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“Social Media” Isn’t The Problem

A line of reasoning that sounds irrefutable is precisely the one that most needs to be examined, and probably the one that most needs to be refuted.

Take this seemingly incontrovertible claim for example by an American pundit commenting on the erstwhile world’s richest man, Elon Musk, buying Twitter. Like others before him Musk called it “the global town square.

“The world needs many town squares, not one,” the seemingly unassailable argument goes. “Public spaces are rooted in the communities and contexts in which they exist.”

Driving home the worldview that the world is a diverse cacophony of distinct cultures, communities and contexts, the latest scientific fad is trotted out: “Twitter is less a singular entity than a digital multiverse.”

This is pluralism run amok in an inescapably interconnected, if not chaotically singular world where national and cultural boundaries no longer matter but the old borders and boundaries still start wars teetering on world wars.

As far as it goes pluralism is fine as political philosophy, but when it’s overextended as a worldview, it increases division and fragmentation, and denies genuine difference and diversity.

In other words it’s easy to bend a knee and dutifully honor “communities and contexts,” but no community or context exists outside the de facto, inchoate global society. Diversity flows from wholeness, not separateness, and the former wholeness of peoples and cultures is no longer primary; the wholeness of humanity, in all our chaos and confusion is now primary.

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Consider a passage from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal regarding the uprising in Iran, which is driven by young people. “Sarina Esmailzadeh, a 16-year-old Iranian, once documented sunny outings at her shopping mall in Karaj, an industrial town near Tehran, on her YouTube channel. She often used Western imagery in her videos, including clips from popular American TV shows, singing to pop music or sporting a T-shirt of her favorite soccer team, Borussia Dortmund in Germany.”

“We’re not like the previous generation 20 years ago who didn’t know what life was like outside Iran,” she said in a YouTube video posted shortly after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September touched off protests nationwide. “We ask ourselves, why aren’t we having fun like the young people in New York and Los Angeles?”

There are many levels of her remarks, from the basic human drive for freedom, to a disturbing imitativeness of American individualism; from young people’s creative use of the latest technologies, to a civilizational conformity and toxicity accelerated by the Net.

The courage and passion of Iran’s young people is incredible. They have sustained deepening protests for three months despite the repressiveness of the theocracy, which is now executing people for “making war against God.” A few days after Sarina Esmailzadeh made the remarks above, she was beaten to death by Iran’s security forces.

The absurdity of equating a state and its morality police with righteousness and God is obvious to Westerners. Without drawing an equivalency however, let’s not lose sight of how often secular institutions and monuments are called “sacred” in America.

While the cause of Iran’s young people is just and admirable, their American counterparts do not share their courage and passion. A huge percentage of people under 30, even under 15, are severely depressed and suicidal in the United States. The fact is that most young people in New York and Los Angeles aren’t having fun, and the fun they’re having is often self-destructive.

The insidious influence of American culture notwithstanding, is the pernicious power of worldwide social media really the problem?

Blaming social media for the ills of politics, culture and the world is as facile and futile. Human consciousness per se is responsible for war and ecological destruction.

Social media, which is the Internet in all its dark currents and corners, is actually simply human consciousness, made manifest and accelerated. That should already be apparent, but it will become irrefutable as AI makes all human knowledge and experience available through the latest chatbot.

It’s true that “Civilization does not depend on a place to gather; it depends on what happens when people gather.” But that’s not contingent on cultural, much less national contexts, and to continue to think and act in terms of the old frames is place people in a Procrustean bed.

In Greek mythology, Procrustes was a “rogue smith and bandit who attacked people by cutting off their legs, so as to force them to fit the size of an iron bed. Thus the word Procrustean is sued to describe situations where an arbitrary standard is used to measure success, while completely disregarding obvious harm that results from the effort.” Nations and even cultures have become Procrustean beds to the extend there are put first under the guise of the primacy of “communities and contexts.”

Like it or not, the primary context is humankind as a whole now. It’s within that context that the Internet, pejoratively known as “social media,” porously seeps into all formerly distinct nations and historical backgrounds.

The Net is our consciousness, an interpenetrating aggregate of human knowledge and experience, for good or ill. So far it’s mostly been for ill. However if we can begin to understand human consciousness, “social media” need not continue to destroy minds and hearts in America, and in young people all over the world who would still emulate our rampant and rapacious individualism.

In our inescapably global society, nations and cultures matter to the degree that people living within these lesser contexts are able to remain inwardly alive and grow.

But to inwardly survive in this world, one has to leave the polluted stream of the known everyday. It requires not just disconnecting from the Net for an hour, but a relationship with nature, and undivided observation of oneself in her cracking but still clear mirror.

Martin LeFevre

© Scoop Media

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