Rule by celebrity, die by infamy

When the Internet became widely populated, it was an invaluable tool for prying open previously impenetrable fortresses of hierarchical oligarchy and replacing them with what was hoped would be a peer promoted meritocracy. Unfortunately, neither the hierarchical tools or the hierarchical methods of collaboration changed, so the Internet simply replaced rule by institutions with rule by celebrities.

So-called thought leaders have become the new traveling priests, roaming the globe with familiar comforting mantras, providing a well lighted path for those stumbling from the wreckage of institutions. Panels and conferences are the churches and revivals of the secular with orderly rows of believers gazing up for guidance and simplistic instruction. Intriguing quotes are plucked from their origins and added to the repertoire of the talking elite, edges softened and context free. Horizontal movements create celebrity speakers, NGO’s monetize grass roots movements and the faces begin to look like institutions.

News delivered in neat soundbites from talking heads is replaced by celebrity journalists dropping into crisis zones to deliver documentaries celebrated as gritty and real despite being delivered by cam-filtered tourists. Free Harry Fear! reads the protest sign outside the Israel embassy. And once Harry Fear is freed perhaps we can look past him to the 1.7 million Gazans without his UK passport.

Angelina Jolie, that living avatar of US military propaganda, is also the living avatar of the refugees created by the weapons industry when they are not advertising their latest equipment as props in her movies. “Don’t rape,” she murmurs to the UN before wafting away on a jet stream of war money.

Celebrity journalism is the future of journalism! crow billionaires craving edginess. Only if David Beckham is also the future of football. Silicon valley has reached the age of decayed empire where it only recognizes the revolutionaries we have already decapitated. They are still mistaking the post-NSA drums beating for their own heads as a cry to their cavalry to save us all.

Celebrity oligarchy was definitely progress. The peer promotion was real and the celebrities come without the black boxes the institutions hid in. But it is not a final product.

Silicon valley thinks it is. Twitter allows blue checked voices to mute all the un-blue riff raff from their stream. Direct message your followers back without actually following them! You can benefit from their input without acknowledging publicly that they exist! Twitter is heavily banking on its new elite, as are klout and many other social media tools. Silicon Valley doesn’t have a clue who uses their products or why.

Celebrities that popped out of horizontal movements certainly do though. There is a pallor that falls on accounts when their first 5000 or so followers turn on them, the painful sight of 7-digit follower accounts who are lucky to get forty retweets. If the core is offended, every tweet is met with a barrage of negative replies. On the Internet, any publicity is not good publicity.

As I mentioned earlier,  horizontal governance does not mean no one gets a voice, it means everyone does. Devoting all of your work to a brand that will be used to create a bloated central figure who will then be able to control the messages of everyone while dining out on ill-gotten celebrity and collecting brand donations is no different than passing all your money to the Unification Church.

The old “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is now “Don’t trust anyone with a follower count > n”. Where celebrity is not tied to genuine expertise or acceptance it does not carry the power many expect it does. When celebrity accounts betray their stated principles, those who gave the celebrity feel as betrayed as they would by a corrupt politician.

The power of shunning may not dismantle a celebrity as quickly as they were created but when necessary, it will happen. Tools that pander to celebrity hierarchy can be hacked, reworked or deserted. There is a better way to work, coming very soon.

5 thoughts on “Rule by celebrity, die by infamy

  1. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” is so good. I didn’t know the phrase, but was thinking exactly that about a couple days ago. I’d calibrate it to “Don’t trust anyone over 34” though.

    Recently (days ago) I realized how politicians like Obama (and other celebrities too, perhaps) really think in private, and how it abismally differs from what they say in public, in discourses. The problem with those “under 30” is that whether we agree or not agree with what a politician talks, we assume it is *him* speaking the words, and it is not. The constant reasonableness that is apparent in most or all of them, the “power” they project through their words is false, sterilized. When you’re over 30, you start to realize you’ve been duped, and the temptation to use that “power” of deceit, of projecting “success” to get what you want in a trade economy is tempting (but hopefully you’ll see it is hollow and leads nowehere before you start using it).

