Power After Fragmentation

Trump isn’t to blame for the rise of nationalist and parafascist violence in America. The rise would be happening anyways and is happening across other nations that don’t have a Trump.

Trump isn’t helping, this isn’t an apologia. But he’s a halfwit on the wind, attempting to get the most personal praise he can from the most people around him. This post isn’t about that.

The real question is why is this happening in Brazil (where they’re about to elect one into power later today), and Hungary, and France, and Germany, and Poland, and the Philippines, and Myanmar, and other places.

It’s not migrants (though it’s being used as a catalyst). If that wasn’t the reason they give, there would be something else, like the “drug dealers” of the Philippines, or the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, or basically everything that isn’t Catholic and military in Brazil.

So let’s talk about the only real issue, let’s talk about power.

Power isn’t just armed cops with “The State” written on the body armor. Most of the power that actually controls us is simply judgement of our peers. We don’t do things that our peers would shame us for, for whatever our social group is. The details vary wildly (compare a church picnic and a sport fan bbq) but there’s giant swaths of stuff that they’d agree on implicitly: don’t steal food, don’t be a dick to the people there, things that we take for granted but really shouldn’t.

There used to be an implicit power that enforced a moderation. It came from a cultural monopoly that was forced on everyone through television. There was a fear of being nationalist, there was a fear of advocating violence, and that came from it being a taboo in people’s social groups. The TV didn’t make that possible and therefore it was an outsiders opinion. The internet is changing that by redefining our social groups.

Not that the TV monoculture was an absolute good. In limiting violent conversation we also prevented any meaningful discussion that those higher up didn’t want us to have, like questioning the action of government. The internet makes that possible, but removes any power from those criticisms. Our protests are becoming performative, not meaningful and coming from a place that threatens a consequence. I’m jumping ahead though, I’ll come back to this point.

It’s important that the bomber and the shooter from earlier this week both had right wing social media presence. Those right wing sites are their peer groups. They are detached from the implicit power of most of society, because most of society out there isn’t their peers but an other, and therefore their shaming is meaningless.

As these microsocieties of online acquaintances form, it pulls power away from the voice of moderation. You can call it privilege if you want: moderates and progressives used to have privilege by being able to define some terms of the debate, and they’re losing that privilege as people no longer care.

Picture having a person tell you a racist joke and you responding “that’s not ok, that’s super racist”. If you speak from position of power, the response will be “you’re right, sorry”, but if you don’t, it’ll be “yes of course, so what”. Picture the latter, now what indeed. That’s powerlessness.

My thing of it was talking to people about the separation of children at the border and realizing that I have no response to “it’s good to take children from their parents if they’re not white” because there is no meaningful response to it other than “no it’s bad”. You can’t teach an adult ethics. That’s my point of powerlessness.

This is part of the reason why deplatforming, firing, and other anti-fascist actions are so important: they are an extension of power. That’s also why the various “nazi crying after getting fired” memes have such viral potential: it shows a breakdown between their social group and reality and it implies that our privilege does still exist here and there.

In other words, I suppose this is another variation on the “the internet is killing us” meme, except in this case more literally. We’re undoing the monoculture that TV brought and reverting to little pockets of hate, except instead of being created by geographical isolation, they’re self selected. Facebook (and social media) use is directly tied to rise in violence, here, in Germany, in Myanmar, and while I haven’t seen a study for Brazil, I bet there too.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s small pockets of hate egging each other on until the most radicalized snap and murder, repeating until the replacement of social media with something worse, or forever, whichever comes first.