Oversocialization: An Alternative Social Media Theory

gibbering mouther

I have seen a plethora of theories about how social media, the internet, and mass media in general is driving us insane by increasing the number of shut-ins and people who forgo real life social interaction for the sad-sack replacement of dehumanizing cyberspace. They are so common as to not be worth summing up once again here. While I certainly agree that the internet seems to have weaponized a specific type of cheap and clueless discourse that lacks depth and seems to empower the most hysterical and autistic-leaning elements of public speech at the expense of all else, I disagree on why this is with the mainstream theories that are out there.

I believe it is over-socialization, rather than under-socialization, that is the true bugbear of this problem. The internet is enabling more connectivity than ever before, and in so doing it is abolishing private space to think and reflect. This is hardly a new process-it clearly began with television-but it is being accelerated more than ever before by social media in particular. We see people’s opinions unfiltered whereas before they would either have to be teased out or would naturally come out as part of a normal conversation between people who at least sort of know each other. Cyberspace may be filled to the brim with posturing and fakeness but all of human social interaction is. It is just more on display than ever before. Everyone no matter how irrelevant can now behave as golden age of Hollywood celebrities types do…and since our society idolizes those very people it becomes a model to emulate.

None of this is really any faker than normal interaction, it is just jacked up to 11 and dosed with a big helping of agoraphobia. The true alienation is with nature and the outdoors, not with human civilization. It is humanity that is in fact being overdosed on. If people are withdrawing from social interaction in the real world it may very well be because they already have too much of it online.

So what we are seeing with the widespread panics and ever more rapidly shifting zeitgeist of cultural wars, tribalization, and the like is really what happens when we are trained to be too social. People have too many ‘friends’. They have too many people watching them and care about the approval of too many outside forces. Privacy has been abolished as a value and to tune out of the mainstream is now a freakish occurrence rather than a respectable one. A contemporary definition of a thinker is now someone who tweets approval-seeking self-marketing in a desperate bid to thrive in the gig economy. I don’t think any but the most obnoxious among us were designed to be exposed to other people so much for such a large percentage of our waking hours. We need quiet to really be with ourselves. One of the biggest turn-offs for me when I meet a new person are those who clearly cannot be alone with themselves for long stretches of time. It implies that they have little of interest going on inside save perhaps for insecurity.

How does one combat this trend of over-socialization? Well, it is easy. You don’t fully have to disconnect…but rather take a step back and realize that when you say you need ‘me time’ or whatever it is you want to call it, that this also requires that said solo time is removed from the internet, television, or anything like that. Time to oneself, when a person’s most interesting thoughts occur since they are not simply being shaped by extremely temporary trends, is key to self-cultivation. And self-cultivation is nearly impossible in an over-socialized environment. Reading full books rather than articles is a start, but I would say that getting outside and adopting physical hobbies is also a part of it. Writing, even just for practice, helps too. Exploring a city on foot can even work as people who live among high population densities are very good at tuning other people out for necessities sake-a skill perhaps needed on highly trafficked social media websites as well.

Nature is among my favorite refuges. Nothing reminds one more of how things work without pretense than physical processes and less mentally cluttered other animals. The (fictional) writing I do is often most effectively inspired by trips I take to naturally beautiful locations for hiking or whatnot. Much like the life you live in meatspace, your online life should be regulated to a level that works best for you without overloading your own personal time. Otherwise you end up like an algorithm of a person with no depth of character. A human Marvel movie constructed for mass consumption rather than actual contribution beyond immediate gratification. It is the irony of the present times that those who feel the need to be most in tune with current trends are the ones basically guaranteeing their thoughts have no staying power. These are the people who will be first to fade into irrelevance.

The first step is to realize that while humans are social animals, this too must be held in moderation along with our other instincts. To have a meaningful contribution to others in the first place one must first be able to step back and look at things from an angle different from merely going along unthinkingly with trends.

Of course, there are entire industries based around relieving and avoiding self-reflection, so we have a society that incentivizes people not to really be quiet with themselves. But even in order to see that relatively mundane observation, it requires the knowledge that you are being manipulated…and that in turn requires some sense of distance.

