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The need for social connection and community support for the people of our society has never been greater.  Being alone, atomized, and unable to relate to the rest of society and those inhabit it opens people up to harmful ideologies and an movemet toward totalitarian thoughts and impulses. Nabeelah Jaffer has written a thoughtful essay about the factors that can herald people into the extremist totalitarian fold.

If nothing else this essay highlights the human need for social interaction and connection.  We crave to make sense of the world and it has been demonstrated repeatedly in history that we are willing to forgo our rational critical selves to find comfort in an absolutist worldview which may indeed be terrible, but offers the warm comfort of having all answers necessary to make life understandable and comprehensible.

We pick up with our excerpt here referring as Jaffer is talking about Jeff an individual who has accepted a anti-Muslim white supremacist world, yet is still friends with the Muslim author.

“Knowing me has made little difference to Tom’s broader ideology, and to his conviction that immigrants in general and Muslims in particular are the great enemy of our time. Factual debate also makes no impact. When our mutual friends disagree at length with Tom’s extreme opinions, he hardens into polarised opposition. He is quiet but stubborn, retreating into his shell with a wounded air. Of course, all of us suffer at times from confirmation bias – a tendency to favour information that supports our existing beliefs. But Tom does not simply prefer certain facts to others – he seems almost uninterested in them. Instead, he returns repeatedly to cliché (something Arendt also noted in Eichmann). ‘Religion taking over like it always has,’ he writes in a typical post, ‘sharia will creep to power and form an Islamic State.’ This is beyond the common run of immigration-skepticism and the distaste for religion that any decided atheist might have. It drums out a single narrow account of the world – past, present and future.

There is chilly logical consistency to Tom’s ideas. If you presume that Western culture represents a single (and singularly enlightened) worldview, then it follows that non-white immigrants attached to less perfect cultures are a threat that must be stopped. If you are convinced that Islam also entails a single worldview that is coincidentally the total antithesis of the consummately enlightened Western approach, then it follows that it must be fought. If you have already decided that civilisation is all that matters in this story, then what need is there for anything else? In ‘Ideology and Terror’ (1953), Arendt suggested strict self-evident logicality was the main capacity left to those who could not engage in true thought: the fact that two and two equals four cannot be denied ‘even under the conditions of absolute loneliness’. Such logical reasoning becomes ‘the only reliable “truth” human beings can fall back upon’ once they have lost the sense of mutuality needed to know their way in a common world. (Though there might be other reasons for this correlation, it has often been noted that a disproportionately large number of violent Islamist extremists have backgrounds in engineering, science or maths.) Logic, after all, needs neither the self nor the other in order to function. Only one premise matters – and it must be allowed to race freely through mankind, executing its inherent law.

Truth is simply not as relevant as what seems to be the truth

Tom’s narrative has no need of facts. They are beside the point. Like other ideas that aspire to ‘total explanation’, the narrative pretends ‘to know beforehand everything that experience may still have in store’. Armed with omniscient knowledge of the ‘true’ cause for all events, believers are relieved of their sense of insecurity. Here, at last, is a consistent explanation for everything. Totalitarian ideas emancipate their believers from reality: their worth lies in presenting a coherent absolute narrative of the world, which, as Arendt noted in Origins, is ‘more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself’. Experience is irrelevant: there is nothing new to be learned about the situation. The idea of a Jewish world conspiracy was once made to seem more true than reality by the Nazis, who simply acted ‘as though the world were dominated by the Jews and needed a counterconspiracy to defend itself’. Truth is simply not as relevant as what seems to be the truth.

When Arendt argued that loneliness was the common ground of terror, she was not thinking of individual acts of terrorism perpetrated by those on the margins – but of the terror of authoritarian ideologies and governments being slowly embraced by society’s dominant majority. The ideal subject of these governments, she argued, was not a convinced extremist but simply an isolated individual, too insecure in himself to truly think: someone for whom the distinction between true and false was beginning to blur, and the promise of a movement was beginning to beckon.”

I see the level of atomization in our society and I am deeply concerned to the extent that extremist ideologies can (and have been) make inroads into the general populace.  The most worrisome part is that once people/populations are committed down the totalitarian road – facts simply don’t matter – and therefore rational dialogue and debate becomes irrelevant.  And there there is nothing left but bloodletting and the frenzied decent in chaos.

This is a great essay, I recommend reading it in full but also having a cheerful tonic at hand to chase back the gloomy implications for our society.

 

 

444unnamed    The recent terrorist shooting in South Carolina have brought the issue of racism back to the top of the heap in the mainstream media.  I’m sure there will be deep introspective think pieces in all of the major dailies and magazines.  Then, like any story the media deigns “having being milked enough”, the racist terrorist attack will be quietly shunted to the side while the next tragedy is cued up for consumption.

