Tom Goodyer discusses the divisive nature of modern day politics.
Theodor Adorno once wrote that ‘nobody believes anybody, [but] everyone is in the know.’ That this seems a mere platitude in our present condition, where the supreme ease of declaring an opinion to the void is concomitant with a decline of trust in media and increased political in-group preference, highlights the prescience of his writing. Belief is hard-won currency right now, mistrust a dime a dozen. We have state broadcasters parroting doctored versions of reality, political parties sock-puppeting as impartial arbiters and Umberto Eco’s third criterion of Ur-Fascism (‘distrust of the intellectual world’) constantly being met with the unacknowledged instistancy of a broken fire alarm by Farages and Trumps alike, cries of ‘fake news’ kiting a about in an equivocatory meta-whorl. You are wrong; I am right, all else is death and pepperoni-paedophillia.
How might we examine this epistemic hermeticism? Why is it easier for people to deny the existence of a deadly virus, than change an opinion? Perhaps we should look to the hypocenter of misinformation, Brexit. In 2016, Gisela Stuart claimed ‘there is only one expert that matters and that’s [us, the voters],’ but, as Michael Gove said, we ‘have had enough of experts.’ Facetiously completing this syllogism, we have therefore had enough of ourselves and no wonder. All knowledge comes to us as though through an onanistic pageantry with the self as the singular perspective. The self-preconditions all knowledge, pace Descartes. With our leaders, we happily rewrite opinions, recast former knowledge and reject inconsistent information, in order to preserve a sense of personal infallibility, in psychologically attested to ways. We are the only expert and we show as much in the mental pyrotechnics, the 280-character, transphobic screeds and Mariana-deep conspiracies, that we use to scaffold our own sense of truth.
Lying is no longer honest in its aim, but earnest. A lie is a necessity, a pharmakon for our own hypocrisies, brooking no dissent. The political ego of late capital is a truly totalitarian regime of knowledge and the malappropriation of Orwell quotes is its neurotic grammar.
But why now? Why has impulsive self-fortification become the M.O., now? Maybe we simply have more self to fortify than ever before. Between neoliberalism’s fixation on the socio-economic individual and the facile self that extends into our smartphones to glare back through targeted ads and streams of manipulated data, the eager spew of Silicon Valley algorithms, we are in a thicket of our selves. Discourse is entirely mentally ergonomic to whatever you want to believe or whatever someone with money wants you to believe. Your algorithms are shaped by you, as you are shaped by them, insidiously and emotively – for what is a belief, but an emotion about an idea? The public sphere then, expands to the proportions of an endless scroll, everything consumed and disseminated, and dwindles to the dopamine-halo of a single screen simultaneously. Our society has been atomised down to its lowest common denominator, which begs the question: at what point will there be no society at all?
It should be obvious that this article’s rhetorical ‘we’ and ‘our’ has emptied out, for, if each of us shelters in a distinct ‘glacial atmosphere’ (Adorno) of our own making, who could that ‘we’ possibly describe? As a King’s College report states, ‘it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Britain is dividing,’ but what the outcome will be and how it should inform political action is hard to parse. An invisible virus is perhaps the most fitting adversary for our post-modern condition, yet there was nothing more spiriting than the increase of mutual aid at the beginning of the lockdown. Such a spirit will be necessary for getting out of this thicket. Logging off, reconnecting, tempering personal dogma will also be crucial. We have had enough of ourselves, so somehow community must be reinstated as the practical object of politics.
Tom Goodyer is an English Literature graduate from the University of Bristol, interested in politics and fiction and how they intersect. His political writing has been published in The Everyday and I:M and his first piece of fiction will be featured in the inaugural issue of Horizon Magazine.
He writes at https://medium.com/@tmgoodyer.