On the way back from some chores, I was doing a little tweeting on my phone. I cracked a joke— admittedly a corny one— and one of my Twitter followers responded with a variant of that ever-popular quip, ‘[x] is bad and you should feel bad’— specifically, stating that my joke was bad.
Attempting to appear unruffled, I immediately tweeted back, ‘umad?’
Then it hit me.
I have bemoaned, for a long time, the fact that my beloved fan culture tolerates— and even defends as something not worth worrying about— the presence of thieves, liars, rapists, paedophiles, and bigots. Even worse, those who complain about said people are vilified as ‘social justice warriors’ (in more polite company), ‘white knights’, or— as 4chan puts it (trigger warning: slurs!)— ‘moralfags’. At best, those who complain about such things are ignored; at worst, they are subjected to mockery and even worse.
All of this is easily explicable once you realise that the goal in the Internet community at large isn’t to be a good person— it’s to be a chill person. (I’d say that this applies to the “real world” outside the Internet as well, but on the Internet it’s practically religion.) If you get your jimmies rustled, if you get “butthurt”, if “u” in fact are “madbro”, you lose social capital. The most beloved people are those who never get upset; the most reviled are those who are angry. It really doesn’t matter what they are angry about; it’s the anger itself that the net finds abhorrent.
In the near-future of Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, there exists a system of social capital called “whuffie”, which has essentially replaced currency. Those with high “whuffie” are respected; those with low “whuffie” are essentially shiftless bums.
I would argue that in the system of social capital we (“we” here meaning “the collective consciousness of the United States, and in particular of American Internets users”) are building, instead of earning capital by being excellent to each other, you earn capital by just not giving a fuck.
Call it “chill”. The more chill you are, the more highly regarded you are on the Internet. And this is precisely why those pesky Social Justice (“SJ”) types are so disliked in Internet culture: They’re angry. They complain. They’re perceived as screechy and strident— utterly dissonant to the ‘net’s dominant culture of I Just Don’t Give A Fuck And Neither Should You.
4chan itself is the ultimate distillation of this culture, of course, but its values have slowly diffused throughout the entire Internet. The 4channification of modern online culture has led to the present zeitgeist in which the quickest way to put yourself into the social-capital poorhouse is to complain— even if your complaint is completely valid, backed by evidence, and on an extremely serious topic like theft or rape or bigotry.
In a sense, this can be viewed as a sort of perverted echo of the values of the 1960s— a twisted revival in which our culture has resurrected the “be cool, man” vibe while completely forgetting the serious and necessary social activism which was another hallmark of that long-bygone era. We’re too busy smoking our virtual bongs and patting ourselves on the back to put up with any of that protest-movement crap.
This culture isn’t limited simply to ordinary members of Internet culture. Even people in positions of significance within Internet subcultures follow the values of Chill Über Alles.
For instance: When the SJ people pointed out to the organisers of one convention that an admitted rapist was on the staff of their parent group and planning on attending their next major event, the response was a half-hearted shrug with a farcical appeal to a “legal team” (as if it was somehow illegal for a private event to ban an individual). It took significant and coordinated social activism— culminating in a petition signed by hundreds— to finally get any action, and even then the convention didn’t make a public statement on the matter, probably fearing bad PR from offending the rapist’s friends and his many defenders (!).
Another example: When I complained to my successors on the staff of a good-sized convention of a known paedophile/ephebophile (he’d been banned from a meetup group for hitting on an underaged girl— cheating on his wife while doing so), their response, too, amounted to an elaborate shrug. They were terrified to ban this individual, as doing so would rock the boat. Their concept of “fairness” put the rights of a creepy paedo over the well-being of the con-going public (and, in specific, the safety of underaged females).
A third and final example: When I pointed out that the organisers of a different convention had committed acts of theft, violation of privacy, and incited a virulent transphobic campaign of hatred against me, not merely the organisers of that convention but those of other conventions took it upon themselves to try to shut me up, including publically shaming me— lecturing me, even, using my first name rather than my fandom name— for having the unmitigated gall to inform the public that wrongdoing had occurred. When I warned the company who holds the IP underlying our fandom that they were sending Guests of Honour to a convention run by criminals and demagogues, not one but three other convention heads (none involved with said trashy convention) were so enraged that they actually sent me a signed letter (complete with very official-looking scanned signatures) informing me (in a very official and curt manner) that they were pulling out of an Internet streaming show I was about to hold with their representatives. My activism against some very bad people resulted in my deliberate punishment by the current standard-bearers of the con scene.
I’d like to end by pointing out some of the real-world consequences of this modern “chill culture”. Specifically, I have been upset for a long time by the slow speed of the LGBT rights movement, particularly in the United States. I think I know now why it’s been so slow. America is an increasingly Internet-heavy culture— and on the Internet, giving a crap is irritating… and actually getting angry about injustice is disgusting. That’s why there have been no widespread, 60s-style protests in favour of LGBT rights. That’s why LGBT people still can’t marry in most states, and it’s still legal in dozens of states to fire someone for being gay or trans. And by even pointing this out, I lose social capital— because I’ve shown that my jimmies have, in fact, been rustled.
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