For the past year or so, I’ve been posting in a Facebook group that monitors the activities of a certain right-wing group. Members of said right-wing group would come on the group to troll us and post the same tired misconceptions: that we hate Britain; that we are apologists for rape, paedophilia, Islamic fundamentalism etc.; that Jewish members are modern-day kapos; that we do not wash, live in our mothers’ basements and never, ever leave the house; that we are anti-Semites and Nazis, which is kind of ironic, really. Sometimes, there would be neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, and then it got ugly. Many times, I found myself extremely upset at some of the comments posted. I remember being quite badly triggered by some comments posted about Jews who oppose the group in question, and had to be calmed down.
I met up with friends for food a few days ago, and I got talking about the apologism for Ratko Mladic and Anders Breivik that I’d seen from some members, and one of my friends asked me why I still post there when it’s clearly upsetting me, and why I bother trying to engage with these people.
And you know what? She’s right.
Arguing on the internet has never worked out well for me. Oh, sure, sometimes making fun of idiots is fun, but in the long term, you just get angry and frustrated that some people are so ridiculously ignorant. This is nothing new. Way back in 2005, I co-moderated the political forum on the old Hole site, Kittyradio, and was constantly arguing with trolls who didn’t like the band at all and were just there to convert the liberals or something. It came to a head when American users were telling British users we deserved the 7/7 attacks for ‘letting jihadis into Britain’. I left and never came back. I’d had enough.
Some people love arguing. I don’t. It’s not a case of being a coward so much as not seeing the point. When I change opinions, I change them of my own accord; being shouted at and insulted is not going to make me go, “Why yes, I am wrong.” I do wonder if my hatred of confrontation is something to do with the fact that my mother and father rarely argued, if ever, and on the occasions they did, it never got nasty. Unlike my stepfather, my dad never made my mum cry. When my mother remarried, she and my stepfather could get quite heated, and it upset me a lot, because it was something I wasn’t used to. If I was in the room when they were arguing, I’d go up to my room and hide and wait until it was over. At least it never got violent, but hearing raised voices when you’re trying to sleep and someone storming out to sleep in the spare room is pretty disconcerting when, as a kid, your biological parents never did that.
The main problem is that when someone insults me, calls me unwashed or a kapo traitor or a fat ugly Jew or disgusting, or says my mother is a disease-ridden whore, I take it personally and literally. I know I am not dirty or unwashed. I am very conscious about cleanliness, I regularly change my bedsheets and do my laundry and try not to fall into the trap of wearing the same stuff all the time, I shower and bathe and brush my teeth. I will not run away screaming if you throw soap at me, although I would be somewhat pissed off if it smacked me in the head. I know my mother is not a disease-ridden whore and that she has not been having it off with some bored troll on Facebook who’s never met her anyway, any more that my cousin Alfie is a gorilla who rides around on a tiny pink tricycle. With a horn that plays La Cucaracha.
I have to remember that the person who is calling me these names does not see me, know me or care about me. They just see my beliefs or my membership of the group, and make assumptions. I am not really a person to them; I am just some words on a screen with a goofy picture attached. I am a concept. When they refer to women or Jews or queers or disabled people, they think of those groups as a homogenous mass rather than a group of individuals, the same way that some Americans see Europe as one big homogenous landmass rather than a continent made up of different countries, with different politics and religions and laws and cultures. It’s easier to hate the enemy when they are a nameless, faceless, shapeless crowd with no names and no histories. It’s easier to dehumanise the enemy when the enemy has a vague identity and becomes a mass, a ball of Play-Doh, a walking Portguese man o’war, a sentient jigsaw puzzle.
They do not see someone who plays the piano or sings in a choir or watches stupid videos of animals on Youtube or goes to rock clubs and gigs or reads Discworld or whatever. They just see the group, and a piece that has broken off the main part of the puzzle, without looking at the picture on the piece.
And I can’t be bothered with them anymore. I will not change their minds and they will not change mine. They will not listen to opposing opinions or account for their behaviour, blaming it on infiltrators. They are not worth my time or my energy. I could be putting it to better uses, like practising the solo from Kevin Carter or arranging a new referral (and I will remember this time, dammit!)
That day, I sat on the steps in Piccadilly Gardens with my friends, and then we went to Wetherspoons and ate curry and talked about whether George Clooney and Bryan Adams were an item, Tori Amos’ increasing nuttiness, and Whoopi Goldberg’s lack of hair. I left feeling happy that I’d got out and spent time with people, as being ill, I don’t go out as much as I would like. And it was all entirely more fulfilling than arguing with idiots and getting upset over it.