I grew up in an age of conformity, nudged and directed on how and what I should think by parents, church and school. There was no escape from this, no obvious escape, and to be fair for a long time I saw no reason to escape: obey and be happy.
And then things changed. I became a Marxist; revolutionary in my thinking but not fully appreciating I was following a different kind of authority. Nor I suppose did it matter. It was an authority I agreed with. I read comprehensively from Das Kapitol (I managed three chapters) to the obscurest of tracts and even more obscure pamphlets. I could smell heretical splinter groups from fifty yards and treat them with suitable disdain. I was argumentative, pumped up and primed.
Where am I now?
I’m back in the late fifties surrounded by new orthodoxies and realising more fully the original impetus to rebel, this time against a more dangerous and effective conformity enforced by mainstream media.
The bottom line is I just don’t like being told what to do or think – although of course we’re never ‘told’. We are nudged and cajoled along designated patterns of thought. Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious like politicians going on and on about ‘Hard working families’ or ‘The right thing to do.’ Other times it’s more subtle, so much so it becomes part of the wall paper.
So I’m siding with the ‘naughty’ boys in the class -‘naughty girls,’ if you will. There are politicians and comedians who, instead of arguing a point or constructing a good joke, will say ‘Daily Mail’ and elicit a Pavlovian response, their audience suitably conditioned to snigger or jeer. I’m not championing the Mail. I’m championing its right to exist and attacking the sheep-dog sneer, keeping the flock in line. It must be said the Mail uses similar tactics, their dog whistle being the BBC - and that, too, has a right to exist, though perhaps not, like the Renaissance Church, being the only pulpit in the land.
So, Murdoch - ‘the dirty digger’, Fox News, UKIP, anti EU, anti immigration, the death penalty: Bugger the arguments for and against. The first sniff I get that ‘Teacher’ doesn’t like them, the more sympathetic I become. Dog whistles alarm me and I don’t care who’s blowing them. They have all the profundity of wrist-bands: short-cuts to thought without the thought. They create herds, all those within, sharing the warmth of like-minded opinion, encouraged to moo at the heretics without.
New developments in cyber technology are designed to make such ‘whistles’ exclusive and more strident, raising the walls between the various ‘tribes’. Google and other companies are designing ever more subtle algorithms that analyse their individual users’ cultural, social and political preferences, their ‘searches’ and ‘suggestions’ in future geared to and reinforcing individual prejudices. Soon we’ll have Gated Communities of thought – each one the creature of corporation, government or interest group. And for the proles (I use the word in the 1984 sense) we’ll have the Game-ificaction of news, where grazers can click on politicised games with closed outcomes but encouraging and reinforcing a particular point of view.
My problem is I don’t have a particular point of view, other than resisting being told what I should do. I also struggle not to tell others what they should do, which is hard because I love argument.
A grouch without a cause.
Like many, I’m a collection of labels none of which intellectually cohere: Bolshevik, libertarian, Hobbesian, Christian, cynic, anarchist, totalitarian, conservative (with a small c). They are labels covering flux, stretching quantum uncertainty to unforeseen limits.
I don’t know, but don’t tell me.
Getting back to algorithms, Face Book is also one of these companies refining their own. It has one redeeming feature. For all but the narcissist, who wish only to read what they agree with, its Home Page allows an eclectic and diverse range of views. Mine is like a wild and overgrown garden and I wouldn’t uproot or prune a single shoot or bloom. Family and friends, – new and historic share their prejudices and views (as do I) Scottish Nationalist, Scouse, rednecks and Christian, ex –students, the vaguely liberal, socialist, Neo-Cons to the right of Genghis Khan, writers – some whom shamelessly pimp books, the couldn’t care less – even Canadians. They are all there. Who would want a single point of view when there are so many? It’s the difference between the market place and the mall, and it suits me just fine.
The dream of being super-rich and holding a Home Page party in a fine hotel with good beer and two or more hog-roasts is an attractive one – the idea of arguing, sharing and enjoying diversity. A dystopian but probably more realistic outcome might be everyone finding their own particular table of like-minded souls.
It may be argued that gated communities of thought are a necessary and predicable reaction to the danger of tyrannical orthodoxy, Others may argue they are intellectual care homes, and point out that it was a similar withdrawal from polity that contributed to the decline of Roman Britain.
I don’t know.
* An interesting article on how our brains are being modified by intense social interaction.