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One announcement regarding the future of this blog-and no, it is not related to the above post. I recently started a position where I will do a lot of foreign policy and strategic writing. Unlike my prior time at the State Department where most of what I wrote was not for public output, this one will be. So, with that being a big part of my near future I feel that is likely that the percentage of foreign policy specific topics on this blog will decrease in proportion to the other topics I like such as philosophy, history, domestic politics (of various nations), etc. When I write something particularly on topic for this blog elsewhere I will probably just link to it with a brief statement and then get to another topic.

I will not cease writing about foreign policy topics here, I am merely stating that its proportion will decrease. And even then, book reviews on that topic are almost certainly staying as is when it comes to output.

 

The Ball Most Media Dropped

We called Russiagate being more dud than bombshell here on Geotrickster a while ago. But rather than take a victory lap as the issue was always peripheral to my interests, I just want to acknowledge the proper and professional skepticism shown by actual journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Mate, Matt Taibbi, and others. A small group who were all but barred from mainstream media outlets for sober critiques while the only Russiagate skeptics given airtime were Trump partisans and hacks who obviously had a vested interest in their arguments. We see the price for that exclusion now. But among such people defending Trump was never the point. It was wanting to remain focused on a variety of other issues that got swept under the rug by the spiraling spy thriller narrative spun by various grifters.

As it is, one would think Americans would be relieved to see no evidence of the subversion of their entire political system by a foreign power.

My concern both before and now are the stories given short shrift by many in the media because of this obsessive focus. Even leaving aside the intense irony that the most Russiagate invested Democrats are the ones that tend to be most offended by Ilhan Omar’s critique of Israel’s overwhelming and proven influence on the DC establishment, I feel like so many stories were short shifted or just plain lost in the noise.

Because of the foreign policy focus of this blog I will simply state the issues more relevant to that field, lest we be here all day. The Pentagon budget and accountability problems, which predate the 2016 election, are still largely unremarked upon as if we have decided en masse that this state of affairs is simply acceptable. Directly connected to that is of course the fact that the wars Obama expanded from Bush Jr have been further expanded even more by Trump. With little oversight into these policies of an endlessly growing military commitment to more and more peripheral conflicts where the national interest becomes yet more opaque. The biggest single coverage loss in the shadow of Russiagate, however, has clearly been Yemen. The American media has both downplayed the devastation there as well as the American role in enabling it. The local complexities of the conflict, when mentioned, get boiled down to some trite and not entirely accurate narrative of simply being a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Multiple stories over the past 2 years have pointed out MSNBC in particular for this coverage gap, FAIR running one of the more recent ones.

I remember the first year of news before 9/11. It was the first year I ever really paid attention to news or politics. American news, lacking a real threat of a fear based enemy, decided to invent them while ignoring real world issues. Fear sells after all. We were fed a diet of then Congressman Gary Condit’s affair with a murdered intern, a supposed (but not really) ‘epidemic’ of shark attacks across the world, and discussions of the public morality of Brittany Spears performing with a live snake. Real things were, of course, still happening. Despite the then dominant mythology of ‘The End of History’, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first staring matches between major powers across the South China Sea, and the ever tempestuous India-Pakistan relationship, and so on, showed the world was still moving onwards. This complacency apparently was also shared by the government then, as they ignored warnings about Al Qaeda’s plots towards the United States. Until it was too late of course. Then policy elites and the legacy media they consumed alike were not thinking rationally and behaved in a purely reactive capacity. We see the results of that today.

Context is important, and so is a good quality standard of coverage of world issues. My main problem with Russiagate was not even its implicit xenophobia applied to its critics or its fuel for money making interests, but rather that in the future things will happen to take the public and possibly even policymakers by surprise for the simple fact that they stem from events that saw little to no coverage before they could no longer be ignored.

‘Russiagate’ Will be Terrible for Everyone (Except Geotrickster and Independents)

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So far in the unfolding saga of The Election That Never Ends two members of the Trump Administration have been found pretty much dead to rights on being guilty of collusion with a foreign power. One, with Israel. One with both Israel and Turkey. Their names are Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn. Meanwhile, so far, Russia has only been found to have spent a few hundred thousand dollars on facebook ads almost no one clicked on and smugly giggling as America’s political system melts down in a way that gives the Kremlin inordinate credit.

