I’ve been thinking about this particular post for a few days. It’s likely to be controversial, which is why I wanted to digest how I wanted to present it. Basically, I want to write about the bravery of “keyboard warriors.”
Let me begin by saying “keyboard warriors” are those who sit behind their computer screens, their tablets, or their phones, anonymously sending out hateful and snarky messages they would never have the courage to say to another person’s face. We’ve all encountered “keyboard warriors.” I wrote about them in The Borderlands. I want to dive deeper into why I believe this is such a problem in our society today.
To do that, I started looking on the Internet this week for any articles—scholarly or op-Ed—that discussed fighting as a normal part of the maturation process. What struck me was the lack of available results from a Google search. All I could find were countless examples of “why fighting is always wrong” articles. Let me be clear, I think fighting should always be a last resort. I always tried to teach my students—and my daughter—that fighting should be a last resort. At the same time, I openly acknowledged that fighting is natural—especially among adolescent boys—as they try to make sense of their place in the world.
And I think it’s this piece about fighting that will be so controversial. Most everyone will tell you that it’s always wrong to fight; that if you fight, you must have been culpable in bringing about the violence. Again, fighting is a last resort, but you simply cannot appease a bully. Within that, I’m very specifically referring to fist-fighting among roughly-equal combatants who can’t find any other way to settle their differences at the time. Moreover, I’m also very specifically referring to fights that do NOT end with one party seriously injured or worse.
It is important for me to establish that I recognize the personal understanding that comes from young people engaging in this sort of pugilistic resolution. I was in more fist-fights than I can count as a younger man. I am not advocating for young people to follow in my footsteps. I won some. I lost some. I was even downright embarrassed in some when I overestimated my own ability. Each instance offered me a lesson.
They taught me when it was acceptable to fight back and when it wasn’t. I got in fights because I was backed into a corner and had no other way out. I got into fights to defend others. There was a standing rule in my parents’ house; never start a fight, but never run from one either. In a crass way of putting it, the rule was don’t start sh#%, won’t be none. I apologize for the profanity. I happen to think that particular phrase resonates with many good and decent folks across time and space.
If I circle back to the “keyboard warriors” I referenced above, the Internet and Social Media have created a false barrier where people say things over an anonymous platform they would never say to a person’s face. Thirty years ago, when I was a teenager—long before Social Media—making such a comment to another human being would result in being socked in the mouth by an assailant’s fist. I’m left to wonder if we’ve devolved in our humanity with the advent of platforms that allow us to make such disparaging comments to a person we will likely never see in the flesh. I am a direct person. Sometimes to a fault. I won’t say something to you online that I’m not willing to say to your face. That puts me in a precarious position because I’m willing to be frank with people. At times, that frankness is blunt. I don’t do it to hurt anyone—though I know my human frailty will inevitably lead me to hurting my loved ones with inconsiderate words at times. I do it because I believe in being honest at all times. But, enough about me.
We are left with “keyboard warriors” who are not against violence, though they pretend to espouse non-violence. They say terrible things. They wish terrible things to their target’s safety and well-being. They encourage others to commit violence against their newfound target. And they dox their target so that others may, in fact, carry out the violence they wish upon on their target. This “cancel culture,” this doxing, this series of anonymous calls for violence or tragedy to visit a particular target has put our society in the position where we do not feel the need to have conversations with anyone who disagrees with us.
More importantly, the fallout that I see from our “public safety” society is that when we removed the ability for young people to settle disputes via fist-fighting, an unintended consequence has been that people no longer know where the line of decency sits. Again, I’m not advocating for fighting. It should be a last resort. I understand why our society has tried to minimize or eliminate this violence. I’m not sure I agree with any notion that it was a wholly good reason though. I certainly don’t think that the possible consequences were well established when do-gooders decided that all fighting was necessarily bad.
Would we have “keyboard warriors” if we still had fist-fighting?
Would we be kinder to one another if we knew that being truly awful would result in an outcome where we had to back up our words with our fists?
Would we be willing to listen to others if we knew they could stand face-to-face with us and give us their opposite—and equally valid—personal opinion?
I can’t answer these questions. But I can say that I attribute the underlying dilemma as one of the root causes of our current lack of unity. We don’t speak to one another because we don’t have to. We don’t speak to one another because we’ve decided we can simply weaponize our words and throw them at our adversaries on an anonymous platform.
Is this the world we envisioned when we moved into the Information Age?
As always, this has been the World According to Chris.