I have emptied truckloads of scorn into the intersection where social media absorption, moral posturing and “the personal is political” narcissism all meet, and so I’m always cheered to discover that better minds than my own had already arrived independently at similar conclusions and voiced them more eloquently, as was the case while I finished reading Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion last night. But rather than try to excerpt all the good parts in this case, I will instead urge you to read what he has to say, starting with the section entitled “Poking Kierkegaard” on page 184 and finishing at the end of “Killing the Slacktivist In You” on page 191. Go on, now, it’s good stuff. There may be a test later.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: If I thought that religion was false but beneficial, or even just a harmless diversion, then I wouldn’t object to it as strenuously as I do, and I certainly wouldn’t spend as much time writing about it as I do. I argue against religion because I think it’s dangerous, because I think it does more harm than good, and because I think that when people give it up, humanity will be better off. As far as I’m concerned, atheism isn’t an end in itself but a means to an end, and that end is the creation of a freer, more peaceful, more enlightened world.
I don’t mean that religion has only bad consequences. People’s religious beliefs can bring them together in community and inspire them to acts of charity; but people’s religious beliefs also motivate and promote ignorance, hatred, prejudice, xenophobia, violence, terrorism, and holy war. I’m confident that if we give up religion, we can get rid of these evils without losing anything good. There are perfectly good secular, humanist reasons for forming communities, engaging in charity, and treating each other with compassion and dignity, and I happen to believe that people would do these things whether or not they believed in a god.
First of all, let’s point this out: we have no idea what would happen if everyone on earth were to “give up religion” in all its guises, from monotheism to animism. Nothing of the sort has ever occurred before, obviously. Breezily claiming that we would all be “better off” is basically a meaningless statement of the “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” variety—grammatically and syntactically correct, but lacking any real-world referent. The ripple effect from such a profound alteration of basic human psychology would be unpredictable, to put it mildly.
And we are talking about psychology here, not rationality. Religion is an outgrowth of humanity’s communal impulses, not an imposition from the outside. People didn’t decide, as rational agents, to band together and submerge their individuality in the group because they heard one clever person tell a story about a man in the sky who wanted them to do that; that’s completely ass-backwards. People naturally form groups. The stories they tell themselves about their groups are what we call myths. These myths can be more or less grandiose, but they all help people make sense of their experience—”sense”, as in, symmetry, cohesion. Humans, like any other animal, have no inherent purpose but to exist and reproduce. Seeking truth for its own sake through science and rationality is just one of the supplementary purposes we’ve come up with, and if that truth is disheartening and disorienting, people aren’t being “unreasonable” to reject it in favor of myths. And the idea that humans are destined or obligated to recognize their essential kinship and work together to maximize the reach of a certain set of abstract values is itself a myth. A story that orders experience in a pleasing way so that people like Adam won’t suffer a crippling existential crisis.
Ignorance, hatred, prejudice, violence, xenophobia, war — I happen to believe that people would do these things whether or not they believed in a god.
You’re right that he’s quite savvy, a smart, opportunistic self-promoter who has carefully crafted himself a persona and a celebrity custom-made to appeal to a disenfranchised niche of lefties, greens and aging hippies who still can’t believe the proletarian revolution isn’t going to happen, that global capitalism keeps blithely and monstrously blossoming like a toxic orchid despite being endlessly critiqued and deconstructed, and are wondering what in the unholy name of Ronald Reagan happened? Isn’t he the ultimate Bo-Bo, though? Insisting on being photographed with a portrait of Stalin behind you. Criticizing good ole Uncle Joe (as FDR called him) and Pol Pot for not killing enough people in the name of an amorphous radical break with tradition and a “new form of community” (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to be): to engage in this sort of provocation-for-effect, you really have to be either crazy or bottomlessly cynical (I favor the latter interpretation) and to admire him and take him seriously suggests a level of jadedness and/or desperation on the part of the remnants of the Left that is positively ominous.
