But I Still Think The Good Guys Will Win
If you’ve come to the conclusion that the internet really didn’t change anything because people are people and set in their beliefs, the facts say you’re wrong. For instance, the internet era has been devastating for religion in the U.S.A., with the ranks of nonbelievers more than doubling just since 1990. In that same span, support for gay marriage went from 13 percent to 58 percent. Support for marijuana legalization, from 12 percent to 53 percent. I absolutely believe those abrupt changes happened because many Americans were coming in contact with their first atheists, uncloseted gay people, and admitted pot smokers and finding they weren’t monsters. You can strap somebody to a chair and make them watch a thousand hours of PSAs about how this group or that is “just like us,” but it won’t have the same impact as a single positive encounter with one of them. Dogma dies in the face of such experiences.
It’s easy to think of the internet as a cesspool of anonymous harassers but it is mostly a constellation of tight-knit communities that overlap with others, bringing them together in unexpected ways. You’ve heard a lot of talk about online “bubbles” of like-minded people getting more and more extreme in the absence of opposition, but the reason we became so much more open-minded on some issues in the first place is that online communities forced us to mingle across demographics. We may all have joined a forum based on our Babylon 5 fandom, but we quickly realized some of the cool people we were talking to were the type we’d never have run into in our real-life neighborhoods (“Wait, you’re posting from Brazil? What time is it there?!?”). When I was a kid, you’d hear about a deadly earthquake in Taiwan and briefly raise an eyebrow over your coffee. “So sad.” Today, you jump online and say, “Wait, did they say Jiji? That’s where Ironheart69 is from! Has anybody heard from her?”
What I’m hoping is that what we’re seeing now is the reaction to that, the loud rage of a racist realizing his sister is dating a damned Muslim, that his old college roommate turned out to be a trans woman, and that there are black people in horror movies who don’t die. An ideology kicking and screaming as it is dragged out the door, the equivalent of segregationists blocking black children from their schools, knowing full well that theirs was a lost cause.
Over time, lots of those segregationists realized they were wrong, that their rage and the fear at its core were based on nothing. That will happen again. I think. I hope.
David Wong is the Executive Editor at Cracked. His new book, WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ, is available for preorder now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, iBooks, and Kobo.
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