Alexis Papachelas ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

The wick is still lit

COMMENT

TAGS: Politics, Technology

The citizens of a country were justifiably angry with their political system and leadership. But suddenly they felt an unprecedented feeling of liberation. It was fully accepted that you could verbally abuse or even throw a yogurt at a politician. It was no longer taboo. Suddenly you could “meet” other angry fellow citizens and share your anger. Not in the café, as before, but on Facebook, where nothing was considered extreme or taboo. The crazier, and wilder, the better.

Facebook and YouTube opened new roads for you, almost inexorably. You went in to look for something and next to it they suggested you watch a video that propagated extreme views and some conspiracy theory. The big tech companies did it to make money and because they could measure your anger. They knew where to find customers, where to send them and what to feed them. They did not care at all if their own profit gnawed at democracy, if they circulated hatred and blind fanaticism, if they led some desperate people to acts of violence. 

Everything made sense. The Greek bailout was a well-orchestrated scam because some people made money from it, because the Germans wanted the oil in the Aegean Sea, because, because... There were also solutions to the problem, but some people were hiding them. There was cheap money to borrow, even the bond from the Bank of Anatolia. There was no answer to the question of why an entire political system chose to commit suicide by following a plan to blow itself up. And no one cared, to be honest. What mattered was that we had found “paradise”: cheap, seemingly convincing conspiracy theories. 

In the meantime, some people deconstructed the media, passionately and angrily. They were all, they argued, sellouts and lied to people all the time. The sins of the media were indeed many. But the world of the internet and social media was neither more angelic nor – most importantly – more transparent. On the contrary. Some people built careers. They used the new communication techniques and made the most of people’s anger, without limits and without caring where this downhill leads. When they came to power, they understood what we always say: that whoever feeds the beast of unbridled populism gets bitten too. The same responsibility lies with those who once fed the same beast in the form of Bucephalus.

What started here in 2010-11 led to what happened the day before yesterday on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC. We went through it early. Given the economic crisis, we have shown enormous maturity and resilience. But we need to be careful. In America, they say that Trump is gone but Trumpism will remain. In Greece too, “Trumpism” has spread everywhere, in the form of conspiracy theories, blind rage and anti-systemicism. The wick is still lit and the “fuel,” the despair of the new economic crisis and the pandemic, is still plentiful and ready to ignite.

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