His rebuttal to Gray’s review is more damning almost than anything Gray says about him. To call Gandhi more “violent” than Hitler because he effected a more radical break with established bourgeois-colonialist power is blatant silly-putty word-play and a clear signal that this is a man more to be laughed at than laughed with. But, you know, he’s “charming” in person, what with the blow-job jokes with his 10-year-old son and all. If it seems breathtakingly un-self-aware to criticize Americans for telling strangers about their sex lives and in the next breath tell a stranger about your own, that’s just the ruse of reason and the do-I-contradict-myself-very-well-I contradict-myself-I-am-large-I-contain-multitudes dialectics. To write twelve hundred pages explicating a semi-charlatan who toadied to state power and reduced violence, blood, sweat and tears to the algorithmic self-solution of Absolute Reason’s inner contradictions (leading to the final solution – Absolute Reason’s triumph), it helps to be a complete charlatan. But Zizek’s offensive clarity only signals in great flashy block-letters what is more discreetly wrong with the Left in general: that uncomfortable (for anyone but Zizek, it seems) coexistence in the same world-view of personal elitism and theoretical empathy for the downtrodden. “Being crazy” and saying “fuck you” to the world below your rooftop Singapore hotel paradise while claiming to represent advanced liberatory post-Marxist politics: the joke about this is that it isn’t a joke, just pretending to be. He mentions somewhere that he once put on a mask to frighten his son, took it off and explained it was only a mask, then put it back on and provoked the same frightened response. The lesson he draws from this is that there is no inside, we are only what we say and do. This is ridiculous. Of course there is an inside; it is called introspection, and everything about what this guy says and does indicates he’s a total stranger to it.
Questions about the Internet’s deleterious effects on the mind are at least as old as hyperlinks. But even among Web skeptics, the idea that a new technology might influence how we think and feel—let alone contribute to a great American crack-up—was considered silly and naive, like waving a cane at electric light or blaming the television for kids these days. Instead, the Internet was seen as just another medium, a delivery system, not a diabolical machine. It made people happier and more productive. And where was the proof otherwise?
Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
…Does the Internet make us crazy? Not the technology itself or the content, no. But a Newsweek review of findings from more than a dozen countries finds the answers pointing in a similar direction. Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages—and even promotes—insanity.”
Strident fearmongering, brain scans, dopamine, Nicholas Carr; this article is your one-stop shop for all your Zombie Internet Eatin Mah Brainz! needs. And yes, we can now file computers alongside fatty foods, make-up sex, and sugar in the list of Things That Affect Your Brain Like Cocaine. Maybe, given a little more time and some more fMRI analysis, the Internet can even graduate to being the new heroin.
Speaking of people who value statistical abstractions over particular experience, I think the pattern-recognition software in Jesse Bering’s brain has gone a bit haywire. In his newest post, which reminded me of an equally strange one last year, face-value expressions of piety and their statistical significance are somehow paramount when choosing a cab driver (or hypothetical mate). Leaving aside his apparent conviction that fear of punishment seems to be the driving force in ethical choices, he seems to think that trust and love are sentiments we feel for social groups rather than individuals.
Beckenbauer, 66, lamented the “curse” Italy have over Germany at major tournaments – having remarkably still never beaten them in a competitive match – but believes reaching the semi-final was still a good achievement for a young team.
“I think we have too much respect (for Italy). The talk about the curse of Italy seemed to paralyse the players,” he wrote.
Soccer is a strange game, and how much history plays into contest like this is often overlooked. Germany remain unable to beat Italy in a meaningful game at this level, and it goes beyond the level of luck to a matter of psychology. Italy never appeared really challenged in this game, even when they made some nearly disastrous gaffes early on. But Germany did grow flustered, as if they believed not only that they were destined to win the game – but that there was no way they should be losing it so early on.
