How Twitter eats itself

I was recently reading the New York Times when I came across these sentences in an article by Karen Swisher about Twitter and Alex Jones:

… Twitter held an offsite meeting for its staff members — some 3,500 of them. It was opened by Mr. Dorsey, who sat cross-legged on the stage, leading a 10-minute meditation for his most fervent followers — Twitter’s employees flown in from across the globe.

The mind stuttered and stopped. It tried to restart, acting as if it were an engine on the other side of a chord of an old lawnmower gas engine that I was trying to yank.

Twitter. Jack Dorsey. Ten minutes of meditation. At Twitter. Silence. At Twitter. It was hopeless. The mind was stuck in an endless swamp of incongruities, just as surely as if it were attempting to untangle some intractable koan, like the sound of one hand clapping or my face before my birth.

Ankita Rao began to put words to the mental quagmire in her article on Motherboard, called, Silicon Valley’s Hypocritical Spirituality. There she begins with this observation, “On January 1, [2018] as we marched into a new year hopeful and hungover, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey laid one on thick,”

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Yes, it is, as she says, “thick.” She continues by naming this kind of announcement as “performative spirituality.” It is an apt phrase. Living as I do, far from Silicon Vally, in the heart of the Bible Belt, “performative spirituality”  surrounds me.  It did not occur to me that Silicon Valley is also inflicted with the same disease, but yes, it is. Whether it is a Christian prayer at the beginning of a corporate picnic in the South, extolling the  “blessing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” or a ten minute Buddhist Vipassana meditation at the beginning of a company-wide meeting, the effect is eerily similar.  To broadcast, publicly, one’s spiritual abilities and connections is to proclaim one’s close affinity to the gods, and/or to ancient spiritualities. To do so as a CEO at a corporate gathering is to declare to one’s corporate minions that your actions are imbued with the blessing of the gods, and of the ancients. In other words, a spiritual blessing has just been deftly tossed over the entire company and the CEO has proclaimed his direct connection with those blessings and the gods that have issued them. It is religion inflicted upon a population with a limited ability to disagree, if they want to continue getting paychecks with a minimum of fuss and bother, that is. It is also religion used as a means to suppress critique, for who wants to butt up against the netherworlds that have apparently decided to cheerlead for this or that company, be it Twitter, a trucking firm, or a pharmacy, or whatever.

(By the way, before someone says, “but it was just mindful silent sitting. It wasn’t religious,” let me point out that that excuse was chucked overboard as soon as Jack Dorsey issued his humblebrag tweet ending in “#Vipassana.” He is clearly calling upon the gods of ancient Buddhist traditions, though it is entirely up to you to decide whether you consider them to be literal gods or simply the sort of enlightened beings and bodhisattvas that we associate with Buddhism.)

All of this behavior seems terribly old and hackneyed, especially for an industry that prides itself on being the wave of the future. Cherrypicking bits and pieces of religious practices to support one’s claim of power, whilst at the same time,  ignoring the totality of the religion and hoping one’s followers do as well, is the bread and butter of authoritarian behavior. Kings, dictators, repressive regimes of all sorts, would all recognize the true purpose behind these affectations of spirituality. Its a dangerous game, though, because sometimes, the people balk. They notice, and grow weary of, for example, the well-oiled CEO sporting a Rolex and a tailored suit, invoking the name of Jesus, the wandering, homeless teacher, the very same Jesus who threw the money changers out of the temple courts proclaiming that the temple had become “a den of robbers.”  These two things should not be standing together and yet, many corporate leaders are arrogant enough to attempt to lay claim to this spiritual tradition.

In the case of Jack Dorsey, one can easily wonder, if, in his perusal of the practices of Vipassana, he had happened to come across “The Noble Eightfold Path,” number three of which is right speech, a dictum that Twitter, as it is designed, pushes its users to not only ignore, but also to contradict and to defy, blatantly.  Rage and outrage, Twitter’s métier, give Twitter attention, a.k.a. “eyeballs,” which it must have in order to survive. For Jack Dorsey, therefore, to have the gall to wrap Twitter in a cloak of Buddhist inspired silence and dignity, and then to continue with its business as usual, which, in this case, involved a bit of hand-wringing about Alex Jones, and rationalizations about why they do not have to do anything about him, is a remarkable spectacle of ego, as well as an unbelievable testament to either his own self-blinding ignorance or the endless gullibility of those around him, which, by the way, would include all of us. It suddenly seems so very appropriate that Twitter should have become Trump’s most special plaything. It is the Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, endlessly.  That’s a karma that any Buddhist would recognize.

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