I am writing about this. I am writing about this because it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and because it’s an universal iceberg: the system of communication is collapsing.
The internet. The sensational something everyone tries to define but that stays ephemeral. Either coated in sensationalism, or banality. I think instead it’s just a system of communication, and a system that has had its variables tweaked. But it’s the same system we had since the dawn of consciousness. It is now starting to collapse simply because it’s being put under unprecedented stress.
I have a slight political view on this, but you can remove this specific subjective interpretation and my argument still holds. But I’m going to start there. I do believe that capitalism, the underlying system of society we all live under in the modern world, is inherently hypocritical: it works because it’s self serving, and it works because it continuously legitimates itself through hypocrisy. Or: a fully egoistical system that feeds itself at the expense of everything else. And while self-preservation can be seen as legitimate, the consequence is that all this capitalism system proactively does is: legitimate itself. Justify itself and egoism.
To do just that, the system feeds directly on hypocrisy: those who have, have the right to that privilege. The system continuously grinds to legitimate that tenet. But because we all, no one excluded, live within that system, we all end up just introjecting that hypocrisy in some measure. It’s necessary to be able to live. We all live on the premise of hypocrisy. It’s the foundation of the society we live in and we are all “guilty” of furthering that. Of participating to the system so that the system survives as it is.
That’s where we are today: on the brink of what likely is decadence. But whatever the prediction you can make on how it will turn out, the fact is that the internet has made communication more fluid than ever. In doing that, the overall system has been put under unprecedented stress. As Niklas Luhmann explains well, the system of communication always has to deal with a degree of uncertainty. A message can be either right or wrong. True or false. If a statement had a perfect probability of being right and being wrong, communication would stop. Because we would never be able to decide for one or the other. We would drown into ambiguity. That’s why we are embedded in a culture of “values”. A compass. In order to create paths of “meaning” within all that uncertainty. Decide what is right and what is wrong when communication is perfectly fluid.
Because we live in capitalism, and because capitalism brings the fundamental hypocrisy, we cannot anymore understand if a message is honest or it’s just being used for personal gain. Cynically. We are constantly tripping on ambiguity: what you just said was true or you’re just trying to deceive me for your own ends. Was it a joke or you mean it. Form and substance. Is Pewdiepie joking about Jews or he’s hiding a truer barbed intention within that joke. Do we trust the face of a message or we look through at the darkness that hides behind.
Notice how the attacks to Pewdiepie relied on taking a message out of context. What “context” is, is merely an amount of information used to increase the signal. It is used to reduced the ambiguity. In the case of Pwediepie’s jokes, the joke itself relies on the ambiguity. Even a “pun” relies on the ambiguity of its meaning. Context is then used so you have more information to strengthen an interpretation rather than another, to keep the ambiguity while providing a signal to then interpret it correctly. You hear the joke, experience a moment of disorientation, but then acknowledge it wasn’t serious. Crisis averted, he didn’t truly “mean it”. But if you take the joke out of context, so remove the context that proves the joke is a joke, the result is that the joke becomes a STATEMENT.
If so many focus on the problem of anonymity on the internet, it is because again of the issues of the system. Knowing who’s speaking provides information to remove the ambiguity in a message. Anonymity on the internet is another element making information more fluid: only the message remains. The message can be either true or wrong. Useful or useless.
The case of Pewdiepie joking about Jews works along the lines of computer games being accused of legitimating violence. Do I take the violence in a game like GTA as a statement or as a joke. As a message that is real or as a message that is clearly fictional. Joke or truth. Fiction or real. It’s still about ambiguity embedded in the message, and so the impossibility to control the subjectivity on the receiving end. The message is GOING TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD, because who sent the message (like Pewdiepie) couldn’t control the amount of awareness about said message on the receiving end. Was a message an insult, or I was clearly joking and didn’t mean to offend? Should I apologize because I sent the wrong message, or should you apologize because you carelessly misunderstood it on your own end? Or maybe the joke was the hypocrisy I used to hide what I intended as an insult, but I didn’t want to give you the evidence to accuse me of that insult so that I could get away with it?
