You can learn a lot about a person by how they react to bad news, whether it’s a natural disaster, a neo-Nazi rally, someone important denying climate change, or whatever else happens to be the day’s headline. Some people get outraged, some try to organize a response, some get on their soapbox. You’ll get your what-about-ers, and a few people who comment “This sucks, thoughts and prayers” before firing off 50 posts about vaping and Overwatch. Then you have the Internet Nihilists, who take any opportunity they can get to snark about how humanity is doomed because we’re all too stupid to live.
Plug search terms like “humanity doomed” into Twitter the next time there’s big news, and you can watch the comments roll in like a sweaty tide. One politician advocates for war? Humanity is doomed. One prominent commentator denies evolution? We’re collectively too dumb to survive. A corporation tries to profit from a natural disaster? Better make your peace, because we’re about to go extinct. Sometimes people feel the need to declare doom and gloom just for the hell of it, like the adult version of locking yourself in your bedroom and blasting Papa Roach because you had a bad day.
Do you think I’m exaggerating? One of the tweets above was in response to a picture of an engagement ring.
Somewhere, long ago, someone probably said “People need to get their priorities straight! If we waste time painting on cave walls and coveting shiny rocks, our species is doomed!” But this reaction to current events has become increasingly prevalent, especially in recent months. Anytime something stupid happens in the Trump administration (OK, that happens every day; we’ll give you that), people trot out prophesies of doom. Often they’ll make ham-handed Third Reich comparisons, or link to alarmist news articles and studies they’ve briefly skimmed. What they don’t do is, well, anything else. Anything helpful.
The news can be overwhelming, and sometimes the cynical reaction is the easy one that helps you get on with your day. My own default emotional state is soul-sucking existential dread, so I get it. But almost everyone who likes to post that we’re doomed, in reaction to everything from a shooting to the transgender military ban, tries to present themselves as dispassionate observers who are above the fray of daily life, like Dr. Manhattan with hashtags.
There’s this tone that implies they’re smarter than everyone else, that they’re dropping profound truth bombs that we’re all too dumb or irrational to see. They talk about humanity like they’re not part of it, like by saying “The fact that more people use Instagram than Wolfram is proof that #HumanityIsDoomed #NotGettingLaid.” They talk like they’ve evolved beyond us mere mortals and our petty problems, and they only grace us with their presence because they’re stuck with us. They should be discussing impenetrably deep concepts with beings of pure light and Mark Twain’s disembodied brain. Instead, fate has trapped them here.
Remember that kid at school who always bragged about how smart he was, but never did any work? They’re that kid. They want to acknowledge the problem without doing anything about it, to appear intelligent without being intelligent, because they equate dispassionate cynicism with genius. But what they truly are, almost invariably, are people who are unaffected by whatever news story they’re declaring to be proof that Rome has fallen. They are above everyone else, but only in the sense that after pronouncing our species doomed, they can head to Starbucks instead of having to deal with the floodwaters rising around them, not worrying that they’re going to face violence because of their race.
By the way, Internet Nihilists are the same people who love to bombard your Facebook feed with “15 DISTURBING PICTURES ABOUT MODERN CULTURE.” You know, deep and meaningful stuff like this:
Those are so profound, right? It’s like these people who definitely know what a b*****b looks like are holding up a mirror to our society! Except, you know, social media and — boo, hiss — phones are also how people disseminate survival information during disasters. Social media is how I, a straight white dude who’s kinda dumb and tends to spend most of his time thinking about his favorite sports teams, learns about issues that are facing LGBT people and minorities today, which I would otherwise be blind to. At the risk of stating what’s obvious to everyone but the people who think it’s ingenious to compare fast food to rape and need a drawing of a businessman shoving the Earth into a wood chipper to label the chipper, social media lets us connect at a level previously unheard of.
Yes, there are downsides to it too, but those downsides need intelligent discussion, not dingbat baby’s first counterculture statement. They’re calling humanity dumb and doomed on a communications platform that can reach around the world in an instant, which would have been inconceivable to the average person as recent as 25 years ago. And again, the people making these statements aren’t affected by the reality they’re decrying. When, for example, neo-Nazis rally, people whose lives are affected use social media to organize counter-protests, call on their representatives to speak and act, make fun of the neo-Nazis’ stupid hair, etc. Meanwhile, people whose lives will go on as normal post vapid nonsense like this:
What all these posts have in common is that they come from people who get dismissive, or even angry, when other people care. To a certain subsection of the internet, nothing is more criminal than caring. About politics, gender, class, representation in video games, anything. They dismiss racists and people trying to stop racism as equally stupid for trying to change the world — which is ironic, because that attitude is changing the world by making it dumber.
They’re like people saying, “Fire is a natural phenomenon!” while your house burns down around you. They’re using these “profound” observations to absolve themselves from the need to challenge their comfort zone and actually contribute to society, and then they continue to live easy lives while other people suffer. It’s an attitude of “This doesn’t affect me personally, therefore it’s not a problem, and anyone who cares about it is hysterical and ludicrous,” with an added dose of insufferable smugness.
Keep that in mind the next time you get passionate about trying to change the world you live in and people oppose you on the basis of “caring is dumb.” The guy snarking about how humanity is doomed because of the latest Trump policy isn’t going to have his life made worse by that policy. The guy calling anyone who engages in any kind of politics brainwashed has the privilege of getting to drift through life unaffected by those same politics.
Don’t get distracted by the people — usually, but hardly always, well-off white dudes — who are lucky enough to be detached from the worst of the world’s problems and then act like they just finished their first week of Philosophy 101 because of it. If it ever sounds like they’re the majority, that’s because the people who would be hurt the most are just getting down to business and trying to get something done.
I think of a scene from Persepolis, in which Pearl Epolis (or whatever the heroine’s name is, it’s been a while) encounters a dude going on about how life is meaningless bullshit and all politics is a sham. In response, she angrily points out that people have died for the freedoms he considers pointless.
Sony Pictures Classics
You don’t have to agree that life isn’t absurd and pointless. But you at least have to acknowledge that other people don’t feel that way, and that drive-by “I am the one sane man in a sea of doomed ignorance”-style comments are insulting to them. Because otherwise you’ve moved beyond nihilism and into sociopathy, and perhaps even insanity.