Thought For The Day

I’m afraid I disagree with you that social media is a new kind of politics. It’s a powerful new tool for helping to organise people—that is true. But what it really doesn’t offer is a new kind of political way of changing the world. And, in fact, the belief that it does, and the failure of that, can lead to the most conservative situation.

Let’s analyse what happened to the Arab Spring. Because that is often held up by the tech-utopians as the evidence for social media’s revolutionary potential. In the Arab Spring all the liberal middle classes in places like Egypt came out to protest, summoned by social media. But then, once the revolution—or revolts—happened they had absolutely no idea of what to do. In the face of forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who had a powerful idea, the Twitter and Facebook networks were completely incapable of coming up with something new and powerful that could challenge the Brotherhood or the Salafists.

All they did was keep tweeting each other about how they all agreed that what was happening was terrible. And, in the process, they became trapped in an echo chamber that completely stopped them looking at the world from other people’s points of view, and thus finding ways to effectively challenge the opposing point of view imaginatively. They got trapped in a system of feedback reinforcement.

Then the generals had a coup and all those liberals sighed a big sigh of relief and they tweeted each other that this was really a good thing.

You tell me anywhere in the Arab Spring where the ideas of those who used social media have risen up to become dominant. From Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen to Bahrain, those very groups who based their faith in social media have completely failed to have any substantial influence on power. Those doing well are ironically the traditionalists who have a powerful cultural conservative vision. Except, of course, Syria, where, as you know, the liberal middle classes are doing really well.

But I do really agree with you about Twitter domestically. Twitter—and other social media—passes lots of information around. But it tends to be the kind of information that people know that others in that particular network will like and approve of. So what you get is a kind of mutual grooming. One person sends on information that they know others will respond to in accepted ways. And then, in return, those others will like the person who gave them that piece of information.

So information becomes a currency through which you buy friends and become accepted into the system. That makes it very difficult for bits of information that challenge the accepted views to get into the system. They tend to get squeezed out.

I think the thing that proves my point dramatically are the waves of shaming that wash through social media—the thing you have spotted and describe so well in your book. It’s what happens when someone says something, or does something, that disturbs the agreed protocols of the system. The other parts react furiously and try to eject that destabilising fragment and regain stability.

I don’t think these waves are “political” in the liberal way the shamers proudly think. They are political in a completely different way, because they work to create a static, conservative world where nothing really changes.
Adam Curtis, in conversation with Jon Ronson

Pensée

The Parable of the Conservative Voter

A man was observed in the village square beating his head against a wall. When asked why, he replied, “Because it will feel so good when I stop.” Five years later he remained in place, still beating his head against the wall. When asked why he had yet to desist, he replied, “What, and let them win?”

Brick wall: C'mon socons, you know you want to

C’mon socons, you know you want to

Pensée

Grace’s Three Stages of Tolerance

1. Please stop persecuting us.

2. We’re just as good as you.

3. We’re better than you, and, in recognition of this and of the historic and systemic discrimination to which our community continues to be subjected, we demand privilege, both societal and statutory.

Thought For The Day

I have often thought it might be amusing to write a humorous essay on how to recognise the Dark Ages when you are in them. Did the average European in the last half of the fourth century know that the Dark Ages were closing in on him? I rather doubt it. Probably he took the overspreading of ignorance, corruption, violence and bestiality as being pretty much the regular thing, and evading or warding off their impact was merely so much in the day’s work. Probably many of them took this state of things as a challenge, as the world’s normal dare, and barged in ruthlessly to beat it on its own terms, at anybody’s cost but their own. People are like that now, and doubtless were like that then. In all likelihood the man of the Dark Ages did not recognise symptoms, or know what they meant, or pay any attention to them. Indeed, how could he? Knowing no history, he could not understand history, and so he had no rule of comparison by which to measure the quality of his civilisation and determine whether it was changing for the better or the worse. The tide-gauges set up by Lucilius, Juvenal, Horace, Persius, Tacitus, may as well not have existed, as far as he was concerned.

