Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What is a "self-radicalized individual?" The Internet has changed the culture

A number of people have pointed to the tragedy of the mass shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida on Sunday June 12, as an event defined by the grey area between a hate crime and the work of Islamist extremism.

Unfortunately, as George Washington Criminologist Fredrick Lemieux pointed out in an article about US mass shootings, there is a relationship between the number of guns in circulation and mass shootings. The conflation of hate with Islamist extremism is barely relevant when so many guns are in circulation.

For media and cultural studies scholars, are there more powerful questions to ask about the relationship between the Internet and hate-extremist acts? This would not only include acts of vicious violence, but the entire panoply of mediated interactions.

The major point of entry for this inquiry is the research by Gerbner and Gross that influenced effects theory then cultivation theory which I used in Uprising (pp.180-181) to discus the Internet and jihad. The relationship between television violence and the cultivation of violence generally can be applied to the Internet and individual behavior. There is some academic literature on this, little of which has had any influence on public policy in the US. Nevertheless, we must persist, seeing violence in its relation to television as part of a historical sets of shifts from public care to private and individual self-interest.  

The issue now is to understand what the phrase "self-radicalized individual" means. It is a phrase used by President Obama in seeking to explain what happened in the Orlando nightclub shooting. In Remarks by Obama after Orlando Shooting the President reached for the phrase. Then he left it hanging. Surely, when he referred to "self-radicalized individuals in this country," he immediately gave the Internet more salience.

In the follow up, some of the media focus has pinpointed the role of the Internet, even down to a video excerpt that excluded other comments about the National Rifle Association and gun violence. Such coverage privileges the Internet, offering a hinted cause without a reason.

President Obama made the following comment:
The one thing that we can say is that this is being treated as a terrorist investigation. It appears that the shooter was inspired by various extremist information that was disseminated over the Internet. All those materials are currently being searched, exploited so we will have a better sense of the pathway that the killer took in making the decision to launch this attack.
President Obama also said: 
As far as we can tell right now, this is certainly an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been so concerned about for a very long time.
Changes in attitude are underway.

 ...that one of the biggest challenges we are going to have is this kind of propaganda and perversions of Islam that you see generated on the Internet, and the capacity for that to seep into the minds of troubled individuals or weak individuals, and seeing them motivated then to take actions against people here in the United States and elsewhere in the world that are tragic. 

From the ISIS perspective, the idea of terror is effective when it is  translated into any action, even an action taken by an individual that names ISIS. This marks a shift in the culture that should interest media and cultural studies analysis. 

A discussion about the change in culture as a result of technology  was recently noted by Edward Mendelson in a review of several books in  The Depths of the Internet Age. He points to the shifts in culture traced to technology. This is no surprise. But as I have been saying for years, it is clear that we have to make a connection between Internet technologies and media and the assumptions of liberal democracy. In fact, liberal democracy as it is known is coming to an end as the Internet establishes new social and economic relations.  

It is pointless to refer to "self-radicalized individuals" then pretend that there is not a cause and effect between the Internet and jihad violence.  

This technological determinism defines the complexity of contemporary society, including the end of the culture as we know it. Individuals act in their relation to the Internet not in relation to the physical presence of others. The spectacle of the Pulse shootings can be seen as the expression of an individual performing his radicalized self. It is an act determined by the digital information flow of narrowed down options that makes it commonplace to think of others as wrong, evil and worthy of annihilation. 

In some ways the "self radicalized individual" could be seen as the ideal type - the perfect counter-intuitive extension of all that the Internet could achieve. As Judith Butler might put it in Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (2015) our interdependence as human beings has being made more precarious as the old political forms of assembly are disassembled. 

The Internet has empowered the individual against society, against public assembly in more intense relations with other individuals. The result is that everyone in the US feels more isolated, more precarious and nothing President Obama says helps.