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john doyle

One day last week someone wrote to me by e-mail and said only this: "If I was an ugly faggot could I write a TV column?"

It rolls off you, this stuff. The bitter and twisted, they sneer, bully and feel better for unleashing belligerence on someone they don't know. Besides, there are degrees of hate. Around that time, many of us dwelled on the puzzle of news that Canadian youths from London, Ont., took part in an attack in Algeria that ended with the deaths of 37 hostages and 29 terrorists. The dead unknown to us, unreal to us, until we knew some of the killers were our own, gone and lost in some brutal hatred.

On the weekend, busy, I wasn't much interested in the soccer on TV. Tedious games from England on the schedule. But, on a break, I watched the end of the FA Cup semi-final. Wigan against Millwall. Two dreary teams.

And then it became obvious why this game, best forgotten, would not be – a massive brawl in the stands, men fighting men and fighting the police. Blood on the ground, a terrified child in tears. On Sunday, another game, Newcastle versus Sunderland, usually hard-fought and intense, though hardly beautiful. Again, the brawling and violence, erupting this time in the streets outside the stadium. Fist fights, bottles thrown, dozens arrested. In England, soccer hooliganism is back.

But all of us, we live in hooligan times. Do we ever.

On the weekend news, reports and footage of the funeral of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old who took her own life after months of bullying. A bewildered community, a police force finally re-opening the matter of alleged rape for investigation, now that death hangs over what was once merely the matter of a hurt, depressed teenage girl. On Sunday on the TV news, Justin Trudeau elected leader of the Liberal Party. A speech condemning divisiveness.

Monday comes and the attack ads on Trudeau arrive. The sneering, bullying tone. The contrived macho contempt for a man undressing for charity, the implied hatred of urbanity. His "judgment" sternly called into question for a jovial act of social responsibility. Ministers of government, those self-declared prudent managers of the nation, on TV justifying the attacks.

Monday afternoon, the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Blood in the streets, chaos, panic and fear filling the TV screen on channel after channel, hour after hour. At least one child dead. Runners brutally injured. The runners, for God's sake. The runners, emblematic figures of urban life – solitary figures pounding the pavement, or groups of them running through the streets past people walking home from work, walking the dog or those staring out from buses and streetcars. The watchers envious or admiring of the determination, camaraderie and strength. Running is the most childlike of human sporting endeavours, as innocent as the road is long, so who would have such hatred?

When I was a boy in Ireland, there were bombings and shootings. Blood on the streets. Panic and fear and despair. The endless tally of the innocent dead. At school in a country then poor in educational resources, we learned a lot of poetry. Sometimes it made us think about the country, its history. And if we were too young to truly understand the meaning, the words stuck with us, as they do with me, now.

"We had fed the heart on fantasies,/ The heart's grown brutal from the fare,/ More substance in our enmities/ Than in our love." W.B. Yeats wrote that as civil war raged round him and he saw from his window "That dead young soldier in his blood."

We, too, feed ourselves on fantasies. The fantasy of benign connectivity. Instant images and voices in call-and-response creating the illusion of community. Someone wrote on Tuesday that social media had helped in clarifying things and connecting people after the Boston Marathon bombing. Hurrah for social media. Right. The same social media that allows easy bullying, and the spewing of hatred and spite to spiral and thrive.

We are better connected now, see brighter images faster and in abundance. We feed on the fantasy of this progress being good and yet, day after day, the heart grows more brutalized from the hate that has more substance than anything else.

On Monday night, the late-night TV hosts struggled to react to another day of carnage. Craig Ferguson, on CBS, sighed and asked, "Is anyone else sick of this shit?" It was the authentic response, the right thing to say. He acknowledged the necessity of laughter and fun to diminish and distract from the despair. But, he said, "I can't not think about it."

We live in hooligan times. And we can't not think about it – the vigour and sinew of hatred that is unleashed so casually in everything from e-mail to attack ads to online posts and TV images. We can't blame TV or any other media. We are so connected and yet divisiveness is the result. We can only blame ourselves.