Jean-Paul Satre once wrote:Hell is other people.” As quotes go, it’s as pithy as it is misunderstood. He’s not literally saying that everyone is hell. It’s more nuanced than that.
The quote is conditional. Hell is other people if you don’t get along with them. Fractious relationships only breed grief and conflict.
I pondered this quote last Thursday as my neighborhood Facebook page descended into bitter fighting. I’ll get into the “why” shortly. Just know that it was silly.
What followed was a two-day uncivil war between two rival parties. Zuckerberg’s hellscape was their Gettysburg.
Neighborhood Facebook groups are a necessary evil of modern life. At their best, they’re welcoming and useful. They’re the place you go to offload the (now-unwanted) kitchen gadgets you bought last Black Friday.
But at their worst, they’re as dysfunctional as any family of Cro-Magnons that’s crawled their way onto the stage of the Jerry Springer Show.
You’ve probably gathered by now: This won’t be an uplifting post. And it’s not really about the drama. Not really.
It’s about how people — neighbors, more specifically — behave online when they’re ensnared in conflict. It’s a tale about what happens when the shit (both literally and figuratively) hits the wall.
All’s fair in love and poop
Right, before I get to — as the kids say — the tea, I’ve got to give you some context. In 2008, the UK government decided to invest lots of money in refurbishing the vast swathes of urban wasteland.
It would invest millions into rehabilitating entire housing estates with the goal of giving ordinary people a decent (and affordable) place to live.
Two things followed: First, there was a massive global financial crisis that forced governments to redirect funds from social spending to ailing banks (and their bonuses).
Second, the then-Labour government was booted out, only to be replaced by thirteen years of successive rule by the Conservative Party.
The Conservatives —the party of fiscal discipline, consanguineous marriage, and eating swans — didn’t like the idea of giving the plebs somewhere decent to live. And so, funding for this rehabilitation project dried up.
Local governments were left holding huge swaths of derelict property, but no money to actually do anything with them. Because of this, they sold them off at firesale prices to rapacious developers.
Enter my landlord. They bought an entire city block. About 300 homes. To lure long-term tenants, they did two things.
First, they got rid of the private gardens and instead replaced them with small patios and massive communal spaces.
Second, they advertised themselves as explicitly pet-friendly. Until recently, UK landlords were given discretion as to whether they allowed pets. Most (around 93 percent) didn’t, because landlords are inherently bad people.
Needless to say, this development became popular with dog owners. Most residents are decent, working people. They have jobs, families, second-hand cars, and HelloFresh subscriptions.
They’re young professionals, sharing the middle-class values of their parents, and the financial precarities of their fellow millennials.
By that, I mean they’re not twats. Their dogs are sentient poodle-cross teddy bears, not snarling pit bulls. Communal living requires considerate behavior, and they always watch their animals. If Lassie lays a cable, they pick it up quickly.
To deuce or not to deuce, that is the question
Perplexingly, some people moved into this explicitly dog-friendly neighborhood despite not actually liking dogs.
It’s a situation akin to someone with taste stumbling into a Moschino store, or Morrissey booking a table at one of Salt Bae’s gaudy steakhouses.
That’s fine, of course. Pet ownership isn’t a prerequisite to living here. But you should — at the bare minimum — reconcile with the fact that other people will have animals in this (to belabor the point) explicitly pet-friendly development.
Of course, that didn’t happen. A small minority of residents (who, ever since their time as school prefect, have been hooked on authority) sought to undermine the rights of animal owners to access the space.
And — because it’s 2022 — their primary weapons are Facebook and email.
Like most real-world conflicts, World War Poo started with a “cold war” before heating up. The first skirmishes involved complaints — largely spurious — about dog waste in the communal area. I told you this was silly.
As the main antagonists are both imbeciles and totally fuckingingenuous, they’re seemingly unable to distinguish between dog and cat poop.
Slight digression here: Most people in the UK let their cats roam freely outdoors. House cats are the exception, not the norm. My American wife thinks this is weird. It isn’t. Not only does it reduce the number of feral pigeons within British cities, but it also provides roadkill enthusiasts with an infinite amount of free protein.
Many of these complaints were sent to the inbox of the amountgled property manager, who presumably joined my landlord for the challenge of stewarding an innovative residential development, but actually ended up in the crossfire of World War Poo.
Other complaints were dutifully posted on the neighborhood Facebook page, where they sparked a bitter argument where neither side was willing to give an inch.
One side — I’m going to admit my biases here, mine — didn’t want responsible dog owners to be penalized. The other wanted to unilaterally prevent dog owners from using the communal areas. You see where this is going.
Waterpoo, I couldn’t escape you if I wanted to
These early skirmishes have been a recurring feature of our neighborhood’s Facebook page for the past couple of years. They always end the same way — a stalemate.
