Gin, Religion and Social Media as the Opium of the Masses 

Societal malaise and challenges in new age of inclusion? 

Interestingly, two quotes stand out and then refer us back to many, many, more things said and often lost in pretentious rhetoric 

From Bill Gates – “Our children will change the World” 

You are late Mr Gates, change is our only constant; some things appear to have precedents and cause precedence 

From a BBC Correspondent travelling Lake Malawi listening to a gentleman whose crops had failed due to the current drought parching southern Africa – “People are hungry. And there are few fish left in the lake because there are too many fishermen” 

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day……. Teach mankind to fish, have no sense of social responsibility or order and he will clear every damn thing worth eating from the water. 

Yes, Bill, our children will change the World. The same as our parents changed the World. Our grandparents and great grandparents also changed the World; the reason no fish in Lake Malawi maybe? And we have been busy using Microsoft to organise a few changes in our generation. No?  

It is the manner in which we look at change. Organise to have change be as positive as it can be where the generational perspectives are different.  

The first wave of globalisation, was possibly the spark to the age of Humankind, the Anthropocene. Then we felt the benefits of Global trade in commodities, but we did not have the mass communications we have developed in the last fifty years. Certainly there not the mass participation of people in what is now social media. We share pictures of the plates of food we are eating around the planet. We share the road we are on in this or that country. Maps are uploaded to show the airport lounge from which we quietly tweet our latest ‘like’ of a fluffy cat doing somersaults. We are connected and share our chosen connections in all things fluffy. And you get to “like” those fluffy things or not. This of course is slightly facetious, as clearly we have seen social media used to good effect in mobilising people behind worthwhile causes. A number of, shall we say heavy handed, regimes and governments fear the use of social media for the mobilization of people. Is this new? Possibly only the scale is new, since in the past we have seen connects of real quality create momentum within societies, causing change. 

The question being posed here is: should we use new age tools to best effect rather than becoming the appeasers of conscience?  (it’s one question, right?)

Why is this a question worth addressing? Does social media cause greater engagement? With Facebook’s new set of buttons where ‘like’ can be nuanced, LinkedIn being about jobs which now includes arithmetic testing and Twitter and WhatsApp flagging what we are doing – ‘wayshowing’ – then where are the actions to realise fundamental Rights?  

Quite possibly, as we post and consume, we only reinforce the message with those already of similar mind-set. All the (social) media are commercial, for profit (someday) operations, where algorithms are designed to promote further usage, show the advertising industry there is traffic and we can deduce what individuals and groups like; so you, the advertiser, can target them. Yep, we allow challenges that just keep people fresh and using, but we, the social media owners, know which side our bread is buttered (or margarine or whatever fad is spread on a particular slice of nutrition, assuming this or that group can be sold nutrition. The nuances continue in segmented marketing). 

Karl Marx said ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’ – ‘Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes’. Interesting how easily it moves from German to English. Marx did not see religion as a palliative but rather as the universal basis of consolation and justification, as a means to express human meaning and a way to deflect action on the tangible elements causing human suffering in the here and now: 

It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.  from Marx’s critique of Hegel’s original paper.  

Paraphrasing Marx, then, the expression of suffering on social media is the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Social media expresses the recognition of oppression and the desire to realize rights. But can we say social media is: ‘the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people’?  

This is where the second theme comes in, since social media, in the majority of instances, is the palliative, salver of conscience that says ‘I have done my bit’. I Click the button to show my sympathy, if not empathy, with a cause or situation. Time to move on. Rather than the heightened awareness of an hallucinogenic, it is the down side of the divorce from reality where we saw earlier, before Marx’s time, moves by a government to subjugate the will of people. 

Further following Marx’s line then, the call is to give up social media and the illusion of doing something, to re-engage in direct action on (local?) issues. Is this not a step back in some respects from the global calls we can, must, launch in order to meet challenges now facing us in the Anthropocene age? It is a matter of balance and knowing we have to challenge ourselves, not to allow the algorithms to placate our being but, to discard illusions of doing something by retweeting, liking or wayshowing to another set of evidence supporting causes of which fellow social media followers are already aware. Rather we now ‘throw off the chain and pluck the living flower’ to quote Marx again (if plucking the flower is not seen as environmentally insensitive).  

Why gin?  Invented in the 1600s when the Dutch distilled juniper berries, it was cheap and laws were passed in the 1690s which encouraged distillation to increase incomes of landed gentry. In England, centred on London, the surge in gin production saw a surge in gin consumption with per captia use up eightfold from 1700 to 1751, when it reached between eight or nine pints per person. Adverts proclaimed ‘Drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two’. Pharmacists sold it to women to soothe the nerves; hence it becoming known as Mother’s Ruin.  

Issues in London were unprecedented migration with concomitant social ills of overcrowding and poverty as people sought a better life. The better life did not appear and, along with an economic ideology known as poverty theory, the subjugation of the ‘inferior orders’ was undertaken1. Cheap distilled spirits, gin, were key ingredients to keeping reality from the mind. The Gin Epidemic then ensued. Social reformers saw the symptoms and sought to remedy the over consumption of cheap spirits. They did not address the causes of the social malaise and when action was taken it came about because wider, economic, factors with regard to manpower and England’s productive capacity were now endangered. Social action only resulted because the ruling classes saw there needed to be action to protect their own interests.

Thus, the Gin Epidemic came about to placate people; keeping them from the harsh realities and taking action collectively, beyond, that is, drinking themselves toward early death together. Then actions to stop such heavy consumption were enacted because people were needed as the industrial revolution took hold. Next steps in English history: the Corn Laws and the battles between landed gentry (high food prices as they sought to keep the status quo and fight against new draws on their labour) and new industrialists (low food prices for their minions on the machines in new factories) characterized the Victorian Age.  

Returning to social media, the here and now and into the future.  

We still struggle with inclusion on many levels. We still struggle with changing how governments or aid and development agencies continue to allocate and account for aid and development assistance. Things have improved; but not because of social media. We definitely still struggle with delivering food to those disenfranchised by geography or lack of infrastructure. Again, we are better; but not because of social media.  

Economics is such that we need concerted action on the global stage to truly influence the state, let alone local government and produce wellbeing of the economy allowing inclusive growth for people. Where is the social media lobbying on these fronts? It is not there. We have our religion, and, perhaps, some have their gin, as we are deflected from the real issues by the marketing of politicians expressing concerns over the symptoms, not the underlying causes. We press the like button and move on. Meanwhile the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is redefining how overseas development assistance is assessed to include ‘more costs on peace…security costs and certain “costs countering violent extremism”’2  

People are disenfranchised by a lack of inclusive growth, by a lack of infrastructure and increasingly by access to the Internet where micro and small businesses can, must, compete (when people are not posting on social media) in congested conurbations where logistics are the deciding factor on from whom to buy and how to supply markets; people.    

Are we getting what we want or what the powers-that-be decide to give us?  

Are we now in the new age of religion and gin? Are we salving our consciences and taking palliative care to press the button? Or do we have the means to challenge our own minds and those around us (physically and through the power of Ethernet networking)?  

Do we now have the means to have people involved in making things happen for us? For community, however defined. For people, currently disenfranchised, whom we can stand up?  

Act to make real things happen for real people. 

You decide.