Thursday, 29 November 2007

Internet Forums: An Outlet for Hidden Bigotry?

Let me start with the question: What does ‘discussion’ or ‘dialogue’ literally mean? The Greek word for discussion is ‘συζήτηση’, which means ‘to seek together’. 
To seek together what? Obviously, the truth about a matter, what is wise, just and beneficial for all, or what is the best solution to a problem. 
Another Greek word for ‘discussion’ is ‘διάλογος’, a composite word formed by ‘δια’ (across) and ‘λόγος’ (logic). 
In other words, a healthy ‘discussion’ should be the exchange of logical arguments, opinions or beliefs, in order for two or more people to seek together the truth about an issue and, if possible, to agree on a course of action. 
In the ideal ‘διάλογος’ (dialogue), respectfully, unbiasedly and critically, two or more people exchange thoughts, verbally or in writing, so that they may help themselves and each other to get to the truth of a matter. 

My question now is whether the way most ‘discussion boards’ operate promotes reflective dialogue on various ideas and topics or if most of those ‘discussions’ have been reduced to a pitiful outlet of bone-breaking bigotry. From observation and personal experience, I am afraid the latter is the common practice, just as it usually happens with face-to-face discussions.
Let us see now what is the literal meaning of the English word ‘discussion’. The word comes from the Latin ‘discussus’, which is the past participle of the verb ‘discutio’ that means ‘to smash apart’, ‘to shake’, ‘to break up’.

It also means ‘to divide’, ‘to strike asunder’ and ‘to disperse’. Apparently, the term ‘discussion’ fits perfectly to what is usually happening in the ‘discussion forums’! Most people participate in those boards with the intention...
to intimidate and psychologically smash, break and shake everyone who has the cheek to post a different point of view on a topic. And smash they do usually not with logical arguments but with insults, threats, and occasionally even cursing.

Anyone who has ever taken part in a religious ‘discussion’ of an electronic forum knows exactly what I am talking about. The fact that people post their ‘arguments’ under a pseudonym helps them to unleash the hell against anyone who does not agree with them.
Free from all restrictions imposed by society as regards to civil behavior, the anonymous posters of a fascistic disposition forcefully let the venom accumulated in their heart move their tongue in a malevolent manner.

Of course, as the Scripture says, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Thus, the atmosphere created in those forums is extremely hostile and unhealthy for all the participants but especially for the well-meaning passer-by posters with radical views.

Time and again I have been shocked with the religious, political and ideological bigotry displayed in those forums. It is disheartening, and often frightening, to realize that so much hatred and intolerance is hidden in human hearts and minds.

Oh, no! Most people do not participate in ‘discussion’ forums in order to take part in a civilized dialogue and hence expand their knowledge and understanding of different ideas. Religious posters, who believe they know it all, frequent those boards in order to display their ‘infallible’ beliefs, based on what some ancients wrote thousands of years ago, and hopefully to ‘convert’ others!

I must admit that amongst all ideological bigots I have faced the religious and atheistic ones are the most vehement. Any different opinion provokes them to uncontrollable anger and they strike back with rude words, calling you a liar and all sorts of derogative names. In extreme cases, the also bigoted moderators of the forum delete your posts or the entire thread! It has happened to me several times in Greece, the birthplace of Democracy and free speech!

Political bigots do not behave better either. Actually, they can be worse in their insults against those who think differently. In the name of ‘democracy’ (!) they deny you the right you to have a different political view. If your post happens to reach their forums, they attempt to tear you apart with their responses. Theirs is the only correct, the only noble, political ideology. In their own mind they have fashioned the ideal society under the label of ‘wright wing’, ‘conservatism’, ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘socialism’, ‘communism’, ‘anarchism’, etc.

The posters belonging to one of the above categories give the impression that they are ready even to engage in a physical fight with those belonging to other groups, should they happen to meet in person. They have no mercy on those with different beliefs! It would not be an exaggeration to say that the bigots hate those outside their political sheepfold. But the worst enemy of all the bigoted posters is the free thinker. If they had the power, they would make this kind of species – already scarce – disappear from our planet.

Those driven by the herd instinct subconsciously know that the most dangerous posters to be around to are the free thinkers. The latter, by their logical and down to earth practical arguments, threaten the bigots’ fragile security and identity! So they make every effort to push them out of their cozy forums lest the unwelcome visitors shake the sheep’s beliefs. The bitter truth is that it feels warm and comfortable to belong to a large homogeneous political group, but it is cold and lonely out there for the independent-minded.

I guess it is a matter of psychological research to highlight all the parameters that make a poster behave in an obnoxious way against those who think differently. One needs to trace this human behavior back to animal instincts. Have you ever had the chance to observe how chickens behave when a new chicken is suddenly brought into their hencoop? They jump into fight against the stranger and start biting it on its head to the point of bleeding. Why? Because they feel threatened!

Same with the posters that have built a community in a discussion forum and suddenly an intruder breaks in to stir up their coziness with new ideas. They will make every effort to get rid of him/her. One would think the opposite would be the truth, i.e. that fresh and unbiased ideas would be welcome. After all, the permanent posters of the community have known each other for years; they have heard each other’s same arguments innumerous times. Yet, they don’t seem to get bored of endlessly repeating and hearing the same stereotypes.

If you revisit their favorite forum five years from now, you will find that the same people will still be discussing the same things, using the same arguments. And you will be amazed that no one has moved an inch from what they believed five years ago!

I have also been wondering what makes posters becoming permanent members of a discussion board. I guess it might be like an addiction, a sort of drug on which one gets hooked. It also serves as a kind of group therapy. Lonely people make friends there, although they don’t know their real names and faces and they never meet in person. It is better than nothing, isn’t it?

Furthermore, some posters have a need to argue just for the sake of arguing, and discussion boards are the right place for them. Others simply want to express themselves and in discussion forums they find some audience. Certain posters might participate in such forums in order to get to know themselves and validate their writing skills and ideas through the reactions of co-posters to their posts.

Overall, discussion forums could become the most invaluable places for mind stimulation and knowledge transference, if bigoted posters with a fascistic mentality were not allowed to have the upper hand and rudely chase away those who bring fresh, logical and unbiased ideas. In my opinion, a good start for the upgrading of discussion forums would be the posters to sign with their real names. Anonymity encourages vulgarity and offensive behavior. The real problem is when the discussion forum owners or their moderators themselves have a fascistic and bigoted outlook, which is more often than not the case.

I will close this article by saying that it is a pity for such a wonderful means of instant communication across the planet, as is the discussion forums, to be used for the propagation of bigotry, intolerance and hatred instead of promoting knowledge, understanding, love, peace and cooperation amongst people of every race, and every religious and political persuasion...

This is one more proof that, as regards human behavior, our culture is still in its infantile age, in spite of its awesome technological achievements!

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