It’s hard to know where to begin, of course; the situation has many interlocking layers. The most notable and disturbing elements have been well covered, and we continue to learn more about the event each day. The picture, it seems, only grows darker. For my part, I’ve been especially interested in thinking through the role of digital media in these events and what it portends for the future. Here, then, are a few reflections for your consideration along those lines.
Wow, brilliant piece. Your section about the distinction of truth and trust intrigued me, as it was once pointed out to me that the two words both derive from the same Old English root. The meaning "accurate" came later. So the notion of agreement or good faith is inseparable from veracity in our language. I'm similarly reminded of Heidegger's etymology of the word "thing," which meant both a generic fact/object and a deliberative assembly, like the Viking "Thing" parliament. Bruno Latour explored that in his essay "Has Critique Run Out of Steam" to distinguish between 2-dimensional matters of fact and 4-dimensional "matters of concern" where every event and object is subject to all our varied and collective interpretations of it. Great essay if you're looking for more 'things' to draw on.
This is such an excellent analysis. Thank you. I forwarded it to my brother-in-law, who’s the CIO at Princeton. I thought you would find some of his thoughts useful.
“Good article. Thanks for sharing that. Having just watched the Social Dilemma, this was very synergistic. I've come to the same realizations that he has over the past few years, but not quite as cogently reasoned.
“I would argue with his database metaphor. As I know them, databases aren't just collections of facts (that would be a spreadsheet) but a collection of facts that are highly structured and joined by a very thoughtful structure. You derive information from and through the structure. This mess isn't structured at all. There is a better term for what he means, but it is inelegant - Data Lake. In a data lake, you through everything you have into it without any structure at all. You then use algorithms to try to find meaning for you. The algorithms (many using AI) find some information in the collection of data, but that meaning is dependent on the biases built into the algorithm to begin with. In this case, everyone has their own algorithm and nobody quite understands how their own bias determines that algorithm and is, in turn, reinforced by the results that they get. It is a dangerous time.”
Some of these notes remind me of the phenomenon of early modern English Calvinists going into a deep and (still in some places, to this day) reaction against theatre and much art on the grounds that representing, mentally entertaining, and performing vice is to be guilty of it as well. I've never understood that psychology, but I have seen it, and I believe it persisted perhaps more in parts of American society than anywhere else. It is a rigid way of organizing the self and insisting others do so as well, using force if necessary.
One way to understand this Puritan self is that it conceives of everything that is not reliable as plain, clear, and direct discourse as manipulation, deception, and corruption. It is a war on dance literally and metaphor, because it is a war on Eros, so it looks on the world not only as pornography but with the eye of a pornographer. There is very little distance between a person of this mentality and their repressed opposite, twin, or nemesis. It may be why we are a nation of extremes: excess or cold-turkey quits, radical conversion, or transgression, with Al-Anon for all.
Hi, I'm a new subscriber although I have been reading the free newsletter for a while and I'm a great admirer of your work.
I'm been thinking about this article since I've read it and it came to mind again earlier this week again as the Reddit/Gamestop situation was coming to light. I know you do not want this newsletter to simply become a response to the latest current event but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this latest episode in light of digital media's role in the latest "insurrection." Much of the discourse around Reddit and Wall Street does seem reminiscent of the discussion of January 6, with similar misconceptions between internet message boards and "real life."