The Internet as a Saviour of the Absurd

We have had innumerable chances. We have lived through monarchies, oligarchies, communism and capitalism. We have built empires and watched them crumble, raised conquerers to the status of Gods and then stabbed them in the back, crucified our saviours and deified our tyrants. Every age has seen its follies reveal themselves just when the collective human hubris was at its peak. And yet, every age that followed would inevitably follow the same path, making the same errors, albeit under new guises. Our only consistent system of ruling has been hypocrisy.

It is hard, when reading history, to not see societies evolve and devolve in cycles. It is hard to ignore the inevitable feeling that all we read will come to pass again. Or at least, it used to be hard. What has changed my mind today? Just one Goliath of a phenomenon — The internet.

Never before has so varied a mass of populace been privy to such a vast treasure trove of information. Never before has the news of the world been at one’s fingertips, no longer discriminating against you based on your financial or social position. Of course, humans still being a flawed species, it does not prevent us from misusing this power: The internet is famous for being a cesspool of hate and vindictive bigotry. However, even from the fumes of this depravity, an unexpected solace arises.

Absurdism.

In earlier times, it was the unknown that gave us hope. We did not know enough about the flaws inherent in whatever system we chose to believe in, whether political or religious, and thus had no reason to douse the flames of our fervour. This fervent belief kept absurdism at bay and limited it to a fringe movement at best. We worked with gusto and lived with an eye to the future, because we believed in a future. We believed in our ability to build a wonderful world with inexhaustible resources and overall satiety. We birthed children by the dozen, hoping that their acumen would be of some use to this utopia-to-be. This was an age where one was taught that, with the right attitude and the right effort, anything was within reach. Many a kid set forth into this world with the fire of imagination burning bright. And, before the internet took over our world, many of those kids died without ever knowing what killed their dreams. Perhaps many blamed themselves for their shortcomings, perhaps some of them were right. But always there was an ever-present, malevolent force at work.

But now, you would be hard pressed to find idealism in such abundance. There are vestiges of it still, for sure. But these are mere fragments, mere spectres. Amongst the younger generation at least, absurdism rules. And the internet was the battering ram that broke through the fortress of our sheltered existence and introduced us to its invading horde.

The cardinal rule revealed to us in this age of free flow of information (somewhat), is that every endeavour, no matter how nobly undertaken, and no matter how pure the intentions, contains within itself its own bane. And its collapse is not probable, but inevitable. A system even now is judged by how long it sustained itself before self-destructing, which tells us that we already knew better than to expect an eternal solution. Perhaps it is fitting that everything has an expiry date. Perhaps it is an unwritten rule that our very universe follows, and therefore, everything in it as well.
But full acceptance of this fact had never been so wilfully embraced as it has by this generation.

Now, to switch things around, let us take a look at the world through the lens of the much- maligned millennial. As one grows, one learns both by observing and by means of access to events worldwide that, essentially, everything has gone to shit. There is no room for anyone, no food for most, no distribution of wealth. We have endangered our existence by totally destroying our environmental well-being, by running through resources way faster than they can replenish themselves and by a blatant disregard for any form of a pragmatist reigning in of our splurges. Children are expected to study much more than any previous generation ever did, but are also expected to start working much earlier, and compete for worse positions. We are the most over-qualified generation to be unemployed and no, it cannot all be put down to millennial incompetence.

We no longer live in a world where people believe that they can turn to the government for help. At best, they hope to survive what the government puts them through. Corporations are the only escape from abject poverty to most, but they are soul-sucking machines that turn people into grey-lifeless blobs.

So, a child growing up now has the choice between being a penniless individual, or a decently well-off slave. Not exactly salivating prospects, either of them.

And so, what can we expect of this child who, wherever he looks, sees only rivers of shit through which he must wade, without the solace of a reward on the other side? Why do we feign surprise at his unwillingness to break his back working for the future of our planet? Why do we shudder when he displays pride in his dark humour and cynicism? What else have we left him?
Nothing.

So far, we examined the destructive element of the internet. We had a glimpse at the crippling effect it had on an entire generation by giving them a too unadulterated view of the world they live in. A microscope powerful enough, pointed in any direction, will reveal only chaos.

But here, the internet comes into its own. When all is nonsensical, when all is absurd, then none may challenge the supremacy of the internet. A casual browse-through of even the most mainstream of social networking sites will reveal to anyone, no matter how ignorant, the identity of our prophet: Memes.

Originally, the word was, at least in appearance, much more profound in meaning. But, and fittingly so, the internet adopted it, corrupted it, deformed it, and created from it a phenomenon that cannot be controlled.

The internet offered anonymity, the meme offered ease of access and creation, and the collective frustration of the new generation did the rest.

When nothing makes sense, then there tend not to be too many subjects that are sacred. And nowhere has this rule been followed more religiously (oh, the irony) than on the internet. There have been incessant attempts to control the content on the internet, to ban certain words, sites, images or forms of jokes. But the internet blew every attempt at impeding it out of the water, and effortlessly at that. Its power is only now being recognised, but by now the seething, sprawling, flourishing underbelly that is the human network on the internet has grown so immense that it is all one can do to even partially regulate it.

And now this power lies in the hands of every man, woman or child, anywhere on earth. A meme allows one, from one’s basement, to poke fun at the institutions or people that were formerly irreproachable. Sarcasm and dark humour have revealed themselves as the primary weapons of internet humour, and they are terrifying weapons when aptly used. There is no comments section on any platform on the internet that does not, before long, deteriorate into a pun-fest, or a reference war or simply a concoction of absurd, layered, internet inside-jokes. It takes extraordinary strength of will for a regular user of the internet to still take things too seriously. And most of us do not bother to make that effort, we do not see the point. The meteoric rise of irreverence and the complete abandonment of ideals that were held aloft for millennia before us is the only logical consequence of this phenomenon.

On the internet, you cannot be too pedantic, but you also daren’t be inaccurate. And even if you, by some miracle, say something completely accurate, you must also be interesting and witty, or else you were better off having spent your time elsewhere. The same comment, whether true or false, could incite polar opposite reactions depending on whether you gauged the underlying mood of the conversation correctly or incorrectly.

Whole communities of strangers will band together with no prior planning, just to ridicule a person who trespassed any one of the countless unwritten internet rules. And once you have been handed over to the internet for purposes of ridicule, then there is no hope of escape. Some persons have become so adept at satirising artists or celebrities that they have outshone their victims and become celebrities in their own right.

It is a vicious, unforgiving and, above all, nonsensical alternate world that we live and flourish in.

Digging under the surface a bit, it may appear that the internet and its brand of humour is a coping mechanism, the only means of expression left to a generation that has been strangled before it had a chance to breathe. A futile show of resilience and resistance in the face of overwhelming woe.

We choose, however to see it another way.

If, through despair and hopelessness, despite itself, we can create this beautiful global culture, this magnificent middle finger to the world; this untamed, unbridled, unmanageable deluge that makes a mockery of any attempt at sensibility… If that is to be our legacy, then let us embrace it and ensure that, at least in destruction of meaning, none were ever our match.

Let the absurd be the only true modern art.

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Ayn Rand and the Abdication of Judgement

According to Ayn Rand (renowned Objectivist philosopher and author), the motto, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” amounts to nothing more and nothing less than an abdication of moral responsibility.

In Ayn Rand’s eyes, refraining from judgement is the same as watching an injustice being perpetrated before you and doing nothing to prevent or deter it. Some may say that their non-participation means that they may not be held accountable for the act. Ayn Rand would say that their inaction in trying to prevent the evil makes them accountable, and moreover, almost an accomplice. Because in refraining from preventing evil, you are encouraging it to flourish.

