I am not a fan of Karl Marx — him being the father of socialism/communism and all — and in fact have always had more of an appreciation for comedian Groucho Marx (no relation).
The grim-visaged Karl was nowhere near as entertaining as Groucho, although Karl did sport a funny-looking beard, but he said something during the 1800s which has stood the test of time as an interesting observation about humanity.
What Karl Marx said, and I’m paraphrasing here, was that religion is the opiate of the masses. Of course, as a staunch foe of capitalism, he was referring to his belief that organized religion has a certain role in society similar to how the drug opium affects sick or injured persons.
Marx’s contention was that religion relieves people’s immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions, but it also lessens their desire to come to grips with the heartlessness, oppression and cold realities forced on them by capitalism.
Again, I’m no fan of Karl Marx, but his philosophy does have relevance in today’s day and age, when some would argue that opiates are the opiate of the masses considering the drug epidemic presently gripping America.
But that epidemic aside, I would substitute the words “social media” for “religion” in Marx’s statement and suggest that platforms such as Facebook have become the modern opiate of the masses for all practical purposes.
For one thing, religion itself has been on a steady decline. Many Western countries have witnessed a continuing downturn in faith-based beliefs and practices. Recent census findings in Australia, for example, revealed that 30 percent of its population identify as having “no religion,” and that the number is increasing.
Closer to home, a study published earlier this year found that 26 percent of Americans likely do not believe in God.
Given this trend and the fact society always must have some kind of a base to rally around, the case can be made that social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have replaced religion at least to some extent.
Surely many people spend more time on Facebook and other sites than they do in church. And you also can see how some have made their Facebook pages into virtual shrines showcasing the users’ supposedly interesting lives, which their “followers” monitor with religious-like fervor.
It’s certain that hard-core Facebook fans, especially those experiencing “issues,” reap a tremendous amount of moral support and attention from those followers which is akin to what they might normally receive in a church setting.
Yet one thing that bothers me is how Internet sites such as Facebook have truly become almost as addictive as opioids, taking Karl Marx’s view to another level.
One definition of addiction is “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
I would submit that if you locked 50 hardcore Facebook or other social media users in a room where they were deprived of cell phones and additional online linking mechanisms, you’d see plenty of sweating, nervous twitches and other signs similar to narcotics withdrawal.
And this just ain’t me talking. Similar sentiments recently were expressed by no less than a former Facebook executive who criticized the instant gratification people give and receive from their social media posts, such as the “likes” they solicit with postings.
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem,” Chamath Palihapitiya said.
“It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are,” he added.
Palihapitiya, who left Facebook in 2011, said he and others responsible for it were of the opinion that “in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen.”
Here again, Karl Marx’s observation about the “opiate of the masses” is relevant today in terms of how Facebook and other social media divert people’s attention from truly important matters.
If someone’s entire existence revolves around updating their Facebook page with the latest drivel, they are less likely to be focused on how bad things truly are in this corrupt world and do something such as start a revolution.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.