Some More Key Rules Of The Internet: We Criticize What We Care About and We Breathe Life by Speaking.

Criticism is really about refinement. It is aimed and purifying the subject of criticism. Bad criticism either neglects this final aim or fails to move toward it. The value of criticizing government or media or art or language is the hope of making it better. I am inclined to critique discourse, art, thought, and education because I think those things are tremendously important. I might speak out against the policies of an organization not because I oppose something very fundamental or general about the organization, but because I actually feel strongly in support of the fundamental goals of that organization. Some of the harshest criticism I have is for some organizations, institutions, and ideas that I think are most important to civilization and society. Implicitly (or sometimes explicitly), a critique is a call or recommendation for change. To truly despise something through-and-through can only be manifested in apathy, indifference, and silence. Criticizing something acknowledges some hope for its improvement.

Criticism cannot be used to wholly reject something because to speak of anything is to root it in the world. This is even truer in a world dominated by search engines, links, and tags: the more often something is reiterated, the more it will be encountered in cyberspace. One of the great mistakes people make in cyberspace is to hope to make something go away by discussing it. In this place, our attention is nourishment for ideas. Things will grow or die depending (almost entirely) on whether or not we focus on and attend to them.

The result is that it is increasingly dangerous to dwell on what we despise in the digital era, because the more blog posts, Tweets, and links to articles we have on hellishness, the more hellish our world becomes. This is true because our world is increasingly made up of those posts, Tweets, and links. We are able to construct our world with each tag, category, and search. We teach the internet what the world is. To the degree that we fill our internet with documentation and thoughts of all that is awful, our world will reflect what we think of it.

Before the internet, disseminating information was a process stacked with gatekeepers and checkpoints of all sorts. Now we publish our thoughts to the world with a whimsical click of the “Publish”, “Post”, or “Send” button. We must be our own gatekeepers, for we will live in the world we create. We must not only criticize judiciously, but be judicious in when, where, and how we criticize. While critiques are aimed at improving their objects, we can burden ourselves by filling our world with negative impressions that exclude goodness.

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Happiness in a Structurally Unhappy Culture

Modern media continually inject us with two anathemas: news and advertising. I will address the latter, which hinges essentially on a message of the form: YOU NEED X. This is what David Cross called “an existence based on manufactured necessity.” (Alan Watts has spoken somewhat on this subject from the Zen Buddhist perspective; without recommending him per se, I recommend reflection on his commentary.)

Individual notions of happiness are subjective, and so ideas of unhappiness are, too. I focus on one issue: does something about the capitalist model nudge us towards something we are prone to find unsatisfactory? I think so, and I think advertising is the connection between a business’ need to make profits and the idea that we lack (or “want”) something. It does not seem likely that we will make as many purchases if we do not feel we need or want anything. Markets are created as people discover a lack—and so there is an interest in manufacturing those lacks (“wants”). A common response to wanting something is some kind of unhappiness. The argument, then, is this: Capitalism emphasizes markets to create profits for businesses. Businesses use advertising to create and expand markets to generate more profits (for the business). Advertising often tells consumers that they lack something in their lives— that something is wrong, insufficient, or missing—and that the business can resolve it. The effect is twofold: 1) we feel our lives are constantly amiss, 2) we feel a continual need to “fix” our “broken” selves/lives/identities/being—and this requires that we work to get enough money to pay for these products and services throughout our lives.

If this line of thought has anything to it, then it is simplistic to think of the problem as strictly being money or power systems or economic structures. One of the fundamental assumptions of this argument is that our happiness is at odds with feeling that something is wrong with our personal state of affairs (whatever we may call “our lives”). This gives us a different notion of what the problem is and how it might be resolved (or what attempted solutions might not work). It seems that mere changes in external systems (especially economic structures) won’t be sufficient if we remain under the belief that our lives are ineffective and in need of constant aid. The corollary is the question: Can we then recover some of this happiness within the current system? If no economic or political system can make us happy so long as it imposes a continual feeling of our own inadequacy and insufficiency, can we achieve feelings of worth and sufficient value within a system that attempts to convince us of our continual want? The answer is crucial in helping us decide whether the next great revolution must be an internal or external one.