I've been trying to write about several things presently and they keep coalescing into one mess. This might have more to do with my own state of mind as I wait for the birth of my son, rather than any definite connexion between the subjects. Although I think that there's something there, even if it's just my own narrative attempt at understanding.
First, I've been trying to write about our, what I call, 'Emerging Online Ochlocracy' that is to say, the way in which we are becoming like a mob when we 'connect' online into groups or societies or communities (whatever we call them). I think that perhaps this is due to the depersonalisation of the connexion, but also because some of the online communities are actually trying to raise their talking points across all media on the internet, which means that on any topic that is interacted with or discussed online you find their 'take' on these things creeping into the discussion and eventually simply replacing that supposed conversation with their own ideology.
It is at this point that I realise that I've moved from a generalised look at depersonalisation online causing groups to become close-minded and isolated into an actual analysis of the alt-right and their tactics online. This especially in wake of recent events and the very active effort by the alt-right and their allies to deflect any criticism, valid or not, from touching their base. And this starts to make me think about the connexion with right-wing politics and our digital lives in totality.
That, politically, we are also become distanced and 'held at arm's length' from the real work of the government. And this in turn brings up the subject of Brexit, which is very much on my mind presently as you might imagine. That people are becoming disgruntled with the lack of voice within politics, their lack of involvement in the sense of being paid any mind by the people in control. And this makes me think about what are we meant to do to change this? Being online, gives one the illusion of immediate access to things, it also gives us the opportunity to air those thoughts 'to the wider world' and makes us believe that our personal opinion is important (after all, it always seems that way to ourselves). So, we engage with the world online, perhaps we simply comment, or join chats or forums about subjects of interest, or perhaps we become a content creator ourselves.
We can make angry videos that are sad.
We can make sad videos that are angry.
But although one might be more theoretically stable and the other mostly just cathartic entertainment, in the end, our lack of agency means that all most of us can do is watch these videos on YouTube, adding money to Google, or we circulate other forums and air other views, again to the ultimate benefit of an internet corporation, or we can be one of five million (at time writing) people signing on online UK government petition to revoke article 50, or we can go outdoors and head to London and take part in a one million person march supporting revoking article 50, or support the opposite opinion, or one of many other ways in which we can make ourselves feel slightly better about our condition without actually effecting much of anything. It all feels like screaming into the wind.
Because without several fairly major global changes in attitude it's hard to see how we might move out of this, and this might be the ultimate failure of the internet. It brings people together as it isolates, it offers alternative views while indoctrinating users into a particular ideology, it offers the harmonious global village, but actually just creates aggressive mobs. Before the pervasiveness of the internet, one had to actively seek out extreme views and hostile opinions, they were never 'just there'. The connected networks of the Web also allowed the 24 hours news media to flourish and replace objective journalism with attention grabbing entertainment as ideology programming ("pick the channel/paper/website that best describes you!"). Of course, we move towards groups and opinions we agree with, but outside of the internet we are instead brought face-to-face with otherness, with those that mildly disagree with us, with opinions we can ignore or engage with. Online, the distinct differences drive us apart, not together, and people circulate with their own, out of fear of being publicly shamed, or criticised, or made a fool of, or called out, or doxxed.
And if we do meet with opinions we disagree with, or are directly challenged by another faceless accuser, our response is typically one of childish vitriol rather than a measured respect. As fake as that respect might be, still people in everyday life react to different opinions by at least hearing the other person out in most cases. But why are we like this? Is this just 'how it is'?
The thing I come back to in every case is the influence of global capitalism on all aspects of our lives, that post-crash 2008 we were betrayed by those we voted for to protect us, who chose instead to favour those that pay their wages. We are (some of us) convinced by a competitive individualism that exhorts this sorts behaviour as merely the rules of the game. The only rule that matters being, 'Winner takes all'.
Cosy liberal friends suggest going on marches and being 'politically active' as ways in which we can all help make a difference, but this is the world as they see it, a world where having the most logically pure argument will win out. The delusions of the philosopher, but in the face of a system that doesn't care or a person that hates, their arguments are meaningless.
Perhaps this seems unfair, cruel even, to be thinking this (especially now!) and perhaps it is just harmfully cynical. I should say that I'm very proud of my friends that made it to London on Saturday for the march. I gives me joy that they still hope. I've pinned my hope elsewhere. Not to my child, you understand, but to myself as a father, my family, our future together. Albeit one that looks outwards and is not just an insular motivation.
But what to do about our present circumstances? I have no idea. I keep trying to make sense of it, give it a reason, but failing every time. "Try again, fail again, fail better." - Beckett.
|London, March 23rd 2019 'People's Vote March' Image from Sky News Ⓒ