View profile

TQE Newsletter - Issue #5

TQE Newsletter - Issue #5
In the wake of election 2020, the TQE newsletter focuses on populism, technology, and democracy. This issue is the second installment written by Chris Darrouzet on the QAnon phenomenon; it explores some of the underlying cultural and technological structure of QAnon.
Please consider writing for TQE, and feel free to forward this newsletter to your friends!

by Chris Darrouzet
Parker Neff was scrolling through conservative posts on Facebook when he saw an unfamiliar hashtag: #WWG1WGA. Recently retired after serving as a Southern Baptist pastor for more than 20 years, his time was free and curiosity piqued. “I started looking into it online,” Neff said. “Doing some research.”
– Daniel Burke, CNN Religious Editor, CNN Online News, 10/15/2020
0.0 Splitting our effort in two—last month’s TQE4 Newsletter and this one—we add leeway to write more pointedly about our take an under-sung dimension of this bizarre phenomenon, QAnon. While we wait for a whistle to start the second half, we look over the general playing field.
0.1 As in our first post, our aim here is not to repeat details of QAnon’s history or draw up a list of an increasing number of antic actions and events associated with it. Nor a review of the growing arsenal of articles, posts and books taking it on. Much less a review of texts proliferating from its growing bands of adherents. A high-level, capsule review of QAnon’s rise should emphasize how it has enjoyed spectacular growth in kinds and amounts of attention paid to it in the mere two years since a single, cryptic message, posted anonymously, started the ball rolling. A single message with preposterous intent, “dropped” on an semi-underground, ‘alternet’ channel. From then to now we see the phenom morphing before our Election Focused eyes from a bizarre curiosity to a more nebulous (if that were possible) and troubling, politically-hinged ‘movement’ of sorts. It continues to feature its original, patently absurd, outlandish, “jump the shark” hook of a conspiracy theory about an international cabal of pedophiles…rolling and molting into a faux “Save the Children” political movement. Thus QAnon continues to adhere to a cardinal rule of successful conspiracy theories: hook into a smallish shred of fact or truth, then contort and expand its meanings out of any and all reasonable proportions.
It’s growth might have been stiffled early by a certain person’s address of its messages but a malignant POTUS continues refusing to disassociate himself from QAnon’s more bizarre claims, preferring the surreal, manic hoopla surrounding it, which after all, is at the heart of Brand Trump. Meanwhile, it is highly doubtful QAnon will fulfill its ‘promise’, suggested by some, of laying a groundwork for new religion. It’s influences are trending toward more pedestrian, brute-force political ends. Right-wing politicos bearing radical ideologies along with their assault rifles are busy absorbing its energies. Open appropriation of QAnon by only slightly more mainstream, right-wing tRumpians, including a few running for the US Congress, only serves to add QAnon to a Trumpian GOP’s stable of polarizing political horses, alongside of White Supremacy and Sovereign Citizenship. These moves supply us with more blatant evidence of having entered a post-truth, post-fact, and post-critical reason phase of political-cultural conflict.
All of these angles are fascinating ones but not the angle we take up here. In lieu of reviewing these matters, we offer a curated list of links to a few of our favorite articles and posts.
  1. How QAnon Conspiracy Is Spreading In Christian Communities Across The U.S.
  2. What Is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory?
  3. Online Conspiracy Groups Are a Lot Like Cults
  4. Free Speech Will Save Our Democracy
  5. Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy?
  6. this scarily bizarre video interview by QAnon afficianodos, cited in the first post, is no longer available; it has been removed from Youtube.
* * * a whistle sounds off stage * * *
0.1 Time to put this 2nd post into play. Picking up where we left of at the end of the first half…
0.2 When we were about to say in clearer terms why we chose to start the topic of QAnon with matters raised by Jacques Derrida in his fabulous, enigmatic text, “Plato’s Pharmacy”.
1.0 Three questions arise in Plato’s Pharmacy affecting our address of the QAnon phenom. We have time and space merely to outline them, to start a conversation.
1.1 First, Derrida’s insistence on the intertwining, reciprocating action of genuine reading and writing. In our first post, in a benign parody of a paean to Derrida-style intensive reading&writing, we highlighted his sense of the two moments consisting of ‘a single gesture’. Reading&writing: a unitary phenomenon central to consciousness as a faculty poised to understand matters preoccupied with thought forged in words… written or spoken. Because we stipulate below that QAnon arises in a new, techno-political epoch featuring an unprecedented setting-free of writing from its techno-infrastructural and politically-governed constraints, we suggest appreciating a call for QAnon neophytes such as Neff Parker to do their own research as a call to read AND write. A tendency among those of us trained and accredited to the hilt in reading, writing and, research is to adopt a condescending tone toward this meme of “do your own research.” As easy as it is to scoff, it is better to appreciate it as this opening up the floodgates to writing as well as reading.
