Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Beware the 'bubble' bubble

It's become part of the common conversation - have we all entered int a world of refracting mirrors which just show us what we want to see, endlessly feeding our brain with the way we think the world is or should be? 

Yes, probably, but what of it?

The social media bubble has been blamed for Brexit, for Trump. For subverting the common-sense of the common people who have skillfully manipulated themselves into believing they think something they don't really think + Nigel Farage.

Does this really stand up to critical rigour?

Where was social media in 1933? Were the Hitler youth transfixed by the latest meme, before marching into town and decrying their parents for un-Aryan activities? No. Did they eagerly swallow false news to fuel their new found sense of purpose and direction? Er...yes. But how did they do this without so much as a Nokia 3310 in sight?

Is fascism the product of alienation and economics or of memes?

'The problem is, people just 'unfollow' who they disagree with' 

Whilst, clearly, fostering a broad social base is good for the mind, there has never been a period in recent history where we haven't had a social choice about who we 'hang out with' - We chose our pub, our table in the canteen or whatever, based in part on the fact we loosely shared the values of the people we spent time with.

In fact, it's only since social media's advent have we been expected to 'hang out' with 100s of people simultaneously. It's hardly surprising that we might choose to be, from time to time, selective about that.

'It's the lack of 'proper' news that's the problem' 

Yes, it is. This said, social media gives us access to an incredible diversity of sources if we choose to access them. As much as we pine for the media of the past, the idea of an event like Hillsborough or the miner's strike being so meekly reported and the establishment being able to effectively bury institutional criminality on a massively public scale seems far fetched.

Is there a point here? 

Ultimately, what is disturbing is the assumption that things that don't suit the agenda of the literati can be written off as anomalies, that to blame facebook or twitter for fascism and xenophobia is to ignore completely the route cause. It also is a simple way of undermining any opinion which doesn't fit into the status quo.

It smacks of missing the point. Trump won, because Clinton was crap, because of decades of stagnation, because Obama did little to alter the fundamentals of power, because for the first time in living memory socialism was on the agenda because people wanted to kick at POWER.

Brexit happened because the left in Britain made no meaningful changes to the power structure, because people HAVE seen their identity disappear down a rabbit hole with little prospect of return, because the benefits of the EU seem far away in the midst of austerity where everything is on the line and life is completely precarious. The well meaning statements about how a)little migrants cost the country and b)how actually, they benefit the economy only really work if a) you've got a little spare and b) that statement rings true in your experience. 'The EU brings prosperity and freedom, by the way, we're axing the bus service, slashing your benefits and taxing your bedroom, but if you could kindly vote for things to remain the same, it'd be grand!'

Brexit happened because consistently people ignored communities wrecked by deindustrialisation and believed that gay or black cabinet ministers meant *actual* equality and that these things were more than small symbolic steps which actually didn't change the power structures at all. I didn't notice many government advisers from ex mining towns with a heroin problem for example.

Brexit happened because people believed class to be 'not a thing' anymore and decided because there were no people with flat caps and miner's banners it meant there was no more working class people, so we don't *really need* things like council houses because, keep the tax low, keep borrowing, we're all middle class now!

(What about the shipyards? Woohoo! Gay vicars!)

The celebration of tolerance and diversity is of course, a fine thing. The danger is, when we champion liberal values but don't actually alter the structure of power so those liberal freedoms can be enjoyed by all, we breed resentment which then in turn becomes a threat to the very liberal values we've celebrated. When we show how people are escaping the yolk of oppression and enjoying new freedoms whilst simultaneously pressing the jackboot of power down on the heads of others, we foster resentment. Twitter didn't do this. Economics did.

If I read one more article which says 'white working class men men should just shut up and put up, because insert diversity cause writer feels more valid' I'll scream. It is the white working class who created many of the institutions which now champion equality, who inspired many of the rights we take for granted, who created a beautiful culture of self improvement and education and have a history of struggle as long and as important as any minority group. It is the wilful and deliberate destruction of this power base in society which has led us directly to this point in time and to continue to see this culture as 'an enemy in our midst' or somehow subhuman, or essentially inferior is exactly the mistake that will perpetuate the right's grip on the public. Unless people re-embrace class as the defining inequality or 'minority' group, there is no hope of any sort of populist progressive force arising. The dichotomy of 'safe space culture' vs 'working class culture' is a false and dangerous one. When your spare bedroom is being taxed, that seems to me to be a complete invasion of 'safe space'

Both Brexit and Trump rose out of perception that they would alter power structures. They won't, but our cosy little middle class assumptions about the world don't either.  Bleating about decency makes no difference. Only actual change does. Only if the money is distributed better does decency actually get a chance to flourish. You can stand in your garden and wish for the flowers to bloom. You can lambast the flowers, sing a protest song about the flowers but if the soil is bad...

These things didn't happen because facebook+twitter. Don't be lazy.

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Once upon a time in a far off land...

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