Rage and Reason: Democracy Under the Tyranny of Social Media
Thursday, October 13, 2022 – Friday, October 14, 202210:00 am – 6:00 pm EDT/GMT-4
Registration opens Summer 2022!
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Hannah Arendt, whose thinking is at the heart of our center, believed that persuasion was at the heart of civilized government. At the same time, however, Arendt well knew the limits of persuasion. When confronted by ingrained prejudices, ironclad ideologies, or faceless bureaucracies, reasoned persuasion stands little chance. The well-known "rage against the machine" is a rational response to a bureaucratic system of power that claims to be rational, natural, and unavoidable. The real source of rage, Arendt understood, is a sense of powerlessness born of "a much deeper hatred of bourgeois society." Arendt sees that in the face of such hypocritical quasi-rational structures of power, rage can often appear to be "the only way to set the scales of justice right again."
Rage can seem righteous just as today rage against immigrants, white people, and experts is justified by those crusaders who argue that in an unjust and hypocritical system, rage is necessary for radical political change. Such collective rage may inspire virtues of courage, loyalty, and meaning; but the virtues of rage come at a cost: It is the disintegration of the common sense and common viewpoints that unites us beyond our political, racial, class, and sexual identities.
Faith in a rational politics was shaken in the 1930s, but the rise of totalitarian governments led democracies to reject a politics of angry mobilization. We are witnessing, once again, the retreat of reason and the return of rage as a key driver of political and social relations. At a moment when materially comfortable societies are teetering and the visceral attraction of tribalism is rising all around us, we must ask how our liberal democracies can survive and thrive amidst intensifying partisanship and the decline of public reason. The flip-flopping, nonscientific nature of our collective responses to travel bans, vaccines, masks, and lockdowns make clear that public discourse is driven by emotions rather than reason.
Social Media is not to blame for the rage that is ravishing our society, but the algorithms that drive social media do allow emotional and angry opinions to spread with unprecedented vigor and vitality. It is easy to condemn social media for its filter bubbles, its spread of rumors and conspiracies, and its polarizing impact on our lives; social media is so successful in splintering our society, however, because the very foundations of liberal democracies are so tenuous. And the rage that social media thrives upon answers a real need for belonging and conflict and sacrifice at the heart of the human condition.
The Hannah Arendt Center Conference Rage and Reason responds to the undeniable fact that rage and emotions are increasingly a force in our political and cultural lives. We ask:
• How can democratic rage be harnessed in social and political movements?
• Is rage essential to call out systemic and ingrained injustice?
• How can a politics of rage acknowledge rational and expert authority?
• If humans are tribal beings, how can they live in multicultural liberal societies?
• Are experts and elites themselves simply one tribe defending their self-interests?
• Must social media contribute to the fracturing of society into raging tribes?
• Is there a common interest in society knowable through reason?
Above all, we ask, how can we uphold our liberal institutions and our common world in the midst of the polarization and fracturing of that world?
For more information, call 845-758-6822