IDEOLOGICAL CHAOS

300pxdamped_driven_chaotic_pendulum__douA provocative piece in today's Guardian Unlimited by Brian McNair, a professor at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, who is the author of the forthcoming Cultural Chaos: journalism, news and power in a globalized world (published by Routledge in the UK).

McNair's definition of cultural chaos is based on the new science of chaos which suggests that "small happenings have big consequences." He says:

"This can be extended to today's media environment of turbulence and volatility, in which news travels faster and further than ever before. The Iranian president again calls for the annihilation of Israel, and Bin Laden and Al-Zarqawi disseminate new messages on the internet and to satellite TV channels. Events in one part of the world feed back instantly into the politics of another, and linear, machine models of top-down cultural control no longer explain very much."

McNair places the digital revolution at the heart of the structural socio-economic and political changes of the 21st century. He explains that the radical democratization of media is "another factor" in what he calls "the ideological vacuum created by the end of the cold war." But I
I don't buy the idea of a post cold war ideological vacuum. Cold war or not, everyone is always thinking, so an ideological vacuum is a misnomer. A better word than vacuum is "chaos."

McNair quotes the lively Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis who argued in the Guardian Unlimited last week that the Internet "makes obsolete old orthodoxies and old definitions of left and right." Jarvis, of course, is not the only person arguing this. In his Google parodying April 5 London Review of Books piece, "Nobody has to be vile", Zizek identifies liberal communism as the new global orthodoxy. My February 15 Weekly Standard article on Web 2.0 suggests a similar ideological chaos.

In contrast with chaos theory, this intellectual upheaval is no small happening with a big consequence. Instead, it is a massive happening with an even more massive consequence. The Internet and the digitalization of culture are both the cause and the consequence of our contemporary political and cultural intellectual chaos. This has nothing to do with technology per se, but is rather the result of technology's democratizing (what Tom Friedman calls the "flattening") impact on media on politics, on the global community, on the workplace and on culture.

The growing argument about the merits of the digital revolution is the central issue of our age. It is the equivalent of the great debate about communism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The only matrix to make sense of our ideology chaos is to establish two camps -- digital versus analog. Then things appear less chaotic. Then they start making sense.