The Internet Is Not a Solution!

My previous post resulted in an ongoing conversation with Luna.  Rather than getting “worked up” over political problems such as countless numbers of dead civilians in Afghanistan, he suggests the solution is simply to opt out of the realm of politics. His alternative? An internet community of truth-seekers:

I’m putting together a group of people through the internet– people who are to some degree awakened, and who are willing to engage each other on the battleground of truth without resentment and, most importantly, with an open mind.

The thing is– it is very possible to, in some sense, ‘opt-out’ of our social contract. I stopped getting too worked up about American politics some time ago. The future isn’t Nations and States, and it’s okay just to let the clock wind down on its own rather than expending a lot of energy trying to hit it with a hammer.

As to these [post-national, trans-national] communities, I believe that they are nascent. There are strange and wonderful movements, the first gropings in the dark, the birth pangs of something powerful. When the printing press came about, the Kingdom fell. Now, we have the internet, and Linux is making user-friendly robust products that can compete with all but the highest-end products on the market; Wikipedia has ridiculous power as a collaborative project that has very little to do with the concept of nationality; and the creative commons movement in inspiring.

This answer, while eloquent, I think is ultimately bourgeois. Practically speaking I see little difference between it and diving into any of the other pre-packaged “lifestyles” or “niche markets”. Maybe, as a lifestyle, it’s more creative than a pre-made consumerist identity. But it’s still asking me to live inside an abstraction. In the end an abstraction is an abstraction, whether it’s mass produced by a corporation or hand-crafted by a Dionysion poet. Creating virtual worlds is not a solution to the “real world of horrible jobs”, as Dolores LaPicho puts it. And while the comfortably upper-middle class have the luxary of insulating themselves from reality, for the rest of us proles, the reality of horrible jobs, lack of healthcare, and war constantly and inevitably obtrudes on any “virtual community” we might try to construct. Even in the atomized social world of the 21st century, private life and public life are mutually entailing. Satisfaction of my private desires (even the desire for truth) does not occur in a vacuum, it occurs in the context of a socio-political arrangement.  “Opting out” is not an option.

Conceptually speaking, I agree with Luna that the nation-state is obsolete. But actually speaking, I still have to live with the reality of the nation-state and with a world dominated by the Spectacle of global capital. Even if I define myself as a Psychic Nomad, a Citizen of the World who does not identify with his nation, I still have to live with it. It’s not going away in my lifetime. And any truth that doesn’t address the real world of horrible jobs, is impotent, and not worthy of the name “truth”. Knowledge of truth can’t be divorced from action in the real world. As Wang Yangming put it, “To know, and not to do, is not to know.”

This goes back to why the political opposition is dead in the US. Earlier I bemoaned how the street protest has become little more than ritual symbolic action. It’s the same thing with the Internet. In the early days of the ‘net, there was a lot of optimistic talk about how it would become a tool for organizing and raising consciousness. Instead, it has become another diversion. It’s as bad as TV. Instead of taking action, we sit online and blog or sign internet petitions or send emails to Congress. Nothing is accomplished in real terms. Hypereality is Imperialism’s best friend, since it lets people have the illusion of change and dissent without actually accomplishing anything in reality. If anything, it provides a safe outlet: let people vent their anger and frustration virtually, and they will not attempt to do anything in reality. This is why I don’t buy the argument that we will be “saved” by digital communications technology: it’s already been subsumed by Empire. And this is why the Internet is not a solution.

Old school Marxists would rail against the religious establishment as promoting “pie in the sky, by and by“; thus indefinitely prolonging the Revolution by relegating it to an afterlife. For the same reason, I rail against the internet and its simulated stimuli. The only difference between religious opiates and digital opiates is that the former operates vertically (transcendentally) while the latter operates horizontally (immanently). But both seek to substitute an abstraction for an actuality.

In the end I suppose I’m playing Marx to Luna’s Nietzsche. This is also, I suspect, why he is going on to pursue Philosophy as a profession and I have chosen otherwise.

