And it was a vice - in the early days of 2004 or so, I just read Free Republic to feel superior to the crazy people.
But over the years, I have found this vice to not be without it's utility. As I get around to it, I will present to you the three things Freeping has done for me:
1. Understanding human nature.
Freepers say they're big on the Republic and Capitalism and small government, but they collectively fail to stick to these principles when they're tested in the slightest against their real principles. They'll call for a strong government response to shut down businesses large and small that come out for immigration or gay marriage, and lament how the voters are keeping their police state future from happening.
Tribalism and Xenophobia is the font from which all other Freeper impulses come (though I suspect that's just the most virulent symptom of a general fear of change).
This is the first lesson Freepers taught me: We are mostly apes, and apes have tribes. Let that tribal instinct go, and it can take over your life.
Racism has become huge on Free Republic, but it used to be a small undercurrent before Obama. Part of it is the right-wing media's race-bating attempts to drive white rural turnout, but I think it started to take over largely as an outgrowth of their hatred of everything about Obama. I expect it to wane with Obama out of office, though it's proven a potent turnout machine even nationally, so it won't go down to pre-2008 levels. Well, quiesce - it was always there, just held back until stimulated beyond shame.
|Now I hate crackers.|
I also got to see how hatred and fear are really closely related. It's like Gandhi said - "The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear." You fear what you hate, and, in time, you hate what you fear. I guess that's why fight or flight are the same impulse.
It will be interesting to see what happens if Hillary gets in. I seriously expect full MRA "red pill" BS. It's already starting.
Freepers, collectively, don't have much to teach about faith and religion. To most of them, it's all an overlay on what they already think. In fact, a lot of Freepers hate their church for being too liberal. The real Bible-thumpers are actually a rarity (the religion forum is usually a flame war of less than a dozen). You mostly hear God invoked to end whatever politician or country is currently drawing Freeper's ire, or as a balm to their growing sense of futility. It's yet another instrument that Freepers like to pretend is a principle.
But while hatred is the backbone of Free Republic, it's not what drives the posts. Tribalism turns out to manifest most intensely when it's focused, and personal. It also seems more negative than positive. Loyalty is hard won and easily lost, but hatred? That stays. And that's what you see the most on Free Republic, hating the bad people. Groups, individuals, whatever. And nothing these hated ones can do or say will shake Freepers' rage.
It's rarely about loving the good people, though. If they really love you (e.g. Palin, Netanyahu), they'll cut you some slack for a bit, but if you come out in favor of illegal immigration or climate change? You're done.They'll turn on you and hate you extra for being an apostate.
But if you continue to say the right things? They'll hate anyone for you. They'll distort history and events both foreign and domestic to make you look noble and smart. Facts are all instrumental to them anyhow.
Intensely tribal people living in a civilization that insists tribalism be controlled leads to Freeper's love of violence. Because, once started, violence is pure tribalism. There are your guys, and the guys trying to hurt your guys. Freepers yearn for this simplicity. You see it in their bloody solutions to everything from immigration reform to gay marriage. I think their constant crisis posture is less about actual crisis and more about validating their desire for the purity of violence.
But they'll never go there. It's not that they're cowards, or no more so than your average person. The problem is that they don't truly believe their own BS. Though they constantly say it, the real world doesn't have the moral clarity they stridently insist it does. But as every child knows it's the Bad Guys who make the first move. No fantasy of evil Muslim Obama can ever truly convince them, so their own childlike worldview constrains them. So they are trapped inches away from the moral clarity violence brings, ever held back by their own exalted self-image.
That doesn't keep them from half believing their fantasies though. Because when your whole life is politics, sometimes you need to raise the stakes with some drama. Free Republic was created to dwell on Clinton conspiracies, after all. One could see the very purpose of the site as a place where like-minded people can meet and insist to each other that they are all humble heroes in a compelling good vs. evil struggle. Still, while you have some Freepers who are indeed sincere tin-foil hat crazies, most of them kinda sense it's all smoke and mirrors. That's why they constantly return to the Dan Rather/Bush's National Guard service, the only time their Internet sleuthing turned anything up. Their validation will ever only be internal, but nevertheless confirmation bias in service of group validation is a helluva drug, as can be seen by the elaborate birther/Benghazi narratives Freepers spin.
The Obama gayness, Chelsea as Webb Hubbel's son, mean-girls is not even that, it's just spite they briefly convince themselves of to make their impotent insults seem a bit more relevant.
I could go on and on. I haven't touched on the weird and complicated gender politics, or the reactions to the total rout that is gay marriage, or how Freepers' humorists end up also having the craziest views when being sincere, or the growing trend of spiteful, America-hating nihilism overtaking the hateful superpatriotism of the previous decades.
But in closing, I just want to end on the understanding Free Republic has given me for how fascism works. Everything I discussed above, from the violence to the conspiracies to the xenophobia to the personality-based politics, we each have those impulses held in check.
For Freepers, all it takes is one little push to get to the violent struggle they easily want. The right someone saying it's time to rise up and cleanse this land, many would follow, many would kill and die in his name. If the Thucydides quote at the top of my blog didn't drive it home, maybe Orwell will: "Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people 'I offer you a good time,' Hitler has said to them, 'I offer you struggle, danger, and death,' and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet." That insight remains true for all of us, it's just more evident in Freepers.