There’re two tabs open at the moment in this browser window, side by side, but worlds apart.

The first describes the historic move by Judge Frank Bearden to freeze issuing of gay marriage licences in Oregon on one hand, ordering the state to formally legalize them on the other. His order that all the marriages performed thusfar must also be recognized is also very significant and a huge step forward for the movement in America. Even if Bush pushes through his constitutional amendment, even if these marriages aren’t recognized in other states, those people who just want couples who love each other to be allowed to marry, regardless of orientation, have won a major victory and should be proud of themselves.

So what’s in the second tab, you ask? Well, you would ask if you were there, or reading this or possibly gave a damn 😉 In the second tab is an article reporting the surge in hate sites on the Net, claiming that the Internet is fostering racism, Semitism and various other hate-based activities. It’s amazing to me that on the one hand we have a massive liberalization in the Real World ™, juxtaposed with increasing hatred. And that modern communications has made both possible.

Admittedly television has been responsible for much of the relaxation of attitudes towards homosexuals that is visible (after all, exposure does breed tolerance) in public. But driving this was a much greater feeling by gay people that they could be safe in their own skins … and nothing helped this more than the internet. Gay pride and all those sorts of movements could hardly have reached out as the internet has and still does.

Think you might be gay? Confused about it? Well, a quite Google search (with the right terms of course) will beat you a direct path to a number of supportive people who don’t mind that you want to remain anonymous (hell, they probably did once too), who understand how confused you feel, who want to help you and let you talk. Places that will give you a little time to get comfortable in this new skin you suddenly realised was real underneath the clothes and to realise that you needn’t be a stereotype. This was the essential prework before homosexuality could become anything like acceptable to the general public — it is difficult to like or respect anyone who is scared or afraid to be themselves.

So how can the internet foster so much hatred on the other hand, just as easily? For the exact same reason. Google and similar can put you in touch with likeminded people, wherever they may be. You can be anonymous. You can be insular, unexposed to real people who embody the things you hate, whether that be a race, religion, orientation, age or economic level (after all, a surprising number of people really do hate the poor…). You can pick and choose where you go, who you talk to. It’s much easier on the net to filter out the unwelcome reality or normality that has driven you out of the Real World in the first place.

While I was writing this it almost surprised me that I did not resent these facts. But then I realised why — the internet is just a tool. People will be people and all the abuse, all the hateful rhetoric, is all down to people. The internet allows the “mob-component” aspect of people to run free, particularly when anonymity is so much easier. Just watch the comments to this post and see. They can stay there, testament to the greatness of the internet as a tool and the sadness of people’s ability to hate each other for no reason at all.