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The Internet: Boon or bane to serious discourse? (Part Two)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted August 15, 2011

Today, there are also many "displacement syndromes" in a public discourse where consideration of many serious matters is mostly proscribed. These displacement syndromes include, for example, the viewing of tobacco products, guns in private hands, fast food, and soft drinks as inherently and unquestionably evil – and as targets for massive government intervention and class-action lawsuits.

The displacement syndrome is at its most acute when people express such overbearing concern about the purely physical health of individuals (especially children), while paying virtually no attention to the cultural and spiritual aspects of what might constitute a "healthier" social setting and society.

Ironically, physical health itself has been undermined (especially in the United States), by the increasing division between an overweight, spectator public, and a handful of "beautiful people" and sport-stars. Another obvious point is that overeating often arises from deep personal and social frustrations – and many persons' sense of inadequacy is reinforced by media advertising, programs, and films that push the most excessive consumerism and celebrity-worship. It could also be argued that, in most cases, the more men imbibe readily-available erotic imagery, the less they have of real sex, and still less of prospects of actually getting married and real intimacy.

It makes more sense to examine the deep seated social and cultural reasons why people are, for example, over-eating or looking at "porn", rather than blaming the fast food companies or Internet sites for catering to those needs.

Other vehicles for the diminution of serious criticism of the current-day regime are those "escapisms" which are offered to the more manifestly bright, inquisitive, and comparatively decent among the youth and children today (or had been offered over the last few decades). These include things like "properly-steered" volunteer work – and such deeply engrossing endeavors as role-playing games (such as Dungeons and Dragons); various video, computer, and electronic games (including the so-called "massively multi-player online role-playing games" such as Everquest);  the popular study of dinosaurs or astronomy; science fiction, fantasy, and "serious comic-book" fandom (such as, most prominently, Star Trek); and so forth. Most of these could be (to a large extent) characterized as "geek subgenres" – and what "geek" does not desire to somehow "transcend" his or (in deference to this possible new type) her "geekhood." Instead of awaiting the next "dark future" electronic game (however intelligently designed) – such as (some years ago)  Deus Ex: Invisible War – or endlessly arguing about the philosophies of  The Matrix movies -- young people might seek to inquire about the lineaments of the world they actually inhabit, and how it might be changed for the better.

It is an open question whether the provision of good ideas through the Internet will be sufficient to challenge today's informational and cultural monopoly. It is possible that the Internet simply does not (and perhaps cannot, for the foreseeable future) provide enough "authority" and financial, administrative, and infrastructural weight to dissenting ideas.

One may indeed note in today's society the virtual disappearance of "middle-level" commentators. There appears to have emerged a situation with a division between a tiny handful of very comfortably-funded, mostly "court" academics, intellectuals, media-people, and commentators – and a broad mass of powerless wannabe pundits, usually with little financial resources, who appear mostly in various eclectic small publications and comparatively little-known websites. They can all too often be simply written off by the establishment media as "extremists" or "whackos" – regardless of the possible perceptiveness and clarity of their views. Indeed, it is entirely in the interests of the media and academic elite to permit the promulgation of the wildest conspiracy-theories and vitriol on the Web – since it tends to discredit those who try to make their way as serious critics and commentators there.

Those among the masses with little intellectual curiosity and engagement (whom the media-elite probably privately consider little better than "cattle" or "sheeple") are given what George Orwell characterized as "prole-feed" in his dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Today, this consists mostly of endless, stupefying, consumption-driving advertising, "reality-shows", and celebrity-gossip "news" – combined with rock- and rap-music, the fashion-industry, the massive excitement of sports, the titillation of various kinds of "porn", the sneering cynicism of today's comedy (especially stand-up comedy), and the extra jolt of horror and violence. Most of these kinds of emotional engagements are also delivered frequently enough through the regular evening "news".

Freedom of speech appears to exist today only for those who are massively independently wealthy, or manifestly willing to accept a rather immiserated existence as the price for writing or saying what they honestly think and feel. Nearly all government agencies and institutions, universities and colleges, and private corporations, including media enterprises, are very likely to fire their "offending" employees upon the slightest infractions of "political correctness." An acerbic opinion columnist can often be fired after one, especially pointed column. An independent businessperson may be ruined by a variety of tactics, whereas there may be continual pressure on major newspapers to withdraw the columns of controversial syndicated columnists. Only a professor with tenure is (more-or-less) safe from most of these pressures.

Today, one can usually have one's opinions appear somewhere on the Internet if one is committed enough to setting them down, but the media and academic elite make absolutely sure that one won't be able to make any kind of living on the basis of one's writing endeavours. So one's social and cultural commentary and criticism becomes for most a purely existential endeavour. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of persons with dissenting views, having one's ideas appear somewhere on the Internet offers a great deal of comfort and reassurance, and a stabilizing sense of community, that, among other results, definitively turns one away from pursuing violence.

It can also be admitted that in today's society, there are still some professors and political columnists of dissenting views with some putative "authority" in the media – but how long can this be expected to persist, in the face of a full-spectrum, media- and educational-system "shutdown" of many important ideas and discussions? What is occurring could be called "ideocide."

It could be argued that challenging the current-day managerial-therapeutic regime requires the persistence or creation of major social, cultural, and political infrastructures (such as, for example, various institutes, think-tanks, and foundations) that can, to a large extent, be free of the current-day system's informational, cultural – and indeed – financial chokehold on free thinking.

Whether the Internet can indeed become significantly enabling towards the creation of such infrastructures, remains to be seen. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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