DANIEL VAUGHAN: Alone and widowed in the social media age — we need a revolution

April 21, 2018

If you listen to any entrepreneurial podcasts or read any business magazines, you’re probably familiar with a growing business belief: that everyone is a brand. According to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Bezos and others allege that every single person on Earth has a marketing department: themselves.

You get a better sense of this phenomenon when you wander the news feeds of various social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, where people try to appear like the type of person they want other people to think they are.

To some extent, this brings up arguments about reputation and integrity, which are real things you should tend. But the practice of personal branding is also about projection — and marketing that projection of yourself.

Our newly minted social media age is one in which everyone — and their brand — is commodified down to the last pixel. But in the process of doing this, we’ve superimposed false notions over our reality; we’ve displaced our humanity with the vanities of the age, and lost something in the process.

William Ralph Inge, Dean of Divinity at Cambridge during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had a pithy observation along these lines. He said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”

But this doesn’t happen overnight: our society’s arrival to this place happened over time. The first casualty of the age was the concept of absolute moral truth. We formerly believed there was a higher truth that we could know. C.S Lewis first spotted this trend in a children’s book in 1943. Lewis wrote, in The Abolition of Man:

And all the time — such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.” In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Lewis was speaking about what happens when you remove absolute truth and morality from society and replace it with moral relativism — what you might hear called post-modernism or secular humanism today. If you say truth and morality are not absolute, how can you demand a man to act with a moral heart? You cannot remove the organ pushing morality and then expect a virtuous person in return.

So it is with our branded age on social media. We’ve started referring to ourselves as brands with a need to market ourselves, and then we wonder why we can’t find real humanity in the world.

We allow algorithms to define the world we live in, the people we meet, our romantic interactions, the entertainment we consume — everything — and then we wonder why our culture is incapable of interacting with someone different.

The beating heart of the Judeo-Christian worldview is that humanity was made in the image of God, which conferred on each person a special individuality. Since each person bore the image of the Creator, that endowed them with a special expression of the ultimate Creator. The centrality of this image in the American Revolution, the emancipation of slaves, and the civil rights movement was vital in advancing each cause.

But what we have done, instead, in our new era, is cover this image with the notion that all people are brands. It’s the commodification of people — reducing them to another metric or statistic.

Marxists are cheering at that line, because they think I’m arguing on their behalf, against capitalism. But Marxism does the same thing in erasing individuality and the image of a Creator; you lose identity in favor of the master collective. Charles Krauthammer, in 1985, described Marxism’s effect as the “utter desolation” of humanity, while watching a communist funeral:

The open bier is a mere variation on a communist theme: the mummification of the great leader. In believing cultures, where there is some sense of a surviving soul, this pathetic attachment to the body is unnecessary. In fact, it is discouraged. In the great monotheistic religions, the redeemer — Moses, Jesus, Mohammed — has no earthly resting place at all. In the great materialist religions, Soviet and Chinese communism, the resting place of the redeemer, indeed his frozen body, becomes a shrine. The result is the ultimate grotesquerie: after death, a fantastic assertion of the final primacy of man, even after he has become nothing more than embalmer’s clay.

The social media age offers little else than the cold shrine of Marxism. You have memorial pages on Facebook, old pictures and tweets may stay up, but after that — nothing.

Is it any wonder that the current president of the United States is a former reality TV show star? What better representation of what we have become than reality TV? The fakest of all television shows, including straight fiction, represents the best of our leadership.

This isn’t a criticism of Trump or of the right in general. The left can’t escape this either, because they’re stuck in the rat-race of evolving their images and beliefs to the contours of what they think the next progressive generation will believe, trying to avoid the “wrong side of history,” and, in turn, producing more widows for future ages.

Fixing this problem starts with acknowledging the falseness of our super-imposed social media facade. The next step begins with reasserting the Judeo-Christian concept of the image of God.

If the world placed hearts back into chests, as C.S. Lewis suggests, we’d experience a renaissance of human individuality. To do this would create a revolution — and we should push for that revolution.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.