    So we think ourselves to be less than “leaders” because we have doubts, we do not “orate” in our daily lives, etc. But that diminishment we apply to ourselves is false. Real people, real voices, in real peer-to-peer networks are feeble, churny, uncertain, exploratory, sincere, vulnerable. You cannot “speak” like a politician to other people, you’ll poison them, they’ll feel really bad and flee from you. It only works at a distance, in the “hierarchical”, “top-down”, “superhuman-to-human”, “machine-to-human” direction. Hierarchical systems are not really about “convencience social positions” created by random differences in capacity (e.g. the fastest thinker assumes leadership in an emergency that is the real world analogous to a chess game of some sort). They are about a mythology. The leaders don’t think they’re replaceable, they think they’re really different, “better,” superhuman, and thus they “rule” and they feel nothing of lying, of “orating,” of “saying what is needed” to the “masses.” Same thing CEOs, executives, etc. They’re politicians. And perhaps celebrities are politicians too, but their country or their company is their own personal “brand.”

    Politicians are elected because they have the capacity to act completely differently like they feel. It’s a schtick. And people are vulnerable to these “lies.”

    We need some sort of science or philosophy to unravel how this social duplicity has ultimately caused every major disaster in our world. Tragedy is caused by people wanting promotions, wanting power, wanting control, falling for their own PR and skipping their own internal criticism, and that gives you not only Fukushima, but the same people who like Nuclear Power doubling down on their insanity and wanting more nuclear power, faster.

    I no longer trust anyone who is sure of everything they say and who always says things that are socially convenient.

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    • Well I don’t think over 30 applies any more because silicon valley has produced some of the worst offenders at ages under 30.🙂 There are many great people with blue checks and lots of followers too, but it is interesting, it is primarily the tools that encourage the strange circle of power by so-called ‘influence’. There is a book called “Getting Doctored: Critical Reflections on Becoming a Physician” that describes the process of creating a class of people that think of the rest of the world as ‘others’ and lesser; it is almost as if our tools have automated the process. Celebrity is also an even more plausible (and therefore more addicting) simulation of societal approval than money, it appears that is not unnoticed by the puppet masters.

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      • Yes, and I will solder on with my hopeless verbose ranting because I think beneath all the following mud you just might find, with vanishingly small probability, something very small that is both new to you and useful. (I am very aware that I sound like a crank, but I can’t really help it!). You don’t have to read this, Heather, I really do see how boring my writing is (it just takes me 30 minutes after writing what I write to completely hate myself). But yet. Here it goes.

        It seems to me that all this points to the individual being responsible, to care, to protect his own mind as an independent factory of tentative thoughts, explanations, etc., and to not “sell” his unique perspective cheaply to the all-too-easy answers offered by, especially, celebrity figures (i.e. “elites” that see you as “others” to be “led” or “used”). I.e. instead of “reining in” the “celebrities” as “powerful figures” that need to be “controlled”, what can we do to plug the defect on the receiver end?

        Assuming for now that the above perspective is at all useful, then what to do? How could we really get to “know” that, express that in a serious and robust way, and then teach it? In a way that the transmission doesn’t cause the problem! We have to learn some sort of “antidote” or “psychological vaccine” and pass it on to our children so they don’t become so much like manipulable puppets. I.e. how do I explain this to my son in a way that leaves all my ignorance of the subject behind and offers — for him to take it or not — only whatever fragments of the insight that have actual value for him, that he can take as a starting point to work on, polish and pass on?

        I like Charles Eisenstein’s writings, and here he has a relevant bit, I think: he wrote (perhaps paraphrasing someone else) that (biological) diseases are not evil, that it is just that our bodies are vulnerable and it’s not the disease’s fault that it “clicks” with the vulnerability. Instead of “going out there” and “stamping out all these evil viruses and bacteria” we should just stop destroying our own protective systems. Perhaps both approaches complement themselves, but perhaps we should start seeing that they have a priority order: first reinforce yourself (the low-hanging fruit), then OK, fine, apply what’s left of your energy on fighting the diseases that are “out there” proactively.

        The analogy here is that politicians, celebrities, managers and other “social actors” are akin to social “disease” agents, and we do not have defenses to them; but we can view them as challenges, much like Eisenstein suggest we should see the “real disease agents” such as viruses. If you join a political party or personality cult or any other group (internally, truly, not superficially, as a conscious social play), you “die” (as an individual) and become part of a groupmind or “clot” as George Carlin put it, jokingly. We look at your zombified body and personality (hey Bob, nice corporate job identification!) and we now have data that we can use to learn from your “death of individuality” and reinforce our immune systems from that “clot” phenomenon.

