Good morning, internet!
Last night I was reading this great post over at Flotsam, and while I will probably say more about the post and Alexa Stevenson’s memoir (because I’ve read it! And I have thoughts about it!), I really needed to address something I didn’t love about the post: the comment section.
For those of you who don’t feel like clicking over to read the entire blog post–because it’s good, but goddamn is it LONG–it’s about a lot of things, but it was sparked by a disgusting email informing Stevenson that she should kill her three-year-old.
Yeah, I know. What a world, right?
And Stevenson had some great things to say about that email, and how it made her think about blogging and basic human decency and the internet and all sorts of other fabulous stuff that I’m not going to recap here, because these are some of the comments she got:
I am sorry that your awesomeness attracts some crazy.
I’m almost hoping that guy has some sort of mental illness, you know? Because if there are quote-unquote normal people walking around this world sending emails like that…like, do I have to go outside my house?
The “person” (and I use the term loosely) whose comment discomforted you (and rightly so) is obviously a toad…no, a toad wouldn’t even do that. He/she is an idiot, doubtless living in his/her mother’s basement and subsisting on cheetos and mountain dew. And he/she smells bad. And has orange hands.
Now, there are plenty of thoughtful and great and fantastic comments in that thread. These are really in the minority, and I don’t want to pretend that they aren’t.
But they still really piss me off.
It’s less personal than you’d think. Although I am a fat lady with a mental illness who has–shockingly!–never wished death upon a baby, I’m not really offended on my own behalf. I’m almost 26, I’ve been fat for most of my life, and I’ve been crazy since the day I was born: I’m a wee bit desensitized to this sort of thing. Nope, I’m pissed because I’ve been reading a really gargantuan biography of Ida B. Wells, and after wading through several hundred pages worth of evidence that an entire region of people systematically oppressed, abused, and brutally murdered their neighbors (and in some cases their own relatives), I’ve really got to say–we need to stop “othering” people who commit violent acts or engage in hate speech. Because seriously. This is why this shit still goes on.
You don’t have to be crazy in order to do horrible things like call for the death of a child, or–in a slightly more extreme example–track a man through several states, brutally torture him until you think he’s dead, set fire to what you think is his corpse, and then continue torturing him as he burns. To do those awful, disgusting things, you just have to be able to dehumanize the people you’re hurting, to shut off the part of yourself that feels empathy for their suffering. And that’s not a characteristic that’s unique to crazy people. That’s just part of the human condition.
Yep, that’s the icky truth. Being human isn’t just about the great stuff, like people engaging in civil disobedience and nonviolent protests or making beautiful art or saving the life of a stranger at the cost of your own: It’s also about peer pressure and bullying and torture and murder. Humans are capable of helping an old lady cross the street and of tripping her just to watch her break a hip. Cruelty and kindness are part of every person, and the balance of the two depends much less on brain chemistry or diet than it does on the society in which you live and the standards of that society. White Southerners didn’t lynch Black Southerners because all white Southerners suffered from some mysterious mental illness that has since mysteriously begun petering out: They lynched their neighbors because Southern society was one based on systematic violence and dehumanization. They lynched their neighbors because it was socially acceptable–even admirable!–to do so. And the terror state that was the South didn’t begin to improve because somebody slipped Valium into the water. It improved because people like Ida B. Wells stood up and said, “This shit is fucked! What the hell?”
Except, you know, in a more Victorian fashion.
In the end, I think the reason those comments got to me so much is that Stevenson’s entire post was about how the social conventions of the internet make it possible to spew hate at a little girl who spent the first few months of her life in the NICU. And then a bunch of commenters completely missed the point and were like, “That person must be crazy!” No. That person may well be crazy–I don’t know him–but if he is, that’s not what motivated his verbal attacks on a little girl. The knowledge that he could get away with it, and that in many corners of the internet, people would admire him for saying what he did is what motivated him. And you don’t have to be crazy to simultaneously desire the approval of others while wanting to hurt those you perceive as being less important than yourself.
You just have to be human.