Digital Diplomacy
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Digital Diplomacy

The phase-out of spirit: Is media drawing the case for metanarratives to a close?

(UPDATE: This article got me the prestigious AGAHI Award Journalist of the Year 2021 in the category ‘Foresight and Futures’, honoring Pakistani journalists.)

The French revolution was perhaps the biggest European media event. The massive dissemination of anti-conservative philosophy, feminist propaganda, and a thorough resection of traditional political framework was done through a widespread media frenzy. And these liberal ideals were tackled by equally powerful use of media by the conservative Marat. His dream of seeing Robespierre as dictator and his use of his paper ‘Mother Duchesne’ to propagate an anti-feminist viewpoint to keep the woman bound to her traditional role of wife and mother are what he is still remembered for.

Revolutionaries used iconography to its full capacity. Mother Duchesne was idealized as the pinnacle of feminine perfection by conservative elements in France, specifically Marat who canvassed strongly against the growing Feminist impulse.

Sociological analysis of the revolution tells us that it was a time of grave urbanization; plenty rural workers migrated to urban centers in search of gainful employment. The arts and crafts of the third estate were booming because the upper class required their services. A professional circle was expanding; with doctors, lawyers, professors, the silk merchants of Nimes, largely making up the social order. Yet, despite this expanding and diversifying space, these professionals were largely unrepresented in the assemblies which constituted the bulk of the politics that led to a socio-political upheaval and ultimately culminated in the Revolution.

This is because the ones pulling the strings and using the newly budding café culture, the proliferating social groups, and newspaper and magazine outlets was an unrepresentative fringe group of the bourgeoisie molding the narrative and feeding the right stories to an impressionable lower class.

The Society of the Friends of Truth: a bourgeois group profiting from the growing club culture in France to influence impressionable minds regarding one’s status in the ancien regime.

Nothing more powerful than the media has since been identified. In the twenty-first century where a politics of spectacle is the norm, and a collective representation of images and symbols is used as a pivotal propaganda tool, undermining the role of media in impacting social structures is pointless. The state works as a superorganism wherein every institution functions as an organ to keep the structure going. Media can transform and construct, in Habermasian terms a “noise-free, fully communicational society” wherein every member engages in a dialectic for the norms, and those which are unanimously deemed acceptable are retained, the others rejected. In our context, the media is yet another participant in this dialogue but one that feels the need to trump every other communicational adversary and continuously mold smaller narratives upon narratives-but to what end?

Perhaps bringing modernity to its full swing and phasing out man’s natural need for introspection.

This onslaught on the inwardness of man has somehow promulgated us to look outward alone, that the Hegelian Geist or the Absolute Spirit is now largely ignored and no extrinsic sign can reawaken the spiritual consciousness which has been reduced by elements of modernity, specifically the media, to a vestige of the human soul, malnourished and uncared for.

Because the case for metanarratives has been drawn to a close, which is the ultimate goal of man: when we take every individual death and post death as a teleology, our end would define our means in life and therefore help us lead a more constructive, fulfilling life; but with the introduction of smaller narratives which are played out every now and then, the politics of spectacle, of gender, of beauty, we are inclined to refuse the spirit in favor of an outer construct and the need for introspection and self reflection is now diminished.

Certain industrial centers that become the hub of modernity have often a marginalized group that desires a return to the natural order of things. After the 1848 revolutions swept across Europe, the German lower class, specifically the peasantry felt a need for a spiritual reawakening and much of it was satisfied through the idea of the Volkish movement which was in full swing by the time Hitler came to power. Of course that was a very anti political, divisive, and non-rational protection against agents of urbanism, it nonetheless represented the human need for inward fulfillment and a reconnection with the cosmos.

