The crowd, familiar to us from history, crushing everything on its way, is now digitalised and organised according to a new format — a banner or a stone in one hand, and a smartphone in the other. The point is that ochlocracy has become digital and is therefore much more dangerous and destructive, writes Kubatbek Rakhimov, Director of the Eurasia Center for Strategic Research, a former adviser to the Prime Minister of the Kyrgyz Republic.
A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.
When reading utopian or science fiction novels of the past twentieth century, one can note the concern of the intellectuals of that time regarding the totalitarianism of the future, especially in terms of personal freedom and the balance of obligations of the individual toward society, the state and other individuals. These worries were not in vain, as before their eyes, gigantic and simply stunning socio-economic projects were unfolding in the USSR, nazi Germany and fascist Italy, to say nothing of the “society of the future” anticipated in other European countries and the United States.
The technical elements of propaganda and all kinds of persuasion in terms of presenting information were extremely important — the printed word, radio, direct appeals at rallies, cinema, theatre, telegraph and telephone. After World War II, “the second propaganda revolution of the twentieth century” took place — television appeared. There was nothing equal to the phenomenon of television. Thanks to television, the systems for forming worldviews and propaganda became complex and multi-faceted.
“The third propaganda revolution” arrived with the beginning of the 21st century. The Internet has overshadowed everything that could be called significant before it arrived. In fact, all of the aforementioned components — the printed word, images, cinema, direct speech, targeted addresses, personal contact with feedback, and also the ability to access data at any time — caused dramatic changes, not just from the point of view of the information revolution, but in terms of the sharp evolution of man and humanity.
The movement towards a post-industrial economy also causes interrelated problems, one of which is key — a person’s reflection on the surrounding reality through the prism of his or her own problems. Including, of course, the issue of freedom — whether personal, group, or collective.
The age of the Internet has opened Pandora’s box — information has become instantly affordable. It can be likened to the third agricultural revolution, which allowed the consumer to choose from anything from fast food to exotic dishes.
The paradox is that the convenience of digital ecosystems has led to a process similar to obesity! The availability and affordability of this informational “fast food” becomes a trigger for over-consumption (“adipositas” in Latin).
We can already talk about digital slavery. In fact, a process is in place which goes beyond just getting hooked on the digital “needle” from which you can conditionally get rid of (there is the concept of informational or digital detox). Namely, usual everyday communications/reflections are being actively replaced with convenient tools that eliminate the need for them.
Where does the freedom of Homo digitalis begin and end? How does it compare with the classical model of individual freedom and its relationship with society and the state? It is clear that one can quote Yuval Noah Harari and his best-selling book “Homo Deus” at length here, but the questions remain questions: what is freedom and non-freedom, and is there a kind of “grey” transition zone with an objective description, but no subjective reflection?
The reverse side of digital slavery is digital ochlocracy.
The experience of the “Arab Spring”, where social upheaval techniques involving Twitter were tested, has been well studied and analysed. The experience of the attempted revolution in Belarus, the so-called “Nexta phenomenon”, revealed the incredible strength and power of Telegram messenger. In fact, this is the first precedent of its kind when mass demonstrations were controlled by a single channel on the messenger.
The development of October 2020 in Kyrgyzstan showed the synergy of Zuckerberg’s products, when information flows instantly proliferated and structured between posts on Facebook and in WhatsApp groups. The result was obvious — the crowd broke into the building where the presidential administration and the parliament of Kyrgyzstan were located, and, as a result, the president resigned, and an opposition politician released from prison became first the prime minister and later the president of the country. One of the key factors in Sadyr Japarov’s success has been his 100% involvement in social media and instant messengers. In fact, while in exile, in prison after his return to Kyrgyzstan in 2017 and up to the events of October 2020, he managed all the processes and contacted his supporters exclusively through WhatsApp and Facebook.
The crowd, familiar to us from history, crushing everything on its way, is now digitalised and organised according to a new format — a banner or a stone in one hand, and a smartphone in the other. The point is that ochlocracy has become digital and is therefore much more dangerous and destructive. The possibility of a decentralised organisation of protests using encryption in messengers with the parallel use of accounts on social media, live streams and many other technical capabilities, raise the straight question — how will we live further if the crowd becomes stronger and more dangerous, more organised and flexible? Where are the guarantees of the inviolability of our freedom, security and safety of property?
Our brave new world, in the image of Homo Digitalis, is very far from the image of Homo Deus, very far. Most of us remain part of the same crowd, the same flock that must be led — such is the bitter pill of reality. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic exposed the fragility of our universe, at least we were able to see that the state did not die, as the anarchists and libertarians had predicted. We have witnessed Covid dissidence and mass opposition to vaccines. In a number of countries, lockdown measures were excessive and redundant, which caused legitimate dissatisfaction.
Therefore, we need to rethink our “brave new world” precisely at the intersection of its philosophical, legal, humanitarian, technological aspects and develop new rules of the game, discarding illusions and delusions.