The way I personally feel when faced of all these issues about misrepresentation of women in games, movies or books, violence, religion or racism, “Social Justice Warriors” versus free speech extremists… is that I just don’t know. They all look like paradoxes to me. I don’t know what is right from what is wrong. I don’t know how to take them. The amount of ambiguity is too high. I don’t have rules that are clear enough to separate all of that into clear black and white. And the only way I personally know to deal with that is to trench down into pure analysis. Drop every form of prejudices and instinct and just proceed with cold, technical analysis of every argument until I can arrive at a definitive conclusion. But I know it’s just my way, and a lot of people instead legitimately decide to rely on emotion, or on what they perceive is common sense. But I am radically incompatible with that, because my problem is with ambiguity of a message, and if you answer that through emotion or common sense, those are the REIGNS of ambiguity. It’s the danger zone. The problem of communication can only be solved by more communication. By more analysis. Going deep down. Writing a wall of text no one will ever read because no one has time or care to. We need to move to make the money we need, and we need to truncate any lengthy argument and find a quick way to deal with it because survival depends on time.
Some employ a behavioral approach: walling off certain areas of communication: “there are certain things you shall not joke about”. Which, contrasted with my analytical approach, creates a negative situation: how should I decide whereas something is correct or wrong if you walled it off through prejudice? Through this behavioral approach communication is controlled, so the degree of uncertainty in the message decreases dramatically, but this has been rightfully compared to censorship, and censorship is a top-down form of control: I decide whether you can speak about something or not. It’s a case of “who watches the watchmen”. Or: if this communication has been ruled unquestionable, how can I decide whether it was done legitimately or not?
The consequence of walling off communication through this behavioral approach (and common tendency) is that ambiguity is reduced on one side, while making unquestioned power arise. And when unquestioned power is that which decides, it means we lose any way to understand whether something is right or wrong. We’re just completely at the whim of the dark. The unknown we walled off.
This is why this struggle with SJW on one side and free speech extremists on the other is going to continue. It’s the natural struggle of a communication system. The ebbs and flows going from the need to keep the system fluid and across the whole spectrum, and the need to keep uncertainty low so that there can still be an amount of order in it. As we know, fascism prizes on order, and that’s why, when things are seen radically, these discussions lead to discussions about free speech and censorship. We are just oscillating between the two extremes and opposite needs of a system of communication. Between order and chaos. Signal and noise. Certainty and ambiguity.
One wonders what this episode about Pewdiepie and the blatant misrepresentation of him tells us about the mainstream media. I guess many see it as the proof mainstream media just follow their own agenda and you cannot trust them in any way. I have a more moderate way of seeing this. I think journalists are just normal human beings that specialize. If a journalist follows politics for many, many years you can somewhat count on him being competent about that. And of course when you hear someone’s opinion about something he’s not competent about, it’s likely that this opinion will show many limits. What we’ve seen in this specific case is not that the Wall Street Journal is garbage, but merely that it dealt with a specific topic it has no actual competence to understand and write about. It happens so frequently when mainstream media talk about technology or science. Those journalists are just human beings, they stepped out of what they understand and made a mess.
On the other side there’s also another level to this. It’s about pure “strategy”. Pewdiepie might believe his message is 100% correct and legitimate, and it is, but it is that in an ideal world where that message is also perfectly received. The system of communication, again. He’s sure the message is “just” because he fully knows the intention behind it and made that intention clear. But we live within an imperfect world where communication constantly fails. You send a message that after being sent is liable of being greatly misunderstood, or even deliberately misunderstood and used with malice. Because we navigate and intimately know this world, we have the responsibility not just of a moral superiority that guarantees us the good conscience of the message sent, but also of the obligation to foresee those unintended consequences. Or at least try. But I don’t think Pewdiepie did anything wrong on this, either.
He put ambiguity under the spotlight and proved we don’t have appropriate means to deal with it. The system is collapsing and we have no safeguards beside fascism itself. If anything, Pewdiepie’s video helped to warn about its resurgence under NEW forms. Forms that we do not see and that are already around us. Fascism is the answer to a world we are too retrograde to face. The preservation of a privilege that has been challenged.