Having spent a whole, luxurious month away from facebook – my personal purification ritual, being unable to fast Ramadan due to breastfeeding – I managed to get embroiled, on my very first trip back into that warped cybernetic watering hole, in a discussion on someone’s page in which I ended up being brutally flamed.
Scorched, in fact!
Grilled to within an inch of my life!
Needless to say, I shouldn’t have got involved. I could see it was one of those highly emotive issues which so easily seem to plummet to the Rebekah Wade level of propaganda, screaming warnings about X, Y or Z and hammering them home with the hefty guilt trip that you are endangering your childen’s lives, nay, the entire planet’s wellbeing, if you do not immediately fall into line!!
It doesn’t actually matter what the debate was about; it was really only a vehicle for a familiar, angry little side of human nature to leap out of the woodwork, in a comfortably untouchable arena, and spit bile at complete strangers. That nasty, yappy little dog within that likes to think it can take on St. Bernards and carthorses if it can just get enough people behind it.
You cannot navigate the web without coming across flames, those predictably insulting comments to so many YouTube videos or on forums. A lot of pitiful, hurt people out there are seeking a way of venting their anger at the world by typing mean words onto a white screen stored in some arbitrary, distant web host hard drive.
What better metaphor for impotence is there? Wouldn’t they rather jut get together and throw ketchup at one another?
The internet is power, if that’s what you give it. I obviously did; I found myself lying awake, for the second night, thinking about every time I have engaged with ridiculous arguments with loved ones over trivial things (as someone once said, “It’s never about what it’s about”), how hurt and shaken up I felt because of some pathetic remark made by someone whose name I don’t even remember. Mentally writing and rewriting my scathing retort, imagining feeling freed by it, then desperate to know what the response is and being stung all over again when the game continues.
And it always continues. Each new wound creates a fresh desire to retaliate, get the upper edge, be superior. Judging others, whether for better or worse, gives you a place, at least, in the moral landscape, a niche carved out of the rock face to call one’s own. I am something because that person is different.
What would it be like to leave the pitch-wrangling for once? Let it drift away, leaf-like, on a river current? No longer to have a spot to squabble over, a city to be beseiged in? Would it feel like floating? Would that yappy little dog finally abandon its designs over the St. Bernard’s bone and just sit quietly, watching the flowers turn purple?
I think there is a secret in this, a message in the ashes of every flame: Do not give illusion power, and it will never overpower you.