of us superpowers of communication, exposing our human frailty.
By SUSAN HURRELL
Humans just can’t have nice things. We have been given a tool that has the power to connect us with anyone in the world in a click. What an opportunity for profound communication, mutual enlightenment, uplifting discourse and the nurturing of our “new age” values of Love and Light.
We had a New Eden. We had access to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We ate the apple (no brand reference intended.) It could have been paradise. Instead, we have snakes aplenty. We have cyber-bullying, hate-speech, revenge porn and online stalking. Misinformation, disinformation and outright lies. And it is all just lights on a screen until, tragically, someone dies.
We can build online global communities. We can access a virtual Library of Alexandria, having the wealth of human knowledge and experience available at our fingertips. We can commune with thought-leaders in the secular and spiritual realms, following their ongoing wisdom, even joining real-time live streams that allow us to sit at their virtual feet.
The power of publishing has been given to the people. Anyone can now publish a book, teach a class, share their journal, distribute their poetry, win an audience for their art. You can give your ideas away for free, or earn a living sharing your work on the web. No third-party agent or broker or publisher or gallery owner determines who can see your work or buy your work – you can reach anyone who is connected to the web. No one can stop you from sharing your ideas.
Except fear. Fear of the comments. Fear of the trolls. Fear of the stalkers and the lurkers and identity thieves that are the monsters living in the shadows of the Garden. While the truth can flourish, no one can stop the lies from finding soil in which to grow on the web.
I hope that you, Gentle Reader, have never cyber-bullied anyone, nor participated in hate-speech. I cannot imagine that you have shared revenge porn, or that you are an Internet stalker. I’d like to believe that you check the source of any controversial information that you share to ensure it is true and correct and valid. I want to believe that your words to others in the comments section pass the four gates – that you speak the truth, that you speak with kindness, that you speak what is necessary, that you speak to edify.
But I cannot be sure that is the case. For every good thing that is written on the Internet, there are shadow-side posts and comments that cause damage to body, mind, spirit and soul. How did we – who control the content on the Internet in our own microcosms that make up the macro – how have we let this happen?
With the rise of the forces of authoritarianism and fascism in the political sphere, I have been shocked and dismayed by the posts I have seen by people whom I have loved and cherished as family, friends, acquaintances. Sometimes it is what they share. Sometimes it is what they add as a comment. Sometimes it is the groups they belong to or endorse. Sometimes, it is by what they let slide, what they don’t challenge, what they don’t stand up FOR.
There are forces at work that would diminish the humanity of those who are “other” – from different cultures, religions, philosophies, locations, gender-identities, etc. I’m not talking here about a difference of political opinion. (Disclaimer: I have no party affiliation at any political level). I’m talking about hate. (And it has been said that hate often comes from fear.) And we in the New Age community are often “the other” to those whose beliefs are more mainstream.
Example: A picture of a Sikh man wearing a turban riding a motorcycle with an unhelmeted child riding behind him becomes a frothing whirlpool of racist polemic. Somehow the actions of one irresponsible parent speak to special treatment of minorities, the negative impact of immigration, the weakening of our rule of law. The only issue here is bad parenting, manifesting as a traffic safety violation.
It has become so easy to let hate and disrespect dominate our discourse. To allow what is new or different or unknown to make us fearful instead of curious. To assume that what has been “the norm” for decades is right only because it is habitual.
It is still normal on the Internet to shame women for their appearance, for their enjoyment of sexuality, for their right to say no to unwanted attention. What used to be acceptable humour and locker room talk is now identified correctly as hate speech and misogyny, and it still happens. Once you start to see anti-women speech on the Internet, its prevalence will shock you.
The recent tragedy in Toronto was allegedly committed by someone who was angered that he was unable to have meaningful emotional and sexual relationships with women. There is an underground community of very angry men who feel disenfranchised from social norms and who nurture their shared rage. The Hydra of domestic terrorism has spawned a new head.
Homophobia, like misogyny, is rampant on the Web, from schoolyard slurs, to outright threats, to fearmongering in our political conversations, where some draw incorrect equations between being gay and being a threat to children. The trans community, the asexual community, the non-binary community and others experience the same persistent hatred in ways both overt and covert.
Imagine being a gay woman of colour, who may also be a refugee from a war-torn area in the developing world. The online hatred towards the immigrant and refugee community is often thinly veiled as patriotism. There is much incorrect information being shared about government funding, government intention, immigrant rights and privileges as compared to our seniors, our military, our veterans.
The fear of the other, of people of different races and religions is illogical when we remember that unless we are members of one of the First Nations, we are all the descendants of immigrants who came to this continent as people of a different colour, race, religion than those who were here before us. And because Canada has been a nation of immigrants for centuries, just because someone is different than us, doesn’t mean they are “new” to Canada. Their ancestors may have been here long before our own. Telling them to go back to where they came from may mean heading to St. Boniface, or somewhere more exotic, like Vancouver.
We tear each other down, criticizing, admonishing, impugning motive, implying malintent. No matter what someone does, there is someone ready to take them down. Sometimes, trolls don’t even read with sufficient comprehension to have their critiques make sense. They pick apart words, play semantic games, parse the intention of the original post into disconnected fragments that rely on logical flaws in their refutation. This is bullying, as much as the schoolyard name-calling that is present in equal measure.
So, Gentle Reader, Believer in Love and Light, what do we do to fight for the Light, and keep the darkness at bay? Do we turn the other way, until the haters come for us? They have, and they will continue to – they may just not have found you yet. Do we protect and defend those who are the most vulnerable on the Web – who really, are all of us. All that is required for evil to flourish is for us to continue to do nothing.
At the very least, we can arm ourselves with facts. Sites like snopes.com and urbanmyths.com provide a place to cross-check information that is designed to promote fear and hatred. We can pledge to check the origin of information we share and comment on. I once shared a post that read and felt like a simple statement of loving my country. It turned out that its source was a far-right hate group, whose values could not be further from my own. By sharing that post, I validated their existence. I could only plead ignorance and was grateful to the friend who alerted me by PM that I had unwittingly promoted hate.
I make myself a pest on friends’ streams by sharing Snopes refutations of the misinformation that they share because they want to be helpful, to pass along what a friend they respect has said is important. But the buck stops with me when I can identify the smell of buck-poop.
Much of what we believe in our New Age doctrines cannot be proven to the satisfaction of science, but as in all religious paths, there are accepted teachings, philosophies and small t truths that we may adhere to. The healing properties of crystals, the power of the Tarot, the guidance of the stars – these may be buck-poop to some, but our belief in any of these things causes no harm to others, or to ourselves. Some people believe in the miracle of transubstantiation. Others in reincarnation. Others in things that go bump in the night. People are free to believe as they wish. Disagree with me, but you don’t have to be mean about it and call me names, or threaten my well-being.
It would be easy to say that the trolls are “the new Other” and they are not us – but they are. We may not even realize that we are part of the problem when we jump to a conclusion, when we type with anger in the moment, when we criticize rather than question or critique. Be honest: it is something we have all done and are likely to do again. So I ask you to consider what you can contribute to rebuilding the positive vibrations of Love and Light in every corner of the Internet that you inhabit. Light is the best disinfectant to heal the Heart of Darkness. Because, my dear friends, we have seen the enemy, and most often, it is us.
Susan Hurrell sees the Sacred in strange and wonderful places in popular culture. Fascinated by new spiritual movements, she is a contributing editor to The Aquarian.