A Reactionary Critique of Social Media – part 2

Click here for part 1

‘The Social Dilemma’ is the kind of documentary that makes you realise Black Mirror is mild compared to reality. It is definitely worth a watch, although everyone across the political spectrum (centrists excluded) can instantly notice its ideological biases. Which means bipartisan consensus on the effects of social media is possible in theory.

The lefty liberal’s critique of Social media has valid points: if you do not pay for an online service, you become the product. In its rush to maximise profit, Facebook ended up treating its users as a mass of zombies by observing and gathering their preferences expressed through likes and content. The resulting profiles were used as a basis for machine learning employed in maximising revenue through targeted ads. This led to manipulation, rabbit holes, polarisation and political radicalism.

We can already identify the culprits as the left’s eternal foes: capitalism and lack of market regulations. The fascist corporations have proved once again to side with the gammon deplorables, by offering their software as platform for the dissemination of populist conspiracy theories; by giving voice to intolerance and bigotry, culminating, of course, with Trump.

The creators of the documentary are teckies that used to work at facebook, twtitter, instagram. Raised and socialised in the Californian culture, they would never vote Trump or have any conservative biases. Everyone knows that if social media algorithms were ever adjusted to influence political opinion, it was to counter or censor all things deplorable. There’s nothing wrong with the nerd culture of Sillicon Valley, they argue! We all remember the good old days of harmless cat posting, where nothing on social media was political or partisan. The current toxicity of facebook is an entirely new phenomenon arising from a technical issue that can be fixed by minor state regulation and the rethinking of the algorithms. As whistleblowers, these teckies are perfectly positioned to help us folks enjoy a better, more responsible social media experience.

The pushback from the radical left was to be expected. ‘How about you pay for the harm you have caused through your reckless social experiments?!’ or ‘Why don’t you deplatform yourself, sit back, listen and believe?’ The radical left identifies the same culprits but declares the problem to be ‘systemic’. We all know Capitalism is all-pervasive and contrary to appearances, teckies, as members of the white ownership class, are part of the problem!

The solution of the far left involves the radical replacement of economic incentives with a form of social credits system, one that is genuinely interested in the flourishing and wellbeing of its users. We all know what this looks like in practice – the CEOs and their staffs are forced to quit through trials-by-media; they are replaced with Social Justice komissars that will train the AI to be more vigilant with problems of inequity, bigotry and wrongthink in general. The politicisation of the platforms will only accentuate, along with the banning and prosecuting of dissidents.

No one wants a total state, but it seems we are headed there one way or another. The endless debates between libertarians and socialists don’t seem to change the inevitable outcome. Rather than choosing between the two camps, we can start by noticing their similarities – the unabated commitment to the autonomy of the individual as the desired end of liberal society. The so-called ‘natural state’ of negative liberty we should all be striving for. While classical liberals attempt to achieve this through free trade, free thought and freedom of movement, progressives want to achieve it through sexual revolution, freedom over one’s own body (the right to abortion, sex reassignment, gender expression) and the freedom to abandon grassroots institutions (family, kinship group, religion, ethnicity bonds) without any costs. If classical liberals / libertarian types opt for a more laissez faire approach to rights, which in practice fails to prevent the development of qualitative differences between groups, progressives realise that true individual autonomy must be enforced explicitly at the cost of all grassroots institutions.

Ultimately, the abstract ‘natural state’ of the fully autonomous individual cannot be realised without massive state surveillance and invasion of private life. Economic laissez faire requires the disruption of local trade guilds. Freedom of religion requires the close monitoring of religious institutions; freedom of movement requires the existence of a massive transport infrastructure. The progressive rights are even more invasive in their nature, as it is obvious that abortions and sex reassignment surgery are dependent on extremely advanced technology, close monitoring of children and taxpayer money (if these are natural rights, they must be covered by national health insurance providers. The denial of such services to patients with gender dysphoria has already been declared to be ‘discrimination’ by the American Medical Association in 2008). If you want to abandon your family, kinship group, ethnicity or religion without incurring even the slightest social cost, the state is once again forced to step in and closely monitor all possible grassroots interactions, to ensure the autonomy of the individual is preserved.

