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january 2021

Games people play


by Hans Durrer
  They are playing a game.
They are playing at not playing a game.
If I show them I see they are,
I shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game,
of not seeing I see the game.

R.D. Laing (1970), Knots

Right: President Trump meets with Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in the Oval Office of the White House (official White House photo by Tia Dufour)

On 9 January 2020, Kevin Roose wrote a piece for The New York Times with the title In Pulling Trump's Megaphone, Twitter Shows Where Power Now Lies, in which he made the argument that the "ability of a handful of people to control our public discourse has never been more obvious."

The public reaction to Twitter's and Facebook's ban was hardly a surprise: The supporters of the devoted golfer and passionate media-watcher cried foul, his opponents however praised the decision that for quite some of them came way too late. Neither surprising was that the media let us know that the debate that ensued was about freedom of speech and censorship. Could it really be that such a fundamental question should be decided by two tech giants? Or, as Kevin Roose suggests, by Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook.

  Well, to formulate the question like this is a distraction and obscures the real issue. First of all, heads of companies (very much like heads of states) are, contrary to public perception, usually not the ones in charge. They depend on large numbers of people — consumers, voters and bureaucrats —, who have to somehow approve of them and their products respectively. Also, they have gotten into their positions because of the people around them — without these enablers they would be probably selling ice cream.
  Sadly, we all are enablers for we are trained to be obedient sheep. Contrary to what we seem to believe we are not responsible people who have the courage to think for ourselves. We are lazy cowards, as Immanuel Kant once noted, for it is so convenient to be immature ("Faulheit und Feigheit sind die Ursachen, warum ein so grosser Teil der Menschen ... gerne zeitlebens unmündig bleiben ... Es ist so bequem, unmündig zu sein.").
Next We do not know where we come from, do not really know what to do here, do not know where we go from here. In other words, we're lost. So we look for something to hold on to — institutions, professions, money, status, and whatever you have. And, needless to say, we look for somebody to blame if things do not go the way that we think they should.
  And so we personalise, for this helps us deal with complexities we otherwise seem incapable to understand. We label some people favourably and others less so, we seemingly can't do without heroes and villains. We demand personal responsability and claim to hold people to account, Yes, we do that occasionally; mostly, however, we behave as if we were unable to meet our own standards.
  The institutions "we" have created over time develop a life of their own. Dr Frankenstein is not an aberration, he represents who and what we are. Not only Twitter and Facebook but all media are beyond the influence of individuals. Organisations, all organisations, exist for themselves, for their own benefit. The purpose of Twitter, Facebook, CNN, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel is to make profit. And to celebrate the vanity of their makers for people in the media are attention seekers who fall for attention seekers. Never is this more obvious than when the CNN-narcissists (who routinely praise each other on air for their reporting) attack the narcissist in the White House.
  On 11 January 2021, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times penned Stripped of Twitter, Trump Faces a New Challenge: How to Command Attention to which the article itself was the answer — for so called reputable papers like The New York Times will gladly continue to be of help and provide a stage. But isn't it the duty of the press to critically accompany elected officials? I'm not so sure about that; I tend to believe that the role of the media should be to tell us how government policy affects us, the people, and planet earth.
  Yet we love our daily theatre, love the games we play, and won't let go as long as we don't have to. Which is why we have the politicians who are like us, and which is why we have the media who are like us. This can only change when we change. And, needless to say, this is pretty unlikely.
  2021 © Hans Durrer / Soundscapes