Our Hate Culture: Are People Today Meaner?

Two months ago, I asked my readers on my Facebook Fan Page  as well as several other social media platforms if they thought today’s world is a meaner place. The overwhelming majority said yes.

I’ve been thinking hard about why whether it’s true, and why it’s true.  Are people meaner today?  I think I may have–finally–found my answer.

After three decades as an adult, I’m not enamored of some lovely, nostalgic age when life was perfect (though I admit that I did enjoy the 80’s, even with all its economic issues, difficulty finding a job, friends dying of AIDs, mortgage rates and points, and grad school).  I haven’t planted my head in the clouds.  Nor in the sand.   Every decade of my life has its joys and burdens.

I’ve studied enough of history as well to know that there’s never been a Utopian age for all the inhabitants of whatever Utopia one small segment of the population has enjoyed.  Dark Age and Medieval history intrigue me, and I’ve researched enough to know that famine, plague, and death by invaders and battle makes the 21st century seem like some sort of serene slice of Heaven…until you turn on Nancy Grace or the New Jersey housewives or any news channel.  Then you realize that truly there have always been wars and rumors of wars.

But are people really meaner?   And why?

I don’t think it’s a preference of mine to live in the past and idolize those days.  I quite enjoy my present, thank you.   But I can see a harsher attitude toward my own works–the exact works–of 2 decades ago.

In fact, earlier this year, I pulled from publication one of my very first books because I was so alarmed at some of the reviews it had received in the last year.   Keep in mind that this book, written in 1995, received nothing but 4 and 5 star reviews for the first several years it was available.  The heaviest criticism was that it wasn’t someone’s preferred type of story.  These days, that’s the highest praise it gets.  How did something that strangers once called ” the most intriguing plot” they’d ever read become the “worst written waste of paper in history” ?  A hyperbolic review, yes, but this sudden trend disturbed more in me than just the author of the work.

How does a book get good reviews for over a decade and then suddenly, it gets picked apart?  I admit I was taking it personally.  Professional reviewers of the past would tell authors to grow a thicker skin, but with some of the reviews I’ve seen of my own and many other authors’ works, it’s a wonder anyone bothers to put their labors of love out there at all.

When I stopped taking the snarky reviews personally was when I noticed in the last couple of years that I could no longer read the comments on some of my favorite blogs unless the comments were heavily moderated.   So many of the comments devolved immediately into politics, even when the article had NOTHING to do with politics.  Or religion.  Or racist remarks. Or simply trolling.  I could begin reading a helpful comment thread and see it ripped apart within a few comments, to the point where I would feel my blood pressure rising at the negativity and the…well, the downright glee at antagonizing others or tearing apart the original article and all positive or supporting comments on it.

I see the same in social media everywhere now.  An inspirational post?  Shredded.  Often shredded, everyone stirred up and posting arguments back, and then the poster disappears.  I’ve seen it in social circles–taken into the realm of social media–where the local gossips have a whole new arena to chew on their victims.  But why?  Why, why, why be a piranha?

One troll told me once that he got a kick out of stirring things up, seeing how strong and long he could get a reaction. A reviewer (everyone’s a reviewer under our current technology) told me last month that she saw it as her job to bring all authors down the level of kissing her ass for a sale or a positive response and if she was going to review a book, movie, blog, etc for her social media friends, then she was going to pick it apart, even if she liked it,  because there was nothing the author, musician, actor, etc could do about it.

Why, over just a few short years, have we turned into a hate culture, power-hungry with excitement over being able to bring someone down?

I think I understand now.

When people feel helpless, they either lose hope or they turn damned and determined to make something change.  When people feel helpless and hopeless, they tend to go in one of two directions.  They turn that anger, that helplessness, that frustration inward, and it becomes depression.  Or they turn it outward toward others.  They lash out.  They criticize to the point of tearing other apart verbally.   They have social media now as a tool that amplifies their sense of power from lashing out and ripping up others.

Right now, we are in the midst of a hate culture where we all seem very normal, yet turn into snarling dogs behind the anonymity of the Internet.  We say things to people online that we wouldn’t dare say to their faces for fear of having the crap beat out of us or being properly ashamed of being caught saying it at all.

More than any point in my lifetime, we feel the most helpless, the most hopeless as a people.   Whether that’s the economy, politics, spiritual bankruptcy, feeling dead-ended and oppressed, or what.  We feel powerless as individuals.  And we either rise up out of that or we strike out at everyone we can the moment we get online because it makes us feel the teensiest bit powerful.

Think of it this way:   if you had so many productive and positive activities in your life, whether through your employment, your community, or your financial ability to delve into new hobbies or explorations, would you be spending big chunks of your life firing back  profanity in the comments thread on a news story?  Tearing apart the personal life of the author of a book you’ve sworn never to read?  Cyberstalking people you don’t know to dig up the latest dirt and share it?  Scouring the planet for anything positive so you can stamp it out before it grows?

More than having a thin skin for not being overjoyed when I am the target of haters, I more so feel hurt for where we are as a people.   There will always be haters but when the preponderance of hate and negativity overtake all interactions online, it foretells that maybe we  are in a downward spiral because so many of us want others to feel the anger, the hurt, the frustration that we do.  It’s the equivalent of having a really bad day at work and going home to kick the cat because there’s no one left you can openly take your bad day out on.

Haters gotta hate?   No.  They don’t.  But if they don’t have a more positive channel for their lives, it’s all they have left.