Reinventing Emmanuel Goldstein

31.03.2021

Trolls, haters and influencers

The pandemic has accelerated teleworking and virtual relationships, it is a reality that we live more and more surrounded by screens from which it is impossible to do without. In this panoptic context, as Foucault would say, describing the characters created by Orwell in his novel of the same name, "1984", within the epic battle for the story, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be dissident without being labelled a hater or a troll.

Within the motley fauna that reigns in the network, there is a cast of misfits that "contaminate", but in some way also enrich the Social Networks as it bursts against the "single thought", and which is headed by the so-called trolls, probably the most famous profile of this category of online predators. The term troll is used in a pejorative sense, as it is understood that they can create messages with different types of content, such as rudeness, offences, lies that are difficult to detect (let's say, fakes), with the intention of confusing and causing mixed feelings in others. The end goal can be varied: to create divergence, the intellectual satisfaction of feeling skilled in the use of sarcasm and mudslinging, to create controversy, or simply to attract attention. The fact that their identity is not, in principle, known plays a disinhibiting role and can also create a certain sense of impunity.

On the other hand there is the hater, literally a "hater". While a troll's supposed aim is usually to confuse, provoke, disrupt or simply annoy, a hater is labelled as attacking and offending or hurting other people's feelings. In short, a troll usually gives an opinion, while a hater usually insults. Haters are also insulted by the community for perpetuating "hate speech". On the other hand, haters also arouse hatred in others, and their discourse is branded as counter-systemic and disruptive, unleashing hordes of criticism in the form of a "witch hunt".

The continuous stimuli that reach us through these platforms preconfigure our behaviour, establishing certain behaviours as more normal/acceptable than others. The viral posts crammed with negative comments from supposed "puritans" on twitter, in which anonymous hordes of unilaterally promoted haters pour out their deepest hatred against everything that is not considered "mainstream".

As a counterpoint to these two controversial subjects, the "virtual community" rewards with likes and good words the actions that are acceptable in our social network. The so-called "Influencers" are profiles with privileges accentuated by the simple fact of knowing how to take advantage of their charisma in networks. The name gives us clues, their capacity to influence is their defining feature, regardless of the real or metaphysical value of what they do. This capacity to resonate gives them visibility, they are potentially prepared to carry the baton of the trends considered "appropriate" by the standard system. Let's say that they are the ones who are considered as models, adapted, the ones that the "social credit" would give a "cum laude" pass. The characteristic of influencers is that it could be said that they are all cut from the same cloth, as well as living on the screen and exposing themselves publicly, it could be said that they work with a "speak-write". A kind of automated creativity, also described by Orwell, illustrated by gadgets such as the versifier, combining rhymes and songs.

Twitter lynchings: hate releases "something" in the human soul

According to Orwell's description in "1984", the system, in order to function, needs an enemy, the scapegoat to blame for everything that goes wrong. Big Brother's adversary is a dissident named Emmanuel Goldstein. In one of his most representative chapters of Orwell's dystopia, the Two Minutes of Hate appear, which help to establish and maintain the Big Brother regime.

As Orwell describes it, hatred begins with a quick image of a face on a giant screen. It is Emmanuel Goldstein, "the Enemy of the People". His is "an intelligent face that had, nevertheless, something contemptible about it", as well as being "undeniably foreign". It produces fear and dislike.

Goldstein defines disloyalty to the nation and (which is the same thing) to the regime: "He was the traitor par excellence, the one who before and more than anyone else had sullied the purity of the Party". Goldstein is responsible for heresies and betrayals of all kinds. He does not love his country.

In the first 30 seconds of Hate, Goldstein's voice is heard denouncing the party and calling for freedom of various kinds. He "insulted Big Brother" and "advocated freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly and freedom of thought".

The result is to produce rage and fear in the audience, and to do so immediately. Wherever he is, he leads a kind of shadow army, a network of conspirators. He is the author of a terrible book that includes all heresies.

In the second minute of Hate, people go into a frenzy. They jump and scream, in an attempt to drown out Goldstein's maddening voice. Children join in the screaming.

Orwell's hero, Winston, cannot resist. He, too, begins to scream and kick violently. For his part, it was no mere spectacle. "The horrible thing about the Two Minutes of Hate was not that everyone had a part to play there", Orwell writes, "but, on the contrary, that it was absolutely impossible to avoid joining in".

There was no need to pretend: "An ecstasy of fear and revenge, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a hammer, seemed to run through everyone present like an electric current, turning one, even against one's will, into a gesticulating, vociferous madman".

