Opinion: Decolonizing Empathy

Desensitization perpetuates a colonization of empathy stemming from the transnational politics of location, identification and colonial legacy of imperialism, writes Sabin Muzaffar.
Opinion: Decolonizing Empathy

They fear love because it creates a world they can’t control.

George Orwell, 1984

Power has always been an enforcer of fear, hate, division, polarization in order to control. The narrative has always been about us versus them. With the influx of information, spiced with dis-info, mis-info, propaganda and linguistic manipulation across mass media, the cacophonic noise has drowned sanity and dehumanized the marginalized – in Chomsky’s words those who do not have wealth or power: people living in the Global South (them). In addition to this, manipulated content laced with strategically graphic references has and is continuously, consistently being consumed by larger audiences. Framed to trigger a pleasurable surge of dopamine and administering subliminal conditioning, the nature and designs of content across all information channels and platforms aim at controlling narratives, brainwashing and numbing opinions – colonizing freedoms, self-preservation of society, and enslaving the spirit.

And it does not stop there!

There is a dark side when it comes to emerging tech especially while assessing digital transformation of media. It has, in fact, taken a toll on truth seeking and speaking. While discussing disinformation at a recent Google event, Nobel Laureate, journalist Maria Ressa said, “What will you sacrifice for truth? If you cannot have facts, you cannot have truth, if you cannot have truth, you cannot have trust.” Consequently leading to a breakdown of democratic processes. – ideally a rights-based system that ought to be founded on the principles of equality, equity and most importantly justice.

Mob mentality found across our traditional landscape has converged into our digital reality in the most diabolical form – epitomizing ‘crowd madness’ in terms of algorithmic bias and hate, abuse and trolling by bots and avatars as well as digital human lynchers operating anonymously or otherwise. All this is fueled – and to reiterate – with influx of unadulterated, unfiltered and compromised content.

In such a clime, canceling even entire communities – especially those not looking like us – comes easy amidst the explosive dissemination of chaos and propaganda. Noise is good, chaos even better to disorient and throw the already bewildered herd in wild disarray. This is exactly what the role of mass media has evolved into. Filtering sound from noise is becoming harder and harder.

Labeled by saner voices as hellhole, it is not untrue to claim how social media is pivoting towards a colonization of thought and expression through aggressive militarization of  both content and the influences that drive it.

As an inevitable consequence, desensitization perpetuates a colonization of empathy stemming from the transnational politics of location, identification and colonial legacy of imperialism vis-à-vis abuse and perverse servitude .

Additionally, it is true, we live in a time of globalization and multiculturalism but what does that even entail in a post-Brexit, hyper-fascist/nationalist era? Pluralism is good for messaging but ground reality is different. Privilege must enable divisive segregation – for all purposes it is important to keep ‘them’ closer. But at the same time, hold them to the ground. The color of one’s skin is a symbolic representation of us versus them.

Linguistic militarism has played a catalyzing role when it comes to divisive segregation of communities within societies or peoples in global context at the intersections of race, color, religion and gender. Powers that be have always exercised impunity but the last one decade and especially with the rise of fascism across the globe – case in point the Trump era and specifically imperialist politics – has seen how ‘linguistic filibusters’ have amplified impunity. It has now seeped into the digital paradigm and is mixed with imperious vitriol; thereby ‘abridging’ freedoms, creating a-moral narratives and “changing the tone of our political conversations online.”

Stakes are higher for those living across the Global South, the Middle East and/or areas of emergencies. The wisdom behind a show of restraint, justice and humanitarian-focused reasonings and language is with due reason. Militarism on the ground is catastrophic. But it is actually the weaponization of media messaging that has sown the seeds of radicalization. Digital transformation and by extension digital media transformation are the new weapons of modern warfare.  Truly, weapons of mass destruction!

Bleak, the future definitely seems… perhaps, and taking cue from author Peter W Singer, a sliver of hope lies in the hands that click the button?


Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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