Fascism and conspiracy theories: The symptoms of broken communication

The lost practice of face-to-face communication has made the world a more extreme place.

JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL: There is danger in the incompleteness of digital communication. It's not enough bandwidth to really feel. You know, I have -- even right now, I'm looking at your face, which is superimposed onto a camera in the Interrotron, invented by Errol Morris. And that's how he got people to talk to the camera honestly. But we don't have those on our phones and computers yet. The camera is on top of the screen in a phone and a computer, so no one is actually looking into each other's eyes and there's trouble because of that.

Tweet wars means you can't see the expression in someone's face when they're saying something, which has complexity. And you take offense easier. And you give offense easier. And in fact, giving offense is proof of existence. And you have people screaming things that they don't necessarily always believe, because they want to exist, because they're behind a screen; they're not in a group. A lot of it has to do with being present, physically present, when you're dealing with a crisis. You know, you don't text a breakup. You know, you shouldn't. It's like, there's misunderstanding -- there's too much to be misunderstood in words.

My advice -- in some ways we're in a better world than we've ever been, in terms of health and human rights at least being considered in different countries. And partly that's because of digital stuff. You know, you can't actually shut down digital communication, no matter how hard you try in China or wherever; there's VPNs. People get through. So there are advantages to that. But the way we get the information, 24-hour bombardment, makes people feel afraid. And you've got a lot of people who feel like dangerous shut ins, you know? Who are railing against how sad things are, or dropping out because they're overwhelmed. And because of that drop out and that polarization you get a regime like Trump. You get a fertile ground for fascism, which is about blaming someone irrationally for other problems in your life. It's an old game that has been played for millennia. That immigrant, that transgender person, that person who is of a different race, their very existence threatens you because they're getting attention, money -- they're stealing something from you. And that certainly happened -- you know, found its way in to a World War II. But also the lack, the kind of fragile state of truth right now, which also comes out of digital addiction, is that all conspiracy theories are true, all news is suspect, facts are fungible. And in a world like that, that's the biggest danger, you know, apart from climate change. You know, and they are linked, God knows. Somebody has convinced themselves that it's a hoax because they'd make less money if it wasn't a hoax.

Consider your conspiracy theories. You have a problem with them if you only believe the ones you want to. Since they're not really based on facts, you only believe what you want. You read the news you want to read. You ignore the ones you don't. Read the stuff you don't want to believe. Even consider the conspiracy theory you don't want to believe. You know, then you can consider yourself a fair-minded nut. It's the -- think about it. Are you only believing conspiracy theories because you want them to be true? That's when you know there's trouble.

  • The world was saner when we spoke face-to-face, argues John Cameron Mitchell. Not looking someone in the eye when you talk to them raises the potential for miscommunication and conflict.
  • Social media has been an incredible force for activism and human rights, but it's also negatively affected our relationship with the media. We are now bombarded 24/7 with news that either drives us to anger or apathy.
  • Sitting behind a screen makes polarization worse, and polarization is fertile ground for conspiracy theories and fascism, which Cameron describes as irrationally blaming someone else for your problems.

John Cameron Mitchell's latest work is the epic radio-cinema podcast Anthem: Homunculus.

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