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

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/21/why-have-we-given-up-our-privacy-to-facebook-and-other-sites-so-willingly

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What follows is a previously unpublished post that was composed in July of 2016 and never run.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.

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Desire and the perfect phone

This is a twittish, Vox-dot-commy article which accidentally hits on something profound.

There is a lot of talk, especially on those sorts of self-help feel-good nonsense programs that tend to air on PBS during Pledge Drive—Daniel Dennet referred to that genre as “deepity”—of the importance of fulfilment.

But on the contrary, fulfilment would be a kind of self-extinguishment.

When you were a child, or if you cannot remember think of children you have observed, do you recall how you would always ask for something? If you asked mother for milk, and she gave you milk you would ask for a cookie. When you got the cookie, you would ask for a banana, and when you got that a piece of cake and so on until she would not give you any more things.

Or perhaps, especially as you were older, The Toy. A TV ad told you that you wanted it and you obeyed. But if you got it, when you got it, it never satisfied.

What is going on here? How can it be that The Toy which seemed the-most-important-thing-in-the-world to get (this was before puberty, mind) could amount to so little? Played with a while and then abandoned.

In Girls, its often ponies.

When you get to be my age its often sexual, a specific act or a specific person. And then you get it, or him and somehow it’s just not like in the movies where the music swells and the camera swoons and the light changes and….

But the advantage to Ponies is that virtually nobody gets a pony. And so, the Desire for the pony may be held indefinitely, or at least until there begins the mania for boys (or girls). In this we begin to see how it works.

Desire is connected to lack. In Continental philosophy Lack (manque) is often spoken of in terms of “that which is beyond the demesne of language”, in other words the impossible unspeakable thing which cannot be put into words which cannot be imagined (for we only can imagine in language) and which cannot be properly experienced.

We never desire something. We desire to desire. In other words, we desire desire itself. The fantasy is more important than the thing fantasized for to obtain the thing (the fantasand?) extinguishes the lack and kills the fantasy.

We can see how this works in the film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. In the movie, an unexplained event, possibly aliens, created a place called The Zone in which there is found a building with a Room. Those who enter the room receive their hearts innermost desire. They are, “fulfilled” in a way that is a Deeptyists wet dream. It would seem that here is the solution to all mankind’s problems, but to enter the Zone is illegal and attempted only by the desperate. The film focuses on two such desperates, lead through the Zone by a guide, the titular Stalker.

Yet… at the threshold of the room the characters hesitate.

05-At-the-very-end-of-their-quest-Stalker-Writer-and-Professor-hestate-on-the-very-threshold-of-The-Room.

There are lots of ways to analyze this. The film suggests one: they receive what they desire, not what they ask for. What they think that they desire may not be what they wish to think it to be. This is another dimension of Desire which could be a whole post to itself.

The unnamed Stalker mentions a cautionary tale of another Stalker named Porcupine whose brother died and so he broke the cardinal article of Stalker ethics and ventured into the room himself. When he got home his brother was still dead but he had won the lottery.

He hanged himself.

But another way, a subtler way is to understand what a total leap into oblivion it would be to fulfill desire, to no longer lack.

Necessity is the mother of invention, hunger was the father of agriculture and from pain was birthed medicine and on the most fundamental level it is from this Lack that springs all of civilization and identity and all that it means “To Be Human.” To relinquish Lack is to relinquish Humanity and enter the domain of That Which Cannot be Said.

It truly would be unimaginable terror.

The Entirety of Western Economics is based on this. We Lack, so we buy. We buy ostensibly to fill the lack, but in reality, to highlight the lack. We buy to use up, to discard, to move on in the never-ending cycle of masturbatory consumption.

In the eerily prophetic movie Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet, Howard Beal—mad prophet of the airwaves—is summoned before Mister Jensen, boss of bosses to receive a new message for the masses. Here is the relevant part of the famous “The World is a Business” speech, embedded in full below.

Jensen: The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war or famine, oppression or brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.

Beale: But why me?

Jensen: Because you’re on television, dummy.

But what a catastrophe this would be! No wonder Mr. Jensen’s message goes over like a lead balloon and the ratings begin to fall off (leading to one of the most perversely funny endings of any movie ever.)

Therefore, there must not be a perfect smartphone, for if there were it would be a catastrophe.