Despite despising Big Brother, Winston sees his feeling "transformed into adoration, and Big Brother rising like an invincible tower, like a brave rock capable of resisting" threats. And as his hatred grows, it becomes sexual. Winston fantasises about raping and killing the girl behind him.

At that point, Hate reaches a climax. Goldstein's voice becomes that of a bleating sheep and, for a moment, his face transforms into that of a sheep. Then, Big Brother's face fills the screen, powerful, comforting and eerily calm.

The actual words of Big Brother are not heard, but they are felt, as a form of security. At that moment, the three party slogans appear on the screen:

War is peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is strength

A member of the audience appears to pray to Big Brother. For 30 seconds, the audience sings in his honour, in "a procedure of self-hypnosis, a deliberate way of drowning out consciousness through rhythmic noise". Winston sings with the others, because "it was impossible not to".

The Two Minutes of Hate is a synthesis of a common tactic among certain leaders, mainly in authoritarian countries, but also in democracies. They focus attention on enemies, foreigners, heretics, those who seek to destroy the social fabric.

What makes the Two Minutes of Hate so perfidious is that even for those who oppose them, and see what their target is, they tend to get under the skin.

The simple repetition of an accusation

Also striking is the similarity to the present day of the "two minutes of hate", the time spent by the indoctrinated masses to show their contempt for the traitor Goldstein. The scene is reminiscent of Twitter lynchings, subjecting that person's public profile to civil harassment and takedown. As a consequence of such social and moral discrediting, this person will be annulled as an active subject in networks, and they will have no choice but to ambush themselves or disappear. According to Plato in "The Republic", freedom at any price is the only goal, and this leads to an excess of freedom that generates an excess of factions and a multiplicity of perspectives, most of which are blinded by narrow interests.

Whoever wishes to be a leader must then flatter these factions, indulge their passions, and this is fertile ground for the tyrant, who manipulates the masses to "dominate democracy", according to Plato.

Moreover, according to Plato, such unlimited freedom degenerates into mass hysteria. It is then that faith in authority atrophies, people become restless and give in to a swindling demagogue who cultivates their fears and positions himself as protector.

Consequently, the supposed freedom of expression that SSNR enjoyed in the first moments of its appearance is evolving towards totalitarianism, "the insatiable desire for freedom causes a demand for tyranny" (Plato). There is therefore censorship on social media, literally speaking, of certain anti-maninstream discourse.

A controversial 2-minute "therapy"

In George Orwell's novel 1984, Party members gather daily to watch a two-minute film showing images of their enemies (especially dissident leader Emmanuel Goldstein) in order to publicly demonstrate their rejection. At each session, the mob shouts insults and even violently throws objects at the screen.

The "two minutes of hate" are part of the indoctrination to which the citizens of Oceania are subjected. In this way, the Party's ideologues seek to convert the anguish caused by their miserable existence into hatred of a supposed enemy (which may not even exist) in the unconscious mind of the citizens. In this way, they seek to avoid the possibility that they will turn their thoughts and actions against the government itself.

"He was sitting up straight in his chair, his chest heaving and heaving as if resisting the onslaught of a wave. The dark-haired young woman behind Winston had begun to shout, "Pig, pig, pig!" and suddenly picked up a thick new-language dictionary and hurled it at the screen. The dictionary hit Goldstein on the nose and bounced off: the voice continued unrelentingly. In a moment of lucidity, Winston discovered that he himself was shouting with the others and kicking violently against the chair frame. The most horrible thing about the Two Minutes of Hate was not that participation was compulsory, but that it was impossible not to participate. After thirty seconds, it became unnecessary to pretend. A dreadful ecstasy of fear and vengefulness, a desire to murder, torture and smash faces with a sledgehammer seemed to run through everyone like an electric current, and turned one, even against one's will, into a raging madman. And yet the rage felt was an abstract and purposeless emotion that could be directed from one object to another like the flame of a blowtorch. Thus, after a moment, Winston's hatred was concentrated not on Goldstein, but, on the contrary, on Big Brother, the Party, and the Thought Police; at such moments his heart was with the lonely and reviled heretic of the screen, the sole guardian of sanity and truth in a world of lies. And before long he was again in agreement with the people around him, and all that was said about Goldstein seemed true. At such moments, the secret hatred of Big Brother turned to adoration, and Big Brother seemed to stand as a brave and invincible protector, standing like a rock before the hordes of Asia, and Goldstein, despite his isolation, helplessness and doubts about his own existence, seemed a sinister thaumaturge capable of shattering the very fabric of civilisation by the sheer power of his voice". 1

Everything is based on the massive use of lies by organisations that always do the opposite of what they say. Thus, the Ministry of Love is dedicated to torturing dissidents. The Ministry of Peace wages war with other powers. The Ministry of Truth manipulates any data that contradicts the government's interests. One of its workers is precisely the protagonist of the plot, Winston Smith, responsible for rewriting history according to the interests of the present.

