Wasn’t it great, that time before the Internet came along? You went to the local pub to hear menacing rants about foreigners and you went to the local incense-burning volunteer scene to hear all about the marvels of Tibetan singing bowl therapy. And if you wanted to spread your opinion about how the European Union is a vast conspiracy aimed at the “Islamisation” of the Old World, well, then you had to go to the local school or church and ask if you could use their stencilling machine. Or, less archaicly, to the copyshop. Consequently, you never succeeded in spreading your wisdom beyond a small circle of people who were already aware of your latent idiocy anyway. No harm done.
But these days you just make a website and spread the word. Your readers don’t know you – I could be writing these pages from a computer in the looney department of the local hospital, or from a swamp hut in southern Alabama with a shotgun on my lap to empty at any trespassers. Maybe I have a swastika tattood in my neck, maybe I have a long beard and a spot on my forehead, worn out from praying to Mecca – there’s no way for you to know. Yes, there’s a picture of me in the About section, or is that just a portrait I lifted from Flickr to look credible? (No, it’s not – to look credible I would have chosen one without sunglasses.)
Ah, you say, but there are just about a gazillion blogs out there so you are still a lonely voice in a sea of lonely voices, and so it’s just like it was when you were the village idiot. But then you’re forgetting about Google. I can find like-minded blogs all over the world in a second, leave my replies there to generate some traffic to The Edge of Europe and thus create a community of people with more or less the same opinion. Dissenting voices don’t exist in that group – we just delete those comments and create the illusion that everyone agrees with us. Call it a popular movement, start crying about the lack of attention from the biased media (whichever bias you want to blame them of), and you’re good to go.
And that’s not all – Google also works for you on the readers’ side. Even if a million Luthers would have nailed 95 million theses to church doors all over Germany, it could never have had the impact that the Internet is beginning to have, because there would have been no way for the people to sift through all those theses just to find what they were looking for. But we don’t need to read about the persecution of the Jews when we are looking for texts about the dangers of Islamic immigration – we can skip all that and go straight to the pages where radical solutions are proposed. History and it’s lessons, learned commentary, critical voices needn’t bother us at all. Better still – use the right search words and all that doesn’t even exist anymore.
The Internet, for most people, doesn’t mean having the world at their fingertips. Most people, it seems, are happy to just find longer and deeper tunnels which fit their own vision. And so some very unlikely alliances have sprung up, like a European network of people who generally consider foreigners to be lesser humans (think about that one to realise the absurdity of it). The consequences are that no government can take a decision, however well-meant and thought through, without millions decrying it, connecting conspiracy theories to it or heaping unproven allegations upon it. The world has become a neighbourhood bar, but this time everyone is listening to the drunk in the corner and his incoherent ranting. And they all bask in the warm glow that this community feeling is giving them. They’re understood, they’re home, they’re with someone who voices their own negative opinion. They are not challenged to think anymore, and they’re much stronger than they ever were. The impact of this is already being felt, and my guess is that it will readically change our world – and not for the better. The phrase “the winter of our discontent” springs to mind.
(Of course, anti-immigration groups are just one example and this blog might as well have been centered around radical leftwing action groups, fundamentalist Islam, 9/11 conspiration theorists, etcetera. Yes, there’s a spot for every village idiot on the Web.)