Some Remarks About Social Media (and Possibly My Ego)

I know I told readers I would be blogging about voting rights, mass formation psychosis, and progressivism, but Twitter fascinates me. The whole social media thing fascinates me. I have to get something off my chest. After a decade of existing on the platform, I have almost no followers on Twitter—even while my tweets and responses to tweets get likes and retweets. It’s not that people don’t follow my account. It’s just that the vast majority don’t stay followers for long. If everybody who has followed my profile for a little while wound up staying, I’d have a lot of followers. As of right now, I only have eighty-six followers. Sad, I know. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed.

This is me possibly having an egocentric moment.

I have been looking at the profiles of followers to understand why this is happening (I am a sociologist, so I am so inclined) and I have developed a working hypothesis. Let me know what you think (mean comments will be be deleted). I’m supposing at the moment that identity and orthodoxy explain the pattern: folks like a tweet, follow, detect a left-winger (which I am), and unfollow; others assume I’m a left-winger because I’m a sociologist and a teacher (fair assumptions), follow, hate the tweets, which they perceive as right-wing (which they aren’t), and then unfollow. Right-wingers don’t like the man behind the tweets, while left-wingers can’t stomach the heresy. (Right-wingers appear much better at detecting left-wingers than so-called left-wingers are, an appearance I address indirectly below.)

I have long suspected that the worst species of heterodox thinker in the world to be—especially in today’s political-ideological environment—is the principled left-libertarian. If you ask me what I am, this is what I will tell you. What does that mean? It means that I resemble Christopher Hitchens’ self-description as a Marxist who rejects socialism, which is to say that Marx’s materialist conception of history and his dialectical method forms his analytical system, but those concrete systems claiming to follow from Marxian thought are authoritarian and soul-crushing and must be rejected. This is why both Hitchens and I like Orwell so much. (Perhaps if I were anywhere close to being as good a writer or orator as Hitchens things might be different. But clearly I am not.)

There’s a version of this dynamic in media requests for interviews. You may have noticed that the media has a definite progressive bias. The assumption is that a sociologist at a university can be counted upon provide woke counterpoint to some conservative or right-wing opinion on an issue. Not this sociologist. During the BLM riots, particularly on the question of police shootings, I would give an opinion that would completely throw the interviewer. What I am supposed to do? If a particular truth has a right-wing bias from the standpoint of woke progressivism it’s not my fault. Lately, there’s nothing to put on my vita about media requests. They’ve stopped calling. At least somebody’s paying attention.

My WordPress blog, Freedom and Reason, which you are now scanning, gets thousands of views and visitors annually. These aren’t incidental hits; the statistics tell me there is engagement. Visitors stay and read content. However, I suspect that as soon as the right-wing visitor sees a reference to Marx or some other leftwing critical theory type figure (and it won’t take long before he stumbles upon one of those), there’s no way in hell he’s going to say, “Hey, there’s this dude who blogs at Freedom and Reason who makes this point. Blah, blah, woof, woof.” Heaven forbid he should forward a link to the blog. My heterodoxy thus explains, I think, why my insights and arguments, sometimes almost verbatim, are rehearsed in populist circles without attribution because who in hell in those circles is going to cite a left-libertarian using Marxist methodology? So instead of directing people to my blog, right-wingers take the ideas as arrows for their quiver, developing out their system of conceptual and theoretical weaponry for battle.

Who can blame them? Not me. They know dropping the name of an environmentalist, feminist, pro-gay, atheist critic of capitalism who refuses to rationalize the planetary descent into corporate new-feudalism as a Marxist cabal will delegitimize what are otherwise good and useful arguments—irrespective of right and left. For the most part, this is fine with me. Ideas are way more important than me. And my ideas aren’t that original. My blog is a synthesis of ideas drawn from political sociology, social psychology, radical historiography, and moral philosophy—you know that because I cite the source of my ideas. At the same time, I want more people to be exposed to those ideas and I have this notion that directing people to the source of the ideas might help more people to them. Then again, one’s audience would then know the source of the ideas. It’s too much to expect, I know. I can live with that.

On the other side, woke progressive types read my blog and are horrified by what they think are right-wing ideas. That is this happening is not in doubt. I have disappointed a lot of people. Nothing on Freedom and Reason is useful to them because none of it is recognizably left-wing to them—nor am I anymore. I can make left-wing arguments about racism, immigration, religion, the pandemic, and so on, and the self-identified left-winger is so lost he can’t recognize them for what they are. This is not unexpected; neither wokeness nor progressivism is an actual left-wing position. Both are projections of corporate statism. Awareness that the left has turned and not me is a reality very few people are prepared to accept.

I often wonder about those academics who, having cited me in the academic literature (thanks to the norm of citing the literature, one’s name will appear in references, even if one’s work is unread), after learning that I am not a woke progressive, wince at not being able to remove that particular citation from their paper. The more woke academia becomes, surely the more wincing there will be, a situation I might find humorous but for the curse of excessive empathy.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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