WHY ARE WE LIKING “SHIT”?
It is Saturday morning 9am. The sun is out. London is still waking up. Strengthened by a morning coffee I start wandering along the never-ending flow of communication debris on my personal Linkedin “feed”. Here, a glimpse of an interesting headline, there the sparkle of an attractive image. After catching a few curious snippets, I am intrigued and hurry on. But then it happens. Before I know it, I find myself knee-deep in a toxic swamp of intellectual waste. Vacuous posts without insights. Simplistic “leadership tools”. Brainless advertising. Ignorant populism. Narcissistic selfies of people on holidays. Irrelevant announcements. Half-witted slurs… I need another coffee, quick!
Disheartened I drop my phone and decisively revert to my book. But one nagging question racks my brain: why are thousands of people “liking” all this bad content?
Of course, it could all be artificial bots or people paid to propel someone’s media “presence”. Shame on Linkedin for not having this sorted, in that case. Or maybe it is just me being an arrogant and cynical person who likes to see the coffee mug half empty on this Saturday morning. But what if it isn’t? Maybe all this over-communicative hollowness betrays a much deeper problem. Maybe by starting to ignore the value of knowledge, we ended up ignoring the value in ourselves.
In the “enlightenment” we originally hailed the ideal of a rational free human being. But we quickly forgot Kant’s transcendental dialectic — defeating Hume’s empiricism, in case anybody ever read it — with the unstoppable ascendancy of empirical sciences. We started to value knowledge above character. In our (Western) order of preference, “objective” and scientific observation was placed above “subjective” behaviour and values. Ethics became a question of private preference. Of course, what we failed to realise — sadly — is that true understanding is more than just knowledge. For once I am with Gurdjeff who suggested that the “quality of our knowledge is always dependent on the quality of our being”. Or in modern words: competence is always a combination of technical knowledge and wisdom, which is founded in identity. By idolising scientific knowledge we failed twice: we degraded true personal freedom which is necessarily beyond empirical causality, and we abdicated true understanding which requires knowledge in the hands of people with character to handle it wisely.
The deepening gap between being and knowing led to the glaring fracture of postmodernity: a crisis of meaning and identity defended by the obsessive pursuit of scientific knowledge, growth and technology. But rather than reverting to a humanistic paradigm, we threw out epistemology altogether. We objected to knowledge ‘sui generis’ and decreed that personal opinion is “as valid” as objective truth. Personal popularity was the new game and the ludicrous role of “influencer” became celebrated: neither knowledge, nor character mattered — as long as something sells. And, finally, with proliferation of social media we all became our own “celebrities”…
A dear colleague recently wrote a Forbes article about “how to become a management guru”. You guessed it: what matters is not a deep caring for and understanding of (the essence of) management; a desire to make positive change; personal character, experience and wisdom; not even the relevance and truthfulness of what we offer… but a bunch of well-acquired “skills” and shortcuts to gain popularity. In lieu of example he points to “Thinkers 50”, a marginally narcissistic publicity circus celebrating the hubristic belief in a genre of self-declared “gurus” — where populism equals virtue.
So, then, are we liking “shit”, pardon the expletive, because we have nothing else left? Are we desperately trying to like ourselves by liking the mediocrity of thinking we see in others — maybe whenever it resembles our own often immature thoughts? Does our liking say as much about who WE are as it says about WHAT we are liking? I fear where emptiness triumphs, the naked emperor is the coolest guy in town…
It’s still Saturday morning and by now I feel like I imagine Hemingway felt when he once blurted out, frustrated, that: “in the end the age was handed the kind of shit that it demanded…”. Certainly, I am not going to (write or) like any more social media posts today! ;-)