The cover of Hermann Lons “Der Wehrwolf” written at the height of the Volkish movement. The novel is a commentary about the impact of urbanization and increasing industrialization on Germany’s peasant class who, in awakening their spiritual consciousness and growing amity with nature turn to murdering the elite and the Jews

Countries like Pakistan with a rich multi-ethnic, multi-cultural historical background have a stratified society. Our colonial history has inclined us to construct a social order which does not exist elsewhere; a middle class that is neither liberal nor conservative and its dynamics are dictated by the media which it in turn impacts. This reciprocal relationship between a confused middle class and a media that regularly plays out smaller narratives has reproduced an identity crisis in much of the country’s youth. Its lifestyle is perpetuated by a Davos group, the top one percent, that equates high elitism with American capitalist imagery such as McDonald’s, Chanel, Nike and its likes constantly in sight promulgated by a consumerist culture that distances the youthful mind from its spiritual veneer.

Perhaps Lyotard was quite right when he said that the new social order would consist of a technocracy whose exclusive function would be the collection, accumulation, and appropriate dissemination of knowledge; that the postmodern world consists of dispersed language elements (prescriptive, descriptive, narrative) that would be deployed even in studies which generate truth statements, namely science.

Imagery is a powerful tool in our age. Michael Allen Gillespie says that in this generation two symbols vividly sum up our culture: The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers, each conveying vastly different messages. The first shows the liberation of Europe from the grasp of totalitarianism while the second easily throttles the world once again in its anti-intellectual grip and symbolizes the onset of a large scale war against terrorism.

How many left wing and right wing narratives were fed by the media to its audience post 9/11 can be proven by the current status of Muslims in the global order. Muslim states despite witnessing massive genocide specifically in the Middle East are still labeled as breeding grounds for terrorists. Proponents of whatever religion have become apologists in supporting their ideals and a God consciousness is looked down upon.

One should ask, how much has the consumerist culture taken advantage of collective imagery of which the media and its extension the social media is the strongest weapon. Social networking, advertising, proliferation of online influencers frequently feed the the materialist core of the human psyche encouraging and attracting one to binge on and consume different narratives. The greatest online presence today in terms of numbers of Instagram and Facebook followers is of the Kardashians and the Jenners. They give the picture of the ideal woman; rich, beautiful, business minded- and one need not even talk about their contribution to Western consumerism.

This has ultimately led to a negation of the single most important question; what is the purpose of life?

Despite their differences, philosophical schools of the previous centuries have always put forth an end goal to human life and humanity as a whole. Liberal traditions from Kant to Hegel believed that justice and political virtue were the ends for which societies should work toward. Marx believed that a global socialist order that trumps the capitalist consumerism should be the ultimate aim of the proletariat. Abrahamic religions before them presented a master narrative, that of the end of times and how man must strive to work in life such that he is rewarded with Paradise in the hereafter. And Socrates and Aristotle deliberated upon the ultimate good, the eudaimonia, which gives meaning to human life.

Was Pascal right when he said that those whom we revere as the ancients were in fact far more advanced and modernized than us? Are we ourselves the ancients? For it would seem that civilization is instead devolving and breaking down metanarrative and the ultimate good into inconsequential goals, thereby trapping generations into having an outlook that forces them to have unachievable dreams and refuse to look within.

Degenerationism posited that contemporary societies are in reality primitive versions of more advanced civilizations that existed before the Tower of Babel, which symbolized the totality of language, knowledge, and unification of mankind

But modernity is not entirely without its merits. Where it has contributed to a spiritual devolution, it can also be used for good. Dissemination of knowledge has never been easier. Connectivity since the previous century has been enhanced tenfold. Globalization has lessened communication time. News spreads like wildfire. Injustices across the world, that would in older times have been ignored due to lack of reporting, now see the light of day much earlier than usual. But this should show us that moderation is key. One should keep check on how much one is consuming media and social media and be critical about every piece of information. The suppression of the analytical capacity of man would inevitably result in a deterioration of morality and desensitization.

But one cannot and need not live completely detached from the outside world. One need only maintain a balance for what the modern culture has to offer.

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