Skiagraphia: Internet and the Art of the Shadow Weaving
“One who wants to know something, in the same instant wants his knowledge to be endowed with reality. Knowledge without reality is no knowledge at all. What follows from this?”
F.W.J. Schelling, Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie
Rattle and hum
There’s a peculiar tone of urgency echoing in the background of the talking points of young “intellectuals” and “political activists” acting on Internet. If one seeks its source, a singular expression will inevitably start to stand out in its clearly distinguishable tone and obvious, yet initially unclear, significance – the sentence beginning with: “I identify as …”.
Why and whence this need for self-identification, the need that by far transcends its natural limits since it seems like the whole rattle of debates and radicalism revolves precisely around it as it keeps humming persistently in the background?
Why does it seem that it’s all about declaring one’s identity; one’s “I” and its possessions?
We’ll inspect what seems to be the core principle driving the “debates” on subjects such as scepticism, race, gender, social justice, religion, etc. In the course of the analysis, however, one peculiar thing could happen; it might just end up that the whole business of Internet ideological exchanges, from the Alt Right to the far Left, is nothing else then a mass attempt to delineate and concretize the underlying principle we just pointed out – to unwillingly, yet compulsively, bring the monotonous, single tone background noise from the periphery into the centre.
This would mean, let us note in advance, that everything else could be of much lesser significance, as it can change into it’s very opposite in the matter of seconds.
In former times, ideology one adhered to mattered. While radicals were sometimes prone to seamless transitions from the one opposite extreme to other, majority of people held more or less firmly to their core beliefs, no matter how skewed they might have been. You wouldn’t expect a progressive to become a conservative that easily and, consequently, you wouldn’t expect what amounts to masses of people switching their beliefs and political outlooks based sometimes on a simple video clip.
No wonder, one might say, because there were no simple video clips at that time. And this could precisely be the point.
There existed, to some extent, a constancy of thought and act, and, by implication, a constancy in their subjects: persons holding to them.
Nowadays, as it seems, this has almost imperceptibly, yet fundamentally, changed.
The deeper rabbit hole of Internet
The phenomenon is above all disclosed by the Internet. This medium has far more depth than is usually admitted in the sense that it can disclose a peculiar differences and nuances about its users that are in no way disclosed outside of it.
For example, people’s social network personas more often than not appear to be rather different than their real life characters in a quite exceptional manner. It is more or less usual that aggressive debater or biting cynic from the Facebook can in reality be a rather timid person, completely uninterested in continuing his frantic on line activity in actual conversations, or vice versa.
What makes this stand out as something far more peculiar and deeper than the simple benefit of anonymity – which is really a mirage in the context of Internet – is that the on line persona seems to be a far more accurate expression of person’s inner nature than the one he displays in off line living; paradoxically, the Internet mediated identity seems to be what he really is whereas his real personality rather comes out as at best a partial expression of it, obscured by social mores and insecurities or even something darker, but really hard to pinpoint.
How is this possible?
To answer this question, we must inquire about the essential difference between what goes on on line as opposed to real life. The implications of this will, however, take us much deeper than the mere discrepancy of what one really thinks as opposed to what he pretends to think; because, it appears that precisely pretence in this context seems to claim the mantle of reality itself.
I think that the answer lies in the real motive behind all the frantic intellectual and (virtual) political activity we’re witnessing today. This motive – an efficient and final cause of it all – appears to be a pursuit of identity.
As with all other new phenomena, we must warn in advance that this activity is not necessarily related to what commonly used to be understood by it. For me this is perhaps best exemplified by the peculiarly benign nature of the most Alt Right spokespersons, people who for all intents and purposes with child-like innocence reiterate some of the tried and tested neo-Nazi talking points, while, sometimes quite energetically, rejecting to be classified as having anything to do with actual Nazism, anti-Semitism, Fascism, etc.
I, for one, not only do believe them, but also believe that this fact can be demonstrated. However, if such demonstration exculpates them from being a Waffen SS fan club, it doesn’t at the same time exculpate them from being on the trajectory that is potentially far worse and still unclear in its strange, chaotic novelty.
