Archives for posts with tag: Revolution

There is a Marxist belief that if something is inaccessible to the poor, then it can be neither radical nor revolutionary. Following the trend of ironic tragedy that history sardonically and incessantly throws in our face, the decrease in book reading, both in adults and teenagers, points to a culture that would struggle to read The Communist Manifesto, let alone Das Kapital. As one would expect, the impoverished and the uneducated are those who are reading the least. There are neither sparkly vampires, teenage wizards, nor BDSM-enthused misogynists to incite mass interest in Marx’s seminal works, so I suppose they too must be discarded into the dustbin of irrelevancy to revolutionary thought.

The internet has opened up social dialogue to include everyone with internet access, seemingly giving the unheard voice of the proletariat unprecedented access to speak out, yet in reality has only allowed the opinions of troglodytes to swarm rational discussion, turning it into a cesspool of vomit and bile, defiling the very notion that a reasonable outcome is possible. Unfortunately, the Pandora’s Box of the internet cannot be closed, and this is now the discourse to which one must adhere.

Donald Trump has capitalized on this phenomenon by devising his most successful populist propaganda within the 140 character limit of the Twitter universe. Hilary Clinton, not one to be outdone, shines brilliantly in her campaign slogan: I’m With Her. The “I’m” captures the essence of social media narcissism, letting everyone know what this campaign is really about; me! The “With Her” is, of course, reminiscent of the purposefully vague and noncommittal identity feminism of the Tumblr era. Both of these demagogues are pandering to their respective demographics with their own promises of revolution, yet I do not believe either of them represent what Marx had in mind.

Philosophy is notoriously relegated to the ivory tower, despite Diogenes and his abandoned cup. And while some might claim that the greatest philosophical question is why there are essents rather than nothing, the original Greek schools, including Diogenes’s Cynics, utilized philosophy as a means to discover how to live the good life. Aristotle’s Aretê or Zeno’s Stoicism both offer methods to live virtuously. Without the dogmatism associated with the religious side of this conversation, philosophy allows us to seek with constant refinement how to live; a critical necessity in this tumultuous time.

Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and possibly rabid communist, belabours the point, saying that despite the impending global consequences, we need theory now more than ever. The instinct to act is strong but must be overcome, as postmodernism has deconstructed everything without creating substitutes to put in its place. To act now would be to seek anarchy. End racism. End sexism. End capitalism, but how? And replace it with what? Ideologies cannot be eradicated, only changed, unless our revolution is to end in genocide.

How do we conduct the dialogue of this contemporary philosophy? I mean, analogies to the Greeks these days might not reach as large an audience, but I can predict with the inevitable alienation of Cassandra that referencing the feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West will not carry the same lasting weight. The trials of Odysseus are eternal, and thus possess a portion of truth to which humanity will forever have access, whereas Famous will be out-of-date within the year.

The intellectualism associated with philosophy and social theory by its very nature divorces itself from the reach of the bulk of the people. Do we wade into the depths of thoughtless memes and Youtube comments to wage our revolution with the masses, only to discover that we too have become thoughtless in the process? Or do we stand above it, confident on our pillar, helping up those who have recognized the shadows on the cave wall? The disenfranchised need to be acknowledged, certainly, and their voices heard to the extent that we are aware of the depths of their circumstances, but acknowledging this does not require fetishising it. Educated progressives gnash their teeth over the large swathes of people who vote against their own interest, yet this is most often due to demagogues like those mentioned earlier who are savvy in the ways of exploiting those demographics, and know exactly how to pander to their base nature. If something is accessible to the poor, who is to say it is in their best interest?

We do not begrudge climate scientists as elitist when they claim their knowledge gives them more insight on the subject. We cynically laugh at those who do, as they are the obstacle to the required change climate science demands. Granted, philosophy and sociology are softer sciences, yet there can still be an accumulation of wisdom gained from the relevant reading and research.

Those who come up with a new economic system should know the theories of Marx, Smith, Keynes, and Friedman among others if only to know what works and what doesn’t. They should be aware of the history and context surrounding those successes and failures. A fruitful discussion of social order would require knowledge of Republic, On Liberty, Leviathan, and more: books that have shaped Western society as proper change requires an understanding of what has come before. The discussion should not burdened by a responsibility to be accessible to everyone, as not everyone has the time, inclination, or resources to pursue the knowledge necessary for that discussion. To demand that from the poor is indeed insulting to the circumstances of their existence.

I will not abide a system of thought that decries Marx as neither being radical nor revolutionary, even his own Marxism. Contrary to my condemnation of capitalism and my communist allegories throughout this blog, I do not embrace communism. Like I said, the importance of historical context is shown when we see that centralized power is no different from any other fascist government. I do recognize, however, that a knowledge of Marxist thought will be necessary for whatever economic and social utopia the future may produce. Philosophy is necessary for the future of our species; let’s not hobble it with undue limitations to its content.

