// Patrick Louis

Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control — The Big Picture: Truth & Trust Crises

A. Kircher, Ars magna lucis, Amsterdam, 1671

  • Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control
  • Part 4 — The Big Picture
  • Section 2 — Truth & Trust Crises
Table Of Content
  • Individualism, Neoliberalism, And Relativism
  • Lack Of Trust — Doubt As The New Normal
  • The Collapse Of journalism
  • Mobs & Self-Justice

Nobody likes to be put in a box, nobody likes to be paralyzed. In a world where the individual is put first, we want to feel in control. Yet, we are lost in a whirlpool of chaotic and clashing ideologies, memeplexes and absolutist templates. Who are we, how should we define ourselves? This makes us distrust any form of authority and renounce classical forms of media. As individuals, we’re looking for authenticity, whatever form it can take even if disingenuous, so that we can find our new roots, our new base. Then, there’s nobody better suited to affirm justice than internet mobs.
It feels like the internet is the new far-west, a lawless land of incessant doubt, lacking meaning and trust, where gurus, inspirational influencers, and vigilantes reign and data, personal data, and metrics of reputation are the currency held by the banks of social media.
Or it may also feel like eunemics in action — the deliberate improvement of the meme pool — and people wanting to take part in the cultural meme wars and genocides.

A lot of this can be attributed to the wide spread of neoliberalism values and mindset, which as we’ve seen in the previous section are the most prevalent online. Particularly, we’re faced with individualism, relativism, and inequalities all justified by the protection of personal rights.

If you see a world full of individuals then you’ll want a morality that protects those individuals and their individual rights.

You’ll emphasize concerns about harm and fairness.

But if you live in a society in which people are more likely to see relationships, context, groups, and institutions. Then you won’t be so focus on satisfying individuals, you’ll have a more sociocentric morality.

Which means that you place the needs of groups and institutions first, often ahead of the needs of individuals.

If you do that then a morality based on harm and fairness won’t be sufficient. You’ll have additional concerns. And you’ll need additional virtues to bind people together.

The Righteous Mind

The individual becomes reason in and of itself, and not only a figurant in their own life. We are expected, in the neoliberal theory, to develop our own opinions, outlook, stances through a considerable amount of solitary reflection. However, most important issues, such as the definition of our identity, happen over dialogue. We can’t define ourselves or recognize ourselves, in a void.
We’ve discovered how this can be beneficial in part 2 section 2, as networked individuals connected by interests. Interests become part of our identity and how we generate meaning.

On the internet, however, this leads to struggles as we’re incessantly exposed to a wide range of ideas, some of which may be breaking our local taboos. The Overton window keeps moving, for the better or the worst.
Isolated societies, communities, and ways of living may be forcedly assailed by ideas outside their comfort zone. We’ve touched this topic in the cultural malaise section.

I went a bit over this in my article entitled cross culture frustration.

The new mentality appears different and frightening — different acting, different social dynamics, different manner of building the “self”, different definition of who we are within the society. In addition, we hate being wrong, and we like confirmation. We create a cocoon and hide ourselves in it repeating the hokum over and over again. And we are afraid of the unknown — afraid that the stable self we’ve built to be part of a society is not a self that could partake and feel comfortable in the activities of another society.

In this mindset, the individual always comes before the large collective forces and needs to be protected against them. Personal life choices can’t be criticised as this would be tantamount to an assault on personal dignity. Inherently, this carries the acceptance of a soft moral relativism, any opinion should be respected and nobody should impede on others.
This translates on the social plane into political acts for individual rights, recognition, and equality. Anything else is understood as inflicting damage and being a form of oppression. We are more interested in dignity, universals, innate attributes, and equality.

Additionally, this requires the breaking of hierarchies and a loss of a grand sense of meaning. The perception is now centered on the self to find these, rejecting, and even erasing from awareness, issues and concerns that transcend the self.
We aren’t recognized through honors, distinctions, or any rare achievements, but by our self-generated worth. We’ve replaced these forms of recognition, the need for belonging and authenticity for example, by other things.

Personal and intimate relationships are now the definition and emphasis of life. We now expect to find the greater meaning, which was previously found in institutions and traditional structures, in these relationships. The domestic becomes the loci of “the good life”.
This is the core of what social media are about. They are filling a cultural gap as we said before.

