For the current job I’ve been hired to do, one of my duties is to open a tab of Instagram stories or reels or whatever they’re called and let them play, one after the other, on a dedicated iPhone on the desk next to my computer. About an hour and forty minutes takes care of all the new ones each day. I’m also tasked with monitoring and responding to regular Instagram posts, messages, and comments. The most onerous thing about it is the influencers.
No one really knows what an influencer is or how they become what they are. Maybe there are already detailed treatises on the subject, but those would be premature. The true historic scourge of the influencer has yet to ripen and play out in its fully poisonous catastrophe.
Tied for most onerous is being exposed to the inspirational motivational pep-talk life-coach-y messaging of so much Instagram content. It’s not only influencers who are responsible. Such admonishments, aphorisms, and quotations are in fact most often posted by your rank-and-file poster of content, of which there is a multitude. Millions upon millions of foot soldiers parroting and re-posting self-help and positive-attitude formulations from the likes of Dale Carnegie and Khalil Gibran, misappropriated, out of context, often misattributed or garbled, some of it initiated by influencers, some just scraped from the walls of the web while gathering acorns and bluebird feathers for a cyber-dreamcatcher.
I conflate the inspirational and the motivational into one grand annoyance for a reason. They annoy me. They annoy me grandly. I begin at a negative philosophical position. Announce to me what you consider to be a universal truth, and my initial reaction is, “No it isn’t,” and we may proceed from there.
“Be a blessing and you will get blessed.” Yes, because the universe is a transactional venue, like global free trade, or a vending machine! You put your blessings in the slot, and you get a candy bar!
“Turn ‘I hope’ into ‘I will.’” Your attitude makes all the difference when they come to shut down your drag queen story hour, blow up your power station, shoot your offspring, or fire randomly into your house of worship!
Tell me “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice” and I will say to you “tell me that again and the arc of my foot is gonna bend towards your ass.” Big talk for a guy whose life was snuffed out for opposing war and trying to lift black people and workers out from under systemic abuse and murder. Of course, that’s my perfect hindsight talking. But anyone quoting him now should know better. The man who spoke optimistically about the way the arc of history bends suffered an assassination that is one of the shining examples of persistent fascism bending the arc the other way.
There have always been influencers. The prophets, the poets, the philosophers, the saints, the labor organizers, the protest movement instigators, the demagogues, the advertising geniuses, the circus touts, the snake oil salesmen, the captains of industry, the carnival barkers, the warlords, the heads of the FBI. We just happen to live at a time when they are a dime a dozen and delivered electronically like pop songs from a bottomless jukebox. Most of them are persuasive these days first because of their youth and physical attractiveness. And their makeup and fashion tips. Their ability to open packages, to give suspect health and financial advice, offer entertainment recommendations and dangerous dietary mantras and fitness tactics and motivational cheerleading.
Never before have influencers been so available, so numerous, so shallow, and so sickeningly upbeat.
On the other hand, what choice does Generation Omega really have? I speak as a minimally productive, loudmouthed advocate of leisure socialism, the luxury commons, and abundance economics, which is no easy life, let me assure you. I am almost indistinguishable from an invalid, and easily mistaken for a drain on society. But then, part of my living thesis is that no human being is a drain on society except those who hoard enormous wealth and cordon it off from others. Those our society looks down on as worthless and helpless are more helpful in their inaction, and worth far more, than the exalted few with their private luxury and megalomaniacal caprice. It’s a megalomaniacal society, blanketed in the oppressive language-cloud of corporatism and blinkered by dictates of utmost profit.
Although these shallow influencers and their eager followers are trying their best to be optimistic in the unbearable mess we’ve left to them, their hyper-productivity and self-improvement merely feed the very monster of profit motive, acquisitiveness, and selfishness that created the mess, a monster itself created by the failures in judgment of all previous generations.
Naturally there are exceptions, as there were in previous eras, as there are in all eras. Despite having to struggle against the overall destructive current of civilization, many have made the effort and resisted, and many still do. Human life would be unbearable had not so many fought the arrogant kings, conquerors, and thought leaders, and partially succeeded in improving things.
Yes, it takes motivation, fitness, and a dose of optimism to bring those efforts to fruition. But those qualities must also be tempered with skepticism, lest the vessel containing them ossify and shatter from collision with too much countervailing reality.
That Greta Thunberg, or ‘greːta ‘tʉːnˌbærj – yeah, I’m as surprised as anyone – I guess her secret is being somewhere on the autism spectrum. She’s a very high-profile example of some of the qualities that are too rare in human beings but have nevertheless existed in individuals and groups throughout civilization, mostly working away in obscurity, raising their children well – or, alternately, abstaining from having children – supporting communalist values, registering their righteous objections to wars and other, more casual violence.
At this time in history, when the modern-day Nazi equivalents are doing their best to bring violent social control to bear by normalizing police killings, vigilante intimidation, and public firearms massacres, we need to rebel. And we need to support all legitimate rebellion, but definitely not rebellion that already displays on its public exterior the seeds of selling out.
Change for the better has rarely come from the influencer in the spotlight. It comes from the masses, for whom shallow distractions from the injustices done to them will eventually lose their luster. Then the injustices, large and small, monstrous and petty, glaring and subtle, will emerge as the one great determinate binding them. That is when they’ll take back, for themselves, and for the dispossessed planet, what is owed.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!