1.2. Second: in “Plato’s Pharmacy”, Derrida continues his career-long cause of hunting for a finer, better answer to the age old question of how to regard writing in respect of speech (‘Speech’ primarily in a sense of ‘Socratic dialog’). In short, Derrida ‘deconstructs’ a consignment of writing to a secondary, supplementary status and worth. The grandeur assigned to speech, logos, is not without fault; in fact it bathes in that which Derrida is also keen to dislodge, the over-valuation of the present and presence. He probes the temporalities involved in the speech/writing dyad. Is writing merely a post- pronounced rendering of thought forged in a confines of worded_things and worded_relations? Or does not writing actually ‘always already’, which is to say, primordially, also harbor a pre-speech moment? Does not the relation between writing and speech entail appreciating writing as co-existing from the outset with speech, operating out of an intertwined, reciprocating temporal movement of consciousness, a to and fro movement and counter-movement, not unlike that which Heidegger stipulated for Dasein? In whichever ways speech is crucial to Dasein, then so too is writing to reading, despite its merely apparent late-in-the-day invention manifesting in chiseled or inked glyphic forms. Speech&Writing bringing to the table spectres of both pastness and futures into the compass of a present, word-forged conception. This second question and answer addresses the historicity of themes and memes incorporated into the texts of QAnon, including its apocalyptic ones, featuring an imminent end to the long battle between ultimate Good and ultimate Evil.
1.3. Third: IS WRITING and PUBLICATION free of most curatorial guidelines and editorial decision A GOOD THING or a BAD THING? Derrida rejecting the negative judgment of writing’s worth which Plato/Socrates saddle it with in the Phaedrus. Derrida elevating the importance of a capsule of a worded-thought_tracer, repeated over and over again in the Phaedrus: writing as a pharmakon. Whereas Plato/Socrates bandy it about freely to disparage writing, Derrida shows how slippery are its senses. How careful attention to it discloses its inherent ambiguity. Which turns up especially in the work of translation: pharmakon = poison; pharmakon = remedy. To be sure, owners of the new technologies of writing – social media in its many flavors – are keen to see their platforms as remedies for what ails us. Refusing to acknowledge the other side of things: the Internet of Words and Images operating also as a poison.
2.0 Only now are we are ready address QAnon from a perspective featuring the infrastructure that affords it such powerful run: QAnon operating like so many other thematic, splash-rich meme enterprises on a surface of a vast, new infrastructure of societal communication. One featuring just those affordances which make it at one and the same time a remedy and a poison, depending. Those key affordances being unprecedented scale, reach, and alacrity. Here, questions posed about QAnon’s right to exist reverts to questions of a need to reign in or not any and all such wild excesses of free speech. If QAnon stands out it all, it does so on the grounds of its testing so openly and brazenly the old standards of weighing the value of anyting said or written in a context committed to ultimate free speech. Our Internet of Words and Images: a good thing or a bad thing?
2.1 QAnon emerges as a specific instance of a scary, multi-headed spectacle and cautionary tale during what we should regard as early phases of a new epoch.
2.1.1 A new epoch? Really? How tired a cliché, you say? But no: there is little about the ending of the 20th Century that does not merit this recognition. If we are to grant that there was a Reformation underway 500 years ago amounting to an epochal change in terms of conditioning and propelling a radial textualization of society, then we should be willing to recognize a similar leveling up happening now, courtesy of the technospheres’ incredible innovations over the last 100 years.
2..2 In Western Europe, within fifty years of Gutenberg’s technical solution to the problems of mass printing, an entire industry emerged around the printing, distribution, and sale of books through printers, book-makers and dealers. Not quite enjoying the scale, reach or alacrity of Amazon Books 500 years later but a start is made. Among its greater enablers: one Martin Luther, who, with his decision to foment a Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, used writing, reading, book-printing and publication in ways and to extents never before attempted. In the process, creating what historian Andrew Pettegree calls BRAND LUTHER. Unlike Trump branding practices, Luther actually wrote many of the texts that set the whole ecology of writing/printing/book-making/distribution and, most of all READING, in full motion. A epochal upheaval in the order of things. It culminated in a gift of lasting significance to succeeding generations: institutionalized education for children, argued for in his widely disseminated Sermon on Keeping Children in School. It’s always about children.
3.2 An age of READING descended upon the lands, staying in place for some 500 years. An epoch during which at first a small but growing proportion of a vast majority of a rapidly increasing population became readers, reading works by a still smaller, elite sector of individuals becoming-writers, as Deleuze & Guattari might have put it. Generations living out their lives within the newly construed constraints and confinements of a Power-Knowledge regime built around READING. Around being READ to or preached-read-to from the Bible. About being READ the LAW, about being Read the Riot Act. And then too, a new pretext gaining a power of its own: a growing sense of a demand that each person need tend to his own reading, which is to say, his own take on the Words of God written for oneself to encounter without the interference of self-interested mediators. Calvinists becoming more radical in their demands than Lutherans.