Self-fulfillment and worth is also found through the instrumental reasoning of neoliberalism — actions driven by profit, optimization, market, and metrics. Meaning lies in efficiency, success is found in numbers, tangible assets, products, and money. In a way, it has replaced grand narratives and sense with short-term narcissistic, selfish, pleasures and pains, with little regard for others or society as a whole.
Similarly, the intimate relationships are also seen as tools for self-development and so are also serving an end.
It permeates every aspect of life. Even simple things such as food have become an individual matter, for personal consumption, rather than a convivial mean of regrouping and conversations.

Old social orders are shattered and replaced with resources for projects, economic growth, and prestige in technological progress.

No empathy. No loyalty. No forgiveness. Thanks to the market, the old-fashioned virtues have been rendered obsolete.

Common goods and social objectives are de-emphasized. The protection of the individual is only an extension of the protection of their private economic rights. The new morals are the morals of protecting the individual and their economic rights, the sanctity of the individual and the pursuit of self-interest as the highest moral ideal.

However, this system generates a lot of inequalities, there’s a wide distribution of wealth and income. It is hard to keep competition open and fair — a competitive attitude that also fosters more individualism. Corporations are free to self-regulate.
Comparativeness and cooperation are both part of human nature, but the one that is valued and promoted by the culture will thrive.

On the internet we’re presented with the myth of individual geniuses working in their garages without any investment, self-made success stories. Yet, this is only a myth.

And because worth is found in such success, it is then displayed in clear light for everyone to admire. Social media make this even more apparent.
These inequalities will undeniably boil into social unrest. Individual persons will demand their individual rights and feel entitled to do so.

Overall, there’s a sentiment of being stranded on an island, lost, afraid, and missing something vital. Many societies embracing or exposed directly or indirectly through the internet (or other political pressures) to neoliberalism have a hard time coping with this. The competitive and instrumental mindset encourages a fear of the other. The moral relativism destroys grand narratives, old societies heroes, and replaces them with ambiguity and an identity crisis. The cultural malaise, the feeling of anomie, we’ve discussed earlier.
We’re left with defining ourselves through interests, intimate relationships, metrics, economic activities, and a moral that only has one thing to say: “everyone is on their own, let them be”.

We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep — William James

More than anything, this damages and erodes our trust in any form of authority, this makes us doubt what we know and what others are telling us. We’ve seen how this is abused on social media in a previous section.

When reality doesn’t reflect our projections, it will backfire. Turning things upside down, changing love into hate, or any other ways of rebalancing our perceptions.
We project on people, ideologies, cultures, and politics, wanting to put our trust in something, to see them as extensions of us, to feel that our conception of reality is stable and secure.
When it doesn’t match the people revolt.

On social networks we are torn between different narratives that threaten each others. There’s no accountability or regulation for this user-generated content and it is often published under aliases that can’t be traced to any source.
Truth and trust are bent to their extreme. The digital revolution undermines mainly the control that governments used to have on them, replacing it with a technological alternative of wild-west, open, democratic, and sometimes manipulated discussions.
Infobesity and infoxication don’t help either, we’re inundated and can’t keep track of what is important, nor absorb it, nor understand it, nor know who said it. It makes it hard to effectively grasp issues and make decisions, as we’ve discussed in the paralysis section.
We’ve also previously seen how state entities are trying to get back the control by using speech itself as a censorial weapon.

The biggest consequence of this is that there has never been as much political discussion happening. It’s everywhere on the internet and it is what thrives.
However, the memetic material, the content, is always provocative, conflicting, shocking, and sensational because, as we keep repeating, this is exactly what thrives in the internet environment, namely: what touches our cultural sensitivities.
Consequentially, in relation to what we said before, this content will be about identity politics and identity in general, personal definitions. Discussions will rotate around recognitions of who some people are, the gaps they have in their cultures, how they patch them, the oppressions and damages they feel are being done to their previous or new-found identities.

Some discussions and content are more powerful and dangerous than others, activated ideologies that have real world consequences. This can lead to warranted or unwarranted protests, extreme ideologies, discriminations, assaults, suicides, acts of violence, and others.
In a previous section we’ve dabbled into how this can be used and initiated as part of PSYOPs.

