The Intarwebs as we know them have become somewhat infamous as a home for nonsensical flame wars, illogical arguments and unmitigated insults. Every forum or comment board either seems to fit the stereotype or fight against it. However, there is a trend I have noticed among those who want the Internet to be a nicer place to fight fire with fire. There is seemingly an army of people who dislike negativity so much that they counterattack any negativity they encounter with more of the same.
Let us take first for example episode 33 of the Night Shift Podcast. In the previous episode they made an off-hand comment about how they were not fond of another podcast. While any negativity may be unpleasant to some people, I see nothing wrong with expressing honest opinions, positive or negative. I don’t think the Night Shift guys said anything about this other podcast that crossed a line, and if they did it was most likely in jest. The result of this very slight negative comment was a torrent of flames via e-mail. In an attempt to reduce negative attitudes and opinions the fans of this other podcast inundated the innocent NSP.
For another example, let us look at the forums of the Comic Geek Speak podcast. Here you have one of the finest examples of a happy forum on the world wide web. Everyone there is friendly, often intelligent and sharing in a common interest in the medium of graphic storytelling. This forum of users, of which I am a member, is so proud of its lack of flame wars and idiocy that it defends its serenity with the complete rage of a berserk Wolverine. They don’t mind if you put down something that is unpopular amongst most of the members, because that is humorous, e.g. Rob Liefeld. They don’t mind if you lightly put down something you don’t like, e.g. “I didn’t like X, it’s not my cup of tea.” But if you make any strong negative statement, no matter how honest or true, about something which someone else likes or that might be construed as mean, watch out! If you thought your original post was mean, you better beware what’s going to come at you. They hate negative attitudes so much, that when they see one expressed they will unleash the same negative attitude they despise upon it.
You can find instances of this same phenomena outside of the web as well. Just go to any school in this country. If a student were to write a terrible paper, the teacher would not even think of telling the student the work is terrible. It doesn’t matter how true it is, the most a teacher can say is “this needs work” or “needs improvement”, etc. out of fear that the student’s self esteem might be hurt. If the teacher decided to go against the grain and speak openly, they would be hounded by parents and administrators with a negative attack far worse than what was given to the student.
My final example is Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion. Everything written in the book is honest, well-researched and intellectually sound. However, not everything in the book is positive sunshine. Some people, many who even might agree with the book, decry it for being mean. I’ve heard comments such as “He’s right, but he doesn’t have to be such an asshole about it.” Look at this comment for a second. Someone is complaining that someone else is being an asshole, by being an asshole!
There is increasing social pressure in the English-speaking world to avoid saying anything negative. Words and phrases like “terrible,” “sucks,” “I hate,” and “piece of shit” are being shunned from the vocabulary. If you don’t like something, you are supposed to either politely express your opinion and then shut up, or just stay shut up in the first place. If you don’t, then you will soon encounter the hypocrisy of a thousand insults to counter your own.
I say fuck it. If you don’t like something, you have every right to express that dislike loud and clear. If someone honestly does something stupid, let ’em know. If you don’t like something that someone else likes, tell them why you think they have bad taste. These people trying to paint the world in bright happy colors are the ones who need to shut up. Sometimes people don’t like things, and they should be encouraged to express their opinions with words that properly color their level of dislike. If negative opinions upset you, don’t counter them with more of the same. We need to encourage unrestrained use of all the colors of our language, even if they are unpleasant. Sometimes truth and honesty are more important than someone’s feelings. And you know what? Having some negative feelings now and again is good for you. If you really don’t like something, let the world know. It will make you feel a lot better. I promise I won’t insult you for it.