Redundancy as the Production of Ignorance

There is a dangerous pretense in writing philosophically as an amateur. The goal of saying something novel about “whatever is” has often lead my enthusiastic heart toward the precipice of a foolish plummet, and I would not lead any over the edge with me in baseless speculation. Publishing philosophical essays using online platforms further complicates the situation.

Jose Ortega-y-Gassett and Jorge Luis Borges both address the phenomenon of a mass-audience and popular society in various ways. Ortega-y-Gassett opens his 1952 essay “The Self and the Other” thus:

My Subject is this: Today people constantly talk of laws and law, the state, the nation and internationalism, public opinion and public power, good policy and bad, pacifism and jingoism, “my country” and humanity, social justice and social injustice, collectivism and capitalism, socialization and liberalism, the individual and the collectivity, and so on and so on. And they not only talk, in the pres, at their clubs, cafes, and taverns; they also argue. And they not only argue; they also fight for the things that these words designate.

“The Self and the Other”, Jose Ortega-y-Gassett, 1952

This depiction is a strange parody of the world as I’m seeing it right now. Public discourse has been paradoxically amplified and diluted, resulting in the phenomenon of digital para-social relationships (e.g. influencer culture) and in the crumbling position of the professional expert in our cultural eye. On one hand, I am able to write what I want; on the other, how in the world have I been permitted to do so?

Borges, on a related note, presents a weird concern for the historical individual in society. In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote“, Borges describes an author who loved Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote to such a degree that the labor of translation would seem to fall short of true ardent expression–Pierre Menard desires to actually re-create the Quixote line by line. Having never read it, I can sympathize.

It is this stirring of enthusiasm I want to talk about. It seems that the first world has been situated in such a way to congregate pseudo-intellectuals and wannabe writers like myself for the sake of profit. I have no authority to say, and yet I have a place to speak. What’s more–there is a similar stirring in the congregation of the consumer: this sort of content is drawing people to it in the first place! The question is, to what end have these resources been made available?

There’s just something about this that catches the eye; something that reaches people.

“Redundancy as the Production of Ignorance”, Erik Warner, 2021

There’s just something about this that catches the eye; something that reaches people: Redundancy. Redundancy gets noticed so that it can be ignored. A manic scramble of always-new content has made us insatiable. Many criticisms of modern society and culture have centered around the disposability of its artifacts. Some have despaired that the content of these attempts at saying something have been so mediated by the capitalizing form of today’s public discourse that anything that can be seen has been stripped of its content. Who knows if what I’ve said is conjecture–it sounds good enough to be true. The fact is, much hay is made on the ground of ignorance through redundancy.

The Subject of Ignorance

I can imagine a type of philosopher or academic who casts scathing downward-glances. I can imagine a beleaguered worker who disregards those who don’t live in the “real world”. I can imagine who reads this, if I try. Whoever you are, I hope you don’t take any offense, but I’m going to talk about you. What’s more, I’m now going to try to tell you something that you don’t know about yourself.

The reasons we have for writing and reading today are impressively varied and constant. What’s more is we can find almost anything to read in the process of looking for it.

I am at the point where I almost always have some occupation or content at hand. I have a feeling that I should be consuming something, a heedless appetite for this content. I’m then driven to try to contribute–as I am doing now–in an attempt to personally benefit from the time I’m spending consuming this kind of content: I dip my toe into the effort, and find it too difficult, even with all the ease of access one could pay for.

I have found myself inside the algorithm niche of philosophy and theory on both twitter and youtube; bound in a cycle of consumption and sputtering, impotent production. The para-social celebrity relationships; the overwhelming volume of accessible content; and the nudging encouragement to participate, all acting in concert…to what end? Can philosophy actually be done in this environment, or is it doomed to serve the mechanisms which produce this position? If it does, how can it be successful? The answer to this question, I believe, is in the examination of the Subject of Ignorance and the phenomenon of Redundancy.

Redundancy and Ignorance

The first mood of this discussion is haughty, accusatory, and ironic. I would say that I might be trying to wake someone from some kind of deep ideological sleep. The problem is that I, too, am very much asleep. This is why I chose to discuss ignorance first, and only eluded to redundancy. We can now return to redundancy.

I confessed above that I have found myself forming habits that make me feel like I should write. I have found inspiration to do this from consuming content, and I all but condemned myself to writing in the act of buying a subscription to Word Press. I have also taken inspiration from having been made to read philosophers like Borjes and Ortega-Y-Gassett in schools. In spite of this, I also see an enormous redundancy in trying to write something novel about philosophy–especially as an amateur.

The internet produces an enormous amount of redundancy; memes and advertisements are a primary example, and the re-post/reaction tracking is its secondary iteration. Third, the profile, the post, and network reiterate all the iterations of our digital self. This structure, I contend, is integral to the production of ignorance.

Redundancy is noticed so that it can be ignored. Content is created so that an algorithm can preclude it for someone. The ignorance that this produces is pernicious; you can simultaneously reproduce yourself in and with the product you enjoy without thinking about it. The desire to produce is seeded vicariously in the image/scene/aesthetic/persona, and the production is effluent for the user–it rarely matters what or who posts when compared to who sees.

Rather than propose a way out, I would suggest philosophy makes an entrance in the production of ignorance. Rather than academically prefiguring a subject who is ignorant of what is to be expounded in a philosophical treatise, and rather than abandoning users to the economy of self-reproduction, I think that the phenomenon of redundancy can represent this ignorance to itself.

Ignorance and Redundancy

The real terror I face in writing this is the creeping feeling that what I’ve written has been writ already. There is a heap of writing, and each piece in the heap has been read by 10 or fewer people. Some of the pieces have been read by hundreds of thousands, and will still be forgotten once a new piece finds its way to the top of the heap.

These circumstances are effectively anesthetic–paralyzing the reader with the vastness of the search and dispiriting the average writer by the limit of his scope. They are our absent guards: this is our panopticon.

About now I should be giving some kind of message, either hopeful or despondent. Unfortunately, the Socratic position on teaching is a skeptical one. Hypothesizing that “virtue cannot be taught,” Plato develops a theory of education based on recollection/remembrance, whereby the student, independently of the teacher, connects again to things they have come to forget. If we take on the suspension of disbelief such that we can forgive the doctrine of the eternity of the soul–a question which Socrates himself was incapable of answering–such a heap of pieces becomes a perfect redundancy. The point being, if there’s something to be remembered, it would have to be in the heap–meaning it has been ignored.

My goal in writing this has been to remember something forgotten by showing ignorance to itself. I want to do philosophy–or at least use philosophy to write something. By throwing this into the heap, I hope that someone will tell me that I’ve forgotten something–left out a notable contribution to this discussion, which I have misremembered. I wish to deviate; to be publicly ignorant; to admit the difficulty of working through this ignorance; and to encourage others to do the same.

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