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Reply To: The Shadow

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James,

Thanks for sharing this compelling and troubling video discussion of the Social Dilemma! This Netflix event seems to have struck a chord for a number of people across the political spectrum. On Facebook one friend of mine, Jon (who I believe used to be active on the old version of COHO under the cyber moniker jonsjourney) who leans to the left, at least to the extent that he believes both parties support capitalism’s status quo, immediately posted that he was considering stepping away from Facebook.

The very next post in my newsfeed was from a lady in her early thirties whom I first met when she was a gifted student, back in my days  teaching junior high. She is pro-business and leans to the right, but her reaction wasn’t that different from Jon’s. She asked what friends had watched the Social Dilemma, what they  thought about it, and if they were willing to change their behavior and walk away from social media (sounded to me like she was wrestling with this issue herself). Ironically, she spent a few years as Sheryl Sandberg’s chief deputy at Facebook, right in the belly of the beast.

Of course, an added irony is that these discussions are unfolding on Facebook . . .

I have yet to view this program, but the lengthy interview you share does draw attention to the shadow side of the internet. We may think of the dark web as that shadow, the seamy underbelly where criminal deeds and deviancy take place out of sight – but shadow also refers to that which is unknown, what we are unconscious of that shapes one’s perception of reality and compels behavior (shadow contents can include what we are simply incapable of seeing, but also that which we would prefer not to see – how the sausage is made, so to speak).

The collective shadow, much like the personal shadow, exerts tremendous influence on a society. Often, it is projected out onto some Other, the way the collective shadow of the German people in the 1930s was projected onto the Jews, with disastrous consequences.

No surprise that the best way to depotentiate the shadow is with light: the expansion of consciousness, bringing unconscious motivations and pre-conceptions into awareness, which limits the ability of the unconscious to drive one’s behavior. (If we know Russia is creating faux Black Lives Matter and pro law enforcement groups on Facebook, scheduling clashing protests in the real world, and are aware these actions are organized not by grass roots activists but algorithms, then we are less likely to fall for the bait).

But though individuals may experience a wake-up call through viewing the Social Dilemma or other research in this area, I doubt that awareness will necessarily ripple out to the billion-plus in thrall to social media. I strongly suspect we are entering (or have entered, might be a more accurate way of phrasing it) a post-factual phase of society where magical thinking is primary. Since we’re all caught in the bubble, it’s not entirely clear what evolves from here . . .