Is it possible that that Russia had sketchy contacts with Trump campaign, for sure. It is more then justified to have an investigation into this issue given its potential importance. It is not, however, something to A. assume is true with what little we know now, and B. assume is a unique event. The way the partisan ‘return to the status quo at all costs’ types of the Democrats and disaffected rump Republicans act about this issue, one would assume Pearl Harbor and 9/11 just happened at once but no one can see it except people who get Verrit verification codes and write tired and scolding op-eds.

So far, we have been given far more evidence of collusion with foreign governments for Israel and Turkey than Russia, yet this elicits next to no reaction in the mainstream press. The reason is, well, the main topic of this blog: Geopolitics, baby. Turkey and Israel are allies of the United States, if awkward ones. As such, they have numerous think tanks and lobbyists, along with the far more odious Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to shape a narrative and be part of the networked in-crowd. I even remember (though sadly cannot find right now) a commercial from around the time of W’s re-election campaign that ran which was just a really blatant and gross ‘your friends in the KSA are your strong allies in the War on Terror piece of propaganda.

It would cost too much to go after these countries, as they have friends in both major parties. Russia, however, has few friends in America outside the diseased corners of the alt right and edgy conspiracy theorists. It is an easy to target to go after, and it is certainly not an ally in any capacity. It is a deeply unsympathetic nation to most people, and, after the invasion of eastern Ukraine, rightly so. Russia further likes to bolster its cred as the anti-west on the world stage by serving as a kind of reactionary foil to the America’s liberal overreach, a set of policies yet to reach the ghastly conclusion I suspect (though we see dark ruminations in Chechnya). There are many points that the U.S. is right to rival Russia on, and other points it should not (such as Syria and combating Daesh). But it should not conduct its foreign policy merely on a popularity contest which as of yet still resides on assertions and not proof.

And then the question is: What if RussiaGate is true? It is still possible, after all. Well then, the problem is that while such proof will obviously necesitate an upgrade in national cybersecurity, it will also count as a well played payback for the late 90s.

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Whoops.

Turns out, in geopolitics there may be friends and foes, but no one is exceptional unless everyone is. And if everyone is exceptional than really no one is.

For context, as recently as 2012 the Obama Administration (who began as quite naive about the dangers Putin posed to them it must be admitted) was still, rightly, criticizing Mitt Romney and his campaign’s ‘Russia is the real enemy’ line of attack on foreign policy. See below:

At the time this was an example of rote-wisdom hawkishness from the Beltway war lobby (which Obama famously referred to as ‘The Blob’) and the Republican Party. But only a year later decidedly unqualified pundits affiliated with the Democratic Party began to take over the exact same opinions they had once mocked of the McCain-Romney wing. I remember the first time I noticed this fixation with Russia was when this clip was brought to attention of a clueless pundit trying to lecture a journalist with on the ground experience in Russia and reporting on Russia based off of bland moralism inheirited from the Cold War:

This has been building for a long time. The neoliberals need a scary and large foreign entity with which to rally support behind them. With the failure of Huntington style ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric to galvanize the right about anything but the Middle East, the center and center-left have taken that tired old thesis and re-purposed it away from culture and into a new cold war narrative about political ideologies.

Considering the low priority this issue carries with most American voters, whose situation only continues to get more dire due to entirely to domestic factors, its already a bit of a trap. If the best it could get us even was a resignation do we then get President Pence? This seems the absolute worst-case scenario to me. Pence, despite being a theocratic dingus and probably a harvester of torsos (male only, I imagine), would then be acclaimed as ‘respectable’ for not being abrasive, which would only allow him more ability to enact his twisted ideologies. This seems a bad move for Democrats.

Even if they got both Pence and Trump, then foreign connections become a major thing looked for as a viable political weapon on all sides. This would benefit me as Saudi Arabia and even possibly Israel would start to become toxic sledgehammers to wield against all sides, but that sure as hell will backfire on the Democrats who are just as in bed, on average, with those countries as the GOP is. So in a sense, even Russiagate skeptics like myself should hope it opens up a big nasty can of worms. The problem though, and its a problem for everyone, is the rank McCarthyism of all of this. I lived over 4 years in a foreign country. I have been to 20 others-including one which (when I was there) the US did not have full relations with yet. I have friends and contacts from all over the world. None of them, Im afraid, are Russian. Sorry Neera Tanden. But still, where does this end? Much of the rhetoric coming out in Democratic circles today is simply blatantly xenophobic ignorance, fearmongering, and redirecting away from obvious explanations for problems closer to home so that vested interests can blame someone else. It really ends up just looking like their side’s version of the infamous Freedom Fries.

