Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
“disorganization is a kind of anesthesia”
Jenny Holzer, Truisms
Following our 2016 U.S. presidential election, I am more than ever convinced that there is a need to defend, escape, and mitigate our ways of talking to each other, our ways of countering our prejudices, and our reality and truth determining judgments.
What counters our efforts here?
Jim Rotenberg’s article in The New York Times: “Media’s Next Challenge: Overcoming the Threat of Fake News” poses one problem. “The internet-borne forces that are eating away at print advertising are enabling a host of faux-journalistic players to pollute the democracy with dangerously fake news items.” (Nov. 7, 2016) The opposing view sees a liberating direct democratic power in internet-borne forces that leave the choosing as to what is real and what is false to the viewer/listener.
I say “viewer/listener” and not “reader” because according to Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook announcement real-time videos available for streaming are “the best way to tell stories.” This devolution of discourse to real-time videos effectively eliminates a discursive level of written communication and plunges understanding totally into the same affective domain as the plastic and visual arts.
If this was truly our only means to rationally communicate with each other in the hope of forming a functioning degree of social agreement, we can expect repeats of the 2016 Presidential campaign, its madness multiplied beyond measure.
The “best way to tell stories” by real time, streaming videos is, market philosophers have decided, the best way to capture your attention. A short distance down the road, if Facebook has captured, say, 50% of the attentiveness of the American populace, advertisers will arrive and profits will be made. You can expect future elections to go on exclusively on this platform.
Between President Trump’s tweets and all your friends’ real-time streaming videos, both coming at you like grapeshot fired from cannon, we all can expect the change in politics for which 61,166,063 Americans voted.
In our present 2016 election, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the faces that emerged mobilizing the angry. Trump, an avatar of an angry Tea Party, not less confused than Trump, and Sanders, an avatar of Occupy Wall Street, the explicator of anger that OWS failed to narrate beyond its 99% and 1% brand.
We can look back and see that the demo has not been tranquilized by hi-tech, Smartphone, cybertech distractions and seductions but they were instead driving themselves into mad fury in cyberspace, ironically on “social” media.” A destructive confusion, however, channeled into a dual focus: Trump as forceful change and Hillary as retrograde and reprobate.
However, if you calculate the distance between Trump’s followers’ grievances and the remedies they have settled on, you conclude that information, even an astronomical amount at app convenience and speed has not generated expert interpretive skills leading to realistic and reliable understanding. In fact, this entire ready to hand information has done nothing more than deepened illusions of self-empowerment and the anger that results when these illusions are frustrated.
The mounting dangers and complexities involved that now face us are not aided by abbreviated attention spans, 140 character tweet level discourse, and easy confirmation of our “Likes” in cyberspace.
Replacing qualified adjudicators with The People’s up and down vote as to “the best stuff that people are reading,” which is Reddit’s claim, has proven to be a sure way to atomize discourse beyond any disciplining.
ISIS may have weaponized cyberspace against the West but they did not guide us into cyberspace’s drifts of blowing sand within which we each blindly pursue our self designed paths.
Cultural dispositions in regard to the extent of one’s knowledge based understanding and the deferral to acknowledged authorities have changed at mindboggling speed. It is not by accident that Trump, who knows more than everyone about everything, represents our new millennial view that one’s own opinion cannot be countermanded by anyone.
And it is not a case that this is only in the opinion realm because opinions now readily find their supportive facts. If such facts could previously only break the surface on a weird periphery, they now are given full and equal voice in cyberspace. Mindless venom posts alongside clarifying insight.
If one was pre-cyberspace embarrassed, apologetic or at least hesitant to assert opinion as Truth, that reluctance is gone. Flagrant lying and bullshit broadcast boldly, challenging any opposition.
Social media like Facebook, a proposed warm housing of friends, is now a place where every impulse of the worst angels of our human nature can be found. All the repressions of the American cultural imaginary, previously only slowly disclosed by years on a psychiatrist’s couch, now explode proudly in cyberspace.
Facebook and Twitter may be a great therapeutic decathecting of our hidden demons, a healthy, harmless venting of what may otherwise work its way into the real world, a bread and circus Colosseum in which an anonymous throng work out their unruly passions. Unfortunately, a steady barrage of meanness and slime of our “social” media, sandwiched between cat videos and selfies, has poisoned the public sphere, nowhere more evident than in our politics, the place where the moral nature of the polis is established and defended.
Our inner swine is being exercised and strengthened in a practice arena we cannot now exit.
How to weed out that rising tide that sweeps away decency and intelligence turns out to be a First Amendment problem, but also, more significantly, a problem of de-democratizing a domain that, like the cyberspace it floats within, is designed to be the great democratizing reality we have all been waiting for.
The uninformed or misinformed do not Google for what diminishes their ignorance but rather for what confirms it. Cyberspace provides a private confirmation of all manner of stupidity and inhumanity. Giving a Demos that is becoming more poorly educated, more voice in cyberspace is not any kind of advancement in civilization. A narrow attention span bombarded with arrant nonsense and venom preempts its own recuperation.
Giving godlike power to personal choice grants The Chooser an equal godlike supremacy that our human nature cannot bear. Unfortunately, there are many unhesitant in accepting this role, our President-elect clearly one, empowered by the office to place personal choice and opinion as a deciding politics.
This situation or pathological condition in which our opinions can always find confirmation in our cyberspace Wild West discourse will not be remedied by what Google’s Larry Page predicts:“Eventually, you’ll have an implant,” Google’s Larry Page tells us, “where if you think about a fact it will just tell you the answer.”
I find this thought as thoughtless as Mr. Zuckerberg’s assertion that real-time videos available for streaming are “the best way to tell stories.” In our descent to the bottom, that is, from email to texting to tweeting, videos you can stream on your Smartphone are a logical culmination, a kind of devolution facing democracy that the pre-digital Tocqueville could not foresee.
Prior to that descent, of course, you need to abbreviate not only language, or actually remove it, but the mind also, at least what you know as human cognitive processing. Enter Larry Page and Google. There is a brain implant in your future, so you can process the world in AI fashion.
If you think about a fact… I have to think about this prepositional phrase. I think I am being led away from human cognition to a computerized reduction of such to data storage and retrieval. If the way humans know is seen as synonymous with data processing, search engines mining data and extracting value from data, you have first replaced “fact” with “data” and so intermingled “fact” with “value.”
The ideal that we strive for is to question pertinently and often in spite of a status quo arranged before us. We fail to question because everything is as the mind presumes it should be. And this presumption will be fed most easily and rapidly by an implant of a valuing and prioritizing of what is, not what we need to change.
Change that is not a turn away from civilization but toward the abyss now openly faces a kind of implantation of the priorities of a resident regime in power and a whirlwind of “real life” videos created by our peers, whose only credentials are that they are neither politicians nor New York Times journalists. The resulting disorganization of mind and heart will surely be a kind of anesthesia of the Demos while plutocracy continues its operations.