During the last days of a year that was filled with the perceived horrors of the untimely death of several celebrity actors and popstars, as well as the real horror of the destruction of Aleppo, I want to sit back and reflect.
A word that illustrates our quick march towards unadulterated cynicism that characterized the year 2016 is ‘filter bubble’. In a world of ‘hypernormalisation‘, to use the phrase of Adam Curtis’ recent documentary, people see their own (political) convictions projected and reaffirmed on their screens, because that’s what the algorithms decide. The unbounded desire for such reaffirmation justifies the emerging fake-news industry. The truth, as usual assumed to be some principally attainable substantive, dies first according to the media theorists who study the phenomenon.
So, 2016 was a year in which, entirely according to taste, democratic capitalism irrevocably embarked on a journey to hell, lined by the croaking voices of Farage and Trump; it was the year in which climate change became so terrifyingly obvious (last November, the North Pole was 20 degrees hotter than it should be) that the academic question, according to Noam Chomsky whom I admittedly worship too much, becomes which hell do we reach first.
2016 was a year in which, entirely according to taste, democratic capitalism irrevocably embarked on a journey to hell, lined by the croaking voices of Farage and Trump
Basking in my very own bubble, what can I say that penetrates this bubble? Shouldn’t I restrict myself to the Socratic admonition of the impossibility of real knowledge? Even if I would have expert knowledge and understanding of what is going on in the world, how could I convince anybody that such knowledge is not ultimately dependent on my own bubble and should hence be discarded by those living outside of it?
I’m sure that you have, like me, engaged in many discussions on social media throughout 2016. I have argued about climate change, environmental degradation, the Syrian civil war, the sharing economy, the universal basic income, the European refugee crisis, Brexit, and many other things. When I decide to contribute, I try to be unsure about my own position; I rather ‘try out’ arguments, curious of where they might lead to. It could only give us more truth, if we believe in discursive progress (as we must). Anyway, I have managed to avoid wholesale identification with liberal, conservative or radical ideologies, but sadly in a culture that mistakes critical assessment for hostility, this might have precluded some lasting (online) philosophical friendships.
So, here is my wish for the new year 2017. Calmness of mind and – allow me to weave the metaphor further – the build-up of pressure to destroy filter bubbles and the theoretical frames of mind that keep inflating them. All that a philosopher can wish for on the verge of a new year is the love of wisdom and the leaden knowledge (as poor Plato found out) that we don’t have a recipe for building the right society – that all we can and should do is pop some bubbles.
As for me, I hope to buckle up, ramble on and inspire other minds to the simple joy of the oldest technology that doesn’t pollute the environment: language. I wish my readers the sustained inspiration they need for a gentle descent into the abyss that political and environmental pundits alike so dramatically promise us, or, should the pundits be wrong (they too live in their own bubble, after all) the ability to recognize and utilize the tiniest window of opportunity that humanity might have to get out of this mess.
Happy New Year!