January 24, 2011


I’ve been writing a few op-eds over on Sympatico.ca for the past few months, and I’m constantly baffled by the amount of vitriol that appears in the comments of these op-ed pieces. I know I shouldn’t expect much from the internet (as any Youtube comment thread will prove), but instead of just ignorance and bull-headedness, the people on these comment forms are not just angry, but downright evil.

The fact that the commenters are evil is one thing, but they are a motivated kind of evil: I regularly receive hate mail saying that I should be raped, killed, sodomized, strangled, frozen to death, have my limbs severed, and other such horrific acts. The fact that people get so worked up about an op-ed piece that asks whether or not we should stop subsidizing religious education frightens me; even at my angriest, I would never wish these things on a stranger, so the fact that the commenters throw them around so easily makes me sad for humanity.

Sometimes, I wish people would just read this quirky piece on how to be considerate on the internet:

If you feel the uncontrollable urge to convey to someone that they have no power over you, or that you don’t care about them, try viewing their accomplishments and interests as existing independent of yours, so that you may one day live less in opposition to their interests than in actualization of your own interests, which can be derived in a considerate manner by focusing on things that you like, discerning why you like them and communicating sincerely with those who created them, until finally you feel the uncontrollable urge, instead, to convey non-rhetorical information to someone that you like.

In some of my op-ed pieces, I’ve made an effort to say that while some people have made mistakes, instead of wasting our time blaming them for mistakes, we should use our effort to educate people so that the same mistakes are not made again. These are the pieces that raise the most ire: people get angry to the point of wishing death on the people that made the mistake, and death to me for trying to create something positive out of a negative.

It is for these people I feel most sad. Every day, they are forgiven for their oversights, but yet, when someone makes a mistake, these people not only feel like dwelling on an unintentional wrongdoing, but wishing ill on the people who slipped up — and on the people that say that want to fix the mistakes instead of dwelling on them. It breaks my heart that so many Canadians feel outraged by a small-wrongdoing, but have no qualms about wishing harm and death on others.

I guess, perhaps, this is normal. I recently read this, in a heart-breaking piece about children dying from hyperthermia:

Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”

If it is normal for society to react this way, however, it is not normal for me. It is certainly not normal for the people that I surround myself with, who have compassion and a drive to right the wrongs and make good out of bad, instead of wishing more bad and wrong.

I’ll keep writing my Sympatico op-ed pieces, but every time I do, I write them with a heavy heart because of what some of my fellow Canadians have become.