Alienation, Isolation and Blogging

February 24, 2009 at 2:28 am (Uncategorized)

A few weeks ago in response to a post called Creeping socialism?, I received the comment, Is capitalism worth saving?; Unfortunately, I never got around to posting a response to what I assumed was a rhetorical question. 

For the past thirty years of my life, I’ve consistently held that, no it isn’t: We can do better than a system which, while rewarding the few, offers little more than poverty, racism, oppression and so much less to untold millions. Although my understanding of the problem, and the ways in which capitalism might be abolished and what should replace it have changed, my basic antipathy toward a society based on the law of value has remained constant. I’m currently a part of  an organization called Internationalist Perspective.

So what has all of this got to do with the title of this post? I came across the following cartoon on the delightful From Despair to Where blog, and knew I had to reproduce it here.



When I showed the cartoon to my wife, she said, Huh, that’s you. Not so, not so I protested. A friend at work wondered why people even bother to blog. My brother in law noted, I suppose anyone can find the time to keep up a blog, if they are disciplined enough. The question is not, can they, but why would (or should) they?

For many radicals, the Internet is a godsend. It allows us to accomplish and to communicate so much more.  Documents send and replied to perhaps in minutes rather than weeks or months. When I read Trotsky’s correspondence in the 1930s as he tried to breath life into his Fourth International, I couldn’t help but marvel of the time it must have taken just to get replies.  While even the Internet couldn’t have saved Trotsky’s stillborn international, it would certainly have made the effrot a little easier. However, there’s the downside. Remember Marx’s comments in the German Ideology about the 1840s Young Hegelians: busy creating intricate philosophical systems only so they demolish them theoretically.

As that famous eleventh thesis on Feuberbach noted: Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. Now, contrary to some, Marx wasn’t arguing that philosophy was rubbish, and now the task was to go and change the world. He meant that philosophical contemplation had to be linked to something practical in order to be of a lasting point.

Too often then the Internet and blogosphere serve as substitutes for actual radical action. Alone , we sit at our keyboards.  

Some people suggest though that a blog is a bit like a technologically enchanced zine.  Probably the most famous zine , at least to my generation, was Sniffin’ Glue, The brainchild of Mark Perry. Perry went to a Flamin Groovies show in July 1976 where the Ramones were the support. After the show, Perry went home and typed up his notes. At the next show he sold them. The spontaneous nature of the effort was infectious, and pretty soon, Sniffin’ Glue had spawned its own scene (interestingly my old publication Red & Black Notes  had a similar origin, thought it was political not musical)

There are of course key differences. A zine takes quite a bit of work: There’s the writing, the art design, the production, the distribution, what to do with all of the copies you didn’t sell (I’ve still got boxes of old Red & Black Notes issues in the basement). And there’s the audience. I have a pretty good idea who bought all of the R&BN’s. Aside from some which I left in indie-shops, I sold all of the issues, either in person or mail-order.

The blog is different in key ways. First, the only part is the writing. There’s no production in the same way as a zine. Yes, you can make your blog beautiful, but it’s not the same. Second, blogging is a mass media. Not mass necessarily in the the number of people who read it, but mass in the sense that the audience is unknown. I have no idea who my audience is, and I suspect that this may be found in the portmanteau which is the origin of the word blog: web log. I.e., public diary.

In all too many cases, the blog becomes just that. An airing of whatever comes into the writer’s head; no matter how mundane or trivial. True, zines also served that function, but blogging is sooo much easier.

Take no offence my friends. Judging by the number of hits this blog gets, the number of people interested in punk rock, ultra-left politics, comic books and trashy TV shows isn’t too high either – I’m in no position to judge.

So, my delight is that the Internet and the blog allows us potentially to communicate to greater levels, but my fear is that ultimately, it leaves us more and more isolated. Alienated, isolated, commodified.

Perhaps it comes back to the question I began with: Is capitalism worth saving?  I think not, but another question is what will happen to capitalist technology after the abolition of capitalism. For a long time, the answer has fallen into too groups: the anarcho-primitivists who to some degree or other all reject technology as inhuman, and the other anti-capitalists who said, oh technologies fine, just get rid of capitalism. Brave new world indeed. Perhaps the place to end then, is to consider a discussion about how neutral technology is. But that will come later.


1 Comment

  1. Stuart said,

    Hey there,
    That cartoon did the rounds ages ago, but I often think of it. Helps me stop spending too much time writing comments on blogs and email groups!

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