Virtue Signaling, Epoch Shuffling – and saying “What a Good Boy Am I”

2016-02-22 07:50

The advent of social media and near pervasive access to hand held devices has given rise to an incorrigible new brand of narcissism. People with neither a claim to fame nor track record of any kind are seizing on access to a large and gullible audience to carve out a name for themselves. This outbreak of self-absorption and vainglorious conceit can be thought of as ego spotlighting or saying to everyone who is watching - "am I not great?"

Such campaigns need to be viewed with an acute awareness of who is staging them – and why. And perhaps even more importantly, who is rallying to their support?

Whilst we have obscene unemployment and gratuitous poverty, a startlingly high percentage of people have access to, and can still afford on-line access to social and other media. So getting involved - or being led by the nose - is easy, with group and peer pressures playing an important role. Being trendy, cool and rebellious is the upside of youth.

So drumming up a crowd of indignant young people is a cinch and with the devil providing plenty of options for idle hands, a protest – and potentially even a groundswell – can be a few clicks away.

Some such campaigns do appear to have merit, whilst others have mischief written all over them. The hashtag campaigns to oust Zuma following his finance minister debacle and in response to his links to the Guptas would seem - to me, anyway - to validly address a current issue. So too does the #fees must fall campaign - which has highlighted years of government mismanagement of tertiary education.

But to promote outright anarchy – as is happening at our universities – or exposing the indiscretions of private individuals constitutes political mischief on grand scale. The Penny Sparrow incident was a highly offensive non-event but for the fact that she could be identified with a political party – and became fair game for ANC opportunists.

Similarly, when Gareth Cliff and Chris Hart (Standard Bank) made factual and reasonable statements – both in the context of and unrelated to the Sparrow furore, they too were savaged by the “Little Jack Horners” of social media. “Racism” – both real and imagined – had moved to centre stage and the trumped up campaign to hunt it down reached frenzy pitch. The absence of racial innuendo in these two examples was irrelevant, because when the self-appointed thought police are buffing up their halos, freedom of speech becomes the first casualty.

Of course, that is not how a free society works.

Neither do freedom of expression; free speech nor freedom of association work like that. These are pillars of democracy and to deny such liberties because some disaffected individual(s) see fit to take issue with what others believe and accept as being reasonable, stands up to neither logic nor sustainability.

But it gets worse.

Shuffling contemporary values into historical times – and vice versa - for the sake of personal self-aggrandizement signals an even sorrier state of mind. When callow and opinionated people stand in judgement of history – and thereby imply that they might have done a better job – it should, logically hold them up to public ridicule.

But they could instead end up leading a cult.

The very narrative of the “#Rhodes Must Fall” campaign, for example, flies in the face of intellect, history and the quest to understand the modern world.

Many people who made the world of difference to humanity were not nice guys. Consider, Attila the Hun, for example – recognized as the epitome of brutality and cruelty in his time and since. Today he is glorified in one of the largest statues on the planet. Fact is - he made a difference.

So when the feeble minded and narcissistic - desperate to showcase their virtue and think well of themselves - send text messages from behind their smart phones, perhaps they should be roundly ignored rather than allowed to ignite firestorms of protest.

Sadly, on account of our preoccupation with race and the fragility of our public discourse, true freedom of speech, robust interactions and a respect for different opinions and values are likely to remain elusive indefinitely. Opposing points of view are deemed “racist” by default and regardless of their merit.

And any prospect for improvement will depend on addressing our leadership vacuum.

The bottom line is that nothing much can be done to improve our lot in an environment of parliamentary, educational and civic anarchy – all made worse by economic failure and the collapse of state enterprises,

I suppose it is small wonder the "Little Jack Horners" of society turn to their social networks and smart-phones to vent their spleen and polish their halos. In a nation devoid of leadership and imploding at so many levels, it is relatively easy to look good if you can make something happen.

Perhaps we are not yet at the point of total anarchy, but - seriously - are we delusional enough to think that this is democracy?

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