COMMENTSManufactured ignorance now thrives in a world
of interlacing disasters. This age of consuming catastrophes
is part and parcel of an age in which the distinction between
the truth and falsehoods is under assault by the rise of right-wing
extremists and a conservative media empire. As Niko Block has
observed, “the forces of reactionary bigotry are now more
powerful than any of us had predicted.” In a time of pandemics
and economic and political plagues, there has been an acceleration
of lies, conspiracy theories, fear, dread and anxiety adding
to the surge of civic illiteracy, a disdain for reason, and
a return of anti-democratic ideologies and policies.
Times have changed.
Instead of having too much democracy, the current historical
moment is being framed by the call to eliminate it altogether.
Under the growing influence of ultranationalists, climate
change deniers and voter suppression advocates, such as most
members of the Republican Party in the United States, the
ideological winds of the moment call for replacing the ideal
and promise of democracy with the dictates of authoritarian
nationalism, white supremacy and an attack on any version
of critical thinking — now dismissed as unpatriotic.
is the new face of submission and the ongoing flight from
political and social responsibility. Misinformation has become
a new form of necropolitics spreading fear, lies, anxiety
and scapegoating — most obvious in the spiraling deaths
brought on in part by the bungling Trump leadership in the
midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media has turned poisonous
and dangerous in tracking our needs, interests, desires and
politics while spreading false information that aligns individual
and collective consciousness with the forces of an upgraded
right-wing social media endlessly stokes vaccine resistance
among a wide array of conservatives, religious fundamentalists
and rural Americans, indifferent to the tragic amount suffering
and deaths such messages both legitimate and produce.
merges with a hideous batch of bigoted and hateful emotions
that surge through millions of Americans like an electric
current. As David Frum argues, “Pro-Trump America has
decided that vaccine refusal is a statement of identity and
a test of loyalty.” Politics is no longer simply a struggle
over economic institutions and power relations; it is also
a struggle over consciousness, ideas, identity and agency.
The current historical
era has witnessed an accelerating merger of culture, power
and social media, which has contributed to the development
of new social formations that produce tsunamis of misleading
information, amounting to what the World Health Organization
has labeled “infodemics.” In this instance, media
ecospheres and disimagination machines have created among
large segments of the public a flight from critical thought
and social responsibility. This is further accentuated by
a type of appalling silence and refusal to speak up on the
part of many politicians in the face of widespread misery
and suffering that endlessly and needlessly repeats itself.
Infodemics obscure the connection between damaging social
relations and the configurations of power that shape them.
This is a failure of the public imagination. As private interests
trump the public good, public spaces are corroded and short-term
personal advantage and a regressive notion of freedom devoid
of social responsibility replace any larger notion of civic
justice. Infodemics make it more difficult for the public
to imagine alternative futures, as horizons of possibility
begin to disappear.
now in the hands of a limited number of corporations has turned
toxic in the U.S., and given the global reach of social media,
threatens Canada as well. The plague of manufactured ignorance
emerging from a political arena is now largely defined by
popular culture and powerful right-wing media. In the age
of the spectacle, the tools of education and critical thinking
must be elevated to the centre of politics.
What is needed
is a revitalized movement to reclaim the language of a substantive
democracy, one dedicated to the creation of visions, ideals,
institutions, social relations and forms of collective resistance
that enable the public to imagine a life beyond a social order
in which racial, class and-gender-based violence produce endless
assaults on the environment, manufactured ignorance and a
culture of cruelty. Education is the basis of politics, and
the formative culture it produces is the sphere where people
become either politically literate or civically illiterate.
To forget this is to give the far right an upper hand in the
culture war that might be impossible to reverse. The stakes
are much too high to allow this to happen.