If you wish to go further into this topic I recommend some of the episodes of the largely excellent ‘Moderate Rebels’ podcast:

The fact that RussiaGate is most popular with centrist neoliberals also begs one very salient question: If you believe in the free flow of information and capital across borders, then you have to own up that you will have difficulties with fully sovereign elections. And if you want fully sovereign elections you might have to re-think your support of an international system that prioritizes open borders for international finance at all costs.

Beware the Humanitarians

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I can’t help but think that the massive increase of popularity of Syrian refugee issues in media coverage is indicative of some kind of growing future drive for a NATO operation.

If not yet, it now will be unless it interferes with the Iran deal. There is one obvious section of society that is always is pro-war because they are hooting and brittle cro-magnons who think its important to ‘show strength’ through constant macho posturing, but there is another which can always be made pro-war by going ‘ermagerd look at the suffering babiez!’ Neither is remotely interested in dealing with the consequences of the policies they unthinkingly support through their id-derived catharsis politics.

Hopefully the complicated alliance networks that the United States is increasingly learning to navigate with some degree of nuance will derail any further attempts to topple what unfortunately is Syria’s only real hope: the Assad regime. Or as it should be referred to-the internationally recognized Government of Syria. This is a very real possibility of course, but the explosion of media coverage regarding refugees should remind us of past examples were wars of choice were fought for dubious reasons.

While humanitarianism is most often deployed indirectly and often even unintentionally as the propaganda wing of other self-serving interests (Kuwaiti babies being murdered by Iraqi troops in ’91-a fiction invented for the wind up to Desert Storm, Germans raping through Belgium in WWI British propaganda, Kony 2012 stirring up tacit hipster support for the rapid and ongoing expansion of AFRICOM, etc. These are clearly P.R. campaigns that serve a valid, if often debatable, strategic interest for someone, somewhere. Thus, they are understandable whether or not you agree with the objectives behind them.

But there are indeed, as Robert Merry and others have pointed out, wars fought entirely for feel-good purposes. Somalia and Bosnia in the 90s *might* have been these depending on how you view them, and Kosovo in 99 certainly was. Victorian wars of prideful redress such as the British Expedition to Ethiopia or the US retaliatory action in 19th Century Korea also fall under a same ‘conflict as catharsis’ framework. ┬áPeople (usually Democrats) who called for action in Darfur in the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century were also of this ilk.

The problem is two-fold with these knee-jerk reactions. The first one is that there is rarely a situation where such direct involvement can improve a situation, and when that is so it is often in the context of a greater framework. For example, the ending of Axis war crimes was contingent on the Allies winning the Second World War anyway-just as the removal of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese was tied to the greater geopolitical re-alignment of the Sino-Soviet Split. These were great and beneficial outcomes to be sure, but they did not exist in isolate.

The second is that when enacted by a superpower, these types of interventions can be divorced by more grounding influences which often mean their strategies are half-baked and lead to interventions with a big showy entrance and no exit plan. In effect, advocating such humanitarian interventions has the potential to lead to the same kind of quagmires that neoconservative hawks often inflict on the state and its people.

This is one of the great flaws in societies that often shunt the decidedly old-school field of military history aside. People will jump through any number of increasingly preposterous hoops in order to avoid coming to the stark conclusion that military conflict is dangerous for any power no matter how powerful they are so selectivity is key. But even more tellingly on this theme, many will assume something ‘can be done’ lightly, from the air, and in such a way as to minimize conflict exposure to the actors on the ground as some kind of god-like neutral arbiter of justice.

But that is impossible. An actor in conflict is either in it or not. That means pick your battles. And the only way to do that is to combine national interest with your desire to off a particular force. You want to end the Syria crisis? Extend an olive branch to Damascus and focus on the elimination of Daesh as priority. Winning over the worst faction-not helping everyone suffering-should be the first goal. But already NATO has integrated itself into the wrong dog in this fight. Let us hope this mistaken policy is not given popular support by a media and populace who base their views on their emotional reaction to news stories. Or else who knows what horrible scenario might happen.

Further reading from a somewhat different but still interesting perspective at the Stanford News site.