I aim to take this a step further than she did, and extend the responsibility of judgement not just to morals, but to art and to culture. As far as morals are concerned, a philosophy of moral judgement would require a standardized moral code that applied to all of humanity. Ayn Rand believed this moral code exists, I personally disagree with her in this aspect. The reasons have been described in detail in a previous post. You can read it here.

But the essence of what Ayn Rand is trying to say is still valid. When, as a reasoning human being, one gives up his ability to judge and defers the responsibility that comes along with it, then one gives the green signal to decadence and degradation. If every belief and every philosophy is held up to the sternest test of cynical judgement, the faulty parts and weak links will immediately crumble beneath the scrutiny. But if judgement is abdicated, then the faulty bits are allowed to stand, and whole palaces of thought are constructed upon those quivering and barely coherent foundations. The problem, if not nipped in the bud, grows to exponential proportions and is soon beyond the ability of any one man or community to solve.

In the world of modern man, one of the worst pestilences to have hit human thought (barring humanity itself) is the mental attitude of diplomacy. One lives in mortal fear of offending others and as a result, any form of judgement is labelled conservatism, narrow-mindedness, fundamentalism, radicalism, extremism etc. And the fear of being associated with any of these labels induces men to give up their power of reasoning and judging altogether. They find it easier to meekly nod their heads in an understanding manner while the belligerent masses traverse from idiocy to advanced idiocy, unchecked by the reasoning of sanity.

The effects of diplomacy-induced-degradation can be directly connected to Democratic thought. A democracy specializes in creating equality between unequals. All forms of thought are to be considered equal, and all are to be given respect, even if the thought does not warrant any.

The effects of this “Philosophy of non-judgement,” which in my opinion should more accurately be called the “Philosophy of non-thought,” can be summarized in one statement.

The Degradation of Art and Culture

This symptom has seen an unprecedented, explosive rate of growth in the past fifteen years. Art has given up the one thing it possessed: Sublimity.

When the judgement of the value of art has been proscribed, then art no longer has the incentive to aspire to a level of excellence. An artist will put in hours, days, months of work into a single creation because he believes his creation will be unique and will stand alone and be celebrated in posterity as the only one of its kind. But if you try to democratize artistic criticism, if you attempt to judge sublime art on the same level as commercial art, if they are both held to the same standard (i.e. public popularity), then you remove the imperative that compels artists to put in that effort of which sublimity is a result. A practical and less conscientious artist would rather create a steady strea, of substandard art, than create one truly great work. Commercial success becomes the sole benefit of art. Art becomes its own worst nightmare, it becomes utilitarian.

The results are everywhere; movies do not bother constructing coherent storylines and compensate for it with popular club music and bewilderingly developed graphics. Authors compromise on their quality so that they may optimize their quantity. And its justification is: This is what the people want, therefore this is what we shall provide.

Right there, that statement typifies what Ayn Rand refers to as the abdication of judgement. The speaker of that sentence has attempted to absolve himself of artistic responsibility by shifting the blame to the public. But the public is not the body that possesses the ability to create sublimity, that power resides with the artist alone. Therefore, the responsibility of action and of sublime creation also resides with the artist alone and may not be blamed on fickle demand.

The purpose of art is to elevate. Art is meant to be exclusive, not inclusive. And a society that discourages the passing of judgement on art can never experience the bracing fresh air that can only be breathed on the peaks of artistic excellence.

A culture that worries more about how something is said rather than what is said is a culture helplessly on the path to decay and eventual death. Truth is strangled so as to supplement superficial fraternity. Innovation is smothered lest it ruffle a few feathers. An easy example of the far reaching effects of the direction this thought takes, is the co-existence of Creationism and Darwinism in an educational system that is supposedly secular, even though Creationism has no factual or scientific merit. It exists in a secular, educational institute, solely to appease the feelings of those offended by Darwinism. The statement made there is that it is more important to avoid offending people than to educate our youth.

As Ayn Rand succinctly puts it: In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.