27 Feb 2007

Societal depression, wikipedia, and mob-rule

This topic is a messy one. It's probably a "depressing" topic to begin the show with, but I know it will be thought-provoking and I prefer "thinkey/hard" over "flakey/easy". Plus, I need to vent and by my venting it will hopefully uplift others who I know are going through the same problems online. Societal depression is a real issue but few people know that it exists or appreciate its severity.

I've been online since 1994 talking to people on internet groups about linguistics. I love linguistics. I should have sought a degree in linguistics, but I was silly and thinking about "practicality" so can you guess what I picked?... Computer Science. Egad, how did I know that the IT crash was coming and would ship all the jobs to Romania as fascism became cool in North America? In hindsight, I should have listened to my heart instead of my brain because life, economy and events of the future are just too unpredictable to ever succeed at being practical.

I've watched helplessly as a collective ADHD slowly ate away at all of us with the rise of the immediacy of the internet, cellphones and the scourge of reality TV (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5933775/). As a web designer and programmer, I'm all too aware of both the advantages and the perils of being "jacked in" 24 hours a day. That's why I always like to have long walks outside regularly.

In the most extreme, the internet can be a crack addiction where its victims no longer appreciate the reality around them without a constant fix of completely anonymous social interaction. Is there really such a dividing line between physical addiction and mental addiction? I'm not convinced that there is, nor do I think any of us is immune, but since we can't "snort a line of internet explorer", "smoke a roach of yahoogroups", or "down seven cans of wikipedia in a college chug-a-lug", many of us are deceived into thinking that the internet must be as harmless as a newborn puppy. And gee, ain't it cute, tho'?

When I first started talking to other empassioned individuals in public forums about my secret love-affair with comparative linguistics ten years ago, I never would predict that permanent archives of all my naive comments would stick around. Anonymous internet, my ass! :)

While I could cringe about them, I could also pat myself on my back on how far I've come and how much I've learned up to now: about linguistics, about internet, about life and love. But there's no end to learning, is there? No use sweating the small stuff. We all might wish those proverbial bell-bottoms of our past could be hidden in the darkness of our attic forever to give others the illusion of our flawless divinity. Pointless illusion. We all make mistakes and that's what helps us grow. The point is being mature enough to admit that we err and daring to explore, not mope about others or fret about past mistakes.

My latest mistake was participating on Wikipedia back in 2005 after trolls on online groups pushed me away in disgust thanks to lazy moderators who turned a blind eye to ad hominems and treated enthusiasm and participation of others as threats to their own egos. You might ask, "If my run-in with Wikipedia was a few years ago, why am I still whining about it?" Trauma, maybe? Hehehe. Well, because trolls still like to attack visible people like me, particularly on Wikipedia, with petty comments to this day and it's a merry-go-round mindtrip difficult to get off of once it starts. If I can forewarn others before they naively participate in Wikipedia madness, it's well worth it. What's worse, Wikipedia's moderation is entirely ineffective, lost in a sea of druidic beaurocracy and "Wiki policies" promoting neutral point of view, a way of making "Evolution is a lie" just as valid as "The universe is subject to logic". It makes me almost pine over the days of the old mailing lists where this stupidity was a way of getting booted out of the club.

These rabid dogs like to hound random victims like anarchist misfits from Clockwork Orange with comments that follow only a few key themes. (Perhaps the only themes that these monkeys can remember by heart.) They legitimize their intelligence with names like "sniffpuppy2000", "jollyrancher", "chittychittybumbum". Here are some jingles they like to sing:

  1. You mispelled something... you're an idiot! Loser!
  2. I'm in junior high, no wait, I'm a university professor, yeah, and I know more than you!
  3. Where's your references??!!! You're stupid! I'm too lazy to look anything up myself.
  4. You violated Wikipedia's "Neutral Point of View" rule and therefore you're stupid.
  5. I'm a Wikipedia admin and I'm god. I hate you, everyone hates you, trolls hate you, therefore you're stupid.
See the pattern? Nowhere in any of this can you talk about a subject without being hijacked by manic sadists with too much time on their hands. Yet, Wikipedia remains the most sought-after way to get slandered online because, for every sane person in the world, there are a hundred crazies donating their piggybanks to the cultic Wikipedia Foundation to keep its slander machine running for years to come. All in the name of an "encyclopedia" that's more like a urine-stained wall of gangland graffiti. John Siegenthaler knows all about internet slander, as do countless others from musicians to scientists to regular people, both famous and not-so-famous, who find that their local laws on libel have completely abandoned them. (See http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-11-29-wikipedia-edit_x.htm).

Instead of laws doing their jobs to protect individuals, collective digital maoism and lunatic degrees of permissiveness help prop up the very things that keep us all down. Democracy is thus remoulded and contorted, slowly, quietly, into an apartheid between a Big Brother majority and an underrespected minority of truth-armed dissent. Wikipedia is even having mentally handicapped babies of its own like the barely-pronounceable project called Citizendium that seeks to reach out to the very academic institutions that it permanently offended through the inanity of its parent project (http://www.citizendium.com). Mediocrity is well funded.

And this comes back to what we're all really experiencing as a whole in the end. Societal depression, the source and power of online mob-rule to prolong the brutal tyrants of relativism and ignorance by enforcing the torture upon ourselves, not just online but offline as well. (Consider Kansas and its recent anti-evolution hysteria: http://www.cnn.com/US/9908/12/kansas.evolution.flap/.) With nihilist self-defeatism and petty politics used to dismiss deeper reasoning, we seek to drug ourselves with the immediacy of the narrow current in order to distract us from the wider stream of the intricate profound.

We have a choice. Rejecting our societal depression has always been our choice, starting with individual self-empowerment. It's a matter of how long we hold on to a self-indulgent addiction before we finally get bored in our own skin and seek positive change.

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