Writing About Politics in Times of Informational War (Part 1)

A constant self-doubt that I have is whether I have any business writing about political topics that I’m not engaging with as a day-to-day activist or organizer. Armchair radicalism. This self-doubt has only grown as I’ve gotten older and made life decisions that have increasingly distanced me from daily political organizing. These days, I find it harder than ever to rationalize why I should be anywhere near a pen or a keyboard, typing words like “revolution” or “movement building.”

After Trump won, and I dove into the reporting and literature about the informational landscape that created and continues to strengthen his victory–the state-sponsored disinformation campaigns; polarized cultural bubbles; the White supremacist->Fox News content ecosystem and the conflict-addicted cable news cycle; the barrages of shitty liberal/leftist hot takes that erode unity around any issue, coalition, possibility–I became even more sensitive about putting my own ideas into the world.

We are living in times of intensified, unprecedentedly accelerated informational warfare. We are under daily threat from a tsunami of untrue, semi-true, and true-but-superficially-analyzed presentations of reality. The threat comes from multiple forces, including whole nation states, corporations, frightening fascist coalitions, and a whole slew of unwitting ‘content creators’ from Instagram and Twitter, to YouTube and Twitch. In this kind of environment, just throwing around a bunch of ‘I mean, I guess, maybe I’m right?’ pontifications about topics as big as global oppression or systemic social transformation feels like it might not just be a waste of time, but actually irresponsible. Why does the world need more contributions to the noise, if those contributions have no empirical backing, no lived track record in actually forwarding social change or movement building?

The answer I came to was that the world doesn’t need more noise, and so I stopped my political writing (okay, ALL writing) until I could back that writing up with at least some real experiences. But as those experiences haven’t come–perhaps in part because writing actually is my way to work through anxiety in order to act in the world (a chicken/egg dilemma there!)–I just haven’t been writing, I haven’t been organizing. I haven’t been reading much either. I just haven’t been doing anything political all. Okay…I’ll admit that I have been listening to a bunch of liberal/progressive podcasts, but that shouldn’t count.

Since doing nothing really isn’t a helpful option, I have to do something different, and I think I want to start by thinking about my writing itself.

You see, a key, silly, mistake I’ve made is to think that political writing is only valuable if it’s connected to real, physical terrain–like, real campaigns in the real world. But in a context of informational warfare, ideas themselves, every patch of reality, of philosophy, of values, identity, culture, emotion, is all contested terrain, and anyone who self-silences out of self-doubt is not just making a personal, individual choice. We are making ourselves casualties of the information war. Instead, we must find a different position between ceding the terrain of ideas with silence, and accommodating the informational war with unhelpful noise. We must use our own ideas, learning skills, listening and reasoning skills, curiosity, humility to establish whatever small guerrilla base camps we can to process reality, to feel–individually, in pairs, in small groups, however possible–less crazy and less hopeless. We can offer ourselves as intellectual companions and accomplices to our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors, saying, “I know everything is overwhelming and confusing and feels too far gone. But let’s sit with it together and figure some of this out.”

That’s the place I think I’ve found for my own political writing, back here at this blog, for now. It’s my one little guerrilla base camp in a very scary, very real war that not only targets our politics, but our complete understandings of reality. It’s not a place to make the noise worse with loud, unfounded, dogmatic proclamations or quick click-bait critiques of potential comrades. It’s a place for questions and doubts, for “does this make sense or doesn’t it?” and “what can we make of these contradictions?” Importantly, I hope it could become a place again to indeed reflect on the on-the-ground organizing that I still think is central to any lasting change, and that I still hope to get back to.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi