New Messiahs and the Intellectual Void; Social Media on Trial

2015-05-20 06:49

There is an insidious virus doing the rounds in social media. Campaigns led by ardent prophets of lost justice are out to morph known history into new age heresies by invoking “politically correct” initiatives. Such actions are deeply revisionist and offer neither new alternatives nor answers. They are narcissistic in nature, and not dissimilar to what computer hackers and those who hatch internet viruses do. For them the reward is a sense of shadenfreude - a profound joy at the dysfunction of it all and the distress caused to others who make an honest contribution. The difference, obviously, is that instead of contaminating computer networks they capitalize on a “politically correct” fundamentalism to fire up a vicious herd instinct.

Thus they contaminate public debate, which can undermine societal values and become divisive.

Such campaigns typically discount or discredit historical legacies and promote new agendas unrelated to the facts. They are not dissimilar (in their time) to the pronouncements of Stalin and writings of Mao Tse Tung - both of whom sought to erase historical facts or imprint their own values on the past. The difference, of course is that Stalin and Mao enjoyed political stature; the social media prophets of today do not.

Let’s look at examples.

Cecil John Rhodes’ leadership, pioneering spirit and courage have been very publicly relegated to the dirt bin with his statue (at UCT - on the very grounds that he bequeathed for the upliftment of future generations) being festooned with human feces before it was removed into obscurity.

The campaign was by all accounts driven by social media entrepreneurs with followers on hand to cheer with vacuous rhetoric - clearly for the sake of generating some excitement and finding something to do with their time.

And yet, all the while the fact remains that Rhodes was a great man, no matter how one viewed him. Without him the sub continent might well have remained a backwater (until discovered and exploited much later) and - although it will no doubt appall the revisionists – yes, he did indeed contribute enormously to “civilizing” the dark sub-continent. He was intimately involved in uplifting the people of southern Africa through exposure to advanced technologies and a culture of achievement.

Then a few weeks later Allister Sparks delivered an address in which he made mention of the many politicians he had had contact with during his illustrious career. As journalist and editor, he mentioned that there had been some dummies and some smart ones – amongst whom he included the likes of Helen Zille and Hendrik Verwoerd – obviously at opposite ends of the political divide.

And all hell broke loose. The very notion that Verwoerd was recognised publicly to have been intelligent was heretical according to the newly anointed.

But again they were dead wrong because the facts spoke otherwise. Verwoerd was highly intelligent.

He was an accomplished sociologist with multiple degrees from various reputable universities and obviously earned a PhD. He also displayed political savvy that enabled him to become leader of the ruling party of the time and then prime minister in double quick time and against the odds.

He was both “smart” and intelligent in the classic sense.

And then – hidden from view in today’s public discourse - he articulated a vision that was discredited in his own country but vindicated by world events following his death. Verwoerd questioned whether culturally diverse peoples should share geo-political space, arguing that cultural commonality was key to the institution of the nation state. Indeed, this philosophy gave rise to his incipient “homelands” policy - which had to be unscrambled prior to 1994.

But he was proved correct.

The Soviet Union fragmented into numerous republics; the Balkans saw the demise of Yugoslavia and the formation of a number of independent states; and there were national secessions in Indonesia (East Timor) and Sudan (South Sudan). India had already broken up at independence.

In all instances, nations fragmented on account of cultural, ethnic or religious differences following the unraveling or withdrawal of a hegemonic culture.

It can therefore be argued that Verwoerd understood better than most that the contrived nation states and artificial frontiers of modern history could be ephemeral. Whether resulting from conquest or colonial occupation they might not prove viable in the long run.

Indeed, we might well ask of ourselves fifty years after his assassination – is this “rainbow nation” of ours proving viable? Such insights were hardly the mark of an unintelligent man.

So when the new age prophets commandeer the public agenda and jam the airwaves with pious platitudes and hollow words strung together with bad grammar, everything they say needs to be held up to the light and scrutinized for truth. For not only does their domination of public space drown out debate; it insults the capacity of fellow humans to think for themselves.

And rallying to their support insults everyone’s intelligence.

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