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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Jonathan Swift – A Masterclass in Satire

Jonathan Swift, with A Modest Proposal, unleashes a scathing attack on the state of affairs in Ireland, at society’s inaction to improve the deplorable state and at the Government for what he perceived to be willful inaction.

Ireland was suffering, at this point, from a host of problems including overpopulation, unemployment, severe poverty, disease, and starvation. Swift saw this all too clearly, and his keen insight brought him only frustration as he recognized both the severity of the issues that faced society and their unwillingness to do anything about it.

Wielding his sharp, morbid satire to bring the farce into the limelight, Jonathan Swift plays the part of a good Samaritan trying to find a solution to the most pressing issues that plagued Ireland at his time. A Modest Proposal starts out seriously enough and transitions far too comfortably into its satirical tone. The transition is so seamless that the reader is left fidgeting at the introduction of Swift’s solutions because he is not entirely sure how much is spoken in jest.

Swift’s reasoning runs thus: Ireland, being a Christian country, frowned upon abortion or foeticide. A woman, once pregnant, was expected to go through with the pregnancy and rear the baby no matter what the consequences. This often led to women of the lower classes being encumbered with unwanted pregnancies and then slogging the rest of their lives to provide for a child who was surplus to their requirements or wishes. This had the knock-on effect of miring them even further in the depths of poverty, resulting in the child being brought up amongst squalor and meagreness.

Swift, using faultless logic, shows how there are no positive outcomes to this scenario. The mother’s adult life is consumed in trying to keep up with the additional expenses. The unwanted pregnancy, usually out of wedlock, results in ostracization of the family from society. The child, out of desperation or poverty, often turns to a life of crime. There are no winners. Moreover, all the while the populace stares on, disenchanted and unperturbed, as family after family is dragged into the mud.

But here, Swift steps in. Surely, says he, there is a better way of going about this. Surely a nation as enterprising as Ireland must not bow in subjection to a problem as small as this. Swift’s pride and patriotism shine through and cannot be concealed even by the heavy sarcasm that liberally coats the text. And so he sets the platform for his proposed solution.

A child was suckled for close to a year before it is weaned off the mother’s milk and fed solid food. The provision of solid food to a growing child is what proves to be the greatest drain on a parent’s finances. Swift reasons that it is at this point that the mothers need to make a change.

His “Modest Proposal” is that when the child has reached the age of one, he/she should be sold to the aristocracy as a delicacy to be consumed. A simple solution, the positive repercussions of which affect every segment of society.

The parent, being paid more for the child than its upbringing would have cost in a year’s time, would make a profit and avoid all the required expenses, hence alleviating their poverty to some extent. The measure will discourage abortions, which would be seen as a positive in a Christian society. And the aristocrats will have a new delicacy to fawn over. Swift suggests marketing the new dish to the upper classes as an exclusive experience that is reserved for only those residing on the uppermost rungs of the societal ladder. The aura that accompanies such exclusivity will result in the prices always being comfortably high so as to guarantee the parents of the child do not get the raw end of the deal. And, as Swift so succinctly puts it, the aristocrats have made a habit of feeding off the lifeblood of the masses in any case, and so a chance to literally feed on them will not be taken amiss.

And finally, as if we needed any more convincing, Swift brings to our notice the amount of attention, and as a result, the tourism, that will be attracted to Ireland by this practice. People all over the world will flock to Ireland to witness this never-seen-before industrialized consumption of infant meat. Swift even conjectures that this may be the beginning of a worldwide phenomenon, of which Irish pioneering thought would be the fountainhead.

This, then, was Swift’s modest proposal to solve Ireland’s various issues. It may be seen as a classic of the genre of satire, from one of its best ever writers. But more importantly, it is a reminder that bears much relevance even today. This book was Jonathan Swift’s way of telling us that if we continue turning a blind eye to societal evils, and let the status quo dig us deeper into our grave, then it is only through drastic and disturbing measures that we will be able to salvage anything as a species. The eating of the infants is a delicious use of symbolism by Swift, signifying the depraved world that we are leaving our children in. The world where dog-eat-dog is considered pragmatic and wise, and altruism holds no place in reality.