I think Online Politics is mostly about hating the right people. That’s probably bad!
I think it’s OK to hate people as a byproduct of your political views. You should probably see billionaires as exploiters and you should see exploitation as a crime — meaning you should feel moral injury which might, as a side effect, spur you to anger and hate.
I think there’s a problem with organizations that traffic in anger and hate, though. I think these organizations are often parasitic.
People seem to use politics as a way to get permission to experience authentic feelings, but I feel like online activism seeks to become people’s main outlet in a way that leaves them hungry for permission and vulnerable to abuse.
I think this is an especially big problem for intro-level anarchism.
So I think most people grow up and reach kind of a good girl/good boy rationalism. A lot of their behavior is explained by what their parents and employer want them to do, which means it does not come from their internal creative and destructive impulses. Because people can’t act out their creative and destructive impulses, they feel a lack of power over their environment.
I don’t mean “environment” abstractly — a lot of people are pretty powerless over the problems in their lives. Men above a certain age don’t have friends, and people who have escaped their teenage years don’t make art or commit crimes. I think that if they were had more control, they would create more art and articulate negative feelings more clearly.
But when people explain what they’re doing, they’re able to rationalize it after the fact.
Think of someone who’s crossing the road. There are no cars but they wait for the pedestrian crossing light to change. They might say they were worried a car might show up out of nowhere, or they were worried they might get in trouble for crossing without permission.
These are kind of goofy on the face of it. Probably people don’t cross without permission because they’re following a rule. Something you’ll notice which undercuts those rationalizations is that, if one person crosses the street illegally, other people who were waiting for the light to change will immediately cross behind them.
People have creative and destructive impulses, but their main release for those is escapist media. They have power over their imagined surroundings, not their real ones. But I think there’s no physical barrier preventing people from say, stealing or destroying other people’s property; or creating art or writing poetry — it has something to do with rules and social expectations.
When someone goes in a slaughterhouse, whatever their opinions are on meat and what they’re going to do later, they should feel frightened and disgusted and they should own that authentic reaction.
This isn’t the same as a creative or destructive impulse — it’s just an authentic emotion, which is something more general. Many people not only lack power over their environment; they lack authentic emotion, because they’re obligated to express feelings that match what is expected from their surroundings.
Which feels rotten!
I’m in a weird position as far as talking to my coworkers goes. I effectively beg to authentically experience rage at social institutions, at powerful people, at evil in general. I want them to feel like they can do that without having to have a solution.
In other words, I’m begging them to experience baby-tier anarchism. And I try to hint to them that baby anarchism is enough — “yeah, if you’re disgusted, great, you’re doing good!”
But I think baby anarchism is only enough when you view it proportionally to the level of their political action. Like, having baby anarchist sympathies is psychologically healthy and politically harmless if your political action is “doing nothing” or “quitting your tech job.” But the more engaged you actually are, the more you have to consider harm.
You have baby anarchists who are actually harassing people online, and at that point you probably have to know a lot more than baby anarchism. You need to know yourself and you need to be wary of manipulators.
Because angry people online are really easy to control. And politics shouldn’t be a feelings contest, but you’ll run into a lot of people who are pretending to be like you — or worse, actually are — who insinuate “my anger entitles me to more than you” even though from the point of view of material harm, they have no reason to be angrier than anyone else.
I think that if you want good political outcomes, you pretty much have to put your emotions in the tank and do rational stuff. Really rational — not “good boy/good girl” rationalism where you do what society tells you and then explain why it was a free choice. You can’t just limit yourself to “what an angry lizard would do.”
(For what it’s worth, my activism has been “giving money to people who obviously need it, pretty often,” which is less cathartic and personal than Organizing (TM) or running social services, but I suspect any other way I spent my time would be literally less effective. I also think many activists refuse to spend money because on a gut level losing money feels like backwards life progress; that has a lot to do with parental expectations and for psychological reasons we should really try harder not to be governed by them.)
So where I’m at — I think that for most people, finding an affirming bubble that lets them leave their “good boy/good girl” rationalism aside is going to be psychologically healthy. Likely, even if some of the issues at stake will be political, it will have literally no political effect.
So you may as well be an anarchist, even in a totally impractical way, if it lets you experience authentic feelings. Good mental health is its own reward.
But there’s a thing I worry about when it comes to anarchist spaces. It’s really similar to the thing I worry about with Burning Man. My worry applies to a lot of less known but more “culty” cults too, like Landmark and the Tony Morris thing.
Basically, I think we need to ask “well, if anarchism et al lets people engage with their authentic emotional selves,” how does it do that?
