Thursday, February 18, 2016

The internet is bad for you, Mulder

The X-Files official website, December 1996,
Before the age of Facebook and Twitter, before there were blogs, before we had truly entered the age of the internet, there was the one television show I followed religiously, that I never missed. Even when I spent my junior year in college in Europe, I had my mother tape every episode of the X-Files (tape is what we called recording back then, millennials, because it literally was recorded on a physical tape.)

I had the good or misfortune of growing up in the nineties. By growing up I mean high school and college, and by good or misfortune I mean it was a good time in history but it may have made me naive about global conflict - optimistic, even, if those things are different. The Berlin Wall had just come down, the Soviet Empire had crumbled, and the illusion of peace and prosperity abounded. It really seemed like humanity had learned to live with itself. The internet was a thing but most people still didn't have it in their homes. I bet that's tough for millennials too imagine. It is for me, too, and I lived it.

Of course, peace was a mirage. Bombs went off in the World Trade Center, USS Cole, and the US embassy in Kenya, among others. I remember walking around Paris after all the garbage bins had been removed from the city streets because terrorist assholes were putting explosive devices in them. While Francis Fukuyama was declaring the End of History, Islamic terrorism was getting stronger, better funded, more educated, and greater support. We were entering a new chapter of history, but America was too arrogant to see it.

The prosperity was a mirage, too. While it seemed as if free market economics had triumphed in the world and that everyone in the West was comfortable and that everyone in developing countries was going to be soon, the reality was that the prosperity masked the time bomb that would take down the global economy in the next decade. Only the rich were really prospering, and they'd make it through any economic crisis. They always do. Multinational corporations were consolidating, getting more powerful, writing legislation and bribing politicians (oh, excuse me, "campaign donations"), and publishing more propaganda than ever. It wasn't a free market anymore, it was corporatism.

Meanwhile, average Americans were about to lose their jobs and their homes, but we were too mired in what the definition of "is" is, and the right's lust for power focused their energy on taking down a popular president by all means necessary at the expense of governing. To be or not to be - the infinitive form of "is" - was the question, and they chose not to be so they could win the next election. (Or "win.") While they were trying to figure out what "is" is, they ignored everything else, including the rising influence of jihadism, and we know what happened when they finally got their POTUS.

It's strange to look back on the nineties and think about how everyone was so optimistic now that global jihad has obliterated any hope of peace in our time. We may never recover from the damage from the Bush/Cheney foreign policy and the farce of the Clinton impeachment that diverted attention from things that mattered. We are more divided than any time since the civil war, and that division is making people insane, I think. I mean, now nutjobs are saying Scalia was murdered. That is fueled by the internet.

The X-Files has never been about aliens, not really, at least not the outerspace kind. We are the aliens. That's the whole metaphor of the mythology, the whole reason Chris Carter created the series, or at least kept it going. We are alienated from ourselves, from each other. That's why they're talking about Scully and others having alien DNA. We. Are. The. Aliens. The experiences of others are alien to us; other people might as well come from outerspace.

The internet has exacerbated that alienation. Now we can isolate ourselves from ALL differing worldviews than ours. All we have to do is hit the unfollow button if someone says something with which we disagree. It also is a forum to spout off any ridiculous thing that comes into our heads, making conspiracy theories become mainstream. That is a dangerous thing. It can give rise to demagogues like Trump.

Yesterday, the Jeb Bush Twitter account posted a picture of Jeb's handgun with the caption, "America." That was it. The internet, in one of its bright moments, had a field day with it. But the fact remains that someone thought it was ok for a United States presidential candidate to alienate a significant portion of this country because "America" is only for one type of person. The white conservative lives in his white conservative bubble and thinks that is the only right way to live, that everyone else is wrong. The arrogance of this shows that a simple tweet is not simple at all. That one picture with the "America" caption completely captured the essence of the conservative mindset in 2016 America. The pen and its modern Twitter equivalent is indeed mightier than the sword.

Why did the person behind the Bush Twitter account (and therefore Bush himself) choose divisiveness? Why is Trump running on a campaign of divisiveness? Why is a whole political party running on a platform of divisiveness, focusing on us versus them, with them almost always being someone of different color or faith or economic status?

Right now, we face the greatest existential threat to global safety since Nazism. We won't win by being divided. That's what they want.

The truth is out there, away from the politics of divisiveness, away from internet forums and ideological websites, away from religious dogma and campaign rhetoric, away from the bigotry, the blame, the bombs, the things that strip us of our humanity. The truth is not accessible through individualism and alienation, but through our commonality, community, and the communion of souls.

I sure am enjoy these new X-Files. If only I could also enjoy the Hope that I had in the nineties, too.

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