Consumption of news these days seems to be the problem though. We are expected to keep track of the world, hell even personalize our ‘news experience’, but that is not what being an educated, engaged member of society is all about.  The 5th Estate is (should) there to monitor the centres of power in society and report their activities for the citizens of democratic countries can engage with and evaluate said activities.  With so much of media today being focused on infotainment rather than critical analysis of important events how the the average citizen get the information she needs?

There are a couple of threads to pull apart with the questions being raised.  Firstly, the idea that personalized news is good idea for democratic societies, secondly the role of infotainment media and lastly the effect of the professional media colluding with the centers of power in society.  All three of these aspects work against the creation of active, informed democratic participation in society.

“Society” is the watchword here – the ludicrous amount of personalization options presented to us in North America society gives us choice – and we all know (or should know by now the neo-liberal taint associated with that concept) that the choice presented to us is really a form of atomization that keeps our fingers firmly off the pulse of society and rather, firmly on our own as we sail alone through society.

What comes to mind is an captioned black and white image (pro-tip:if you want to every reuse something save it the first time you see it) of people on a train all

A big tip of the hat to Bleatmop for tracking down this picture.

A big tip of the hat to Bleatmop for tracking down this picture.

reading the paper.   The witty caption was something like this – smartphones and technology have changed society darn much…  You can see the obvious parallel being made; every buried in a newspaper vs. everyone buried in their smart phones.  On the surface this is correct but I remember pausing then thinking that something wasn’t quite right.

That “something” was that reading the daily newspaper was a still a shared experience in society.  You could talk to someone about an article, even a complete stranger, and it was likely that they would have read the same article and then you could start a conversation about it.  How neat is is that?  Today though, that is a much taller order as many people have tailored their consumption of news to their tastes and sphere of interests making finding a common ground with people that much more difficult.  Talking to people about important issues is what community is about, especially when they have different views on what is the correct course of action.  Hashing things out, being charitable, accepting an well reasoned argument are all part of living in a democratic society.

Democracy is not a streamlined affair, nor should it be, because our personal freedom and ethical concerns are at stake.  When governments act unilaterally and secretly it doesn’t matter what personal choices you make, it is the society around you that is going to shit and your choosy-choices and personal experiences will also be circling the drain since you are part of said society(see Canadian bill C-51, NAFTA, Trans-Pacific-Partnership).  So having a reliable, accessible, common base of public knowledge is important to democratic society.

Democratic society has given us many media choices but, coupled with the capitalist infrastructure that actually runs the show our media sources have conglomerated and become ensconced within the power structures of society.  See Fox and Faux News for the most shining example of the marriage between news and corporate propaganda.  The focus of much of our news media today is to sell advertising, while educating/informing the public on crucial issues facing society is quite far down the list.  I shudder when I see how much of the professional media now resembles Entertainment Tonight rather than the venerable Front Page Challenge (The Fifth Estate, Marketplace, et cetera).  It now takes a great deal of time just to filter out the dross to get to the important news that people should know about their society and even then one must take into account the bias and elite influence present within ‘serious news’.  The importance of public broadcasters cannot be overstated here – public institutions such as the CBC, NPR, and BBC are more free from the elite consensus and can more accurately report on the issues without the elite’s point of view being considered the default (This is a relative judgment – see Media Lens for an annotated listing of how awesomely independent Auntie Beebs is becoming).

Public broadcasting, with all of its problems aside, is one avenue to escape ‘the preferred message’ being broadcast to society by the corporate media with their vested interests of the status-quo.   This isn’t a wild conspiracy theory – the way the world currently works benefits a certain class of people and it is their best interests to maintain the current system because it keeps them at the top of the heap.  No mystery present.  This system also provides the answers to why certain problems keep cropping up again and again within society – inequality, institutionalized racism and sexism for example.  There structures within society serve their purpose; the ‘right people’ profit from their existence and thus are maintained.    Just look at the perspectives surrounding mass murders:

 

shooter

 

The evidence, but then put through the media filters and the very different result…

murder

The NYT’s nails it, for once, and lays down a view into the systemic racism that permeates North American society.  This is the story that needs constant repetition.  Yet, watch how soon the white racial violence dissipates into the ether.   This is not a fluke, not a statistical aberration, this is policy.  And thus, because of the collusion of much of the media with the current centres of power, the problems that face our society are not adequately dealt with nor are they given the proper amount of time or analysis that would help the people of the nation understand these problems and what can be done about them.

For those in power though it wise to note that only so much tamping down of these systemic problems can be done.  Eventually, these issues take a life of their own and people will take radical action to resolve these seemingly ‘intractable’ problems and not in the way that the nestled elite likes.

Change is Coming

 

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