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DARK POLLS: THE POWER OF COMPARTMENTALISATION

We have highlighted the issue of the
delimitation and compartmentalisation of our online worlds and worldviews – and
the uses to which these mechanisms can be put (quarantine as well as collectivisation)
previously,
and we have too demonstrated that our autopoietic social realms nonetheless share
impenetrable proximities with diametrically opposed spaces, often on the same web-based
platforms, in the article ‘Cover-ups,
Connectivity and Misrecognition
’. Further, as Honour Bayes points out in
her discussion of the shocked reaction to the 2015 UK general election in The
Stage
, it’s not only internet coteries that are affected, but social
worlds in-the-world too. Yet the immediate question arising out of this might
not be so much how to reach beyond our echo chambers, but how to dismantle or
reconfigure the very systems that allow them – systems conducive to divide and rule, whether they were
intended to be so or not.

As far as social media is concerned,
the problem is that Facebook and Twitter become instantly invisible to their
users, as systems themselves. For
example, person A might be ‘on Facebook’, as we say, as might person B, but there
may be little chance of their ever connecting (unless they’re related, or have
requested connection due to the fact of having gone to the same school aeons
ago. The old joke about being able to choose your friends but not your
relations has often been extended to choosing your Twitter follows whilst not
being able to choose Facebook ‘friends’; so often old relations with… differing
views). Through the system’s machinations person B thus becomes invisible to
person A: their online worlds are created for them with targeted
self-generating advertising based on their ‘likes’, nostalgic quotes from their
favourite movies and lyrics from fave songs appearing – completely
self-contained, with no hint of anything beyond them – constantly; worlds with
no futures, just repeating pasts creating the present: the end of history.

Of course, the real world is like this too. Due to
divisions based on whatever identificatory phenomena – from class to our social
enjoyments – although seen, persons A and B have become just as invisible, or
unknowable, to each other. But systems in ‘the real world’ – as corrupt a
system even as Rupert Murdoch’s monopolised media – are nonetheless readily
visible and available to both of our imagined persons, as they are to all who
pass by newsstands (and can afford, or choose to flick through, a paper) or to
those who turn on their TVs. Online, we can post the articles or petitions we
find pertinent, we can start up our own thinkpiece machines, but we’re so often
preaching to the always-already converted. The risk of what Jean Baudrillard
would call the ‘hyper-reality’ of our online worlds is that their
compartmentalisations directly contribute to our own mentalisations: we see the world in a certain way – and we see all others seeing the world similarly –
so that we’re astonished when it presents itself so differently from our
expectations, as it has done in the UK election. The opinion polls pooled from
whatever compartmentalisations themselves predicted things so differently from
the exit polls that the latter had to be met with hat-eating disbelief until
the very last moments. Although Scotland’s triumph and the deserved death of
the quisling Liberal Democrats were quite foreseeable, the lumpen shy Toryism
of the vote blindsided the opinion polls, but after the terrifying lurch to the
right in the European election, and the maelstrom of mainstream media scaremongering
and lying to its public at full volume, not even the passion of the anti-Christ
Nick Clegg’s warnings a little late in the day about the threat of nationalism will
be able to save us…

As exampled by the Sun’s front pages from a week before the
vote, the coverage of this election was vastly different in its English and
Scottish editions: they went with the headlines ‘It’s a Tory’ (with a picture
of a swaddled baby Cameron) in England and ‘Stur Wars: A New Hope’ (with Nicola
Sturgeon as Princess Leia) in Scotland.

As happened in the final vote, if Labour were weakened
overwhelmingly in Scotland to allow the SNP a landslide, the likelihood of the
Tories getting in in England increased however-many-fold. The Sun upped its sway to get its own(er’s)
way. And all the wishy-washy ‘hey, that’s just the way democracy
goes’-saying should now set itself the task of placing that very pronouncement
on the political spectrum, given all such media spin-doctoring, and judge just
how righteously guiltless it should remain feeling.

The thing about the 2008 credit crunch and its fortifying
of capitalist realism is that it seeped into every recess and calcified there,
even into unexpected ones. Since – if not before – many of us have found new media
outlooks, mostly online, that are not as brazenly right-wing as the mainstream
televisual and print presses in the pockets of the government. (As this is being
written there is anti-Tory protesting on the streets of the capital, not being mentioned
in any light by the BBC.) With the advancement of technology for its
dissemination too, a real alternative has risen up online and, online, challenged
the media establishment. But the generation gap that has been left to open up
and been left open to being exploited by the old established media may thus
have been underestimated. With the closure of Woolworths, W H Smith may look
like an anachronism on our high streets, but it is archaic spaces such as these
that also need to be infiltrated with an alternative. It may seem a meagre plea,
but what might new periodicals or newspapers of political and critical comment
be able to achieve if available from such stores’ shelves? Perhaps new media
means could assist it getting them made: crowdfunding, and a petition for
representation in newsagents, just like the Greens got for representation in
the electoral debates…

For thought needs to be reclaimed by the people, from whom the
attempt has been meticulously made to divest it. Beyond the government policy (hidden and announced) in which this is explicit, it might also be seen in clever ‘banter’ of panel
show comedians being prioritised over intellectual insight – on feedback loops
like Sky channel Dave, where satire
becomes almost indiscernible through saturation (and note such politicised
detractions as Russell Brand or Frankie Boyle, who then become grist to the
mockery mill) – or the stagnation of an academia (which in its more arts- and humanities-based areas has of course been targeted by cuts) that closes its loop to those
outside it: conferences’ extortionate ticket prices invite neither public attendees
nor unfunded registrations, and journal syndication is so extraordinarily restricted.
Whilst there are the beginnings of free distribution alternatives, this is
increasingly how the idea looks in the time of its intellectual property…

With a little media liberation we might yet come to see the
Idea more clearly and no longer have to stare into polls darkly.

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