This all boils down to state-enforced loneliness. As Patrick Deneen noticed, this is not a radically new development by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a long selective pressure applied to all our technologies over the past 3 centuries or more. We have become lonely, paranoid and atomised because it was our explicit goal. Virtues got lost in the process. Religious belief, patriotism, loyalty, respect, trust within local communities, were all molten by liberals and socialists alike, and re-shapen as this monstrous global Leviathan. Call it the UN, Deep State or Cathedral if you’re on the right; call it the Panoptikon or ‘re-territorialisation’ if you’re a leftie type. We can all be certain that the things that melted are consumable. It’s easy to exhaust trust and difficult to build it. It’s easier to be an incel than have a long term relationship and raise children. It’s easier to fly to the nearby metropolis and surf from one temporary job to another, than contribute to the flourishing of your own community. It’s easier to be nihilistic and cynical than to adopt a spiritual discipline and remain a pillar of your religious community.

Social media became addictive because it seemed the perfect surrogate for real life social interactions. It allowed us to connect with friends and relatives from all corners of the earth; people we would otherwise have forgotten even existed. People you only see during holidays, on special occasions like weddings and funerals. Facebook seemed to provide the best compromise alternative to the involvement within a community with skin in the game. Passive browsing without engagement was never this easy. The silencing of unsavoury voices can happen instantly, without incurring a social penalty. On the contrary, technology encourages you to be a snitch, to tell them why THIS person is a threat to your wellbeing, and help them refine their machine learning so that the rogue individual is shadowbanned in the future, and you are protected from even the mildest discomfort in your ‘user experience’.

This is not only due to muh Capitalism; it is engrained in the thing held as most sacred and self evident by liberals and socialists alike – individual autonomy. A misguided abstraction of the dopamine-filled autistic left brain. The left is obssessed with fetishising and maximising CHOICE. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you constantly get to choose every tiny aspect of your frankenstein identity. Everything else must bow to this idol. Even the humanity of others.

“By lowering the threshold for outrage expression, digital media may degrade the ability of outrage to distinguish the truly heinous from the merely disagreeable. There is a serious risk that moral outrage in the digital age will deepen social divides. A recent study suggests a desire to punish others makes them seem less human” – Moral Outrage in the Digital Age, Nature.com

This false definition of personal freedom, coupled with the fetishisation of choice and a deep mistrust of local communities is what makes the left totalitarian. It is also what makes them blind to the similarities between Foucault’s Panoptikon as exemplified during the bubonic plague and our contemporary Panoptikon triggered by our much milder flu. The Progressive establishment can turn every random occurence – natural or cultural – into yet another pretext for censorship aimed at melting the very last residues of social cohesion and trust.

The problems of social media would have never occured in any traditional society, because the real human need that lies at the core of facebook/twitter addiction would have in fact been fulfilled naturally, through real life interactions. But since we have made ourselves lonely through deliberate selective pressure on our technologies, we are forced to create top-down institutions that manage and monitor our human needs. We need an app for socialisation; an app for physical exercise; an app for sleep and heart rate monitoring; an app for snitching on our non-socially-distanced neighbours. The fragilisation of the atomised individuals demands further fragilisation and monitoring. It’s a vicious circle that cannot be escaped through MORE leftism and automation.

There is always a solution to these issues, but you might not like it. The more weak and atomised we become, the less comfortable the escape from the spider’s web. Instead of exalting individual autonomy, fairness and social justice, we must start praising the conservative moral intuitions. Respect for hierarchy would have prevented the development of generation gaps and flyover states. Moral purity and sanctity would have prevented mindless consumption and procrastination. Loyalty to a tangible group would have kept us immune to social media addiction. We must stop incentivising betrayal through unfriends, blocks and bans. We must encourage communities with skin in the game, where real life interaction is prioritised over lazy online browsing. We must stop equating virtue with self-invention, self-exploration, self-expression. YOU are not God and nobody will want to have anything to do with you if you keep going down this rabbit hole. A radical reinvention of social media is no doubt necessary, and the rejection of WEIRD values should be the first step in implementing it. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little.

The Consequence of Idealising Choice
The Peace of Being Innocent / The Thrill of Seeking Out Delight


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