The Divinity of Instagram
We are Homo Religosus: a being that needs to worship and believe in utopian illusions, infinite beyonds, and noble lies. For evolution favors effectiveness over truth — one ought only examine the smooth visual field where the optical nerve actually obstructs vision to understand the illusory nature of existence.
But as heirs of the enlightenment we are also skeptics, skeptical of any creed that claims ultimate meaning or eternal salvation.
The curse of modernity is that our spiritual instincts latch on to any source that offers transcendence while our rationality is on a hunt to dispel all such sources.
Our religious needs remain yet the traditional channels are on the collapse from waves of demystification. Thus, modernity manifests divinity in the most secular places, safe from any hunter of religion. We continue to worship but the religions of today are the ones that necessarily cannot be recognized as such.
Instagram is one such religion.
Ernest Becker captured our religious needs well when he diagnosed Man as a being scared of annihilation and thus needing to be immortalized and requiring an objective distinction between Good and Evil.
Judgement and transcendence, were the societal responsibilities of God. But since his “death”, the baton to arbiter Good and Evil and designate eligibility for immortality based on the authority of omnipotent others have been passed onto, among others, Instagram.
The popular sentiment “If you don’t post it onto Instagram did it really happen” betrays a precedence of the virtual over the real. Social media is becoming a simulacra — a map that is increasingly confused for and wrongfully given priority over the territory.
Just as how one’s labor on earth was solely valued by its effect in the afterlife in the eyes of God, we now witness individuals bending their reality to paint a picture of otherworldly perfection on social media. In the most extreme but not at all uncommon case, one’s friends, vacations, hobbies, food are dictated by this new Religion with it’s own set of prohibitions and rituals.
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun,” if his toil is not documented on Instagram?
The unchanging and unified design of Instagram — no better exemplified by the fact that even on desktop where space is abundant it refuses to show more than three pictures every row — gives us the illusion of solidity and permanence. Sensing our own insignificance and impermanence — the same realization that led us to our gods of old — “we must desperately justify ourselves as an object of primary value in the universe, we must stand out, be a hero, make the biggest possible contribution to world life, show that we counts more than anything or anyone else.”
Thus, we construct a seemingly permanent digital temple that worships our character and gives us a faux sense of invincibility: “We repress our bodies to purchase a soul time cannot destroy; we sacrifice pleasure to buy immortality; we encapsulate ourselves to avoid death. Life escapes us while we huddle within the defended fortress of character.”
Finally, the judgement between Good and Evil is left to mimesis — the unbeknownst acquisition of a rivals desire as one’s own. The obvious and uninteresting observation is that we construct a pantheon of deities from our friends and influencers who dictate our desires.
But the greatest mimetic rival we create is our digital persona. It is a double like no other — infinitely similar to us yet an unconquerable obstacle always one step ahead in admirability. One step ahead, because of our curation.
This double mediates our desires but only our most publicizable and recognizable ones: achievement over integrity, beauty over character, hedonism over exploration. This caricature takes on its own reality that we are forced to live up to and slowly prune’s our character to it’s demands.
I often wonder if we should return to our bland monasteries, misogynistic churches, and oppressive mosques, for our new religions are no wiser than those of old. Where Buddhism heeds against permanence, it indulges in solidity; where Christianity warns against ego, it worships the self; where Islam prohibits idolatry, it glorifies appearance.
We called upon a messenger to connect us, to share with our friends, but instead we’ve found ourselves trembling at the foot of Hermes.
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