There's a viral thing going around Singapore that I would love to comment on less obliquely, either here or on FB, but I feel that my opinion on that matter, whatever it may be,.. hang on, I don't mean my opinion, I mean the fact that I, as a non-Singaporean living in Singapore might even HAVE an opinion about an issue that involves non-Singaporeans living in Singapore and might wish to express it safely in a polite public forum where reasoned debate could ensue (say, SammyBoy's Café), that I could expect a serious backlash - and not just being told to go back where I came from (Hey, I thought Aussies had the dibs on that phrase!) - from an island-full of self-righteously aggrieved citizens.
One could surmise from the evidence of the issue I am referring to, that there is a certain class of people who wouldn't even care to read, let alone attempt to understand what my opinion might be, should I have one, before attacking me and cutting me down to the size they think is appropriate (i.e. mincemeat?) for whatever opinion-crime they assume I have committed - but not just with an insult-exchanging "flame-war" as it used to be, but with real, life-impacting, personal, damage...
Read all about it... That woman who tweeted a poor-taste racist joke at the airport and was sacked by the time her plane landed...
If my comment got out, and was misinterpreted to be racist, or culturalist, or elitist, or post-colonialist, or pre-colonialist, or anything "-ist" by this type of people, then, pushing out their pique in a cascade of reTweeted or FB-shared comments could create enough ruckus (and not just on social media, but "real" media) so that their opinions on my less than 100% approved opinion could go Gangnam to a point that my employer would not be able to ignore it and they might feel they have to sack me - with all the enormous financial repercussions that might involve - home loans forfeited, hospital bills unpaid, Dropbox subscription expired (AIYEE, THE HORROR!), blah blah...
Not happy with that, those out for justice might, as they typically do, decide to attack, abuse and humiliate my family (yeah, even to the seventh son of the seventh son). Maybe they'd turn their attention to any of friends who'd stuck up for me (if they would be stupid enough to raise their heads in this Politically Correct environment), and then they'd hack into my computer and republish those embarrassing photos of me at my 50th birthday, the ones with the blue sparkly 50 sign stuck on my fat tummy and -- oh, those pics are already out there on FB!
And, you know, my opinion might have only been along the lines of, "Just chill guys," and/or "HTFU". But I have opted for the self-censor because I read on Facebook every second day exactly what happens to smart-arses on Facebook.
Because even such a timid comment as my typical ones might incense people further, for, as we know from recent experience, insults can be sort of homeopathic, in that the smaller the intended offensiveness of the comment or act, the greater will be its perceived offensiveness. This may extend to the point where, say, flashing your car's high-beam at the rear of a bad-driver is tantamount to declaring war. (See previous post)
This overreaction happens all the time - road rage being only one instance - because we are all wired to take a disproportionate offence at certain types of mild insults when they threaten certain aspects of our social expectations. Like when you feel you are being slightly cheated by a cunning taxi-driver taking an unusual route (and who might only be trying to avoid $4 ERP charge on your behalf), or being cheatingly slighted by your drunken life-partner at a social gathering where the morals are generally getting a bit lax and the lights are getting dim...
Seriously, free speech is being curtailed everywhere these days - here's me self-censoring! I certainly never expected to see that day! - and it's not (only) by the fascist governments and the despotic tyrants we typically point our quivering fingers at, but those cyber-posses of hyper-offendable "flesh-hunters" who troll the web-prairies looking for ways to destroy the lives of those others who might not be, to their unstated standards, perfect human beings all the time.
It's the somewhat peeved public on their iPads, not the evil overlords, not the Stasi, not the NSA, not KGB spies, not the minions of Big Brother. These are the ones keeping tabs on whatever we write, whatever we show, or whatever we think out loud in a brain-farted Tweet these days. And punishment is as swift as electrons and as profoundly justifiable as 140 characters can make it.
What has gone wrong? The PURPOSE of the internet used to be just that back in the good old days - it was built to offend and annoy people! That, and document collaboration, And porn. What? Has? Gone? Wrong?
"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.” Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.
The Wild West ain't got nothing on the e-lynchings of these days.