This becomes alarming when doubt engenders the creation of an alternative reality that contests well-accepted scientific truth and facts, turning virtue into a vice. The lack of trust in authority being replaced by a trust in narratives that claim pseudo-authenticity and certainty. Sometimes coming from ill-informed people or from nations or entities that have an agenda — misinformation and disinformation.
This is what we’ve talked about when discussing memeoids, propaganda, and cults: a memetic equilibrium, a coherent world of cohesive meaning. The grand sense of meaning that was broken with neoliberalism but that couldn’t be recovered through anything else. The modern hermetism, or return of mysticism.
Doesn’t memetics itself reflect the concept of neoliberalism, all selfish memes fighting for their individual survival?

The word “truth” is often semantically associated with some religious or moral doctrines. This confusion also occurred in psychological literature.

In practice, this is embodied through conspiracy theories, built over time on the accumulation of confirmation biases and wishful thinking, and also through polarized and absolutist memetic wars that carry new narratives.

The side effect of these is the collapse of the classical form of journalism. Traditional media in its original shape is dead and along with it any form of “official narrative”.
There exists some media that are government owned, publicly funded, but the netizens do not trust them.

The online economy has ravage journalism. For example, in the USA, about a fifth of newspapers have closed and the survivors are shadows of what they were. The ones that are left rely on shock value to drive revenue from ads, the new business model, or have switched to subscriptions. Many geographical regions are now news deserts leaving people to rely on social media instead.
This results in the dramatic decline of professional reporting, yet a majority of people have not, and will not, notice any significant change.

The dominating ad networks, Google and Facebook, have their own alternative news channels and also decide on the internet dynamics: promoting or demoting a newspaper based on its popularity and how much revenue it attracts.

Citizen journalism is now king and the traditional media are following their footstep, redefining themselves as intermediates. Social media platforms have replaced the gatekeepers, as we’ve seen earlier, and the “democratic” curatorial systems decide which news are important and how they get framed.

While in the past the news were responsible for what they said, regulated, limited by their journalistic values, now it’s fully unregulated.

There are upsides and downsides to this new development. As we said, these are amateurs, people without journalism training, and so the quality of the reports and coverage can vary, is subjective, heavily opinionated, unregulated, and can be abused by malicious actors — such as spin doctors.
However, it can also promote human rights and democratic values to have the people join together and collaborate in this endeavor.

We’ve tackled before how the engines reinforce what people already believe, amplifying their narrative through their self-generated (often fabricated) news.
It’s even more distressing when heads of nations publicly attack the press, calling them “enemy of the people”, inflaming opinions, polarization, and partisanships. Politicians have learned how to play the game on the internet.

Along with the self-generated meaning and self-generated news and facts, we see the rise of self-justice, private justice.
Ironically, this is in stark contrast with what neoliberalism is about, it is the large collective that fights individuals, the return of the battle of the collectivist narratives.
The polarization with its absolute us vs them mentality. A return of a sort of absolute moral rigidity with categorical imperatives.

Laws should be there to protect minorities, not lead to mob violence, and vigilantism, the kind of fast justice, with total impunity, and auto-defence that is justified by militias around the world — the wild-west and absence of authority that favors the creation of these dynamics.
This lack of trust in institutions and truth makes us want to create our own. We substituted the old gatekeepers, so we can also redefine the social contract.

Corporations and multinationals have been doing this for some time now, pushing their own justice, influencing legislations, spying, and thwarting competitors using any means. This has definitely been facilitated by social media.

On the individual side, it’s understandable, we’re presented a world, through the lenses of the news and social media, of constant chaos, clashes, and protests everywhere. It seems to be the only logical conclusion, when doubting all authorities, that we should fight for our own rights and that no one else will do it.
The offline consequences of this are apparent so let’s talk about the online ones.

The collectivists narrative, one that sees each person as a member of group and not an individual, a kind of “social tribalism”, is the way people bring back order from the chaos of getting exposed to different ideas — a pre-neoliberal view within a neoliberal mindset.
It is associated with a make-belief of simple dichotomies, groups at war, enemies, activism and counter-activism. Societies then become a struggle for power, a zero-sum war of ideologies. These ideologies are, within neoliberalism, related to identities.
Some of these are hijacked or pushed by political actors for gain. This is by various kind of parties that adhere to different political ideologies on the political spectrum.

This forcing of homogeneity, is the same force that drives indoctrination, cults, and memeoids. On themselves, these distorted worldviews and conflicts are wars of memeplexes, each side carrying their package of culture.

The combatants fight to annihilate the other memeplexe, to achieve eunemics — essentially trying to deliberately control the meme pool.
The war of memeoids is fought by quarantining other memes, restricting their speech/thoughts through censorship, and also done by executing attacks that ridicule memes to detach them from the enemy’s memeplex.
“Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance.” – Albert Maysles
Only one reality must survive!

