Sometimes people quit the internet — and quit other things because of the internet. For instance, Hugo Schwyzer, who has made a name for himself online primarily as an advocate for feminism, has said goodbye — largely, it seems, because he has mental health issues that he feels are incompatible with handling the often toxic culture of online commentary.
The toxicity of take-down culture is exhausting and dispiriting. The cheapest and easiest tweets and articles to compose are snarky and clever dismantlings of what someone else has worked hard to create. The defenders of this culture of fierceness call it intellectual honesty, but it is an honesty too often edged in cruelty. I’ll admit It: I’m a most imperfect man. I have an absolutely dreadful past, one for which I continue to make quiet amends. I’m also frequently a smug and sloppy writer. But despite that past and my glib prose, I don’t think I’m wrong that when it comes to a concerted effort to drive me off the internet, I’ve been more sinned against than sinning.
As you maybe able to tell from what I’ve quoted, Schwyzer and Fish are both pretty volatile, indeed confrontational, types and may not at all be “more sinned against than sinning.” That’s not a debate I want to pursue, in relation to either man, though Lord knows you can find thousands of people on the internet who are pursuing it right now.
What I find interesting, though, is the number of posts I’ve come across written by people who insist, vociferously and passionately, that Schwyzer is wrong to quit the internet, or Fish is wrong to stop development on his game. I’m not going to link to these posts or comments, in part because it’s too depressing to go back to them again and in part because I don’t want to give them the hits, but the specifically moral outrage is noteworthy. It seems obvious to me that if someone wants to stop blogging, or close down/make private his Twitter account, or give up on a self-chosen work project or, in a related matter, write books slowly or not at all, I have no right to an opinion about that. None of those people owe me their presence or their creative activity.
But a great many people don’t feel as I do, and I wonder why that is. I suspect the simplest answer may also be the most correct one: There are a great many people in the world who make no distinction between “I want this to happen” and “I will be wronged if this doesn’t happen.” Even if what I want to happen is for someone to be available for me to write angry messages to.