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7 Responses to “The Internet Is Not a Solution!”

  1. Luna Says:

    I do feel obliged to reply, and I will say it tickles my fancy to be called bourgeois and my pride to be compared with Nietzsche.

    If by bourgeois you mean elitist, then you’re quite right. If by bourgeois you mean elitist on the grounds of unearned money, then you’d be wrong. But bourgeois is such a specific word overused to the point that I feel it often needs more explanation these days.

    I need do no more than point out the irony of lambasting the internet and blogs using a blog. In any case, the internet certainly can be an idle distraction, like TV, and it can be empowering. Consider that anyone with access to the internet now has access to a library of writings that would have put the richest collector two hundred years ago to shame– or, compare the kind of discourse going on between you and I to your average debate over what constitutes meaningful action on television (or even in academic journals, for that matter).

    Just because I think I’ll go to Graduate School doesn’t mean I’m considering making philosophy my profession. I am not at all interested in substituting an abstraction for reality, but lest this descend into the wide and clamoring abyss of banality that a great deal of debate on the internet so often descends to, I’ll pose a question.

    What have you chosen otherwise? That’s really all that I’m curious about.

  2. Χάος Says:

    Hey again Luna,

    I’m glad you enjoyed this entry. I definitely see resonances with Nietzsche throughout your blog and in your comments here.

    By bourgeois I don’t mean “elitist” (although I can definitely see that element in your thinking as well) as much as I’m referring to a particular kind of consciousness, in this case one that seeks a certain private or exclusive satisfaction of desire. I suppose there is some overlap there with “elitist”, but that’s not the primary meaning I had in mind.

    I’m well aware of the irony of criticizing the internet on the internet. I’m also not a complete luddite; I’m not saying the internet hasn’t made a tremendous amount of information available. But it’s also think it’s lured a number of people into a catatonic state, and caused others to mistake digital actions for real life accomplishments. On the whole I would say it’s caused more problems than it has empowered people.

    As I said earlier, I chose against doing Graduate work in philosophy because it seems to me that the Academy is a more or less closed circuit—you spend your time writing for an academic audience and reading academic papers and critiquing them in academic journals, and probably also some time training undergraduates to enter the academic world so they can become established in the Academy just like you. It doesn’t strike me as very fulfilling, or even especially conducive to Truth.

    On top of that, there’s my current economic situation, which brings things back to bourgeois, this time in the simple sense of class.

  3. Luna Says:

    People debated the pros and cons of the printing press in much the manner we’re debating the pros and cons of the internet. Critics thought novels made people psychotic, and in France the printing press was used to distribute mindless pornography more than revolutionary propaganda.

    I used to have a very private sense of satisfaction, but I’m actually moving out of that into something a little more balanced. I don’t consider all humans my community, simply by virtue of their genetic resemblance to me, but I do want community. Maybe this a point where I differ from Nietzsche, and maybe it has more to do with the possibility of news kinds of communities in our time than were possible in his.

    I’m not sure I get the last sentence, though. You mean you don’t have the money for Graduate School?

  4. Χάος Says:

    Oh, I’m aware of the precedents vis a vis technology. But that doesn’t, I think, detract criticism against those forms of technology. The luddites of old destroyed technology which they thought was “harmful to the spirit of community”—and that brings us back to community again.

    I’m not so optimistic about the internet as a means of facilitating community. It typically brings together anonymous groups of people chatting in a relatively impersonal way (forums, blogs, etc). When people do know each other “irl” you get things like Facebook, which is even worse, since it can take the place of actually spending time together. Maybe I’m simply old fashioned but for me “community” requires face time. I consider concrete unmediated embodiment to be crucial to the development of any kind of society. And because the internet can’t deliver that, it’s necessarily lacking as a means of establishing any kind of real community.

