Why we are so combative and dreadful on the internet

I want to take a break for a second and try to explain what I think is going on with us and how we behave on the internet.

I ask that you please just listen first, read the whole thing and don’t let the knee jerk reaction/voice in your head drop into the gear of looking to argue, find flaws, or even agree.  Doing this is a Pavlovian response for us at this point, try to fight it.  Just read and understand the point I am trying to get across. I have little hope that more than a small fraction of you will be able to do that, as each one of us, in our brain, has a Rolodex of all opinions and things we want to say about anything…it takes only a sentence or a word and that Rolodex spins to an adjoining card and you knee jerk begin to focus  on your opinion and stop listening or understanding.  Do please try to resist that.

Can I assume you have some understanding of “tribal instincts” and the concept of “the other”?

Since they first ventured out of the caves, humans have only interacted on a regular basis, with other humans who were in arms reach. This is how it has been, even up to the last generation…there were pen pals and telephones, but the people we interacted with were people we were face to face with.  Even complete strangers you met for only a moment were within arms reach. People you could look in the eye and your subconscious could decide, based on things our conscious mind doesn’t notice…whether or not we like their vibe.

We are the first generations in human history to be forming relationships with, making acquaintances with, and randomly interacting with people who are miles and time zones and continents away.  and our subconscious has not developed the tools, if they even can be developed, to suss out the metal of people given only the information provided through a computer screen.  In short…our tribal instincts are short circuiting.

I’m going to say that again, because I say it is the root cause of how we treat each other on the internet and how we react and behave in regards to anything said or posted-our tribal instincts are short circuiting.

and we are reverting, in a way, to the most basic tribal methods of determining friend or foe. Look at what we are doing…posting images,  short sentences, putting matching colors and ribbons on our profile pics.  In an abstract way it is the equivalent of planting a flag, or putting on war paint, or wearing a coat of arms, uttering battle cries, or mantras…they are ways to put forward who we are and determine if others are of the same ilk.  No reasonable adult thinks a color on their profile pic will solve anything…so then, why is it really there? and what does “show support” really mean?  You may argue it helps accomplish this or that…maybe, maybe not BUT it all accomplishes one thing for certain…you know by its sight, who is of your ilk.

Our subconscious is very smart, and always gathering information, categorizing, and its most important function is to keep us safe. Online it has no eye contact, no tone of voice, no body posture to input…no small wonder then, it has us making public declarations of opinion on everything we see to gather input based on reactions and scrutinizing others declarations.

Think back to just five years ago…you would not fathom bothering to argue about the things you are arguing over with a total stranger in a restaurant, much less one you may never meet. We are doing it online…not because we care any more or less about the topics, but because our brain is trying to find our tribe, and suss out who is in a rival tribe.  there is comfort in knowing such things even if there is no danger.  To not know is to be in anxiety filled ignorance of the many individuals you are interacting with.  You can see for yourself that every week it is a new topic that the internet screams about…with all the same vigor….because we are not screaming about the topics, not really, we are trying to determine who is in our tribe, and who is the “other”.

It is a defense mechanism to alleviate this anxiety, and it is also done out of love.  The many relationships we have…some are very meaningful even though those people are far away. We care about them.  We are the first generations to have so many to care about that we cannot lay eyes on, on a daily basis. We cannot verify if they are safe, we cannot be near them and be able to tell if they are clam or filled with anxiety, we have no way to asses what affects the things we see posted have on them.  Much of our ranting in defense of one demographic or another is an attempt to ward danger away from them.  To try to change an endless environment to unsure their contentment.  Not much different from dogs barking at noises to alert the pack or scare unseen danger way from it.

We are acting online in ways we do not act in real life because it is a world that our minds are not wired to deal with.  Keep this in mind. Keep in mind that in just this country alone 300 million people by and large get along just fine every day no matter what they each think of some particular subject…when they can see each other, look each other in the eyes.  It is only online, where there is no tangible physical signals for our minds to scrutinize, that we behave like we this.  We are planting a flag in each and every topic to suss out friend or foe.

as much as we care about each issue that comes up…we are not arguing because of that, we are  arguing because our brains are uncertain about the people we are interacting with.  And it is trying to find signals to assess in other ways. And because of this we all argue, and seek out arguments, and we all seem awful. But we are not…push someone and they will resist. arguments escalate. But it’s not us, it’s us trying to adapt to the internet.

As important as many of these topics are, in real life we can get along fine with people who disagree with us on many of them, because our minds have other ways to determine friend or foe.  Not every rival tribe is a danger. but not knowing if someone you are interacting with is even of your tribe or not…is an anxiety producing quandary for our brains, that have their foundations wired from days long past.

It took thousands of years for those instincts to be honed, to get a gut reaction about someone, to trust those instincts in life…we have no such instincts on the internet.  The random person you rant back and forth at about some topic or another…if you were both in a burning building and not on the internet you’d very likely try to save each other, if one of you was hit by a car, the other would very likely call 911. If the two of you saw a child in danger, you’d both be inclined to save that child. That person you disagree with…is just  putting a different flag in the air, to find his people and to ward off danger from those he already found but are many zeros and ones away.

You can disagree with people you know at your job and still work together…because your subconscious can determine their worth, and if they are or are not a threat, in other ways.  On the internet it cannot and people make ultimatums in regards to topics they believe in that they do not make in real life.  I have often seen “if you think (insert subject) than delete yourself from my page”. That is such a parallel example of defining a tribe, and  territory that I can barely call it “abstract”. and to be typed by a normally reasonable adult in 2018, says to me that there is more going on with all this than what is on the surface.

We are over 8000 years into civilization, be we are not acting like it…not online. The internet is a generation old and we are very much acting, online, like the first generation of man only ten years into wandering away from our caves. Whooping, yeowling, and stomping on the ground at other humans that we don’t know.  I don’t think that’s a small coincidence, I think it’s unfortunate perhaps inevitable, but easily overcome as we have an example to follow that the cave men did not.

Bring your ability to disagree and move on , in real life, with you online.  Do not bring your inflexibility online into real life.  No one you know agrees with you on everything..eventually…after enough time and topics have passed we may all find ourselves very much alone, as the law of unintended consequences has its way with our tribal instincts.  Eventually, we will either learn this, adapt to interacting with people who are not in front of us, or every one of us online will become a tribe of one.

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