18th September, 2021. Aubergines and Insults and the Mysteries of Social Media

I wake up to find Scotland basking in the most ravishing autumn sunshine. At this time of year, the light changes and takes on a thick, amber aspect. It always makes me think of the light of old Italy; something in my imagination insists that this is the light that Horace and Pliny knew. 

I look at the dogs, who are dreaming and dozing, and feel lucky.

Then I take a peek at Twitter. Twitter, I have discovered, comes alive if you ask it a cooking question. Last night, I had two aubergines that needed eating and I suddenly felt bored by my usual technique of cooking them in the oven with garlic and olive oil. I wanted something funky and out of left field. So I asked Twitter.

Culinary Twitter, it turns out, can do aubergines forty-seven ways. The recipes came pouring in. There were suggestions for mint and miso and walnuts. There was a one recipe that was so sophisticated I did not even know what one of the ingredients was. (I did not like to ask.)

It was one of those moments when you say to yourself – yes, yes, this is what social media is for. This is the bringing together of people, in happiness and enthusiasm. This is strangers being kind and people you will never meet being interesting and funny, and everyone united in their contemplation of the aubergine. What a beautiful thing.

Of course, there were a couple of people who loathe aubergines, and who advised me to chuck them in the bin or put them in the compost, but this was done in a spirit of merriment. For a while, my timeline was a perfect festival of goodness and amity.

And then along comes the fellow whose mission in life is to spoil the party. ‘Stick them up your arse,’ he says.

In the old days, I might have been a bit shocked by this, or even slightly hurt. (I am a sensitive soul, but I’ve taught myself toughness and resilience over the last few years. Actually, I learnt those qualities by teaching them to my horse. But that’s a whole other story.) As it is, I don’t feel anything – not that old ‘oof’ I used to get in the stomach when someone was rude, not that sudden swoop in the solar plexus. I do, however, start to wonder.

I become fascinated. I have a hundred questions.

First of all, why did that person reply to me at all? I looked him up and we have nothing in common. He has eighteen followers and none of them are my friends. How would my original tweet have even shown up on his timeline? Was he doing a Friday night aubergine search? Does he hate the aubergine so much that he must find all mentions of it and then do the arse thing? 

This mystery is compounded by another. What kind of frame of mind must you be in to tell a complete stranger to shove an aubergine up her arse? Seriously. I understand that kink porn is everywhere nowadays, but even so. I try to think of the mentality. I wonder: is it hatred of women, or hatred of vegetables? Or hatred of both? 

And there is a part of me that wants to make a hundred jokes about this, but I stop and think of that person, on the end of that peculiar remark. I think – and I’m not being passive-aggressive or patronising – that you must have to be very sad or very lost or very lonely to write something like that. I suspect that this is where a lot of the unpleasantness on Twitter comes from. There are people out there who are in so much pain, because their hearts are broken or they have been crushed by disappointment or they have nobody to love, that they throw all that pain at the screen. They have a kind of bottled, unexpressed rage, and they don’t know what to do with it, and so they tap it out on the keyboard. They end up yelling at strangers or attacking for the sake of it or twisting down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories. Anything so they don’t have to stop and look at their own aching heart.

I think that is what is happening. I can’t be sure. It may be that there are more terrible people in the world than I allow for. (I have a fatal tendency to assume that everyone is wonderful. That’s my default position. I think I got it from my dad, who saw the best in humans. It’s not a bad way to go through life. The only thing is that I do get terrible shocks when I discover that some people are irredeemably nasty.) But I don’t believe that half of those people who write rude and stupid things are terrible. I think they are wounded. I think their life didn’t turn out the way they hoped. I think they may be bereft of purpose or meaning. And they grab onto social media with the blind fury of the betrayed.

The funny thing is that I’m not cross with the stick it up your arse man. I hope that he finds happiness in life. I truly do. When I wake up in Scotland and feel lucky that I have the trees outside my window and the birds singing and the dogs dozing, I also feel profoundly grateful that I am not the kind of person who is driven to abuse strangers. I’d hate to have to do that. There’s no enduring satisfaction in it. There’s nothing constructive or meaningful. It’s just undifferentiated rage at a world that doesn’t care, thrown around without point. Nobody feels better, after doing that. Nobody is going to lie on their deathbed and say, ‘Well at least I made other people’s lives a little bit less happy’. No kid grows up wanting to be horrible to other humans. It creeps up on people, I think, as one thing after another goes wrong, and it’s all they are left with. And I would not wish that on my worst enemy.

So I hope my aubergine man does find some joy to hold on to. I hope he finds someone to love. 

And now I have got some serious cooking to do.

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