Primary season is now well underway, so I suppose it’s natural that my thoughts turn even more heavily towards politics than usual. Well, politics and food. I swear, if I didn’t hate paying other people money to prepare my food, I’d probably weigh 500 pounds by the time Christmas rolls around. Autumn is basically one long war against the urge to store up fat for the pending hibernation.
One of the most predictable signs that an ideology has “arrived” is when it immediately turns on its own for insufficient ideological purity.
Or it was, at any rate. The internet has been rapidly altering the landscape there, as it has in so many other things.
The notion of “arriving”, of having taken one’s place upon the world stage, in this instance means that a group is no longer necessarily being compared to its opposition, but rather can now stand on its own merits. And, in most cases, the members of said group can now be compared to each other, and that’s where it all usually goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Political primaries serve as an example of this: a sort of ritualized auto-da-fé, in which the major candidates attempt to distinguish themselves from their rivals by seeing who can throw the most wood on the pyre of their erstwhile allies.
It’s also something historically seen in revolutionary councils, after they’ve wrested control from the “oppressors” and suddenly, several the more intelligent members abruptly discover that the good ship SS Ideological Fervor is on a collision course with the great iceberg known as Reality.
“Y’know, I hear Bob isn’t so enthusiastic about the idea of nationalizing the oil companies. He seems to think that it might lead to an exodus of foreign capital and expertise, like that’s a bad thing, am I right?”
“Sounds to me like Bob needs to be reeducated with a ball-peen hammer.”
History is full of Bobs.
So what has the internet changed?
The landscape, literally. Well, literally changed the figurative landscape.
On the plus side, the internet has given us gathering spaces and meeting halls accessible from nearly any corner of the globe, where like-minded individuals can join together in discussion of their shared ideology.
The flip side of that, of course, is that we can now assemble vast groups of people inside our virtual Valhallas while simultaneously ensuring that no dissenting opinion be aired. We can block, downvote, screen, or otherwise negate the possibility of ever being subjected to a conflicting view.
Which means that every movement that achieves even a modest degree of success immediately feels that it has arrived… and that now the time has come for the Great Purge.
After all, if you’re successful, you don’t need to tolerate those not-quite-devoted-enough members who may claim to be a part of your little cult, but don’t say the required obeisance six times a day, or perhaps just face the wrong direction when they do.
The entertaining part is that they’re wrong. They haven’t arrived at all, they’ve just plastered over all the windows of their bus with pictures of their destination, and are now throwing people they need onto a crowded highway, where someone else can pick them up.
Hell, it seems like most of the time the passengers on the bus, the quiet ones who say the right things and don’t make waves, don’t even realize what’s going on until they look up and the seat next to them is empty, while a mob of fiery-eyed fanatics gazes intently up and down the rows, looking for any excuse, any infraction, to justify another ejection.
The scary, not-at-all-entertaining part is that sometimes, the bus does make it. It does arrive, and it spills out the distilled essence of its ideology onto its destination and we all wind up getting splattered with it.
Chances are you’ve seen at least one or two headlines over the last year or so that went along the lines of “Speaker X denied a chance to speak at College Y”. Or caught a post about the rise of “trigger warnings” on college campuses, or some other bit of university-related drama.
There’s a lot of talk going around about the fragility of college students, and how their unwillingness to be subjected to dissenting opinions heralds some grand decline in the quality of American education. At least at historically liberal arts colleges.
And to an extent I agree with that, but I’m also cynical enough to recognize one more thing: the people who survive the purges, who rise to the top and begin to lead them; the people who do, sometimes, make it off the bus?
They’re not believers. At least, not first and foremost.
They’re manipulators. They may believe, of course, but that’s not how they got where they are. They got where they are by controlling others.
And making sure nobody ever hears from the opposition is one hell of a way to maintain control. People can’t choose a different ideology if you refuse to allow that ideology to be heard.
Paper over the windows of the bus people, because this ride ain’t over.
It’s never over.