    I don’t have the money for Graduate School, nor can I afford loans. And to bring this back to my point about embodiment, as much as I may enjoy a disembodied conversation over the net, sooner or later I have to go back to my embodied reality. And it’s embodied reality I have to live in terms of, ultimately, because that’s where life occurs, as opposed to the ‘net.

  5. Luna Says:

    Well, I’m certainly saying that face time can be replaced by the internet– but face time can be supplemented with other forms of contact, like Skype, and can supplement a community based on the very real connections made person to person. Alternatively, conversation via a digital medium can prompt people who might never have otherwise met to meet face to face, sometimes creating lasting relationships.

    Certainly there are ugly extremes. Match.com, which really just demonstrates the lack of discernment people exercise when choosing a mate. Two people meet over the internet based on “similar interests” with some kind of patented “matching algorithm,” and as long as they don’t get on each others nerves too much, they fuck and eventually get married and spawn. The internet becomes a comfortable buffer between ourselves and the risks associated with meeting and knowing people.

    On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve met more people than you can count with whom you’ve never had a conversation as deep or revealing about our mutual selves as we are having now. Certainly, you’ve had deep relationships with people that you have maintained fact to face relationships with, but we all have face to face relationships with people we don’t really know or care to know that well.

    The internet can be abstraction– a place to build a false persona, easily honest because of the anonymity it provides– or it can be a place to network good minds.

    But, all things considered, I can understand your lack of optimism even if I don’t share it.

    Aside from that, having no money seems to be the last reason not to take out Student Loans. If you maintain your proletariat-class level income (as I intend to indefinitely), you’ll never have to pay the loans back; indeed, it’s one of the few kinds of debt that isn’t passed on to offspring, and it’s actually forgiven after 25 years in a repayment plan, even if your payments have been $0. Contact the loan counselor from your college, or if they don’t have the answers feel free to email me. There’s no reason you should be making payments on your loans if you’re not making much money unless you’re doing it out of principle. Look into the income-based repayment plans, or the financial-need based deferment. And if you do Graduate work at the level of a PhD, more often than not the school will pay you, so at that point it really just depends on your ability to get into a good program.

    Anyway, although you haven’t answered the question I ended my first comment with (What have you chosen otherwise?), I think I’m beginning to see the real source of the stress. It’s not even so much a big picture thing for you as it is a small picture thing. You’re surrounded by jobs which are righteously disgusting. A simple retail job makes you feel sick to your stomach because of the ugly machine you’re feeding into, and it seems that the pay of a job is often proportional to how much you feed into the machine? Or am I reading in too much here?

    If that’s the case, I could recommend all kinds of alternatives to the crappy, dead-end job. I did those for seven years, and have found lots of ways around them. There are somewhat more limited options for me, as I am married with a young daughter, but for a young man with no money and a hatred for capitalism and a desire to confront other cultures and forms of thought there should be no limit.

    What about the peace corp? What about teaching English in Asia? What about volunteer work for NGOs in China? They need volunteers to teach in Palestine. I understand that you probably want to do something that makes a difference, and I’d agree that the peace corp doesn’t make the biggest difference in the world. But right now, maybe your options are limited, and it would be better to take the best of two evils. If you go abroad and volunteer or work, you will have the opportunity to be more of a “psychic nomad,” and do some good for some people– and the big problems you’re thinking about won’t go away. If you figure out a solution or a course of action for them, you can always come back.

    As for me, I think we define progress rather differently. I don’t think progress means an end to war, or every mouth fed, or an end to “injustice.” But, I am still curious. Everything I’ve said above about what you’re discontent about and what you could do is pure conjecture. So I’ll end be reiterating my question. You end your post by saying that you have chosen to do otherwise. My question is:

    “What?”

  6. Luna Says:

    I love typos that make a difference. “I’m certainly [not] saying that face-time…”

  7. What does it mean to Overcome Humanity? « The Sun Rose for Us Says:

    […] is only recently that certain people, someone I randomly met on the internet and my wife, have really challenged me to explain this vision.  […]

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