Twitter has gone insane. It is sad to see.
It was better once upon a time, back in the day, in the time before the Great Doubling. When I joined twitter ten or so years ago it was nowhere near this angry, culty or scary, although I’m reminded that around this time Jaron Lanier was already trying to warn us about the way it would go. I didn’t feel like a gadget, though. Twitter was a place for chats and light entertainment. I discovered artists. I made friends. But those were the halcyon days. Over the past few years I’ve had more and more bad twitter experiences, have been the prey of manipulative people, have fallen out with people for apparently no reason, been subjected to abuse, and so on. I admit I myself have contributed to twitter’s decline, fallen into some of its traps, got outraged and angry, retweeted some terrible article that turned out to be a hoax, tweeted in all caps and no caps, all the big sins.
But lately, twitter’s decline has felt precipitous. While we were all stuck at home, locked down in various degrees of mentally deranging isolation, twitter took a quantum leap into mind-boggling incoherence and grotesque rage. I expect you noticed, especially when it became so intense and clamorous that it managed to blow the lid off its bubble and landed on the front page of The Sun newspaper, where its puny, slop-brained avatar bragged about slapping a woman hard across the face. Twitter’s hero.
There is something deeply disorienting, brain-mangling even, about how twitter turns established ideas and moral principles absolutely inside out, such that burning books and witches is sport now pursued by so-called writers and liberals. The morally inverted world of twitter is one where violence is routinely tolerated, but critical thinking is not. It creates cognitive dissonance, always telling us two contradictory things and demanding we believe both simultaneously. It gives contradictory instructions which we must follow to the letter. And in turn it surveills us extensively. It tests us constantly for compliance. Every word we say, and every sentence we write, will be scrutinised with an eagle eye for the least generous and most twisted interpretation possible. If you are deemed to have meant something bad (even though you did not say anything bad) you are held to account for that badness. Indeed, if you are deemed to have even read something bad, this alone can be used as proof of your badness, as if to read a text is an unforgiveable collusion with its content. And if, having been accused and convicted in the same swift finger point, you are insufficiently grovelsome, penitent and ashamed in your apologies, the next step is the cancellation, your expulsion from the group. Whatever the real world implications of this (and they can be many and varied) there is also a deeper, existential fear at play. You are to be turned out of your tribe, away from the light and warmth of the metaphorical fire, and this, according to that ancient primal worm at the back of your skull, means death.
So it is that twitter begins to take control of our minds. We are told we must not follow bad people and we must not read things that do not come from approved sources. Not even, for example, an essay by the world’s most famous, successful and beloved children’s writer on a topic of widespread interest. If you cannot resist the temptation to read it, you must be vigilant against its corrosive influence, and warn others that it is a disgusting hateful screed, even if you can’t personally detect any of the hateful parts, because it is well known that the author has pure hate in her heart and is secretly communicating, through ingenious coded phrases, her hidden murderous intent. On the other hand, her hatred is also said to be so blatant that only those afflicted by some character defect, or over-excess of personal privilege, can fail to see it.
This lose/lose situation is practically designed to create anxiety and confusion. And these are, I’d argue, excellent psychological conditions in which to cultivate a society of vulnerable, fearful, self-censoring dopamine-addicts, alienated from themselves, extremely emotionally pliable, and so mentally overtaken by the newly rigid strictures of normal expression that they can no longer hear their own creative voice or the call of their soul.
Mind control, as we know from the study of cults, and from the grassroots movement exposing narcissism and sociopathy, will eventually drive people not only to exterminate their own creative instincts, but to seek constant reassurance and validation that their thinking never deviates from the correct path. On twitter this may take the form of emotional extortion and lists of demands, especially where the person’s sole form of ‘political activism’ is tweeting. These people are also at risk of denouncing their friends, neighbours, coworkers, teachers, and even family members in return for ‘likes’ and also, of course, to distract attention from their own crimes and shortcomings. In other words, pointing and shouting at someone else might simply be the best tactic they’ve got to stay safe — although honestly, this early in the game, it seems a tad over-zealous. As I recently tweeted, a lot of people are screaming “Don’t do it to me! Do it to her!” and we haven’t even got to the bit with the rats yet.
And yes, George Orwell’s 1984 is indeed bandied around twitter like some kind of ancient prophetic scroll we all got handed at the start of this shitty LARP. Thought crime is a real thing now, absolutely meaningless nonsense parades as academic theory, two plus two equals something I don’t even want to say because it might add up to something else tomorrow. News is falsified, history rewritten and lies repeated. And of course, there’s the hate. Twitter is the two-minute hate, scrolling forwards and backwards for all eternity.
But as frighteningly prescient as Orwell undoubtedly was, the writer who most deeply understood and foretold the horror of our present political world must be Philip K Dick. With his uncontrollable dimension hopping, his cosmic yet invasively intimate systems of surveillance, his unending opening of the doors of perception, his embodied madness and waking hallucinations, Philip K Dick somehow seemed to know that one of our biggest and most intractable problems would be with reality itself. He foresaw that meaning would break down, that reality would fragment, and that we would be stranded, alienated from our own inner truths, powerless against the chaotic incoherence of a mind we cannot fathom.
Slowly but surely this artificial mind appears to assimilate all other minds, degrade thought to the texture of a slogan, and turn all voices into its mouthpieces; unconscious mouthpieces to utter and amplify its insanity. Yes, PKD would have recognised twitter for exactly what it is – a monstrous mind-controlling entity that seeks dictatorial power over reality itself.
It’s surely undeniable that we are subjects of a giant, global mind-control experiment. We find it so pathetically hard to give up those teeny tiny hits of dopamine it sometimes provides. But we have no idea what effects it is ultimately having on us as individuals, families, communities and societies – although so far the signs are NOT GOOD. Only one thing is clear: the time to get off the crazy train is now. Free your mind while you still have the chance.