Gustave Le Bon, a French social psychologist, is considered the father of crowd psychology and offers a cynical yet more than likely accurate analysis of the nature of individuals when they renounce their individuality and embrace being a part of a group. A crowd is a herd of people centered on an idea, but Le Bon posits that for an idea to be populist enough for a crowd to rally around, it must be simplified to the point where they are able to grasp it. In today’s context, it would need to fit within 140 characters. Typically, the crowd looks to a leader, as the leader is the one who comprehends the idea (or is Machiavellian enough to manipulate the crowd with the presumption of their comprehension) and can direct the pedagogy of its ideals. Those within the crowd abandon their individuality and are willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the greater benefit of the group. The 20th century was rife with examples, such as Lenin and the Russian Revolution, Hitler and the Nazis, or Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Crowds are not intrinsically moral or immoral constructs, but we will talk more on that later.

Social media is rife with the crowd mentality, as each individual zealously adheres to their chosen ideological clique, but these cliques notoriously do not have an individual guide who possesses the intellect to direct them. Occupy Wall Street, the movement borne of the social media trend, celebrated its lack of leadership before floundering within the maelstrom of differing priorities and beliefs. The Arab Spring suffered similar defeat when the movement was co-opted by the military due to its distinctive lack of leadership and the power vacuum it invariably created.

The traditional online movements, such as the MRAs, the feminists, the Tea Partiers, and the SJWs rely on memes, tweets, and Tumblr posts as their ideological directors. The crowd creates its own ideological drive, and given the mediocrity of the crowd mentality, simplifies their ideological canon even further to the point of inane nonsense. However, the crowd mentality survives and the zealotry that begets self-sacrifice offline translates to the most vitriolic diatribe as people fearlessly defend this nonsense with the online anonymity that precludes consequences.

Let’s look at an example:

l05snt4On the surface, this meme appears to illustrate the fear allegedly inherent to the female experience, and offers a means for men to potentially empathize with them. However, it’s really a very shallow surface. Let’s look to see what it’s saying.

Who is this meme for? That’s easy, it’s addressed to you. However, using the second person narrative personalizes the message, and by its assumptions about the way you treat women and the way you feel about gay men, it becomes accusatory. Being online, this accusation lacks any humanity behind it, and therefore is simply alienating. Anyone who could genuinely benefit from its message will dismiss it based on its very nature.

Ignoring what I just said, maybe it’s for homophobes in general. Except its definition of homophobia excludes women from being homophobic, despite women being only marginally less homophobic than men (34% opposing gay marriage in the US in 2015 compared to 36% of men). It also does not account for how one could possibly be homophobic toward lesbians, thereby delegitimizing its entire definition of homophobia. And really, what message is it giving to homophobes anyway? That the homophobia you experience is akin to the lived experiences of women? Would that not justify homophobic beliefs if we consider women’s fear justifiable, or alternatively, render irrational (if we assume homophobia is irrational) the fear derived from women’s lived experiences? This leads me to believe that this meme is not for women either (despite the sage who offers her great wisdom being the clear protagonist of this story), as I doubt most women would want the fear they experience in a parking lot likened to the fear a homophobe has of sharing a taxi with a gay man.

Is it for misogynistic men? Are they supposed to foster homophobic beliefs in order to develop the empathy needed for a greater connection to the female experience? I’m assuming that is not the intent, but maybe I’m giving it too much credit.

So, it’s not for anyone, its message is contradictory to its intent, and it’s oppositional and divisive by its very nature. Its target audience is the crowd. Its message of empathy, feminism, and LGBT rights is watered down to the nonsensical, yet those who reject its message are considered outsiders and enemies. Its place is in an echo chamber of stupidity.

Why would people want to be a part of this idiocy? Le Bon theorizes that being a part of the crowd masks the impotency that individuals face when large obstacles need to be overcome. There is strength in numbers, and crowds are necessarily required for revolutionary action. However, the strength of the online crowd is only an illusion, as social media activism does not lead to any kind of tangible change. The impotence that the individual is running from carries over into social media, but it becomes hidden in the confidence derived from being a part of a crowd.

Crowds on their own are neither good nor evil. Occupy Wall Street was founded on the same principles as the Tea Party movement: discontent over the plutocracy running America. Even Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump share the belief that corporate-financed politics and mass globalization are detrimental to the world at large. The fiery division results from the ideological zealotry of each crowd. Our moral judgement of the followers of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders comes from our interpretation of their ideals, however bastardized, to which they as a crowd are beholden. However, Le Bon argues that being part of a crowd enables the beastial nature within us to bare its fangs, as personal responsibility dissipates when surrounded by peers. This leads the typical crowd to veer toward less-than-savoury dogmatism, as seen in the fights breaking out at rallies. Of course, with a capable leader, such as Martin Luther King, a crowd can adhere to strictly non-violent methods and still accomplish their goals. The online crowd prefers chaos, antagonism, and memes, however, but luckily it is ineffectual enough to enact real change.

