Unfathomable Perversion (#11 of 52)

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It’s been a tough week.

“Thoughts and prayers” is something of a meme – a reflex regurgitation from politicians and public figures whenever tragedy strikes, signalling an awareness of suffering but with no real commitment to empathising, or doing anything meaningful to help. But in this case, I think it’s appropriate.

This has been the darkest week for me in recent memory, thanks almost entirely to the horrific mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I choose those words carefully. Fourty-plus victims off a lone gunman is unquestionably a mass shooting. But it’s the horrific part that’s really stuck with me.

My feelings about this are complex, and they’ll take quite a while to process – mostly because the shooter in question was radicalised in what is effectively my backyard: Online communities, global travel and gamer culture. Unlike lone-wolf psychopaths or religious terrorists, I understand (in places, deeply so) the world this shooter comes from, and watching this expression of hatred and paranoia flow from the web to the real world – with such devastating effect – is a soul-crushing experience.

What I really can’t get out of my head is the video. 

It’s difficult to find the words to express how I feel about it. Watching these things from security cameras or news vans is one thing – seeing a first-person perspective is quite another. In a very sick way, the shooter was inviting the internet to follow along as he gunned down innocent people.

It’s an unfathomable perversion to someone like me. I grew up online. My formative experiences, most of my social and cultural knowledge, entertainment, career and social bonds were forged primarily online. For years I believed in the power of the internet to connect people for the common good, to break down the walls between cultures and geographies, to enable all of us to build something better.

The deeper irony here (if any applies) is that the shooter considers himself well-travelled and well-connected, yet insists (45 times in the manifesto) on calling his enemies “invaders”. Despite all the opportunities in the world to connect with some of these people, learn to see them as humans, gain empathy and perspective, access information and educated commentary on demographic shifts and social change, he ended up weaponizing the internet instead.

And now I get to sit and watch as the confluence of incentives turns one lone gunman into a global media firestorm. News organizations that are desperate for monetizable traffic will play up the worst perspectives on this. Panel shows will bring on the most incendiary takes, prompting a social media outrage feedback loop. Pundits, activists and snake-oil salespeople will take this opportunity to push their brands and advance their careers, while the families and loved ones of 49 innocent victims have to process the unthinkable: A terrorist attack in one of the safest nations on Earth.

I don’t use words lightly, and I do my best to avoid cliches, but in this instance I can sincerely say that my thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. You were targeted for your faith, your ethnicity, and your status as immigrants. You deserved none of this.

And of course, this won’t go away. We have a manifesto now – a 71-page document that expresses a set of ideas and beliefs which are not unique to this shooter. Lots of people out there believe some of this stuff, and many more may already be on the fence about it.

A document like this can be dangerous without context – just enough verifiable fact to establish credibility, with just enough unprovable assertions and fallacious conclusions to mislead.

For my part, I’m working through the manifesto myself, attaching commentary and context on a lot of the arguments within it. These ideas spread like viruses online, and for every new mutation of the virus, you need a new set of antibodies to deal with it. Simply dismissing the manifesto won’t make the ideas go away – they’re incredibly hard to kill.

It’s a small contribution, and it doesn’t undo any of the damage, but I still feel like I’m obligated to help. This horror came from my neighbourhood, and the least I can do is to try making sense of it all.

And then there’s the loadshedding.

We’re on Stage 4 right now, which is troubling for a lot of reasons. Part of the problem is the loss of 900MW of power we import from Mozambique (which should have advanced us to Stage 3, not 4). The bigger problem is that this is happening on a weekend, which is when our power usage is collectively at its lowest.

The biggest problem, though, is that this is all happening within the context of the President trying to unbundle Eskom and the unions “fighting back”. There’s no telling what this means, but the unions have already declared they intend on shutting down Eskom for the week ahead of the elections (which would be wildly illegal and can be legitimately classified as terrorism).

So either our grid is imploding owing to failed build projects and ineffective maintenance, or it’ll implode because the unions need political leverage. And even in a best-case electoral scenario, it’ll implode anyway thanks to unsustainable debt in a flatlined economy that’s just now starting to feel the ravages of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

In either case, today was the first time in 2019 I went online looking for emigration options. It’s going to be very difficult for me to earn any kind of living in a country that doesn’t have a stable power supply, given that I’m an entirely-online business.

Cheerful thoughts, right?

All I can really do is carry on – keep making and updating my plans, and carry on building whatever I can in the time I have left. Which brings me to the next problem: I really need to start working less.

It remains a difficult proposition for me, even though I’ve done relatively well so far, and even though the numbers make sense. I’m too helpful (actual external feedback) and tend to get dragged into things that aren’t in my best interests. I can lose hours (days, even) solving problems that don’t benefit me in any way.

I’ve always known it was eventually going to come to this, and now I have to face it head-on: Growth isn’t always about adding or changing things – sometimes it’s about removing things.

Right now, there’s quite a few things I need to remove. My habit of spending hours at my desk is one of them. My propensity to keep taking on new work because I can do the job (not necessarily because I need the money) is another. I doubt I’ll ever be able to do anything about my curious and overly-helpful nature, but I can probably get more value out of them by focusing them in the right direction – and by developing more routine and discipline in my life.

That’s what I realized (again, possibly) this evening. I’ve always had far-off-into-the-future ideas about what my life would look like, and who I would be when I got there, but I keep finding reasons to put it off.

Usually it’s work. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought:

My workload is intense right now, but if I can just power through this and finish everything off, I’ll have more time.

And then when it looks like I might succeed, it becomes:

It looks like I have more time available next month, I should find new work.

Rinse, repeat, and I’m pretty sure it’s possible for years to go by without seeing any meaningful personal development. That takes just as much time, focus and energy as billable project work.

So that’s pretty much where I am right now. The last few days have been emotionally draining, and the load shedding has inadvertently opened up some time for me to do some reading and personal reflection (so it’s at least good for that).

Four weeks to go to my planned vacation. I still can’t wait.

Also this week:

A new Noscript Show episode went up tonight. We recorded a bit later than usual owing to the load shedding, and I think it’s pretty evident in the energy of the episode. Still, we got one out on schedule, and we’re twelve-for-twelve.

Our monthly Helderberg Devs meetup ran on Wednesday, and we got our highest turnout ever (17 people!) – the topic was solar power and going off-grid, which is obviously a popular theme right now.

Finally, lost in the cacophony of the last few days, I shouldn’t overlook the fact that the IRR and Afriforum came to verbal blows over the latter’s land reform documentary – or that I still have no answer to my question to the IRR.

Next week will be just as hectic as last week, except that I’ll be doing my best to return to sane routines – aided in no small part by my now-default expectation that Stage 4 loadshedding can kick in at any time.

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Wogan May

By day, I run a software development agency focused on business tools, process optimization, data integration and automation. By night, I build tools and platforms that serve online creators.

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