Facebook and Narcotizing Dysfunction

The Guardian, in it’s inimitable naive-liberal (full disclosure: I have nontheless left The Scott Trust, which protects The Guardian money in my will) way writes thus:

Why have we given up our privacy to Facebook and other sites so willingly?
Cambridge Analytica’s ransacking of millions of Facebook users’ data has triggered a backlash against the social network – and highlighted how much personal information we share without thinking of the consequences


Why “so willingly?”

I wrote the answer to that question in 2013. At the time, I was talking about the NSA Spying revelations.

Nothing will change. Significant quantities of people will not delete their Facebook accounts.

Nobody did anything about the NSA spying either.

Americans get Mad as Hell And Are Not Going to Take It Any More For Real This Time every 27 minutes.

And they are always wrong.

Remember when everyone was As Mad as Hell and Is Not Going To Take It Any More about “fake news?”

People have literally been saying they won’t stand for it any more since the dawn of time (Or 1976 at least, which is close enough.) It is a way of pretending to have influence on the situation.

But, this is an utterly self-defeating response.

In fact, if you wanted to indulge in a little paranoia you might even say “that’s what they want you to say.”

When this blog was started it was to preserve certain Facebook postings that were considered worth saving because I deleted my Facebook account, (before it was cool.)

What follows is a previously unpublished post that was composed in July of 2016 and never run. It didn’t run for a reason, it was too snobby sounding and not everything in it is good and correct but portions of it are a bit prescient. I probably should’ve published it so I could gloat about getting Fake News and the end-of-truth right.

 Some people may accuse me of misanthropy for saying this but it is now apparent that there will almost certainly be a permanent class division in the post-Internet age. Those who read and those who don’t. Those who read (and write) will control the world while those who don’t sink ever deeper into the passive, depoliticized helplessness that critics call ‘narcotizing dysfunction’ under the spell of an endless stream of low-value ‘content.’ I mean, of course, those who read closely and critically and in more than a few lines at a time.

All I can say about that is that the Internet was sold to us as an unprecedented tool of social liberation. This however may have been an illusion all along. And today, certainly, it cannot be denied that these trends are fearfully convenient for certain powerful interests.

As defective as the narratives of the ‘old media’ were with overly simplistic stories of right and wrong and east and west and so forth they were at least a coherent way of thinking which could be assessed, critiqued, and so forth. In this there was at least the possibility that there could be identified a Truth and that ideas and facts (or putative facts) could be defensibly construed to have certain levels of Importance.

The collapse of this model has left a vacuum in which nothing is True and the idea of ‘Importance’ has become completely inoperative. People are transfixed by badly photographed dresses, dog pants, and other such non-sequiturs. People are distracted by self-photographs and apps and ‘challenges’ and made to feel intense, misplaced emotions—especially anger—for a time and then made to stop feeling that way for a time.

Against this it is not possible to be ‘subversive’ for there is nothing to subvert. The internet represents the end of criticism and thus, impliedly, the end of political opposition. The dream of dictatorships has always been to make it impossible to think thoughts critical of those in power through propaganda and censorship. This has always failed, or at least not succeed very well.  But if the Internet always gives us what we want—

Naturally the question arises: why demand? And if there is no demand, how can there be any action? It’s not that the Internet will make it literally impossible to think inconvenient thoughts but that it will immunize any immediate reason to do so.

And what has been the downfall of the iron-fist has always been, not lofty abstract ideas of ‘what kind of life to live’ but only ever always immediate difficulties that lasted a bit too long.

In his 1555 poem ‘The Monarchie’ David Lindsay described the biblical Tower of Babel thus: “In Noon when the sun shines most bright, the shadow of That Hideous Strength, six miles and more it is of length.*” This is a strikingly fit image.

Far from being the hammer that smashes the chains of society, the Internet is That Most Hideous Strength. It is the ultimate tool of social control. Today’s internet evokes the original biblical story of Babel, one of non-stop non-productive talk.

In the story, God confused all language so that nobody could understand anyone. Today: the confusion is not that we are unable to understand but that we only are able to speak of irrelevant things.

*Corrected for modern grammar and spelling.