The internet is not a place – so not a terrible place

Hakenyang, by the Author

Hakenyang, by the Author

The internet is not a place.1 So it cannot be a terrible place. To whatever extent it can be thought a place, it would be a place terrible at being a place, a place without sticks and stones, so without terror: an inconsequential place. Without sticks or stones, without pains or pleasures to achieve except vicariously or via the imagination, we are free to amplify our soundless voices and grasp with our weightless hands and unfeeling fingertips at the other ghosts, and nothing happens forever, or, to be perfectly precise, exquisitely little happens except vicariously or via the imagination or the verbal imagination.

One natural reflex when facing this re-doublingly double abyss, the abysmal difficulty of communicating at all and the further abysmal difficulty of communicating strictly through pixels to almost-no-one, is to overcompensate, and overcompensate again, ever more hopelessly whatever we tell ourselves: To make more real or nearly real what little really real there is amidst the nullity, the easiest and obvious thing to try is to exaggerate or accentuate and re-double down and further down, at the same time to exploit the near-meaninglessness of the near-nullity by anonymously or nearly anonymously saying or nearly saying things one might never say where saying whatever might seem to matter at least potentially.

This tendency or opening leads to a possibly vast amount of mostly nearly nothing at all that happens to be nearly completely ugly and imbecilic on its own terms, so is nearly perfectly imbecilic and brutal, but it also enables a vast if also vastly nearly completely meaningless freedom to think and to argue. To the small extent the internet is a place, and that its quasi-anonymity and near-non-reality allow for pseudo-terrible pseudo-things to pseudo-happen in its so-called social sphere, and on occasion and by design and intensive effort for things much desired also to happen, it also allows, by the same principle, for a particular type of, for the sake of those who desire to think and to have thoughts thought through as thoughts, highly desirable fairness. The promise and opportunity remain, for those interested and able, to say what can be said or needs to be said in a way that, precisely because it is nearly completely weightless and anonymous or largely effectively anonymous, allows a thought to be expressed and received for and as what it is intrinsically, or as if apart and relatively apart if never absolutely apart from externals of authority and identity that we tend to use as shortcuts to sense and often against it.

Those externals never disappear entirely. They persist and must persist, and they recur within the expression itself, as, for example, each of us speculates on what kind of individual would say or write such a thing in such a way at such a time and so on, but we are at least referred by the naked words themselves back to the naked words themselves as such. Even if the appearance and reception as thoughts of thoughts worth thinking and able to be thought is unthinkably rare, in mass far less than one trillionth of all the nearly weightless electronic transmissions circling the globe every instant, or if meaningful connections and thoughts worth thinking and re-thinking are authentically infinitesimal compared to the deluge of brutal and imbecilic nonsense, who can say that such femto-measures of anything conceivably meaningful are not justification enough, perhaps the only justifications or possibilities of justification or of judgment at all?


  1. Or: the internet is specifically not any place specifically. []

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Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001; WordPress theme and plugin configuring and developing since 2004 or so; a lifelong freelancer, not associated nor to be associated with any company, publication, party, university, church, or other institution. 

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  1. […] that article about the internet, which is not a place, being a terrible place, Tod Kelly rightly criticizes Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo for the […]

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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