Please Help ZNet
How dependent on social media, self affirmation, and isolation we have become. Clinging to our phones and our safe zones leaves us detached from broader reality. A reality that is oppressive, destructive, and backwards. We enjoy ourselves in an echo chamber, separate from the threat of opposing views. Life on social media shapes our identity and we don’t see the bigger picture. The bigger picture being that we need each other if we are ever going to bring about the changes in society that we supposedly desire.
An upsurge of popular injustices have caused social media users to become social justice warriors. Raising consciousness and the spreading of information is incredibly important, but just one step in the equation for change. To bring about change we need numbers, commitment, a diverse set of demands, and a vision for society, so that these injustices can never happen again. We have the opportunity to envision what we want from our society and to not let that destiny be decided by a few powerful people. The power is in our hands, if we choose to use it.
Every generation has had some who seek to uproot existing social institutions and usher in a whole new way of thinking and perceiving the world. We are no different in that respect. The internet was thrust upon us in our formative years. It has been part of our upbringing. It has shaped our identities and the world around us. Corporations and politicians work hand in hand. They look in our direction, to decipher how to pitch their agendas. We must not be confused by their rhetoric.
While the makeup and dress may be different, much of the same agenda is being pushed. It’s just dressed up to appease us and solicit our approval. Both parties continue along the same lines that work to undermine the rights and power of the people and to enlarge the control and dominance of big corporations. Whether it be international or domestic, private enterprise runs the show, and they need to be able to sell this to the American people.
Over the last few years, we have seen a transition in the political sphere that seeks to individualize politics in a way that relieves those in power of doing their jobs. We have seen virtue signaling from politicians, “stances of solidarity” from corporations, and many other instances of rhetorical posturing to give the appearance of progress. We spend far too much time condemning and policing each other than we do challenging and pushing those in power to bring about real changes and not just rhetoric.
While it is certainly beneficial to have a more diverse representation in the political and corporate sphere, I would say that is nothing more than a social checklist for them to continue in the same ways they have been for years. They couldn’t possibly care about the rights of minorities, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and citizens of foreign countries when they carry out policies at home and abroad that directly undermine the progressive values they parade. Do they really think we are that gullible?
One of the ways this is accomplished is due to our inability to unite with each other to challenge those in power. What has emerged as Cancel Culture is a phenomenon that isn’t unique to our generation, but a plague that has infected us. While it is certainly helpful to stand up to injustices when we see them, the way we have gone about it does more harm than good. The atmosphere that emerges is an incredibly hostile and disempowering one that not only affects the one being cancelled, but also the one doing the cancelling and those watching.
This causes people to be much more hesitant to speak up about what they do and don’t know in fear of having their lives ruined over it. The one doing the cancelling is most likely in a position, and rightfully so, where they feel powerless over their lives. Taking that frustration out on someone else that alienates them, is a cheap shot that avoids any responsibility of challenging the root causes of power or working together to do so. This has become a very helpful tool for those in power to keep us separate and constantly at odds with each other, instead of at odds with them.
As progressive as we think we are, we have a tendency to act in ways that undermine our power not only to revolutionize society, but also each other. The people who are supposed to be in this fight with us.
Now, this isn’t entirely our fault, but an indicator of the environment that we have been raised in. Spending our time on social media has greatly inhibited our ability to speak and think for ourselves. The more we use these platforms, the more our tastes are being recorded, analyzed, and spit back out, to operate in the same, narrow minded echo chamber.
Continually seeing the same sort of material heightens our self affirming view of the world and stunts our ability to hear out other points of view. This is a problem no matter what community we revolve in. The more hostile we are to those with different views than us, the easier we are to categorize and control. The less diverse and accepting our personality becomes. We cease to grow as individuals and collectives. If we ever want to pose a real challenge to elites and truly alter society’s ills, we need to be able to get over this hurdle.
Along with this siloing effect, that is inherent in the platforms we use, there is also another issue that more personally affects us. An incessant desire for validation and acceptance by our peers leaves us isolated and alone, constantly searching for a sense of fulfillment that will never come. By pouring much of our attention into our online appearances we are instilling in ourselves a reward system that is incredibly introspective. The obsession with the individual makes us antisocial and suspicious of all those around us.
In the absence of any type of communal collaboration we are left to our own bubbles promoting self affirming views that are divorced from reality. The creation and maintenance of our identity becomes paramount. Setting yourself apart from others on superficial grounds is the goal. We, as users of social media, do not put out the fire, but raise the heat. This stops us from seeking any collective action, public goods and services, or support from one another. It allows corporations to make good little consumers of each individual, politicians to name drop our cause or community without bringing real change, and the media to keep feeding us outright lies to constantly keep us in fear.