3.2.1 Taking a longer view still: in ‘the West’, in the ancient epoch in which Plato and Socrates lived, there would be no Phaedrus with its concerns about writing were Speech not still King, and the King’s Speech still the apogee of political culture—excepting for their marvelous dalliance with Speech as dialog among more or less equals. But writing was there to stay, to have its say. For the next 2000 years texts emerged, oral traditions consolidated and preserved, new expressions of consciousness forged in writing lit up the stage, such as Augustine’s Confessions. Many, though, were texts of old, preserved in half-dead languages accessible to small elite groups only, speakers, readers or writers of Latin or Greek. Not until Luther’s apostasy on this front did the written word of God enter into the vernaculars in any commanding way. And in the ‘Middle Ages,‘ many texts disappearing, their provenances going dark. Only to be re-discovered and re-copied again… voilà : a Renaissance rooted in ancient, classical literature. Still, though, hand-written books passed down generation after generation, housed in elites’ libraries or newly forming universities. Written matters repeating what Socrates, were he alive today might liken to Zombie-speech: words seemingly dead for centuries returning to confront us with their mindless repetitions, unable to truly speak for themselves.
3.3 We have no time or space left for nuance or qualifications. Shots on goal our only chance now. – Notice how along the way the great canons of literature and art form among the growing bookworm intelligentias, securing the authorized texts of the great AGE of READING.
4.0 Fast forward to our times. There is no other way as SpaceTime counts down to 0.0.
5.0 QAnon begs the question; and such is our response: a newly emerging epoch or Age of Writing, arguably succeeding at the expense of reading. Technological computational inventions across the 20th Century opening up not only a universe of singularly powerful tools for the capitalist production of goods and services, inventions also opening up a side door to technologies of WRITING and of PUBLICATION, tools affording unprecedented scope, reach and alacrtity…becoming available to every-person. QAnon surfs this giant wave.
6.0 But of course, the story does not end here. WRITING no sooner getting into the hands of every-person than these technologies of communication escalate our capabilities in the realm of ‘movement images’. The revolution in WRITING now operates and contends with a concomitant revolution in IMAGING. Remember film, movies, TV? No wonder Facebook saw the need to scoop up YouTube. QAnon operating on both fields of play, along with legions of others. An Internet of Words and Images completing endless ‘pictures of the world’.
7.0 And what of poor SPEECH? Is all we have left to show for speech’s supreme virtues and values, extolled by Plato/Socrates 2500 years ago…that disgusting political“debate” last week featuring the.fakery.king staging a MAD-KING routine against the staid efforts an aging, rearguard, “modern man” of a candidate?
7.1 Radio and podcasts coming to Speech’s Rescue? Consider the case of Twitter: for it too has been implicated heavily in enabling the advance of QAnon. Does not Twitter Inc, already offer something resembling vaguely Derrida’s insistence on the (con)fusion of reading&writing with the complexity of speech. Twitter offering a techno-server version of cribbed, speech-like writing, with its doses of torts and retorts, tweets and retweets, Petes and Repeats. Twitter, already retreating from its hands-off stance, admitting a need to curate, to edit, to deny service, to censure or at least mark outlandish twitter-speech but unable thus far to silence its most provocative voice, the.fakery.king his self.
8.0 What’s to become of QAnon? To say anything useful depends on whom or what within its elaborate cast of characters and ecology you address. From a perspective on the aesthetics of QAnon as a movement, we should feel comfortable when its adherents takes to the streets, vent their passion in real times and places on placards and posters, holding the movement’s iconic “Q” overhead, becoming-street art & activism. From another angle, though, it seems clear that the inner springs of QAnon’s standing as a “social movement” feed on steroid-like affective enhancers, provided by its singular underwriter: social media. QAnon appeals to its sincere members on a basis of their finding a sense of shared identity, a safe-house, one which has escaped them; one which affords them a powerful sense of being taken seriously on matters of ultimate concern. To this end, the fact that QAnonymous, whoever or whatever it/he/she/they is or are, hardly matters. Coded words drop from on high…they may as well be codes propagated on a tv game show or podcast. In this reading of the phenom, QAnon does indeed resemble a cult more than a social-political “movement”. No surprise given the bizarre, outlandish conspiratorial demands it places on its adherents. Then, when we shift attention to the enablers of this condition in our new epoch, we find social media operating in a confounding, counterfactual manner: a massive yet at the same time highly pointillist, individualizing force – targeting being the operative verb here. Resulting in a democratizing affect attaching to a democratizing effect of writing, research and publication become so universally available . A new, hi-tech pharmacy? A social media total ecology (hat tip: Mazyar Lotfalian)? One featuring enterprise-level “pharmacists” cooking up new algorithms, adding them to their approved formulary, adjusting dosages? Remedies for what ails us… or poisons; or both at once? Take your pick; Like, Reply or Share.
* * * a whistle blows offstage ending the second half: game over: a 1 to 1draw
Did you enjoy this issue?
Mazyar Lotfalian and Michael Scroggins

Notes and missives on technology and social life

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue