Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reality Expands to the Exurbs: When the Fringe Becomes the Norm

Most famous today for pirated software and movies, Usenet was once a place where anyone with access to a computer could share thoughts ranging from brilliant to bizarre. No matter how stupid your proposal, you were almost certain to find supporters -- or, at the very least, to discover that there were folks out there even dumber than you. And so wannabe Jonathan Swifts and aspiring Catulluses did battle with the forces of dimwitedness.

These keyboard warriors found no shortage of  crazies  alternative thinkers ready to do battle.  Throughout America subway platform shouters, streetcorner ranters and subdivision prophets let their Factsheet Five subscriptions expire and reached out to a brave new world.  Unencumbered by distance or logic, they used cyberspace as a virtual bathroom wall bulletin board.  And lo, they did find many detractors.  But so too did they find followers among the ones who GET IT, the SERPENT RACE, not the hateful pinky-dick KLIPPOTHS who laughed at the real MASTERS

*ahem*

Fast forward to the present day:  Usenet has been replaced by the blogosphere and a whole new generation of kooks, cranks and crackpots seek our attention. Which brings us, at last, to Pamela Geller.

Geller is one of the guiding luminaries in the "no mosque at Ground Zero" movement.  She is the author of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America and Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance.  (Concerned Obama is going to declare our country a province of Kenya? Worried about the growing pressures on American women to don the burka and blow themselves up in subways? Me neither).  Like the great loony-tunes of old Geller has strong opinions. According to a October 2010 New York Times article Geller:
has called for the removal of the Dome of the Rock from atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; posted doctored pictures of Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court justice, in a Nazi helmet; suggested the State Department was run by ''Islamic supremacists''; and referred to health care reform as an act of national rape.
Recent gems in Geller's Atlas Shakes His Damn Head Shrugs blog (which includes enough apps and web gewgaws to choke Linda Lovelace) include this gem from April 1, 2010
The President of the United States is advancing jihad against the oath of office that he took. If he is agitating Muslims against Jews, will he declare war on Israel?... (Accusing Obama and White House Special Assistant Samantha Power of encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis) That's how the gangsta administration operates.
I'm sure you noticed the date, but don't worry: every day is April Fool's Day on Atlas Shrugs. On August 11, 2011 (today, that is) she railed against "the Obama administration's secret (or not so secret) race war and complete abandonment of indivudal (sic) rights," while in an article which appeared the same day in the conservative blog American Thinker she claimed:
It came to light Monday that the thirty elite American troops who were killed when their helicopter was attacked in Afghanistan were lured into a trap by the Taliban. 
An Afghan official said, "Now it's confirmed that the helicopter was shot down and it was a trap that was set by a Taliban commander.  The Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take." 
How did the Taliban know?  Who tipped off the Taliban?  And who supplied the Taliban with the surface-to-air armaments? 
I blame the president. 
I believe the loose lips of this reckless, incompetent fraud cost this group of elite Navy SEALs their lives.  So obsessed was this poseur with taking credit for something that he didn't have the stomach for (and didn't want) that he ensured a U.S. sacrifice of incalculable proportions.
Who could be deluded or delusional enough to take Geller seriously, you may ask?  (Besides Norwegian philosopher, political theorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik, that is).  You would think that she, along with her fellow frothing-at-the-mouth idiots, would be relegated to some seedy corner of the web where there is much wailing and gnashing of keyboards.  But the kind of ranting that was laughed at on  fin de millenium Usenet is now being taken seriously - or used seriously - by a lot of people who should know better.  As CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper says: "People say don't give her too much credit, she's a fringe character. But she is a fringe character who every day is on CNN, Fox, The Washington Post, and The New York Times."

The rise of the Internet and the web has definitely improved our access to information, and provided a platform for many voices which might have been silenced otherwise.  (For a recent example, consider the paucity of mainstream media coverage on the Johnny Bonta incident vs. the continuing outcry in the blogosphere).  It has been a major player in the "Arab Spring" and similar movements around the world.  It has accomplished a great deal toward establishing virtual communities devoted to alternative sexual, spiritual and political expressions.

But all those gains have come at a price. Long decades of flame wars have coarsened our discourse.  The same openness which allows for diversity and dissent also provides a fertile breeding ground for urban legends, sloppy or nonexistent scholarship and racist demagoguery.  The Internet has helped to give everyone a voice: a quick look at the comments sections of most major media outlets will soon show that most have nothing worthwhile to say.  For better or worst, DARPA's bastard children continue to shape our culture.  The jury is still out on whether they will lead us to The Singularity or The Stupefication.