Never before in history have we seen such fertile ground and incentives toward groupthink and mass histrionics as we have today with total saturation of social media. Once our mobile phones were converted into near Star Trek level tricorders, and WiFi became ubiquitous we found ourselves swimming in “The Spew”, without even realizing that we had become like fish in a digital aquarium.
While I would be loathe to dispute the benefits the advent of the Internet bestowed on humanity, those of us who have watched it evolve over the past few decades or even had a minor hand in shaping and building it can’t help but wonder if somewhere along the way, things took a bad turn.
The great enablers of digitized groupthink are the social media platforms.
All that time you spend on Facebook, arguing politics with people you’ll never meet or care about. It can take over your life and you end up having those same arguments with the people who truly matter in your own life: your friends and family.
All of that time, all those threads, tweetstorms, pile-ons, trending hashtags, updating your avatar in conformance with the issue de jour, at some point you have to ask yourself why you are expending the bulk of your mental energy chiming in with your opinion on things that are for the most part completely out of your control and that you’ll never be able to impact in any meaningful way.
Whose ends are you serving by participating in that? Certainly not your own. You don’t actually gain anything from going along with this, and if you actually consider the opportunity cost you begin to see the possibilities of what you could accomplish in your own life, for yourself and your family, if you spent your time doing something else.
What is the difference?
Or, how can you tell the difference between participating in some online social movement that you perceive benefits the greater good vs. acting in your own rational self interest?
When you click or “like” or share or block or comment you are generating data for the platform and the platform is not the greater good. It is not the collective will of the people, it is aggregated data that can and will be manipulated by the few to move the many in the direction that serves the aims of other people, not you.
You see this exposed when the platform overtly signals what it desires to be amplified versus what it seeks to attenuate. In a truly digital “collective” the will of the aggregate would simply be expressed in the unfiltered propagation of certain narratives over others.
But that doesn’t happen and in it not happening the veneer of legitimacy is removed from collectivism in totality, revealing it for what it really is.
Collectivism is not community, it is not the greater good, and it is not cooperation. There is only The Collective in the rhetorical or symbolic sense, but in reality Collectivism is the manipulation of the many by the few. That’s it. It’s basically marketing at the level of the psyche except the payload isn’t brand awareness as much as they are incentives for compliance and disincentives for wrongthink.
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.
This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
– Edward Bernays, Propaganda, Chapter 1: Ordering Chaos
You could switch tabs right now and switch tracks
Instead of feeding the collective, you could channel your efforts into raising your own conditions and your own level of consciousness. In times like these, this is really the only game in town and the only antidote to the dystopia we find ourselves facing.
Use the power of this Internet to accomplish something useful, something truly productive and rewarding. Something life affirming instead of succumbing to mob consensus.
How do you know if what you’re doing is serving your own goals and values versus The Collective? The way to tell is to ask yourself: Who are you generating data for right now? Every click, every like, every retweet, every comment, every share, that’s all grist for the mill of the digital Leviathan of conformity.
Even when there is a veneer of choice and you are being presented with options: Democrat or Republican, Facebook or Twitter, Uber or Lyft, Coke or Pepsi.
“Hey, what do you want for lunch?”
“What are my choices?”
“Grubhub or Doordash”.
You will never be presented with real choices or given options that deviate outside predetermined outcomes, and by definition, other people’s agendas.
The only way to break out of this paradigm is to invest in the most precious commodities: time and attention, and allocate it to the most valuable recipient: yourself. Use the power of the internet to learn a new skill, hone your mind and body, discover a new artist, read a book from 100 years ago, research an investment, expand your circle of competence, express yourself creatively, start a new business, help out in your direct community or get involved in a bleeding edge movement (like crypto anarchy, ftw).
The Collectivist ideal of a greater good can only be accomplished by one individual at a time. Individuals are only effective to the degree that they cultivate their own skills and talents, and understand their own biases and weaknesses. The only thing anybody can truly control are themselves.
Samuel E. Konkin once wrote, “Liberty grows individual by individual. Mass conversion is impossible”