Karl Marx is famous for a lot of things. Most notably, the distortion of light and colour that is his black mustache upon an otherwise white beard. One of his lesser known accomplishments is the foundation of communism. Communism, according to Marx, is historically inevitable due to the growing restlessness of the proletariat and will eventually be achieved by glorious revolution. There are barriers to this revolution, however, and one of them Marx believed to be religion. Marx considered religion to be the opiate of the masses, and felt that a promise of a better afterlife would anesthetize the population against the classist oppression that they suffer in the current one.

Whether or not Marx is accurate in his critique of religion (a notable religious organization is currently in the throes of a violent revolution against their oppressive living conditions, which, if nothing else, demonstrates a lack of the lethargy brought on by a narcotic; ISIS, if you were wondering), the idea of an opioid numbing the minds of the people has since gained traction. Television is considered a new opiate of the masses, and it is not difficult to see why. After having killed the brain cells of a generation, parents now long for their children to misbehave as it means that they are not actually glued to a screen. “Netflix and Chill” has inseminated the dating scene to illustrate a population quite adequately placated by the lull of the television screen.

Television has been slowly overtaking the household for decades now, but today many people are spending their time on social media instead. Social media is lauded as the new platform for progress and enlightenment, and judging by what you’ve read so far you have likely ascertained that I am imminently about to disagree. Not wanting to make you feel silly, I do in fact disagree.

The greatest success to come out of social media was the Arab Spring in Egypt where it was used to disseminate critical information regarding demonstrations and retaliatory behaviour practiced by Mubarak’s government. Regardless of the results of the Arab Spring, it did prove the usefulness of social media as a complement to real-life activism. Information is needed for organization, and social media is ideal for its proliferation.

However, the potential and the reality of social media are reflective of the nature of the internet in general. Though given great acclaim for its cornucopia of easily accessible information, the internet is much more widely known for giving unprecedented access to untold amounts of pornography and cat videos.

The predominant use of social media is not altering the state of the world or even really making a dent. It’s a way to waste a shit load of time. Community-based games such as Farmville and its successor Clash of Clans are notoriously addictive, and Clash of Clans (a free game) has gathered enough money to create Superbowl ads with A-list celebrities based solely on real money users spend in-game, which is to say a lot. That’s like a heroin dealer giving heroin away for free, and yet still somehow making millions of dollars by selling extra heroin on the side. This is in addition to the already mind-numbing function of scrolling through one’s Facebook newsfeed to scope out the activities and wedding pictures of friends and strangers alike, which is inexplicably compelling, garnering Facebook the appropriate nickname Crackbook.

Another issue with social media is that it often becomes an echo chamber. If a controversial topic is posted, most people will simply unfriend any dissenting voices, leaving them with a circle of peers who essentially agree with everything they say. In their defense, arguing on the internet is a meaningless task, as it is inherently lacking any kind of actual confrontation that would lead to concessions by either party. This leads to stagnation and a closed-minded outlook which creates a poverty of intellect in anyone’s Facebook page.

Further, with the instantaneous nature of social media, the demand for information is immediate. If something cannot be expressed in a meme or a 30 second clip, it will not be consumed, so the media becomes a reflection of that. News outlets are shedding their investigative reporters because long term journalism is becoming overshadowed by in-the-moment tweets. People need prompt information and will essentially ignore the critical nuances that a longer look might uncover because the speed with which social media operates cannot abide drawn-out events. This is seen repeatedly in prolonged violent attacks where news reporters will essentially make up stories so as to have something to deliver, leading to grave misrepresentation of the events taking place.

Politicians are also encumbered by this hasty demand and can no longer play the long game as answers to problems must be delivered in minutes. In addition, public opinion is available to an extent never before seen, and in order to pander to it for voter appeal, the medium within which it operates must be met, and unfortunately this medium is detrimental to critical thought. This leads to politicians like Barack Obama participating in the comedic Between Two Ferns, or Donald Trump hosting Saturday Night Live. Effective policy is essentially lost in politics, as the game more than ever before becomes about being palatable to mainstream voters through sharable clips and quips.

Social media does have the infinitesimal potential to be a boon to society, but that small chance is exaggerated into a panacea and in turn obscures the dangers of its use as a societal tool. The success in the Arab Spring was built upon the physical, not digital, actions of a large group of people. The digital component was ancillary to the revolution, but it was not the revolution itself. Social media can only perform within the cult of awareness, where new topics may be broached, but will ultimately remain ineffectual if they remain within that realm.

The frightening aspect of social media as an opiate of the masses is that it purports to be the opposite; an eye-opening engagement of the people with the world at large. In reality, social media distracts the populace with its addictive narcotic quality, and dulls and restricts progressive conversations that happen within it. People are further pacified by their belief that they are making a difference, and Marx’s inevitable revolution is delayed even further.

Because social media sucks, here are my other two posts about it.