Did you ever see the 2009 movie The Box?
No, probably not. It didn’t do so hot at the box office, and from what I understand it wasn’t all that great. But the premise is horrifying.
Based on the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson, he of I Am Legend fame, the premise of The Box is simple: Push a button in a box, a stranger you don’t know will die, and you’ll get $1 million. Simple, yet chilling. And it asks a question that lots of good stories plant in the reader’s mind: what would you do?
Well, we actually have a pretty good idea of what people would do. Take a look at the wonderful world of Internet activism.
Crusaders for truth and justice–their version of it, at least–want to utterly destroy their targeted opponents. Doxxing, ruining their livelihood, ruining the livelihoods of their family members, making life difficult for their friends and associates, forcing people to disavow the target as friends or face similar repercussions . . . whatever. It’s just another person on the other side of the screen. You never have to look them in the eye when you stick the knife in their belly.
Push the button. Someone you don’t like dies, after a fashion. Oh well. You didn’t really know them anyway.
It’s vicious, it’s sociopathic, and it’s scary. These are the kind of people who, if given the chance, would laugh as they tortured you to death.
This is a very unwelcome strain in American culture. The personal is political, right? Everything is a political battlefield.
Worse, it seems like you’re not allowed to have any past. Old posts on Facebook or statements on Twitter will be dredged up to be used against you. What if every off-hand, thoughtless comment you might have made many years ago got used against you in your forties because it’s saved forever on the Internet?
(Note: I am aware that I do this too. Because I’m not going to unilaterally disarm myself. Hypocritical? No. Just dealing with the world as it is, not how I wish it would be).
What if you’re marked for personal destruction simply because of who you voted for?
What if you’re not allowed to use a service because of some position you hold?
What if you’re not even welcome to partake in a favorite hobby because those involved in it don’t happen to like your personal beliefs?
It’s pretty hard to argue for civility when those screaming the loudest for it are those the least likely to act it. Like everything, cries for “common ground” and “being civil” are cynical ploys to get the other sucker to lower their guard and take certain tactics off the table.
So what to do?