Both sides get angry, but neither makes any real progress. Dog owners continue using the shared spaces as before; the anti-dog brigade fumed.
As history has so often demonstrated, cold wars inevitably escalate. The main antagonist in this story is an older, haughty woman who imagines herself as the mayor-in-waiting of our little community.
A bullying and dominating figure, she reminds me of Nurse Ratched, if the sadistic matron from One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest had a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ vibe.
Over the past few months, Nurse Ratched has taken her digital war offline, choosing to hector dog owners in person.
She’s an infuriating character. She doesn’t talk to you, but rather at you. Her lengthy monologues remind me of Maude Flanders’ “won’t someone think of the kids” pearl-clutching.
Like a member of North Korea’s Kim dynasty, she makes up rules on the fly (always at the disadvantage of dog owners), while implying dog owners are recklessly imperiling the health of the neighborhood kids.
It should go without saying: People don’t like being yelled at. If you’ve just woken up or have just arrived from home after a long day at work, the last thing you want is to be yelled at by a crackpot.
And so, last Thursday, someone lobbed a bagged turd into her back patio (presumably) in protest.
Funny as this is, I can’t condone it. It’s mean. It borders on harassment. While I appreciate the frustration some may feel, there are better ways of addressing their frustrations.
But this incident turned out to be the fecal equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, sparking a bitter feud that spanned several days, multiple rage-inducing threads, calls for dogs to be killed, and likely ruined the weekend of our page’s administrator.
Riding the information super (Hershey) highway
Where to start? Let’s start with the aggrieved Nurse Ratched. She used the aforementioned poop Molotov to start a renewed debate on the place of dog owners in the development’s communal spaces.
As a victim, she could elicit sympathy. But, to add to that, she also had a trick up her sleeve.
In the months preceding the incident, Ratched progressively blocked all the neighborhood’s dog owners, preventing them from commenting on (or even viewing) her posts.
This meant, in essence, the only people she’d be talking to are those already sympathetic to her cause.
In some ways, it reminded me of the “controlled opposition” style of Russian democracy. Russia has elections, sure. But the only candidates — besides supreme leader Vladimir Putin — are parties that, for all intents and purposes, support the Kremlin.
Genuine opposition parties are largely blocked from the ballot box.
It’s easier to win an argument when nobody talks back. And Facebook makes it easy to engineer those conditions. But Facebook is also a porous membrane. When a group has over 350 members, information filters out. This inevitably spawned more angry threads.
The Facebook group allowed other aggrieved residents to take fire at the dog-owning faction
One man claimed he was bit by an unleashed dog. It later transpired that he had actually rode his bike into an elderly, deaf dog, who nipped him in surprise. Obviously, this (minor) detail didn’t appear in his post.
In short, he complained about having won a silly prize after playing a silly game. This fact went down like a lead balloon among the dog-owning members of the neighborhood, who accused him of being disingenuous.
The anti-dog faction overlooked this fact. They expressed a nauseating level of sympathy.
Some were even suggesting the offending dog — who, again, nipped the bike-riding dipshit after being collided with — should be euthanized. Naturally, this only provoked more rage.
The Poo-ris Peace Accords
Okay, let’s recap this sordid tale. My neighborhood is primarily populated with dog owners. A small anti-dog faction wants to limit the rights of dog owners to use the development’s communal facilities.
Things escalated. And escalated some more. And here we are.
Some cooler heads tried (and failed) to prevail. A member of the dog-owning tribe extended an olive branch and suggested that set times be established where dogs could use the facilities.
This display of magnanimity failed. Ratched attempted to add a poison pill clause, stating that she would only agree if dogs didn’t pee or defecate outside.
Obviously, this was a non-starter. Dogs are animals. They pee and poop as they see fit. To the pro-dog faction, it was a sign of bad faith. Again, the situation escalated.
Here’s the thing: I know people on both sides of the fence. Both pro- and anti-dog. We’re neighbors. We live in close proximity to each other.
A community is more than a Facebook group
The Poop Wars aside, we have a nice community. We look after each other’s pets, keep an eye on the neighborhood kids when they’re playing unattended, and BBQ together.
But you couldn’t tell from our Facebook page. I mean, someone suggested that another resident’s dog — an elderly, deaf creature with mobility issues — be euthanized. How fucked up is that?
Insults were lobbed on both sides. People were called ‘disrespectable,’ ‘Karens,’ and worse. One side tried to engineer a debate about how the communal spaces work in their favor.
It was, to put it bluntly, completely deranged. People behaved in a way that they simply wouldn’t if they were left in a room to solve their issues face-to-face. It was social media at its very worst.
And there was no resolution. Nothing was solved. This means that we can expect a repeat in the very near future.
Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia, and the pro-dog faction has always been at war with the anti-dog clique. And will be forevermore.
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