I think people would like to think that being visibly anarchist makes anarchism conceivable to others. I think this is possible, but I don’t think people’s default political behavior is reasoned. I think most people have a slippery set of justifications that they apply to their existing behavior and their main form of engagement with new, rational ideas is to include them in the set of justifications.
I certainly don’t think being visibly free — which is anarchism in a nonpolitical sense — makes other people free. (I mean freedom in the sense of being unconstrained.)
Yet it ought to, because most people aren’t constrained. Law enforcement is almost a fiction for wide classes of crime. I’ve stolen things, experimentally, and was never even spoken to.
I think that unfortunately, the way that anarchism lets people be authentic is that it gives them permission to. And permission is something people can grow a dependency on.
I ultimately think there’s a lot of artists who only make art in a safe setting — and they only have one safe setting — and it’s a safe setting that, in some way, exploits them. Maybe for the art itself, or maybe for their brain.
I also think a lot of online political spaces offer you a bad, nebulously-defined bargain. They’re gonna let you be angry and destructive, and in exchange, you have to be angry and destructive at the right people, and if you voice heterogeneous opinions or ask people to do the research, you’re going to be criticized. And being criticized shouldn’t be such a big deal, but people can be vicious, in part because they were given permission to indulge destructive impulses and not creative ones — and maybe you lose your only outlet because you go down burning.
(I waffled on whether to include a specific example — I can think of two cases where Twitter was completely wrong about an issue, on a basic level of “failure to do the research,” but my friends got brigaded and harassed for pointing it out.)
I think that having long-term dependence on a specific source of permission is better than having no permission at all, but it’s not as good as having freedom — in the sense of being unconstrained by the need for permission. I think online spaces do very little to help people develop freedom in part because freedom is something that can’t be argued for. When one person tells you “you’re free” and you believe them and you develop the habit of believing a single person, what you have is almost the same as permission, even if it’s nominally something more broad.
I think that to really be free, you need to hear the same thing from a lot of voices that don’t all get along — maybe even some odious people — and you need to feel like you can rise above listening to any particular voice.
I also think the demand for nonstop, passionate activism (usually in the form of destructive activity) doesn’t free you as much as you might expect, because the demand to do activism continues long after the desire to do activism has ended. Being told you can have more is freeing when you want more, but it’s constraining when you’ve already told people you’ve had enough and you have no interest in cleaning your plate.
I also think the awful thing that happens to people other than you — where they’re given an outlet for their destructive impulses, mostly directed at you, and they grow more and more into those impulses — can happen to you, too. You reframe yourself more and more as a person who has those impulses, and maybe you even revert back to “good boy/good girl” rationalism, except the parental figures you’ve learned to please are the people who gave you permission when you needed it most — but only as far as they gave you permission to work inside their agenda.
I’ve framed this as an interpersonal problem, but I also think it’s a problem with algorithms, platforms, and spaces.
Online, negative content gets far more engagement than positive content. There’s a guy I saw on YouTube who used to do funny Final Fantasy videos, then he did one video dunking on Ken Ham, and then his entire channel became nothing but angry, angry philosophical debate.
Basically all spaces, including offline ones, encourage branding. When you’re encouraged to develop a brand, as activist spaces encourage you to, or when you’re encouraged to find one thing you can deliver and produce it, as if you’re selling it, for people who follow you, then you become encouraged neglect desires other than the specific thing you can deliver on. You don’t want your head to become a monoculture, but that’s where the affirmation is.
I ultimately think that most people’s creative impulses are literally not useful to anyone. It’s incredibly unlikely that you will find a space that rewards you for writing poetry or making art when those things are important to you. And it’s not like 50 years ago, when nothing you did was something anyone cared about. In 2022, you can sell basically any activity you do to someone else, in exchange for attention.
The behaviors that you’re discouraged from engage in are not only unprofitable — they were always like that, in the sense that they earn you nothing. They’re now comparatively unprofitable — immensely, compared to the behaviors that establish your brand and spread negativity.
I don’t really have a solution to this problem because I still care about other people’s opinion and see myself as responsive to the forces that hurt people online. I do think I care slightly less about other people’s opinions since I made few minor tweaks to my online experience. (I blocked Follower and Following counts across the board on Twitter, and I plan to block all engagement numbers soon.)
Related to nothing, here’s a poem I wrote in college. I’ve shoved it into many of the games I’ve made, kind of as my alternative to Hello World, in hopes that people would notice it, and it appears in hidden form in a few places in my work projects. So far nobody has:
Mammals is like men
moreso mango tree
that it hangs freely
by the night we
condemn this species
though the body lies
crown no more slender
but men stone flies