Charles Vallance: The web is stifling radicalism at a time when it is needed
A view from Charles Vallance

Charles Vallance: The web is stifling radicalism at a time when it is needed

It's all going on. Massive institutions have collapsed and many continue to wobble.

Capitalism itself is under question. The euro is looking as ill-conceived as its opponents predicted from the start. Democratic European countries are now essentially protectorates, with unelected technocrats put in charge to impose the kind of austerity that no-one would otherwise vote for. The Middle East is in a state of upheaval not seen for decades. And, on a more parochial note, the UK may soon be history.

Given all this, you would have thought that we would be a nation galvanised by big, clashing ideas - that there would be a vibrant, even combative, debate between conflicting ideals and visions. When you look back at the way that the upheavals of Thatcherism caused politics to be such a visceral business in the 80s, you would expect that the conditions swirling around us now would provide equally strong cause for political or cultural radicalism.

But they don't appear to. Yes, we've had the riots; but that was more about opportunist theft than political conviction. Yes, we have the Occupy movement; but a bunch of trustafarians and full-time layabouts who don't even occupy their pitch at night fail lamentably to convince.

So, I go back to my original question. Where is the counterculture? What is the punk of today or, even, the Thatcherism? Where are the Marmite and the polarity? I think there's a simple reason that they're not about any longer. They're no longer here because the most recent counter movement has made polarity close to unachievable. The counter movement in question has been bigger and more pervasive than any that has gone before. In many ways, it has also been the most insidious.

The counter movement I'm talking about is the one that has been led by the geeks. While the internet has had a revolutionary impact on autocratic regimes (because, for the first time, it has allowed a flow of information), in the free world it seems to have had an opposite, almost sedative, effect. The incessant sharing and airing of ideas over Twitter, Facebook and blogs tends to dilute or mitigate against unorthodox viewpoints. Meanwhile, our ability to censure any vaguely off-centre message has grown exponentially. You sometimes feel there's a whole industry devoted to policing people's language, that censureship has become the new censorship.

The result is that there is little incentive for radical expression or thinking, with the commentariat of the interweb having a strangely normative effect. Sometimes it feels that the whole news agenda is written to a giant algorithm, where people's energies are spent disparaging each other rather than saying anything constructive or meaningful. The geeks have inherited the earth and, to date at least, no-one seems to have found what will replace this new opiate of the masses.

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