(Epistemic Status: Inspired by https://www.facebook.com/gdiego.vichutilitarian/posts/1474383972645395?pnref=story, somewhat endorsed, fairly heavy framing)
The human mind is not a particularly truth-seeking agent. The illusion of consciousness is largely a function of increasing reproductive fitness via self preservation. It is not the truth that spurs a person to action but an emotional resonance. Geigo’s post explores the political implications of this combined with the terrifyingly easy emotional access various ideological blocs have due to social media – however, there is something even more frightening in between those lines. There are some that have adapted to these brainwashing tactics; however, that immunity is socially costly. I propose that the increasing sociopathy of heavy internet users is a self preservative measure against emotional hijacks via superstimulus.
There are so many stories out there these days, anecdotes of cruelty, horror, and despair from all forces, natural, manmade, ideological, political, random, etc. No matter what you believe is true, you can find something confirming it. Your story is valid. On the first level, most people just keep sharing the same stories, over and over, with different actors each time. The horror never ends, nor does the work. The outrage cannot stop. On the second level, you try to think a bit more, you fact check a bit, but things still seem bad – Ideology of Choice is still clearly Correct because it understands the horrors that take place every day. On the third level, you have a diverse enough bubble that you realize that all the stories are the same, not just the stories within one bubble or another – they just have different frames. It becomes harder and harder to get outraged, harder and harder to pay attention because it all blends together. You get desensitized – the Ideologies of Choice do not like this much and will often build in calls to outrage and shame this desensitization. Level three is very heavily targeted by level one and it’s a dark place.
But then there’s level four. You realize it’s all just attention hijacking and you may be desensitize but you’re still not above it…but maybe you could be. Maybe you can just knock the entire system out that is responding to level one’s shaming of your lack of outrage, and level two’s assumption that you might be going a bit too lowkey. This is where things get interesting – you harden yourself against the brainwashing and refuse to allow any Ideology of Choice to really fully stick…and suddenly it’s much harder to relate to people. It’s difficult to perform the right affect when they tell you of a tragedy, even when it’s in real life. It’s difficult to know what to say because part of you – maybe it’s a small part, maybe it’s a big one, sees the scaffolding of the stories, the ones used to hurt you and manipulate you and hijack your attention. It’s not that you want to be a sociopath…everyone really is manipulating you and it’s so much harder to just let it happen. The defenses kick in too fast for conscious thought. You have been inducted to the Ideology of Sociopathy.
The twist here is that, level four isn’t actually an immunity, it’s emotional damage – worse still, it has it’s own ways to be hooked. Instead of using a direct emotional appeal, a would be brainwasher of a sociopath appeals to the sense of superiority, the sense of being In On The Secret to extract attention. The worldview of deep cynicism gets confirmed, over and over. No longer is outrage being harvested but ruthlessness – the sociopath is weaponized in a way that an outraged person cannot be. This was realized well before the political machine got a hold of social media. The wild days of the internet, the late 90s early aughts were a case study in screen time sociopathy. One only need look at the old days of 4chan, when everything was reduced to the value of the lulz.
There is no win condition with social media – our emotional systems are so thoroughly co-opted that we cannot use them for guidance, but nor can we try to damage them beyond repair. We cannot exit the rat race and hope to still be connected to those around us. We cannot be outraged all the time to connect to others. We are trapped in a high speed attention market and the trade floor never closes.
Discussion questions: Have you noticed you or others around you becoming more emotionally detached as things get more out of control? Have you found another way to cope with the social media news cycle? Can the human brain rise above this trend?