        Ironically (?) it was physical diseases that wiped out half of indigenous populations when whites came to America, etc. but perhaps the other half succumbed to the psychological, “software” disease which was the white man’s “duplicity” (that speaks with a “forked tongue”, etc). For a vivid image of what the contact looked like, there’s the first chapter of Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of The United States”: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncol1.html . “White” civilization is essentially the internalization, the acculturation, the routine of becoming a systemic liar, a split personality (according to the rants of that brilliant madman Osho). Perhaps our celebrities and politicians are just the best representatives we have, the apex of what we already are.

        And if / once we learn how to defend the individual, then celebrities, managers, politicians, and all those “hierarchy-generating” personas can freely “shine” (or “poison”, depending on whether you “agree” with what they say or not) and we won’t get lost into whatever it is that they’re doing. Perhaps it is “our” fault, not the celebrities’. The Scorpion and The Frog tale: the celebrities are scorpions; they attract, they make us forget ourselves, they attract us to “causes”; that’s what they do and they can’t help it. Perhaps there are Frogs, which were born to be vulnerable to these personalities. And perhaps those who _are_ not clot attractors nor clot “victims”, should start doing something about figuring out and passing on whatever “cures” we can find…

        What do you think, Heather? It seems you’re more into “curbing the abuses” of groups, directly. More like an “auditing” process, i.e., have social mechanisms to curb social abuses after-the-fact, after identifying them, after being able to describe them. But what if we find out how to strenghten the individual mind directly, in a way that doesn’t require the individual to first describe the abuse with words: the individual learns how to identify power abuse and influence _directly_ even before their brains can “name” the pattern, explain the abuse with a choice of string of words to others, socially “defend” the case that someone “is” (or is acting like) an abuser? As societies we have tried “education” (centralized programs) but that didn’t really work out, right?

        I think “zombie fiction” is ultimately about this (to me). The zombie infection is a hardware (biology, physics) metaphor for an infection of a person’s ideas (mind, software). A “zombie” is an “undead” because though their body still moves (i.e. is biologically alive) there’s a deadness to his ideas. He acts in a destructive, stupid, single-minded manner in the way that’s unique to the world of the mind and of “software” and it replicates very easily and rapidly (and in most zombie fiction, there are very very very few people that are either “immune” or extremely adept at avoiding infection, with some excuse about why that is the case).

        So what we’re doing is strenghtening an individual against *ideas*, not against “people manipulators”. In the Dark Ages, we believed we could get rid of ideas by burning people, etc. (today we lock them up, give them psychotherapic drugs, etc.) but it has nothing to do with the biological selves we punish, which are just helpless empty vessels, containers of ideas. The ideas went in, and we punish all these “evil politicians”, etc. But they (the physical “persons”) are merely the victims, receptacles or proxies. Our real “enemy” are the software viruses, which we cannot reach or “punish” because ideas don’t suffer.

        The Internet allows us to expose bad ideas more easily, but it is also the same medium that bad ideas use to spread. It seems like an arms race.🙂 Still better than central TV broadcasting, where once a bad idea gets a hold of the broadcasting station, you’re set up to a massive shot in the foot.

        Sorry about the ranting / comment flooding! All I can say is that this is all sincere…

        P.S.: You should set up a Bitcoin donation address.🙂

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      • Your comments are great, I find it hard to think without feedback and challenge so it is appreciated.

        What do I think? That will be a great long article, my answer is not what I think people would expect so I have to back it up and explain it properly.

        I have a Bitpay in the top right. Has never been used though!

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  2. Also, how do you know a politician or executive is ready to spew his most egregious “lies” (not in the sense of being objectively false, but being completely different from what they really think): when they speak “from home” or some homey setting. It is so that it looks they’re caught “off guard” in their “homes” and so it is for us to believe that they are being more candid and open than normal. Such “political” (hierarchical-political) figures are NEVER caught off-guard unless you film them in secret (i.e. “50% of our voters are bloodsuckers”).

    All such celebrities may disagree and e.g. fight elections against each other. But they’re all united in believing they are in a class above everybody they “rule.” The differences between an Obama an a Romney are merely in “what do we do with these masses of people, what do we manipulate them towards, how do we better use, control, manage, work them, if at all? if we give them some more healthcare, will we extract more profits or less profits?”

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