Does the internet make everything superficial- even revolution?


I have been thinking a lot about revolution- not the violent bloody guillotine kind, more the Jesus kind- the explosion of light in the middle of our thinking that means that living the old way seem ridiculous.

I worry that it is too late for me and for my generation. We lost our passion, our ideology, our religion. It was already being poisoned by toxic consumption when the wars in the Gulf killed it dead. What replaces this for most of us is that most pernicious anti-doctrine called cynicism. Those of us in whom some old light survives are tired and so easily distracted by trivia, sport, shiny product.

The gap between hope and aspiration is a dreadful one. We hoped for a world that was not being eaten away piece by piece by the rich North at the expense of the poor South. We hoped for societies who are learning to find harmony, community, justice, compassion. We hoped to break free from the cycles of materialism that corrupt and commodotise the lives of rich and poor (although particularly the rich.) We hoped for so much more than plastic life with built in obsolescence.

Instead we accommodate. We compromise our compromises. We watch TV. Our lives slip by with advert breaks. In an age of total communication I often find myself with three screens flicking three different sets of information at me at once. I outsourced my humanity into cyberspace; I live only on screen now.

Most of us know this to be true, and so we find ourselves on an instinctive search for something with meaning; mountaintop experiences, adrenaline rushes, screaming rock concerts. But because of the internet, because we are tired, distracted and outsourced, most of the time we look for meaning via our screens. Like the one you are reading this through right now.

And there is meaning/truth/beauty out there. Facebook is full of it- all those video clips, quotations, posters that get posted and re-posted millions of times. Clips like this one;

Don’t get me wrong- this is lovely. It might even contribute to making shifts in people minds towards grace. But at the same time do we really think that these kinds of formats can bridge the gap between hope and aspiration that I mentioned above?

You may also point me towards the way that savvy campaigning organisations have used social media platforms to get their messages across- flashmobs, direct protesting, bombarding of websites, on line petitions etc.

But if we are honest, as soon as we hit ‘share’ on most of these posts, we kind of think that our job is done right? As soon as I have written something full of faux-pathos on this blog I feel like I have liberated a captive or two, fed some hungry child or restored their sight.

But nothing has changed. Not really.

There was a great interview with Uruguayan President José Mujica in The Guardian today. He is an old revolutionary Marxist, friend of Che Guevara, who is now the leader of perhaps the most progressive country in South America. This is from the article;

“I’m just sick of the way things are. We’re in an age in which we can’t live without accepting the logic of the market,” he said. “Contemporary politics is all about short-term pragmatism. We have abandoned religion and philosophy … What we have left is the automatisation of doing what the market tells us.”

The president lives within his means and promotes the use of renewable energy and recycling in his government’s policies. At the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference on sustainable development last year, he railed against the “blind obsession” to achieve growth through greater consumption. But, with Uruguay’s economy ticking along at a growth rate of more than 3%, Mujica – somewhat grudgingly, it seems – accepts he must deliver material expansion. “I’m president. I’m fighting for more work and more investment because people ask for more and more,” he said. “I am trying to expand consumption but to diminish unnecessary consumption … I’m opposed to waste – of energy, or resources, or time. We need to build things that last. That’s an ideal, but it may not be realistic because we live in an age of accumulation.”

Asked for a solution to this contradiction, the president admits he doesn’t have the answers, but the former Marxist said the search for a solution must be political. “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction,” he said. “But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”

Mujica and his wife chat fondly about meetings with Che Guevara, and the president guesses he is probably the last leader in power to have met Mao Zedong, but he has mixed feelings about the recent revolts and protests in Brazil, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere. “The world will always need revolution. That doesn’t mean shooting and violence. A revolution is when you change your thinking. Confucianism and Christianity were both revolutionary,” he said.

But he is cynical about demonstrations organised by social networks that quickly dissolve before they have a capacity to build anything lasting. “The protesters will probably finish up working for multinationals and dying of modern diseases. I hope that I am wrong about that.”

The revolution does not need tanks to break down it’s barricades- those who want it to fail only need to sit back and watch it become tired, distracted, outsourced.

I hope I am wrong too. I suppose that the very presence of leaders like Mujica gives us hope, even if he is 78.

I hope that there are still people who have the courage to act as well as to observe quirky three minute clips on Youtube.

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