One view of the internet that I find important is that it’s an amoral ecosystem of ideas, many of which are poisonous to you and can have effects ranging from ‘making you waste your day angry at someone’ to ‘causing you join to a cultish crusade for or against some political ideology that renders you incompatible with large swathes of mainstream society’. If you are a very online person, you cannot just take content as you go, otherwise the hungriest and most efficient predators will snap you up and consume huge amounts of your mental resources. If you are Very Online, the internet will radicalize you by default.

The fact of radicalization is neutral. Certainly there’s nothing guaranteed to be good about the things you already believe and the ways you act; there are extreme-relative-to-society viewpoints and movements floating around that will, in my view, make you a better person. But the majority will not, just because there are more bad things than good things, more incorrect things than correct ones. There’s nothing that says morally righteous movements (or the ones that will make you more thoughtful and happy) are more memetically powerful and good at capturing the imagination and belief system than the immoral.

If you read an unusual claim online, there are two equally important questions to ask about it – the first, of course, is “is this correct?”, and the second is “if I take this seriously, and become the kind of person who believes it, how will it change my life? Do I accept that?”

For me, the thing that most sets my attention vibrating with caution is contempt or mockery. There are some times when I think contempt/mockery is the emotionally appropriate thing to be occupying my mind – but it’s uncommon, nowhere as frequent as the internet would have me be. And contempt easily worms its way in my mind – “these people are contemptible” is a lesson I learn keenly and quickly because I’m afraid of being mocked and want to know what to avoid. Is sincerity cringe? Is being vegan obnoxious? Is being into this particular show embarrassing?

I hate a lot of stuff and love to complain, and am given to understand this is a common human trait, so there’s nothing surprising, or intelligently malicious, about the fact that the internet is brimming with jabs. But, even more so than the real world, the internet tends to amplify contempt – you get to see the wittiest comments someone made in the past week making fun of something, with numbers that indicate that a boggling number of people approved of that statement. You get to see compilations of the stupidest comments the people you dislike said, captioned “this is what they really believe”. In my brief forays to break out of my Democratic bubble in college, I followed some conservatives on social media, and the most surprising thing wasn’t that their points were convincing – I didn’t find it so – but the idiocy of the US liberals they tended to respond to. Some of the most embarrassing people in the world shared something like my beliefs, and they were getting attention in the other camp, same as how their worst people got the spotlight of shame on mine.

So when I see something online practically designed to evoke anger or contempt in me, I don’t treat it as the same kind of thing as anything else in my life. This is a radioactive piece of space rock thrown at me by a vast machine that gives me nice things and friends and is known to function in ways that attract radioactive debris and centrifuge it out at my face. Yes, this screencap of an obnoxious person probably corresponds to a real thing someone said, but treating it primarily as a real thing someone said that I have to have an opinion about, rather than a radioactive space rock that the machine spat out at my face, will have terrible outcomes for my worldview, priorities, and personality.


#infohazards #politics cw? #that one post with the thing #I’m not sure *what* I think about this post‚ but I definitely think about it

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