The example of Alt Right is taken here only as an example, not as a delineation of the full scope of the matter. It is apt for observation only because of its adherent’s explicit stress on identity as the fundamental principle of politics.
It is my contention that the cause of the whole plethora of young people herding around this movement, often coming from other, seemingly disparate, Internet based “movements”, doesn’t essentially lay in the attractiveness of the core principles of Alt Right – which are in fact reiteration and reformulation of already existing political philosophies of 19th and 20th Century – but rather in their pursuit of the most abstract principle of the pure identity they crave and seemingly find in the white nationalism and the vision of the white ethno state.
This means above all, that it’s not about the race, nation state, whiteness, genes and so on and so forth.
It’s about the hunger for reality.
The Only One and its possessions
So what does expression “I identify as …” essentially intends to disclose?
At the most elementary level it is a form of declaration of who someone is. There’s, however, a simpler and more traditional way of doing this, in the form of “I am … this or that”. This seemingly insignificant difference is a detail that immediately catches attention.
Why say “I identify as … Christian … white nationalist … Liberal”, etc. instead of saying, “I am Christian … white nationalist … Liberal, etc.”?
There is a kind of uneasy caution and at the same time an air of compulsive wish for self assertion in this statement: it doesn’t disclose one’s being, but states one’s intention. As such it is not in fact a matter of person introducing oneself to others but statement of how person wishes to be perceived; and this wish is something that is expected to be accepted as real and sufficient to make someone present to others. It is, in effect, completely dependent on what is outside itself – the other’s recognition.
The difference between this kind of self-assertion and disclosure of one’s personal character is a veritable abyss; it is, as opposed to a statement of one’s true self, which suffers no contradiction because it comes from genuine reality of one’s own self, no matter how marred awareness of it might be, rather a statement of the claim to absolute freedom to be what one wants to be, and a request that this be recognised and affirmed by the other.
In this sense, we’re presented with the phenomenon of both absolute affirmation of freedom and its absolute negation: “I” is posited as pure activity creating its own reality and at the same time requesting this reality to be affirmed as such by the non-“I”, i.e. the other. If I am what I identify as “I am”, then my reality is completely dependent on recognition and acceptance of this by others who are totally outside of this reality for the simple reason they’re doing the same thing: requesting me to check and affirm credentials of their own existence, as if it were a matter of waving an ID card.
This peculiar sense of “I” and “not-I” being dialectically related stems from the peculiar nature of Ego as a metaphysical principle.
Ego in this sense is not merely a psychological given – it is a principle, therefore a reality upon which all subordinate reality is being disclosed; moreover, it is not a given at all, because it’s essential feature is absolute freedom to posit itself, without any outside limitations to it. This is necessary because principle compels everything else into subordination or it would cease to be a principle.
How come, then, that it is at the same time dragged in the dialectics of its opposite: the non-I, which is everything that it is not? Why does it crave anything outside itself?
It’s because it is not real.
However, this unreality has a peculiar mode of existence: it is not an unreality of straightforward nothing that cannot be comprehended at all, but the unreality that, although lacking in substance, acts unceasingly, creating quite real effects.
The everyday expression we use for this strange phenomenon is the word “lie”.
For something to be a “lie” there must exist something that is “true”, therefore “a lie” needs “the truth” as it’s other – it is an intentional statement of other than what really is in any given instance.
To say that lie is unreal does not prevent us in being influenced or even destroyed by lies; it doesn’t prevent us to build the whole of our lives on lies – from personal histories to world history, it is hardly necessary to point out how often this is precisely the case.
The Ego is a principle upon which it is possible to assimilate a lie, because it is itself a reality based on being other than what really is.
No man really knows himself – the older he gets, the more certain he is about this – but Ego never knows itself and for most of the time we experience it as a mask we display to others, always dimly aware that this is not what we really are.
But the psychological mode of this principle is subordinated to its metaphysical validity, something that is more or less neglected in spite of its all pervading power, quite in accordance with the overall rejection of traditional logic of resolving the individual instances into their principles.
