I want you to imagine a vast underground chamber. Stone walls soar into shadows blacker than the darkest night. From gouges in the floor of this vast chamber, jets of flame shoot up at intervals. Amidst rubble and detritus, men and women are chained hand and foot to huge spoked wheels, axles driven into the earthen floor. They labor, three at a spoke, turning the wheels, driving bellows that fan the flames beneath their feet. The smell of sulfur burns their nostrils, their eyes are red and run constantly. Six spokes, twenty people to a wheel, and thousands of wheels stretching further than the eye can see in this great and horrible place. The moans and cries of the sick and wounded are lost in the roar of the flames. Those who fall to the overpowering heat are trampled by their fellows, for the wheels must turn.
Come down, through this rift in the earth, down into the flames. They won’t hurt you, not here. You’re safe with me, because we are not of this world. The flames are channeled into great machinery, myriad gears shuddering and grinding. Into the mouth of this furnace are poured mistakes, petulance, petty injustices, insecurities, thoughtless cruelties, acts of malice. They are small, no bigger than your fist. Except the machinery, it changes them.
Follow this sentiment, as it drops into a minecart, as it rolls into the fire. Softened by flames and gripped by gears driven from above, it is smashed, stretched, elongated, and infused with blackness. It grows, it swells into a black heart. Its torturous journey ends, miles later, it falls hissing into a sea of cold, filthy water.
This water, black with the residue of innumerable dark deeds, is ladled into buckets, it is carried by chained men, up a winding stair, into the huge chamber above the dark machine. It is given to the ones who labor at the wheels, and it burns in them. Its fire compels them, they dig in their heels, they brace themselves and advance the wheels.
The black heart, that is discarded.
Do you understand this dystopia? Do you feel the curvature of this bleak landscape? Can you taste the metallic tang in the air, smell the dank humanity?
The internet is becoming a vast hate engine. We’ve found a way to turn ourselves into fuel, mindlessly driving this rage machine.
It isn’t bad enough for someone to say something hurtful, we must pile on. Justice must be served. If racism becomes evident, that person is crucified. If someone displays chauvinism, they are hung. You have tasted power, the power of a rioting mob, and you are drinking deep. You drink poison.
Eventually, it isn’t enough to attack the racist or the chauvinist or the bigot. One camp presses their wheels into motion when someone claims to be one of them. Another camp surges forward in response to the attacks of the first camp.
In our frenzy to stand up for what we know to be right, we power the infernal machine. We fuel the fire. We create dissension, hate, division. It has to end, because it is shameful. When I think about exposing my children to the bitching, the backbiting, the empty quarrels that yield only frustration, it makes me sick at heart. In packs, we are inhuman. We froth, rabid, determined to crush whatever offends us.
The racist, the chauvinist, the bigot, are not converted by our rage. At best they learn not to voice their socially unacceptable opinions, at worst they realize that they have gained a kind of power through provocation. You will not change anyone with your hand-wringing and your open letters and your retweets. All you accomplish is a slow, subtle terraforming of our environment. We morph, from a tribe to a war band.
The sublime joy of finding a tribe is subverted by seeing the way they behave. The reasons may be right (though mostly I think they’re frivolous) but the actions do us a disservice, and the results are a lie. I don’t want to introduce my children to this society.
Jerry Holkins sums it up beautifully:
“This totalizing dialogue, where “everything” and “everyone” is this or that, and here are the teams, and morality is a linear abstraction as opposed to its three dimensional reality is a crock of fucking shit.
The swooning and fainting and so forth about this stuff, the fever, is comical in its preening intensity. There is clearly some kind of competition to determine who is the most scandalized.”
If participating in this childish behavior only powers the hate machine, how can we tear it down, and still oppose injustice?
Create, express, and encourage beauty.
Jerry says that the answer is “Always more art” and I agree. I didn’t even need to write this, I could have just linked his article I guess. Except, maybe by broadening the context I can show you something in yourself. Hate doesn’t beat hate, just like fire doesn’t quench fire, except through the complete obliteration of all available fuel.
People are not worse than they were ten years ago, their wrongness is only more visible. People will not be better ten years from now, no matter how you strive against their wrongness.
Create, express and encourage beauty. Instead of pointing out and roundly condemning every act of injustice, quietly find a way to contribute to setting it right, or to creating a counterpoint in justice.