Sunday, 13 May 2012
The Ego Trip of the False Individualist and the Sour Seeds of Revolution (Part Two)
As regards yesterday's individuality, one must limit the argument, at this point, to Western or quasi-Western democracies. Though we like to think that we are oppressed, mankind has more opportunities for individual expression than ever before! Just twenty years ago, there was NO internet. Accordingly, there was NO Facebook and NO YouTube-no outlet where we could express ourselves for all the world to see. Today, we have all of the artistic tools at our disposal that we had twenty years ago-PLUS some that we did not. If we speak about the oppression of government, twenty years ago, could we just “log on” to a web site and download the text of the budget of our country? Could we read the annual report of any major company in the world? Could we access libraries halfway around the world at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen?
Granted, there are several social groups that suffer unabated oppression in many countries. I have in mind, first and foremost, the LGBT population. In some African and Asian countries, sodomy is still a capital offence. In some Central European countries, the LGBT population is unable to hold a parade because the police refuses to secure a “high-risk event.” In many developing states (and some “rentier states”) today, society still gives women a “raw deal.”
Turning to the West or Western-oriented countries, has it ever been more “okay to be gay”? Has it ever been more okay to wear individual clothes, individual hair, speak in an individual dialect or even language? If you feel that YOUR individualism is suppressed, try turning back the clock a few years!
Granted, individualism in Western society still has two significant adversaries that are alive and kicking: the Church and the Corporation. The Church wishes us to observe a certain “moral code”, while the Corporation acts in a similar way, the main, if not only, difference being that instead of threatening us with God-they threaten us with our paycheck-or, rather, the prospect of its absence. Unlike the State, however, in modern-day Western society, both the Church and the Corporation can be abandoned by the individual. In other words, “we have exit,” as they say in economics and some branches of political science. Indeed, it is one of the most fundamental duties of the modern state to enable the citizen to be free in his religious beliefs-or the absence thereof. Thus, citizens (and revolutionaries in their ranks) are right to be wary of any legislation that reduces the degrees of separation between Church and State. In this respect, however, one can poin to very, very few retrograde steps taken by Western countries, in living memory. This is not to say that “exit” is easy all or even most of the time. Yet, one must not forget that, just a few generations ago, there was no “exit” to speak of.
The Corporation is a different “ball game”, to some extent. The very tangible prospect of poverty on Earth, obvious in its abundance, is, for most people, far more intimidating than the intangible prospect of Hell in an Afterlife that may or may not exist. Thus, it is incumbent on the State to ensure that sufficient economic diversity exists, so as to allow employees to find employers that would tolerate greater individuality. In a competitive environment, employers should be wary of making their “codes of conduct” too oppressive, lest they should lose the best employees. There are legitimate grievances in this respect but again, by and large, one can point to more successes than failures in this respect, in the last century or so.
Amazingly, therefore, one will find relatively few revolutionaries that clamour for greater competition in the economy-an outcome that would lead to greater competition between employers and thus better options for individuality in the workplace. Rather, they criticise competition and similar “neoliberal projects” that “rob man of his dignity.” Even fewer revolutionaries openly oppose the Church or, more pertinently, the slow but evident erosion (in some countries at least) of the barrier between Church and State. Instead, who do the revolutionaries target? First and foremost, the State (including the shadowy powers that seem to dominate it) and the “mass media”, also allegedly dominated by the State and those who dominate the State itself.
It is here that we arrive at the crux of the matter: how “individual” is our “individualism”, really?
Let us throw in, at this point, a few soundbites that fuel today's revolutionaries. Wikileaks-Julian Assange-YouTube-Facebook-Twitter-The Global Financial Crisis-Anonymous-The Eurozone Crisis.
What do all of these soundbites have in common? They are soundbites. Thus, we ALL know of them and we all THINK that we also “know” about them.
We were all shocked by the images of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. How so? We all saw the same YouTube clips! We've all heard of CIA interrogation techniques of dubious constitutionality-from Wikileaks! If, by some unfortunate stroke of internet-deprivation you've missed the YouTube clips or the Wiki “leaks”, the BBC, CNN and other “mass media” networks made sure you were “in the loop” too! The various “financial crisis” stories were spun beyond all spinning, beyond Newton's laws of dynamics even, by the same “mass media”. The gory details, the scariest scaremongering stories were left in the safe hands of YouTube and the various online “whistleblowers”-whom we ALL saw.
I ask you then, my dear reader, how “individual” is your information about current events? How are YOU escaping the “bondage” of “mass media”?
This is not to say that the internet is not free or decentralised. Far from it. The real question is: what is the point of all this decentralisation, when we all use it to perpetuate the same stories? If, for example, we believe that one or more of our Facebook friends has missed the latest “financial crisis” news, YOU and I, my dear reader, will reliably push the story right in front of his or her face and make sure everyone stays “in the loop!” We peddle the stories to ourselves and to each other. WE are the mass media, in its most perfect form: operated not only for the masses but also BY the masses themselves. Imagine what Joseph Goebbels could have done if he had social media in his time! Stories with catchy titles, such as: "New research shows Jews love money more than Aryans do" or "Skull found in Bavaria belongs to the first Aryan Man in Europe." Copy, paste to wall, share with friends. Then, through repetition, the story becomes the "TRUTH." "We all saw it. Not in the big media outlets but ONLINE."
I do not mean to belittle the revelations of Julian Assange or the importance of letting the world know about the mischief of bankers. Nor do I think there is a Goebbels out there who is running the popular news stories. I do believe that, thanks to the internet, many secrets from the past saw the light of day and it is good that they did.
My point is entirely different and it is that there is very little individuality in all this. With every day that goes by, the human race is more and more akin to a collective being. The collectivism induced by the internet has surpassed, by far, the wildest dreams of Orwell, Huxley or Stalin. And yet today's revolutionaries join groups in social networks in order to organise their “revolutions,” while seeking salvation from “hackers” whose slogan is: “we are legion; we are anonymous.” The transparent, truthful individual is rescued by a countless mass (legion), which does not reveal its identity (anonymous). I think the paradox eludes no-one.
From the die-hard liberal (in the old, English sense of the word, not the socialist or French sense), my previous comments will elicit a cynical grin of familiarity. In the eye of the liberal, all revolutions eventually boil down to a basic instinct of the masses to collectivise and conform. Why should the revolutions of today be any different?
The answer is: they need not be but they can be.
(TO BE CONTINUED IN PART THREE)