Sunday 5 April 2015

Social Media and the Two-minutes Hate

Stafford Beer complained about the 'media' being a kind of 'entropy pump' in society. I quoted this passage in an earlier post, but it's worth revisiting it:
'[the mass media carry] not zero, but negative information - insofar as they take away the opportunity to acquire positive information. (The concept is the same as 'opportunity cost' in capitalist economics)
Now information, in cybernetic term, is negative entropy; the infosets [discourses] operate in terms of selection entropy, which absorbs information. If the information is not there, the selections are not possible - that is obvious. What is less obvious is that to feed the people what is effectively negative information, is to feed them negative negative entropy, which is to say 'pure' entropy. 
If follows that the exploited and alienated classes, with which we began, will lose any sense of revolutionary ferment - because their entropy as a class is rising to the limit of unity...'
This is making me think about social media. Social media affords to individuals the capacity to vent anger and frustration with both political authorities and with peers. At its best, positive political campaigns can be a stimulus to greater social debate and eventual political change. At its worst, negative use of social media results in cyber-bullying (even when the targets are powerful), and base expressions of human insecurities giving rise to racism, homophobia, misogyny, or simply an unseemly public laundry-washing. A friend remarked about a recent example saying "but their kids will see this". I think whatever the reasons for the campaign, this is a problem.

Social media has turned into something Orwell would have recognised as the "two-minutes hate":

In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy. People were leaping up and down in their places and shouting at the tops of their voices in an effort to drown the maddening bleating voice that came from the screen. The little sandy-haired woman had turned bright pink, and her mouth was opening and shutting like that of a landed fish. Even O'Brien's heavy face was flushed. He was sitting very straight in his chair, his powerful chest swelling and quivering as though he were standing up to the assault of a wave. The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out 'Swine! Swine! Swine!' and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein's nose and bounced off; the voice continued inexorably. In a lucid moment Winston found that he was shouting with the others and kicking his heel violently against the rung of his chair. The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp. Thus, at one moment Winston's hatred was not turned against Goldstein at all, but, on the contrary, against Big Brother, the Party, and the Thought Police; and at such moments his heart went out to the lonely, derided heretic on the screen, sole guardian of truth and sanity in a world of lies.

The Two-Minutes hate is a perfect example of negative-negative entropy. Each person was filled with invective without really knowing why. Yet, having spent themselves there was nothing left to direct at the real injustices of the situation they faced. This, of course, was deliberate.

In reflecting on the two-minutes hate, I'm thinking about the similarities to some social media behaviour. The commonalities between them revolve around the 'invitation' to express oneself 'freely'. In making such an invitation, both social media and the hate make it really 'easy' to express oneself. I think the problem is in the 'easiness'.

Real political bite requires deeper and more powerful creativity. It requires new theories, coherent alternative narratives that are more believable than the narratives of those one might wish to oppose. Such opposition wins because the thing that it situates itself against is a simple exercise of power in the end: it has no sophistication, no finesse.

Behind Beer's idea of negative-negative entropy is that raw unsophisticated power maintains itself by condemning others into acts of unsophistication in opposition and in so doing stops them from doing something smarter. This also relates to Graeber's ideas of violence and bureaucracy always being the weapons of the stupid. In the face of raw unsophisticated power, one must not be stupid!

The proper creative response (and perhaps this is needed now we are in an election more than ever) is one that generates complexity. This is really what the Greeks should be doing in the face of the IMF, EU and the ECB. Powerful agencies - and particularly powerful individuals - are unsophisticated with very rigid structures around them which break if stretched too far. What will cause them to break is the challenge of 'variety' - complexity. Human creativity is capable of producing this. If only people believe they can do so and if they avoid those behaviours which rob them of the energy which otherwise they could channel to do so. Opposition is an art in the face of tyranny's artlessness.

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