Since 1914 I have been watching social symptoms, especially in the United States where economism has had everything its own way and has done its best. Here again the neolithic masses of the present day have no historical measure of their own society; virtually no one knows anything of what has gone before him, still less could understand its interpretation. Virtually all accept economism’s word for it that where you have “prosperity,” railways, banks, newspapers, industry, trade, there of necessity you have civilisation. One who hinted that a society might have all these and yet remain uncivilised; or that a society might have almost nothing of any of them, and still be quite highly civilised;—anyone hinting at this would be laughed at. Since 1914 the only virtues that I have seen glorified with any kind of sincerity or spontaneous acclaim are barbaric virtues, the virtues of the jazz-artist and the cinema-hero, tempered on occasion by the virtues of Jenghiz Khan, Attila, Brennus. The ideals I have seen most seriously and purposefully inculcated are those of the psychopath on the one hand; and on the other, those of the homicidal maniac, the plug-ugly and the thug.
Albert Jay Nock, Memoirs Of A Superfluous Man (1943)

Nock: Laughter in the dark

Nock: Laughter in the dark

Pensée

Grace’s Law of the Counterintuitive Response

In any society that disdains truth, the reaction to any calamity that threatens its most dearly-held lies is much more of that which engendered the calamity. Only faster and harder.

Thought For The Day

Means don’t justify the end. Had communist economies grown vigorously everywhere, would that make communism the desired system for all peoples? The fabulous success of conservative economic policies has seduced many in our midst to mistake economic growth as the defining attribute of conservatism. These brethren now believe that conservative policies can and must make all good things in society grow, and that this good growth can and must continue indefinitely. They act as if conservative thought were nothing but the philosophy of perpetual good growth. Yet, the intended consequences of growth-getting more of all the good things in life—are held in favor by almost any political philosophy. It is the unintended consequences that these conservatives ignore.

Looking at the world through the wrong end of the economist’s telescope, our growth enthusiasts regard the standard measures of economic increases (such as in the nation’s Gross National Product or in average per capita income) as the sovereign yardstick for evaluating all change in society. Growth in these measures is the arrow of progress; it is the compass needle that shows whether any correlated social change is good, bad, or indifferent.

This way of evaluating society’s progress or decline has been elaborated and enriched to create an ideology of truly metaphysical sweep—the Utopia of Perpetual Growth. This ideology holds that continuing population growth, for example, is a good thing if it correlates with economic growth. Likewise, growth in population density is to be welcomed if it is associated with increases in GNP or per capita income. The same, of course, holds true for an increasing flow of immigration. And growth in international travel, increases in global communications, growth in the number of automobiles or television sets per capita, longer vacations, an increase in the average length of life—all these changes represent “good” growth to be cheered along, provided they are more or less correlated with the standard measures of economic growth.

For any social change to be exempt from this rule requires a compelling case. Violent crime normally qualifies as an exception. Even if violent crime rates were perfectly correlated with economic growth, few conservatives would claim that, therefore, crime is a good thing. But for lesser irritants that may correlate with economic growth—such as traffic congestion or pollution of beaches—the growth utopianism has two things to say. First, these irritants must be tolerated as a price worth paying for economic growth. Second such tolerance will be richly rewarded—as if by divine justice—because further economic growth, precisely, will eliminate the squalor and congestion. Indeed, only economic growth can overcome these irritants….

What gives the Utopia of Perpetual Growth its veneer of cheerfulness is that it asserts there is no end to this progress, no limit to all this good growth. The utopianism holds that economic growth—together with correlated growth in other social phenomena (such as population size or density)—is a grand historic process; a process that can be perpetual thanks to the laws of nature and rules of history and that must be made perpetual by dint of man’s efforts.

Any limits deliberately imposed on growth by government or private groups are a perversion—a suicidal twisting around of the arrow of progress to point it against our own hearts. Limits that nature might impose are nothing but temporary hurdles, challenges to be overcome by—you guessed it—further growth. Oh yes, in the blue mist of cosmology a misanthrope might descry some ultimate limits; yet even those should be regarded as highly speculative. After all, who can know whether for mankind the planet earth proves to be a finite homestead, or whether all limits will dissolve in a universe that is forever expanding.
Fred Ikle

Pensée

Marijuana legalization. Ideologues of the Left celebrate it as a victory over “oppression.” Ideologues of the Right celebrate it as a victory for “choice.” Realists of all parties will recognize what it truly is: urban pacification.

4-20: No job. No assets. No future. No problem!

4-20: No job. No assets. No future. No problem!