TEXT BY – FILIPPO VILLANI

TRANSLATION BY – ELENA D’OTTAVIO

 

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Processed with VSCO with 6 preset

The United States Presidential Election brought into question the roots of the Western Society as we know it since decades, even centuries.
According to many people, modernity jumps forward into post-modernity, as a clear sign of their historical importance.

From the beginning of 1968, during the “Short century”, there were an anthropological change, which lead to the end of the Twentieth century through the syncretism of different ideologies (just think at the Policy Mix promoted by Trump: a mixture between Democratics and Republicans ideas), and the exaltation of individualism and the spectacularization of Politics.
These are very important factors, but they are not easy to understand without taking into consideration the evolution of the global information through the rise of internet 25 years ago.

In the early ‘90s, the World Wide Web widespread, and as a consequence many changes struck the editing and the Western political worlds.
The neo-liberal principles of the previous decade, together with an increasingly affirmation of globalization, have contributed to the development of technology and to the rising of the so-called “New Economy”, which opened the new Millennium with a speculative bubble in favour of digital economy.
Over the 2000s, this sector has grown fastly, with relentless performative improvements of technology tools and an even a more capillary distribution.

The real change came around 2005, when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone, a touchscreen telephone designed to come out from the professional context, gaining an enormous impact on communication media.
In fact, the increasing of owning a smartphone among people allowed them to carry out activities which were not possible to perform before using bulky tools, such as photo editing.
Indeed, thanks to Internet access, a new world has increased, based on an unlimited connectivity wherever you are.  Newspapers started to invest in online editions, focusing on the growing mass media in opposition to Tv-channels.

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What wreaked the havoc has been Facebook. Invented in 2005 by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook has become popular in the following years, together with the new mobile phones (if we may call them that).
Through these “tectonic movements”, what is called “Web 2.0” born.
Web 2.0 is a global network with whom every owner of a connected smartphone can communicate with other people through messages, telephone calls, posts on apps or social media, even share photos and personal thoughts.
This occur in a sort of “digital area”, in which filters are almost absent and people can share their opinion about everything.
It can be considered a total abolition of information barriers: even if you are not a journalist, you can become a blogger, even if you are completely uninformed about something, you can always speculate and be followed. What matters is to expose yourself: talking, being present, and sharing your opinions in this unlimited virtual space that won’t stop you.

In this disintermediation context, what is reliable is the popularity you can have, and the stir you can generate. Truth (and authenticity) no longer count.
The key metrics to evaluate the achievements and the “greatness” of characters and the spreading of their news is given by the number of “likes” and “shares” they receive.
This phenomenon involves millions of people since many years and its consequences are particularly relevant in recent months.
The quality of information is falling dramatically in Western Society, as shown in a joint research conducted by the Northeastern University of Boston, Lyon University and Laboratory of Computational Social Science of IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, named Collective Attention in the Age of (Mis)information.
In Italy, during the Electoral Campaign in 2013, there was an audit made on 2.300.000 of people, that considered a ready-made case of “troll news” concerning the adoption of a presumed law set by a certain Senator Cirenga, aimed to spend 134 billions of Euros to find out a job-place for Members of Parliament  who were no longer re-elected.
This is an example, even if it is limited to Italy, of how easily and quickly “troll news” are shared through alternative information channels with unpredictable policy implications.

So the Liberal Democracy dream, based on the progress of the society thanks to the well-being and knowledges, is going to be shattered by the consequences of a flat information, acme of the degenerating western society still predicted  by  the Frankfurt School.
The most violent incarnation of this phenomenon can be found in the blog called “Breitbart News”.

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An e.g. of a “screamed” title in the Breitbart News.

 

In 2007 Andrew Breitbart  creates the information web-site inspired by his  moderate conservative beliefs; when he died, the businessman and media expert, Stephen “Steve” Bannon, became the new editing director of the web-site, turning it into a more extreme ideology.
He turned the site towards a more extremist ideology. So, it has become the Headquarters of the American right named “Alt-Right”, that is misaligned with the Liberal Conservatism of Republicans: racist, misogynous, no-global, homophobe and anti-Semite. All characteristics of Donald Trump’s policy.
Trump, who has been supported since the beginning in the Republican primaries just from Breitbart News through news using pictures and strong style (following the iconographic and lexical format of the tabloids) and definitely aimed at misleading, because they were often based on unverified sources or on pure ideological distortions. Yet the blog, starting from a pure underground condition, has become famous soon and found a winning factor in the Election Campaign of the Republican outsider, who has in fact hired Bannon as campaign manager for the last few months before the victory. Now Trump have elected Bannon as the Government Advisor.

This is because he was successfully able to exploit the crucial points of contemporary society, which is witnessing a return of orality because of social media. The Western world, based on the capacity for abstraction and critical thinking encouraged by the writing (very important in public life in Greek-classical period and then a mass phenomenon as the invention of printing in the mid-fifteenth century), is returning to a pre-alphabetical  context marked by the orality.
No longer count the words, which in the past were used to reflect theoretically, but images. The current economic system is very fast in time and technique; today people look more to the immediate impact of a single information without doing any analysis: there is no longer any reflection, but a Pavlovian reflex. The information is now aggregative, aggressive, sensational, redundant, stereotyped. It has no longer any educational aspect or similar to parresia as art to tell the truth: it is mere standardized reproduction of alleged facts interpretations, without any care for their reliability.

At this point it would be more appropriate to make an uneasy question: are we sure that the Twentieth Century would have been closed permanently? Does it really so new?

Perhaps, by removing the strong post ‘68 individualism and a high degree of nihilism, we should be far from considering as “new” what is happening.

In fact, just in the last century, after such an economic crisis like ours and similar to that one of the First World War, a communications expert helped a candidate outsider of a European country during the Election Campaign, playing on the spectacle of politics, the syncretism of economic and strong nationalism policies by racist connotations based on popular beliefs and longstanding result of strong social tensions.

One of his typical phrases was:

“Wenn man eine große Lüge erzählt und sie oft genug wiederholt, dann werden die Leute glauben sie am Ende.” / “If you tell a big lie and that is repeated enough, then people will believe in it eventually.”

Whose is this quote about the power of lies, we might call “Lügenmacht”? By Joseph Goebbels, propaganda Minister of the Third Reich.

 

This principle has a Machiavellian aspect carried to extremes, however, reiterated in the contemporary context by another character:

“Darkness is good” / “Darkness is a good thing.”

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The author of this statement is Steve Bannon (with the current President of the United States in this picture).

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