I’ve been thinking a lot about malice—or, maybe more accurately, what it means for a person to be hurt by another. Malicious intent is a major factor if someone inflicts harm, either mentally or physically, but what does that mean in this day and age?

The confusion that can come with facing a foreign opinion—by foreign I mean one whose thesis seems absurd to the point of being provocative—can feel strangely invasive. Belief and opinion are concepts that encompass some of our most basic subconscious humanisms; how we connect ourselves to the world at large, how we subjectively grasp our day-to-day life. When something opposes that, it has the potential to disrupt our entire sense of the world. It can feel like a threat.

An old roommate of mine was a born-again Christian and it was just something I never got used to. People can believe what they want, but sometimes he’d say something about God or Jesus and my mind would just hit a wall. I simply couldn’t grasp some of the ways his mind constructed the nature of our universe. For the most part, we got along fine. But there were certainly nights where we would spend hours in a heated debate, unable to come to any sort of compromise. A sense of aggression was certainly present.

And so now we have the internet, which is littered with beliefs. Nobody could exist online without being able to find someone who thinks the complete opposite. It is at the core of our social discord in America these days. Millions of people feel attacked constantly, simply by and for existing. Human history doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to trying to settle massive ideological disagreements.

Malice is defined as a desire to cause pain to another, yet these days one cannot even express themselves without the knowledge that someone, somewhere will take offense to whatever it is. Stating any opinion is, in some form, a knowing act of aggression, even if there is no specific harm intended to anyone in particular. It is also inviting that same aggression, even without an intention to provoke. It’s easy to feel bullied in an age when there is evidence everywhere people believe you’re wrong.

When the internet was rapidly growing in the early-aughts, one of my biggest questions was how it would effect society at large. And not in the physical framework of same-day deliveries, but the existential relationship we have with ‘America’ and the more intangible frame we keep that image contained in. This, these days of absurdity, panic, mistrust and fear, was not the outcome I was hoping for.