Don’t read the comments. It’s my mantra when I enter the Internet void without a distinct purpose like researching universities or job hunting. Comments are scary. The comment section of any article is like the dark place under rocks where people assume they have either the entitlement or anonymity to say whatever they like regardless of any notion of polite public discourse. Hate, stupidity, ignorance, and dogma abound and fester in the inches under an op-ed, a news article, or a work of art. People tear each other apart, not with logic but with blind ignorance, with willful distortion of facts and a need to see things only the way they see it. Having been given a window to the world, they insist that the world only reflect their own image and are determined to destroy the rest. It’s like watching sharks in a chum-frenzy, or a bloodied school of piranha. It’s vile. It’s cruel. It’s a true expression of human nature.
Perhaps this is why I find myself reading the comments frequently, even when I know what I will find. Despite the topic, despite who shares it, I find that not only are people’s takes on any issue more varied and vicious than I can imagine, but also that I cannot always predict based on political, religious, career, or social leanings who will think or say what about what. Prejudices run deep, and we have many social, religious and educational disparities in this country. But what is surprising is how the comments sections of the internet serve as an inverted mirror of the varnished, politically correct world we think we live in—at least in New England (though I suppose the “Bless your heart” manners of the South and Midwest are not far behind). The amount people are willing to tear each other down just because they think they might smell blood is both shocking and eye opening. We seem to have forgotten words can hurt—there are so many of them after all, and we can pick and choose what we do and do not read—and so we do not censure ourselves. The irony of this is that the concept of anonymity on the Internet has all but disappeared, thanks to social media. What does it say about us that we are willing to put such thoughts and vitriol with our names and faces just because we interact through an electronic interface instead of face to face?
I think we like to pretend the racist, sexist, and otherwise discriminatory parts of our history no longer exist. If we can push all public acknowledgment of a collective social conscious to only recognize that which is progressive, tolerant, or politically correct, then we can reshape our idea of who we are, and who we were. But we are not kind, tolerant, or politically correct by nature. We are not a species removed from those urges to separate from and destroy any person or idea that does not fit with our conceptions or ideals. We cannot become more than our awful pasts unless we truly examine the legacy of those pasts. We cannot use education to combat ignorance until we know what it is we must educate against.
Despite my mantra, I will continue to read the comments. If more people read them and recognize the hateful threads that, banished from other published discourse have found a home here, maybe we can finally begin to address many social problems and truly move forward.