Often overlooked. Yes, if only someone besides every lazy staff writer covering the sport, every studio analyst on ESPN and the ghost of Oswald Spengler had dared to broach the possibility that a mystical sense of historical destiny was more relevant than the mundane details of the particular match in question. There’s simply no precedent for a better team being upset by an underdog, and with a statistical sample stretching right to the cusp of high single digits, what other conclusion could any reasonable person draw?
I want you all to bookmark this post, in case I need someone to present it as evidence in my defense after I finish my killing spree and wind up sitting in court, drooling, kicking at imaginary soccer balls and gibbering incoherently about the difference between causation and correlation in response to the judge’s questions.
I don’t mean to keep picking on PZ lately, but man, he just keeps serving ’em up:
This is why, even when we’re saddled with a moderate conservative jerk for a president, I have to hold my nose in November and pull the lever for the asshole with a (D) after his name. I don’t like him, I think he betrays our values at every turn, but I like the people of the Democratic party far more than I do the people of the Republican party. I’m not going to vote for Obama, ever; I’m going to vote for that guy at the Minnesota caucus who suggested that we cut the defense budget in half and spend the money on universal health care instead, and I’m going to vote against the guy in the Texas caucuses who thinks our most pressing concern is preventing gay couples from having a happy life.
I recently came into possession of a hardcover copy of Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. Surprisingly, it still had a great sales rank and resale value, and, true to those numbers, it barely had time to get settled in inventory before someone bought it. People still read that book and take it seriously? I thought it had been nothing but a punchline for years now, go figure. Well, at least Marxists and their neoconservative mirror images have been so thoroughly discredited by now that no intelligent person would subscribe to, uh… oh.
And if you’re one of the people who has been whining about dealing with harassment, suck it — you’re on the wrong side of history.
It seems strange referring to Germany as underdogs, especially in a European competition, yet even with the confidence they have demonstrated so far they are bound to be uncomfortably aware of their record against Italy as they go into the semi.
Yes, I’m sure they are, given that pundits like yourself harp on it incessantly as if it’s actually indicative of anything. We heard it all last week, over and over: Spain has never beaten France in a competitive match! This useless factoid was of the utmost significance, until it wasn’t. Having learned nothing, surprise, the talking heads are now reprising the same focus on the Germany/Italy game, and, oh sweet Jeebus, if Spain and Germany win their respective matches and meet in the final, all we’re going to hear is about how Spain topped Germany in the last two major tournaments, and what does that portend for this game, for expert insight we take you now to our soothsayer standing by live with her runes and tarot cards; Madame LaRue! Madame, as you well know, these two teams blar blar blar please make it stop, please…
When we awaken to the infinite panorama of evolution, in fact, we realize ourselves to be nothing less than the very leading edge of a fourteen billion year cosmic process. A cosmic process that gave rise to the vast matter and energy that created galaxies, planets, and stars. That process created the conditions that made it possible for biological life to emerge around four billion years ago. And then, from biological life, 200,000 years ago mind burst forth as the dramatic beginning of human consciousness and culture. Now, the energy and intelligence that initiated that process and has been driving it all along is dependent upon you and me. Indeed, our responsibility for where evolution is going, at the level of our shared culture, is much bigger than most of us are aware of. We tend to not be very conscious of the enormous context in which our own choices and actions are occurring.
For the mature human being in the second decade of the twenty-first century, this is what I see as being the ultimate purpose of higher spiritual development in a nutshell: to liberate the miraculous power of human choice from being unconsciously trapped in a cultural epidemic of narcissism, materialism, and existential apathy. Our moral, spiritual, and cultural evolution—if not our very survival—really do depend on it. God has indeed fallen out of the sky. Now it’s up to each and every one of us to realize that the energy and intelligence that created the universe and is creating it right now is depending upon us to take the next step.
Malarkey Bear says: remember, only you can prevent a cultural epidemic of narcissism. To put it in Hegelian dialectic terms, the thesis of absurdity gave rise to the antithesis of parody, and now, in the Cohenic self-realization, they have achieved synthesis.