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The end of socialization - Daniel Silliman

When we write the history of the Internet, we will talk about child predators as if they were accidentally aided by the technology, as if they're on a short list of downsides. We will say child predators are part of the "dark side" of a development that has been overwhelmingly worthwhile.

Then, we will move on.

For child predators, though, the Internet changed everything. It didn't just take something that was already happening and move it into this new space. The new space actually allowed the creation of a community, a place where these awful interests could be shared, discussed and set free.

Where once society acted to suppress these impulses, reinforcing shame and a sense of sin -- turning child predators into creepy men in raincoats loitering near playgrounds -- now child predators can form their own community. Now the child predator doesn't have to interact with anyone, doesn't deal with confrontations, but instead lives in this world of other child predators, all affirming their own twisted thoughts.

Now, no child predator has be lonely, and each is isolated from the restraints of social friction.

The Internet did this: It gave us choice.

Each community is now a chosen community and, organized in this way, it acts to reassure everybody about themselves -- telling themselves they're right, this is really normal, they're OK, they're not alone, others dwell in isolated darkness, too.

This is not just true of child predators, of course. Every part of our society is reorganizing itself on this principle of choice, choosing to associate with the like-minded, the adherents, the believers. This is true for poodle enthusiasts and political activists, religious devotees and conspiracy theorists. It's true for TV journalists and TV junkies, antiquers, artists, armadillo experts and people who want to brutalize little children.

Now, we all exist in our own communities, organized around interests and identities, and we're isolated so we never have to co-exist with people who think differently than we do and we never, ever have to be alone.

This is good, if you're a minority who would be oppressed with the old organization of things, ostracized as weird. Now, no one is weird, they're just on the wrong web page.

But it's bad, because we're all, in our own self-interested, fractured communities, unchecked micro-cults.

It's the end of socialization.

This is community organized according to the "Protestant principle."

This idea -- ideally enacted by the Internet -- comes out really strong in the Protestant rejection of Catholicism in the 1500s. Where, formerly, we were members of a community because we were born in a community, Protestantism reorganized religion so it was a matter of choice.

We were now members of a church because we chose to be members of that church, because we agreed with it, accepted everything about it. Now, to steal a Nixonian phrase, we had to love it or leave it, and there was no space for conflicted relationships, uncomfortable affiliations, or complicated communities. We've eliminated the friction of socialization.

We're all Protestant's now. Even Catholics will say they're Catholics because they believe and have made a choice, just like a good Protestant Evangelical.

We all get to choose. This is who we are. This is our greatest freedom. This is our unquestioned right. I just wonder if it isn't also going to be the thing that destroys us.

Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.