Goldstein's profile

To get an idea of Goldstein's profile, we must first describe Winston Smith. He belongs to what we might call the middle class and his professional activity is carried out in the controversial Ministry of Truth. His main function is to accommodate reality to party dogmas. Manipulating, distorting and censoring the truth to suit the interests of the rulers. However, he does not seem to buy into the discourse he is trying to convey, so he will try to subvert, through revolutionary actions, the established order. In the society in which Smith has had to live, lies (today we would say fake news) have become institutionalised and surveillance is a crucial issue. His counterpart is Emmanuel Goldstein, everyone's favourite public enemy. The official mythology shows him as an important participant in the Revolution, who later decided to sell out to foreign powers and since then has been living in hiding, nobody knows where, spreading his nefarious ideas of freedom. The book, a lengthy essay that he is alleged to have written and which is considered a compendium of the worst heresies, has been circulating clandestinely.

Emmanuel (God with us) is said to be the enemy of the Party and is the pretext for the daily ritual Two Minutes Hate. According to the Party, Goldstein was once a leader in the Party until he led a counter-revolution and disappeared before he could be executed. He is also supposedly the leader of the Brotherhood. However, like Big Brother, Goldstein is probably an invention designed to be the object of people's hatred and indignation.

Goldstein, the dissident, the radical spirit, the aniheroe, the most hated for having a different opinion and expressing himself differently, is too reminiscent of historical figures who, in favour of social justice, were branded as: enlightened, mad, thugs and subversives...and for this they were: persecuted, executed, crucified, expelled as heretics from the annals of "historical memory").

A panopticon called Black Mirror

Advances in big data and artificial intelligence, combined with the extensive network of video surveillance cameras already present in the "developed" world, are fertile ground for testing and implementing advanced experiments in social control. The most emblematic is the so-called Social Credit System. Still in a testing period, it aims to combine all personal and behavioural information from the population and businesses to assign them a level of trust, which can then be reduced or increased.

In "Plummeting" (the first episode of the third season of Black Mirror) we are presented with a society in which any activity is susceptible to being valued by others. In this context, everyone is obsessed with climbing up the personal-social rankings based on good ratings. Everyone has a social ranking from 1 to 5 stars, in the style of many of the applications that already exist for meeting people. Each person's score as a social rating is so important that most services do not depend so much on money as on the score of the buyers. House rentals, VIP flights, events of interest and so on. In this scenario, the protagonist, obsessed with achieving a 4.5 so that she can live in the flat of her dreams, ends up reaping an amalgam of misfortunes that will plunge her into deep frustration.

The Social Credit System, as explained in the article, represents the materialisation of "Falling into Pitfalls". However, what are the criteria for evaluating people? They will hardly be objective criteria, as the morality of a community depends on hegemonic subjectivity. What is well-liked differs greatly from one society to another, so we can infer that there is no objective basis for it. It is simply a matter of discursive constructions that have prevailed over others in the course of history. There is no truth there, understood as a universal concept, simply tacit agreements reproduced and accepted. Moreover, within the same society we also find deviations that establish what Albert Cohen (1895-1981) would call subcultures. Collective entities formed by people who share the same problems of adaptation, i.e. groups that are precisely defined by their detachment from the norms and customs of the society in which they live.

Finally, talking about shyness, as an epicurean virtue, or simply being introverted, in today's society of spectacle and transparency, does not attract many likes in this immediatist culture that privileges entertainment over spirituality. There will also be those who perceive you as a killjoy, arrogant, undesirable weirdo and even a potential sociopath. According to the DSMV, shyness is considered a social anxiety disorder and is therefore classified as a mental illness. Within the logic of "social credit", could the hypothetical situation arise where a person is denied access to certain types of housing simply because they are shy? Let's hope it doesn't come, even though things are changing so fast. China brings together the worst of bureaucratic totalitarianism and the free market, an explosive cocktail. Even so, such initiatives born in the Asian country should not seem so far-fetched to us. As in "Fallen in Piece", money takes a back seat, with social valuation being the enclave that articulates the quality of a person's life. At the accelerated pace at which we are going, in a few years Black Mirror will seem like a historical novel.

1 1984' George Orwell. Chapter I, Part one, pp. 21-22 (Ediciones Debolsillo Contemporánea)