Jon Rich’s Facebook: A Court of Ignorant, Cruel Judges explores the contemporary, competitive pressures of professional writing, the chasm between analysis and interpretation, and the self-styled, consumerist stage that is Facebook, a venue grossly devoid of discourse. Aggregate the essays, aggregate the headlines, aggregate the mp3s, aggregate the lyrics! It’s all about SEO and being more like a chair.

There is a plague afflicting writing and writers these days, one that makes them Google themselves to check the number of articles mentioning them by name. They have no time to read every single piece of written material that mentions them, so they focus on the statistics. As a result, they managed to venture into the same forest that they were, as writers and artists, trying to discern from the trees: “Avatar broke box office records,” “Aristotle was mentioned millions of times on the internet,” “Lady Gaga has more Likes on her Facebook page than Barack Obama”—translated into a declaration of what a great film Avatar is, how Aristotle is the most important thinker, how Lady Gaga is far more important then Frank Sinatra and Barack Obama combined.

It’s no wonder that this way of neglecting the qualitative aspect of experience and looking purely at quantities is misleading and unfair, as Karl Marx has already explained. The slippery slope the journalists and writers have been sliding down has turned them away from writing and towards advertising. No longer is there any point in delving into Althusserian structural analysis. The official goal or mission is to poll the public in order to validate one’s point of view and gain legitimacy among others. In a sense, this makes the public the judge and juror and the Supreme Rulers/Kings/Khalifs who order the court jesters around to entertain them. They have no time for philosophers and truth-seekers who aspire to reinvent the rules and find values and morals in them.

In these times of temporal compression, all of this feels like a memory from the distant past. It’s possible that a day will come when we give praise to the age of the punch line, when writers will be remade as celebrities and the audience as judges. In early 2010, the writer Bilal Khbeiz published an article with the evocative title “In Praise of Books: When Authorities Close a Prison, They Foil a Revolution!” in the Lebanese cultural periodical Juthour (Roots). In the article, Khbeiz studied the anonymous commenters who post under published articles on the web and saw in them the rise of a new totalitarianism that favors collective sloganeering over individual opinion. In the same article, he created clear boundaries between readers and writers, with readers as totalities and writers as discrete entities.

Based on this distinction, one could say that Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche are writers and Vladimir Lenin and Adolph Hitler are readers because the latter interpret based on a simplistic, totalitarian understanding of what the former have respectively written. The same applies, in frightening terms, to the Islamic extremists of today and the judges of the inquisition in medieval Europe. Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, in their reading of the Islamic tradition, show extreme narrow-mindedness and limited imagination—no different from other average readers—when they squeeze the richness of Islam and its traditions into a tiny box inside their heads. They reduce it to broad-stroke headlines that divide people into two groups: believers and infidels. This makes them no different than the perpetrator of the Wisconsin massacre at a Sikh temple—an even worse case, since the shooter couldn’t even tell the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim.

via @marginalutility (emphasis added is mine)



  1. It‘s not that serious. Or is it?