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Are People Losing Their Humanity?

Posted on December 20, 2017 at 7:15 PM

By Dennis Stone


John McCain has an aggressive form of brain cancer, and will likely die in the next year. It's the same type of cancer that killed Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden's son Beau. About a week ago Biden was a guest on "The View," which now has McCain's daughter Meghan as one of its panelists. While talking about her father's battle with cancer she began to cry. Biden rose from his seat, took a seat next to Meghan, clasped her hand, and consoled her, urging her to hold on to hope.


It was a touching moment, revealing that differences of politics and philosophy need not obscure common humanity and vulnerability. Life transcends those ultimately insignificant differences. I'm sure you know that McCain is a conservative and Biden is a liberal, and the two butted heads on policy many times when they served in the Senate together.


The first story about the Biden/McCain story that popped up on Google News was from Fox News, so I read that one, wondering if they would slant it in some way. They did not, but then I read the comments. That was a mistake. I expected perhaps some kind words for Biden, normally seen by the Fox News universe as an enemy. I was aghast, dumbfounded, and ultimately deeply depressed by what I found. Not only were there almost no kind words for Biden, but there were also almost none for either Senator McCain or his daugher. Most commenters viewed Sen. McCain as a traitor, an enemy, an evil man. Several were hoping and even praying for his quick death. They berated his daughter as a RINO ("Republican In Name Only") who has revealed herself on "The View" as a liberal, and therefore an awful person. There were also huge numbers of posts calling Biden a lech, a serial sexual assaulter, a perv, etc. That's because he has a history of being an old-fashioned touchy-feely person who values hugging and human touch as part of the interaction process. I've rarely been as shocked by a comment section, though some of the overtly racist attacks on the Obama family actually surpassed this comment section. I wondered how Fox News could allow those comments. I just checked the story again, and was happy to see that posts reveling in McCain's upcoming death had been removed. The ones lambasting Biden as a pervert remain, however.


Who are these people, I wondered. Why didn't a large contingent of other Fox readers rise up in rage and denounce them? How could regular people not be outraged at the depravity, at the lack of humanity? Some readers will say that's because that is what conservatives have become. But....


The same thing happens on the liberal side. The worst I recall was after the murders of policemen, when commenters or Twitter users made posts celebrating the murders and hoping for more. When Republican congressman Steve Scalise was shot and nearly killed by an anti-Trump gunman some commenters hoped he would die. One site had a long analysis piece that argued that since Scalise opposed marriage equality and held conservative positions (which by definition would harm people, according to the writer), it would be a good thing if he died. He had been saved largely by a black queer woman police officer, and the piece suggested that those of us who are liberal or marginalized in some way would be making a mistake if we saved someone like that. The world would be a better place if they weren't in it. Most of the commenters agreed with the writer.


Are these comments representative of a gradual erosion of humanity in the internet age? Do they reflect a hardening, a fracturing of the commonality of all human beings in our brave new world, where people live in bubbles populated only with people who all think alike, and with other bubbles representing people we hate and distrust and don't consider worthy of our consideration?  When I was a kid people didn't think like that. Interestingly, people then didn't have access to news media tailored to their way of thinking, to which they could restrict themselves. People got their news from the three networks, or the daily newspaper, or Time and Newsweek. There weren't alternate sets of facts, and so people didn't splinter so readily into mutually exclusive groups.


Perhaps things aren't so dire, however. Perhaps what I'm seeing are small groups of outliers. Perhaps the type of people who rush to comment on internet stories are fringe types. People who fixate on political issues and disagreements because they have nothing else of substance in their lives. People who are in essence misanthropes or narcissists who get meaning from constant anonymous hate that makes them feel less powerless. 


I don't know the answer to those questions. For the sake of our country, indeed for the sake of the human race, I hope I'm seeing troubled outliers. And if that is true I hope the rest of us can reject the hate, and can cross the philosophical and political divides to see everyone as our brothers and sisters, no matter how much we disagree. Like John McCain and Joe Biden have always done.

Categories: Commentary

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