I believe that phenomenon we’re addressing here forces this logic to be reintroduced if we are to understand it.
Namely, purity of Internet mediated Egos “identifying” as this or that, transcends psychology or, still better to say, goes far beneath its innate superficiality.
Whereas dynamics of personal life discloses the effects of metaphysical Egoism, it doesn’t really sufficiently clarify it as a principle in its purity. No one is that egoistic in the real life, after all.
The Internet, however, makes the statement of Ego, as a principle of everything that is, rather clearly and in no uncertain terms.
Couldn’t it just be possible that Internet personas are more like nodes in the electronic network than human beings and that human beings behind them are doing their best to identify as those avatars?
Surely, the incentive is present. If one wants to be free to identify as one wish, the ultimate resolution would be to renounce what he is, because this is something he cannot change by identifying, if he can change it at all. The persona on the Internet would then be an expression of his inner freedom.
The problem is that this seems impossible and, consequently, quite insane to attempt.
Indeed, it is. Yet this doesn’t make it any less the case.
The phenomenon of “know it all”
Metaphysical egoism by its very nature depends on creating networks of relations, because it is essentially a mode of fundamental relativism – Ego exists only in reflection into something that it apprehends as other to itself, so it is perpetually goaded into seeking out a mirror that will perfectly reflect it and provide it with reality. As this is the craving that cannot really be fulfilled, metaphysical egoist by necessity gets entangled in the web of dialectical relations, always skipping from one point to the other.
This is disclosed by a peculiar phenomenon of inconstancy of beliefs and standpoints immediately observable among Internet “intellectuals” – it is nothing unusual that the single person changes not only political beliefs, but religious denominations, in the very short span of time; something that is initially utterly incomprehensible to someone even dimly aware of the gravitas these “decisions” should by rights entail.
However, on closer look, there’s no mystery about it.
Ego mimics reality of the person, i.e. it retains its form, but is completely vacant of its content. Correspondingly, its grip on reality can mimic the personal knowledge to such an extent that it can produce far more coherent systems or “narratives” about it than the real person can ever dream to accomplish, simply because person is always aware of his or hers own ignorance; the fact that naturally prevents it to fully realize it’s knowledge. Ego, on the other hand, has no notion of ignorance because it knows only itself and is thereby able to formalize everything into sometimes astonishingly coherent explanations of the reality, world, history, religion, politics, etc.
The only problem is, none of it is real, because it essentially only serves to explain the Ego itself as it projects itself upon the world.
The reason why the plethora of Internet mediated “identifiers”, hopefully still based on the real persons behind the screens, perpetually change their forms is precisely the unreality of these forms; today, people supposedly have the wisdom of the ages at the tip of their fingers, but it seems that even the most simple and elementary conditions of acquiring the knowledge remain untouched by those tips. Ego knowledge is based on the “making sense”, i.e. processing of information in the meaningful systems that by their very nature have to be all-explanatory. The reason for this is the fact that Ego is absolute and cannot be satisfied with knowing something but exclusively by knowing everything.
Tragicomically enough, it’s because it really cannot know anything at all except itself.
The life of Ego is a dynamic weaving of illusion, therefore something that only seems real. In the ether of Internet this illusion can reach perfection because personas of its users can be freely moulded and provide an illusion that the one who is creating his own persona is in fact identical with what he created. This is further reinforced by others who support this individual conscious node, forming a reality tunnel which is completely separated from reality, but is easily reinforced by processing of information into desirable direction.
In this sense, most of the Internet “intellectuals” are in fact people attempting to perform an act of de-personalization by identifying with their projections.
It is therefore no wonder that identitarian ideas get so popular; they seem to provide the meaningful systems inside of which Ego can keep an illusion of its own reality. The whole rattle about politics, religion, conspiracy theories, etc. seems to be no more than the pursuit of acquiring the most meaningful system of knowledge and worldviews in order to remake oneself into a coherent system; to make oneself something rather different than the real human being, one might add.
And, rest assured, you can do this by identifying yourself as an opponent of posthumanism without the glitch in your code.
