The Infocracy Specter

Image: Max DeRoin


Electronic media destroyed the bookish culture of the Enlightenment, producing a mediacracy that contributed to the erosion of the horizontal public sphere.

Byung-Chul Han is a South Korean who teaches at the University of the Arts in Berlin. He gained prominence with the publication of several short essays on contemporary topics.. Em Infocracy: digitization and the crisis of democracy, outlines a description of power under the regime of information and processing algorithms with artificial intelligence to control society, economy and politics. Infokratie it is the dystopia of “information capitalism that develops into surveillance capitalism and that degrades human beings into cattle, animals for consumption and data”. Point.

Michel Foucault, in watch and punish, studied the disciplinary rules on bodies. He was interested in “biopolitics” aimed at bodily and somatic domestication to adapt idiosyncrasies to regulations. The process started in spatial isolation until reaching total submission. The “spectacle society” dramatized symbols and ceremonies in the actions of domination, The neoliberal “panoptic society” orders data to direct conduct and consumption, without people noticing. In transition, the corpus was absorbed by the beauty industry as an object of aesthetics and fitness.

Byung-Chul Han focuses on seamless communication networks. Instead of isolation to re-educate prisoners, telematic connections that transmute into control. “The more data we generate, the more intensively we communicate, the more efficient surveillance becomes.” The curious thing is that individuals do not feel or do not care about being watched, scrutinized in their opinions and intimate tastes. They believe themselves free. Illusion. Individualities do not enjoy the freedom to circulate; the information, yes. Our prison has the shape of freedom, communication, community.

Electronic media destroyed the bookish culture of the Enlightenment, producing a mediacracy that contributed to the erosion of the horizontal public sphere. With vertical discourse, it eclipsed critical citizens and, in their place, put passive consumers without much initiative of their own (the “vidiots”). Entertainment engulfed reason. The very dynamics of political debates followed the style of talk shows. Who wants to Be a Millionaire? Performances replaced content. Politics boiled down to mass persuasion sketches. Whoever performed best on stage won.

The history of domination has been the sequence of different screen types. Plato's prime wall, in the Cave myth, simulated reality; George Orwell's "telescreen" 1984, stamped the agglomerations in servility rituals; morning TV conditioned souls for work; Aldous Huxley, in Admirable new world, by way of entertainment, instrumentalized subordination. In the infocratic era, the smartphone it is the digitized cave where we remain confined, looking like fools.

The disciplinary regime had only the demographic information necessary for the exercise of biopolitics. The information regime has access to psychographics for the implementation of psychopolitics, in which rationality is replaced by signs of affectivity. Affects mobilize the unconscious more than a reasoned argument. That way, electoral behavior and consumerism is manipulated. Infocracy undermines the democratic dynamics that presuppose autonomy and freedom of choice. Media advertising forged power; information ensures full control.

The British company Cambridge Analytica boasts of possessing the psychograms of all (all!) American adults. “We were decisive in the victory of Donald Trump”. Obscurantist advertisements pollute the interactive environment and bestialize society. Not by chance, but with a script to the Olavo de Carvalho to bring virulence to paroxysm. Right-wing extremists classify web pages as info wars (information warfare) and define themselves as information warriors (infowarrior): without sugar, but with affection. “Post-truth” is the word of our time.

The memes reveal that internet exchanges are increasingly favoring images. They question quickly, while the texts are slow. Viral media makes fun of explanatory logical coherence. Representative democracy is long-winded and tiresome. Digital, vibrant democracy. Cell phones are mobile parliaments, polemical at any time. No, it doesn't look like the old ones. now yes Greek. Digital swarms do not form responsible collectives to intervene in the polis. Algorithmic communicability in social media is far from democratic. Information propagates without crossing the public square. They are produced in private spaces and are addressed to other private spaces, fragmentarily, in fits and starts. You followers are trained by influencers. Beef.

Byung-Chul Han therefore concludes that influencers and followers “are not capable of political action”. Misconception denied in the invasion of the Capitol by the Trumpist mob in Washington; and in the terrorist depredation of the seat of republican powers by the Bolsonarist crowd, in Brasília. It would be correct to say that they are incapable of a rational political action built from a discourse (in Latin, to walk around) for the concertation of publicized ideas. Arena refused by pseudopatriots, whose habitat Social networks are natural and not the institutional structures of traditional democracy, sustained by listening to the other and weighing new points of view to reach consensus.

There has been a de-factualization of the world. Narrative prevails. The narcissistic hyperpersonalization triggered by preference-enforcing algorithms continually undermines the foundations of free will. the teacher of Barnard College, from New York, Cathy O'Neil, in Algorithms of Mass Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, named such harmful models “Mathematical Weapons of Destruction (WMDs)”. Sociability disintegrates. Tribes lacking ideological identity, harassed by the digitization of the extreme right, plunge into solipsism. Without a “we” to weave alterities and format an authentic community, civilization melts into thin air. The infocratic dream is a society run solely through data – without politics. As status quo frozen.

Quoted only in passing by pop star, the balconies of infocracy are a product of the formidable work on the new times, surveillance capitalism, by Shoshana Zuboff. For the teacher of Harvard Business School the renewal of democracy demands from us “a feeling of indignation, a sensitivity to perceive what is being taken from us; what is at stake is the expectation of human beings to be masters of their own life and their own experience”. President Lula is right to galvanize nations and international public opinion to combat fake news. To reinvigorate the democratic rule of law, it is necessary to legislate strongly on the big techs.

The crisis of truth goes hand in hand with the crisis of democracy, paving the way for neo-fascism. Belief in facticity has been lost, as seen in denialism during the pandemic. Conspiracy theories painted the contradictory with delusional colors, normalized by influential psyches. In the crisis of truth, the common world, the common language, is lost. Truth is a social regulator, a guiding plummet of society. Nihilism, in progress, deconstructs social cohesion.

It's not that everyone turned out to be a liar. These know the difference between a lie and the truth. It's just that one and the other, now, configure narratives of the same value. The distinction disappeared. The plague of disinformation devours the facticity of reality. He who is immune to facts and reality constitutes a greater danger to the truth than he who lies. Talking shit is not opposing the truth, but being indifferent to the truth. The veracity crisis shakes the belief in concrete facts. The “Newspeak” (newspeak) orwellian knocks on the door of contemporaneity. By the way, she has already entered and settled in the room. Democracy is the medicine to cure the alienating disease of homo demens. Who goes, who comes.

Michel Foucault, at the end of his life, thought about how important the “courage of truth” is, based on the principles that guide democracy: isegory, which is the right of everyone to express themselves freely; It is parrhesia, the obligation to be truthful, which goes beyond the constitutional right to speak out. Politically, anyone who acts to promote the good of the human community celebrates openness in public. Socrates was the parrhesiast, par excellence, by preferring death to abdicating truth in favor of justice and laws. This is the challenge of democrats and socialists: to speak the truth about class, gender and racial inequalities; the climate hecatomb, the risk of nuclear war and the difficult labyrinth of democracy. Until the sun comes up tomorrow.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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