When it comes to these attacks, they are filled with derogatory terms, loaded words that carry with them cultural ideas, politicized insults: essentially memes in the form of words. As we said, ridicule and satire are the best tools to fight narratives and drive discussions.
Creating a new language is also creating new ideas. Satiric words are thus both attacking memes toward the enemy memeplex, and new memes to be incorporated in the memeplex of the generator. A memetic warfare. Benjamin Lee Whorf said: “Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.”

A lot of the popular words are taken from the USA politics, so we’ll extract some examples from there, any reader should be familiar with the terms considering their invasiveness in the online sphere.

One of these words is SJW, “Social Justice Warrior”, a pejorative term used to describe someone who promotes “socially progressive views” for personal validation rather than conviction. This word carries a political meaning in the USA politics, is a satire thus a meme.
The term itself is used by the opposite ideologists to refer to the internet combatants of the other groups. These SJWs rely on victimhood talk, a twist on the oppressor narrative along with emotions, to silence/censor their opponents. Absurdingly, the groups using the words are themselves portraying the world in a similar way, the back to the collectivist narrative.

The personal validation is described as “virtue signalling”, a way to show your virtues and allegiance to a group. Virtue signalling is the common phenomenon we’ve seen happening when people share memes on social media: informing and showing others that they belong, that they know what is right, following what they think is prestigious, along with a sense of superiority.
It is most often used to point out “fake outrage”, “political correctness”, “microaggression”, “microinvalidations”, and “self-righteousness” (also meme terms), but it can also be applied more generally to anything used to get social karma/points.
Indeed, this is related to the neoliberalism narcissism coming from finding meaning through metrics. Obviously, and contrary to popular beliefs, this noisemaking is done by anybody on the political spectrum and not only by a single political camp. Only the association and its cultural reference that packages it in the name makes it a novel meme.
“In a democracy, recognition matters. Everyone wants to be seen as they are. If they are not, then it’s impossible for them to enjoy the experience of being full citizens.” — Melissa Harris-Perry

The term is also associated with slacktivism, hashtag activism, and pathological altruism. These are ways of supporting causes on social media while not involved in the on-the-ground activities and the messiness. These are terms used, and mostly prevalent, by Western netizens to describe how they are distanced from reality and act from the clean pristine coccoons of their sofa.
They are pejorative because they imply that these actions have little effects, might even be ineffective, are low-cost efforts, and can’t substitute more substantive actions. However, as we’ve seen over the past sections, we know that online political talks do indeed have an effect on mindsets and allow for more discussions around a topic — temporarily getting attention, selecting what is important.

One technique that is extensively used today by all groups, political parties, or association as a defense mechanism is a sort of deliberate social cooling of others, a self-surveillance that goes by the name of call-out culture and cancel culture.
The names are normally used by a specific political side in USA politics as a derogatory term describing another side, but the techniques themselves are applied by everyone anywhere in the world. It’s about using the online-outrage machine we talked about earlier to attempt to defame and vilify characters that go against the memeplex of the group.
This public lynching type of censorship should be a reminder of the propaganda we’ve seen earlier. Speech as a censorial weapon.
A perfect way to achieve eunemics through the suffocation of memeplexes.

This concludes our review of the truth and trust crises accelerated by the internet. In a first part we’ve seen how neoliberalism and individualism have shaken our notions of stability and broken our vision of authorities and hierarchies. The individual is favored before the collective, and they now find meaning through metrics, economic activities, and moral as a protection of new personal identities. Next, we’ve looked at how this unbalance can backfire if projections don’t match reality, especially when presented with so many worldviews on social networks.
Then we went over how this generates an enormous amount of political discussions, especially related to identity, and how this generates alternative universes of meanings that live on social media, some of it conspiratorial or based on novel narratives. A kind of self-generated meaning.
After that we’ve observed the collapse of traditional journalism and all that it implies, especially that now people can generate their own news, their own facts.
Finally, we’ve concluded with a glanced at a self-generated justice, a private justice created through the return of a collectivist narrative, fights between groups. These groups being memeoids, that fight eunemics wars on the internet trying to anhilate other memeplexes using some techniques we’ve encountered in previous sections such as speech as a censorial weapon.

Table Of Content

References








Attributions: A. Kircher, Ars magna lucis, Amsterdam, 1671




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