So there’s really no need to untangle talking points rising the level of noise in communications channels – they’re completely insubstantial although often quite meaningful. Their true substance is the hunger for reality whose object is simultaneously being rejected by the decision to project oneself instead of the decision to be oneself.
The motive behind it is a rather plain one: knowledge is power and absolute knowledge would be that which is unconditioned by reality outside it. Black comedy of it all lies in the fact that such knowledge is impossible – it is an illusion of knowledge.
But, as we already pointed out, illusion is not a trifle matter.
Identitarian and conspiratorial ideas in context
So, there’s really not much to debate about when it comes to all those “identifying as …” people, because the main thing is, they could be unconsciously on the way of ceasing to be people all together. One could imagine that in the near future we’ll meet internet intellectuals that solved absolutely all mysteries posed by the ages, debating among themselves who’s right and who’s wrong whereas all of them in fact can only be right, because to be right – to be a meaningful system – means to be real.
In this context, there are really no unique groups, but identitarians are pretty good example, because their insistence on defining the reality of individual and the group makes them attractive for purely systemic reasons: a narrative or system of identity politics provides the desirable reality narrative to provide Ego with an appropriate form, keeping it temporarily secure.
We could say the same for the conspiracy theories, prevalence of which around the Internet is undeniable: most of the religious “identifying”, observable among Internet based intellectuals is more often than not based precisely upon them. This is a clear indication that religion for those people serves merely as a code for “making sense”, because true religious attitude is merely a result – the tip of the proverbial iceberg – of the activity of things like sacramental or ritual activity whose influence becomes made conscious only later in life, “calling” or, at least, intimate resolutions that are always incited “from the outside” of what one knows about him or herself. Such “goading” that really forms the inner core of man we call the person is never a function of absolving the most perfect system, making sense of a religion.
It is by no means surprising that such people can indeed be very well informed and information processed, by assimilating the truckloads of books, because Ego activity is by its very nature a compulsive one and they are not troubled by inconsistencies normal person frequently discovers in his or hers reality, so they can, at least theoretically, reach the point of knowledge about everything. But it’s not because they are right. It’s because they’re terminally entangled into illusion that they indeed are everything there is.
Of course, once this detachment from reality reaches some high points, tragicomedy ensues whenever Ego attempts to reach back for it, but as infinite sea of information and its meaningful combinations engulfs the persona, the comedy moment soon evaporates.
This is because the reality outside of the web of information ceases to be anything else but the hostile land of the unknown, threatening the confines of Ego’s reality tunnel.
In conclusion, let us note that there is a kind of infectiousness to this phenomenon and that one is immune to it only to an extent he or she is already a stable person, not in the psychological, but in the much deeper – and perhaps at the same time quite prosaic – sense of being humble. This does not necessary entail the even deeper core of religious humility – although it really seems to finally resolve into it – but at least the simple awareness of one’s own insignificance and, correspondingly, one’s own finitude. In this way the trap of being assimilated by one’s own projection, which is in our day and age provided with the perfect and doubtless still more perfectible medium, can be avoided.
The worrisome trend, however, lies in the direction of younger generations, something that is especially observable among the Alt Right aficionados from Internet image boards who are far more susceptible to this, than their seniors. Whereas bozos of my generation can fool you for some time, those unhappy children bear no guile nor allow any compromise with their hunger for identity and reality it falsely promises.
This means they are perhaps not even fooling themselves, but are already clutching to projection as the ultimate reality itself, knowing nothing outside it.
One might say that in their case the pitch of the background noise is already silencing all other tunes in its cacophony. The siren song drawing them enchanted over the precipice is nothing but screeching. Yet, apparently, they don’t seem to mind or show doubt. Could it be then, to paraphrase a tried and overused verse, that:
“This is the way the world goes,
not with the bang,
but with the screech.”
Probably not. The world isn’t going anywhere soon.
But, speaking hypothetically, if the answer would be yes, after all, then the revolutionary thing to do would be to identify as deaf.
And proceed to create a collective identity in close collaboration and critical debate with mutes.
Kali Tribune runs on reader’s support. If you found the above informative and/or enlightening, consider supporting us.