The more you use something, the more embedded it becomes in your psyche. The more we scroll and take in content, that is usually no more than a minute long, we are telling ourselves that we can get instant satisfaction any time we need. But, before we praise it, this is greatly stifling our ability to entertain and take in any content that doesn’t give us an immediate rush of dopamine. It’s much harder to pay attention, to investigate, to seek anything that will bring us fulfillment. Because often those things that bring the greatest satisfaction are not those that take the shortest amount of time.
Some things come quicker than others, but if we do not have the bandwidth to take on that challenge, we are left revolving in our own world that keeps us ignorant to the structural problems that govern much of our lives. The more we use, the shorter our attention span becomes, the more frightening and unfulfilling the world around us appears. This allows corporate media to tell us who our enemies are because they know we will take it for granted and give our consent to carry out atrocities at home and abroad. We need to start looking at social media as a tool, instead of a crutch.
Over the summer, the brutal murder of George Floyd ignited social outcry that evolved into energetic protests, waves of support and concern, and a heightened awareness of the systemic problems that create and facilitate this terror and suffering. There has been a social indictment of white privilege, conscious and subconscious racism, white supremacy, and to a lesser extent, capitalism and imperialism. This amount of engagement is remarkable, but without a continually growing movement, a diversifying set of demands, and a vision and strategy to shape our goals, we are much more manageable in the eyes of those in power.
Aims at abolishing the police have united lots of people, but have also turned off many others. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t usually because they are upholders of white supremacy and wish to keep black and brown folks under their heel, but says much more about how the message is being pushed. Most people hear “abolish the police,” or even “defund the police”, and have no idea what we are talking about. Or worse, immediately grow hostile to the idea. Instead of criticizing them for not seeing things as we do, it should be a call to action for activists to reach into communities and explain the message in ways that people understand and will support. But a phrase like this unites anarchists and rightfully outraged individuals in an emotional response that translates into much less emphasis on the goal and more to letting out the frustration and hurt that this system inflicts. Most of us are well meaning and truly want to make a difference, but the more we participate in alienating and degrading communication, the worse our chances are.
The absence of strategy from our movements and efforts is much more disastrous than it may seem. Take the example of protests. Protests are a historically effective way to bring about social change, but more importantly, not the only. To go to a protest where we aren’t fully sure who or what organization is organizing, how to get involved further than this one event, or what exactly we are demanding, causes people to burn out. We may have lots of energy and concern over the issues to begin with, but often engage in events or organizations where we feel alienated, disempowered, and lost. On top of that, many people aren’t in a position to protest, leaving out the vast majority of potential supporters. Diversifying our tactics, motives, and strategies is essential to bring about the kind of support we need to truly challenge power.
The way to enact change is to unite with others, continually recruit and empower members, and put pressure on elites in creative ways that force their hand essentially. We need to make it much better for them to give in to our demands than to ignore us.
If we look at the Vietnam War and the droves of people and organizations that worked together to hold draft strikes, sanctuaries for AWOL GI’s, protests, rallies, teach-ins and sit-ins we can see something very striking. In the Pentagon Papers, exposed by Daniel Ellsberg, those in power weren’t suddenly morally outraged at the slaughter and anhilement of the vietnamese people and their community, but it turned out that the costs to keep the war going plus the situation at home ultimately forced their hand. There was a heightened awareness, refusal to enlist, and a growing movement that looked to challenge not only the war, but imperialism, patriarchy, capitalism, racism, sexism, and classism. This is the way we need to be thinking in our movements.
People want real, structural changes in our society. This explains some of the appeal to Trump and Sanders. The problem with this is that much of our political attention goes towards presidential elections. Every four years we come out of the shadows to push a candidate through and then hibernate til the next one. Political action is ongoing work. We push a candidate through, thinking they are much different than the rest, and we are left with reforms to be rolled back, interests that serve the corporate elite, continued destruction domestically and internationally, and half hearted attempts to address the structural problems.
We have to realize that these politicians, no matter how well intentioned they come off, become corrupted by corporate donors, an atmosphere of conformity, and climbing the ladder to political stardom. Ultimately giving in to the pressures within the system. Working from within the system is certainly one approach to bringing about change, but we should never put all our eggs in one basket. And more often than not, the results aren’t too promising. To bring about real change requires stepping outside of our own worlds to listen, organize, and demand. The system thrives off our alienation.
