Marx was a villain for many people as he questioned the 'contemporary common sense'—Capitalism. His diagnosis of a weird psychological tendency in people, which he termed as Commodity Fetishism, provided 'iconoclastic' insights into the commonly held beliefs regarding Capitalism. This 'courageous rebel of the time' could formidably build a plausible counter-narrative to highlight the inherent flaws in the dominant consciousness of his times. Fast forward to 2017, we probably need another Marx to lament about what can be defined as the malady of the twenty-first century: Information Fetishism.
Truly, the present man is drowning in the high seas of overwhelming information. There is no saviour left as everyone is sailing in the same direction. It is all information in atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere. On one hand we see a theft of half a billion users' data from Yahoo and on the other hand we have the 'Adhaar' tale to tell. There is a Messi-Murtaza Ahmadi rendezvous and then there are Russians hacking the US elections. There is Edwin Snowden and Julian Assange and Wikileaks. And wait….there is Aleppo too!
Amidst all this hysteria there is one thing that eludes us and that is the 'truth', the real truth, the expert truth and not the inclusive or the tainted one. Truth is in scarcity today as we are living in a 'post-truth' era—to which we can attribute the demonetisation saga and the Trump phenomenon. There are regimes of truth waging a bloody war against each other. The mobile phones are their Kalashnikovs, the internet is their battleground and the information their ammunition. It has been a long journey from a crying-need for the Right to Information to a dying-need for the 'right information'. True as it is, we are sitting on a roaring volcano of information.
There was a time when we needed information badly to instil a change. That was an epoch of colonial information-subjugation. Today we know too much to change anything because what we know is not the recipe for change at all. The dalliance with the status quo is in the air. It is (mis)information that has become our rope, our chains and our dungeon. They say that nuclear weapons pose a danger to the existence of world but let's face it: information has taken over them. The world today needs 'disinformament' first and then disarmament could follow. As a billion things are born and a billion things die every moment in this marvelous circus of God, there is an information holocaust going on too with a billion perspectives, billion judgments, billion truths and a billion fallacies interjecting, crisscrossing, stampeding each other in the process. It has come to represent a paranoiac-maniacal scheme of entities and processes. It definitely cannot be a spectacle of a democratic empowerment exercise. It is mobocracy in full swing for it has brought the discourse down to the mundane levels of street talk or drawing room banter rather than elevating it to the higher levels on the intellectual barometer. And while all this is happening, guess what, we are in a tearing hurry. We are moving too fast pal. It's a reckless drive. Our common sense is being reshaped in this neck-breaking process of making and breaking of information. We are losing touch with all that is real around us.
A fair judgment demands time and understanding calls for contemplation. Truth is an outcome of the above two. But here we are stricken by the Parkinson's syndrome! We make big issue of small things and small issue of big things, and as Byung-Chul Han argues, our immersive reflection is replaced by a strange kind of attention: hyper-attention, a hectic rush into activity. And that is why we precisely know what's going on between Virat and Anushka or what Daesh or Assad is doing in Syria, but we don't know whether that old lady in our neighbourhood is alive or dead, whether our own nephew is in second standard or third. Cheers! A wonderful transition from what they call reality to virtual reality. R.I.P. Truth and Beauty….
(Mohammad Muqaddas Hussain studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)