If we say that we are outraged and that we need to do something, even if that something isn’t clear, we must be open to working together and hearing each other out in conversations where we may not feel the smartest or the most comfortable. We need a space, as a collective, where those who know more or less about a subject are strengthened by the former and questioned by the latter. If we continue in the fashion we are now, where a few who know alot continually assert their dominance at someone else’s expense, the more we are replicating the very fabric of society that we say to despise.
Challenging the structures of power is the way to go, much more than policing and condemning into alienation the very same peers we need in this struggle. For one to do that is an egregious injustice to the very same morals we proclaim.
While it may be much easier for us to understand, the complexity of many of the issues we see in the world cannot be explained by an infographic. Getting informed, investigating, and challenging ourselves to understand the full picture seem to be a thing of the past. We want things quicker, more concise, and at our disposal. We get impatient when we don’t understand something right away, uncomfortable when challenged on subjects, and angered when people don’t see things the way we do. To deal with these uncomforts we don’t look to challenge them, but instead funnel them into binge watching series, scrolling on social media, engaging in the latest irrelevant piece of drama, retail therapy, or addiction.
However, there are many things at our disposal that could shed light on our situations in a way that helps us comprehend and act on our surroundings. And more importantly, know that we are not alone in our struggles. History isn’t just a thing for old people, but something that we are living in the present. Understanding the historical context of how things came to be, and also being able to learn from those who have come before us, allows us to carry on the struggles of the past; to expand and innovate upon what has been done. But to do that, we must have a mindset that allows for this work to be done.
“There are so many awful things going on everyday, what could I possibly do?”
“Well, humans are inherently evil, so no matter what we do, it will all turn to shit anyways.”
These are two excuses for doing nothing that I hear far too often. While I wish the totality of oppressions we see everyday would be enough to warrant action, that is clearly not the case.
We have a scattered opposition, short lived organization, and virtually no inclusive collaboration, which makes the journey a hell of a lot more difficult. But there are certainly things that can be done. Seeing certain journalists, activists, and teachers devote their lives to helping the people of the world, instead of the individualized ideal of success constantly peddled in our society, inspires me to join the struggle. These people know how messed up society is. But they don’t use it as an excuse to just turn a blind eye to the brutal reality of everyday life.
As for people being inherently evil I ask you to think of the person you most admire. Now ask yourself, if human nature was truly abysmal, what is it that made this person good? Isn’t it reasonable, or even plausible, that people are fostered in our society to act atrociously? Every institution around us rewards being abysmal, it pays. A dog eats the dog world as they say. What was it that created the good person? People have lots of capacities, some good and some bad, but by and large people are capable of being solidaristic, equitable, charitable, and to treat each other humanely.
We have to start thinking about what we want from society. What do we want our political structure to look like? What should we demand from an economy? What will we do to combat racism, sexism, and classism? What should our relationship to the rest of the world look like? How will we bring solidarity, equity, diversity, self management, and sustainability to our society? There are a lot of questions to address, but it starts with conversations on the most basic level. Something that we have disatorously failed at. Without any direction, our fights will be in vain. We have the opportunity to construct the future we want for ourselves and for generations to come. This must include everyone.
A revolutionary, structural change in the domains of life that control all of our destinies is exactly what we need. The question arises: what does that mean exactly, and how do we plan on getting that done? Corporate control and censorship of our media, privatization of our healthcare, education, and housing, starving, bombing, and sanctioning of other countries around the globe in pursuit of our self serving interests, politicians pulled by corporate strings, suicidal environmental destruction, a growing, abhorrent wealth inequality inherent in a system that seeks the growth of profits over the well being of its own people, are, as far as I’m concerned, all things worth fighting against. We must not allow those two questions to be a deterrent.
These are problems we can no longer ignore or infographic away. These are problems that need to be addressed directly and strategically. This certainly will not come overnight, but we must lay down a foundation to unite with others around the country and around the world to stop the global and domestic domination of our lives by those with power.
This is a call to anyone listening that we must do better than those who have come before us and we must usher in a new wave of commitment, vision, and strategy than has ever been seen before. We surely can construct something better than what has been given to us, but we cannot do it alone.
Cooper Sperling is a writer, artist, activist, and incoming freshman at The New School. He is a student at SSCC and works on a media project called Independent Left. He is a strong advocate of bringing vision and strategy to movements in a creative and participatory way.