Public Atrocities as Crimes of Power

Individuals vying for power in the Attention Age do so on a scale measured in increments of momentary mass aggregated attention. This may account for the increasing horror of mass shootings in America, as the individual perpetrators compete for market share against the entire field of contenders, including the President of the United States. Since extraordinary power comes at the extreme ends of the scale, it is reasonable to anticipate that both the President and the next perpetrator of mass murder will be ramping up the spectacular violence and horror with every opportunity.

The balance of power has changed profoundly. Violent public atrocities, deep political polarization and the election of an oligarch to the Presidency are correlated phenomena. I call the new paradigm "The Attention Age", as the successor to the "Information Age". Obama was an Information Age leader, and got elected by skillful use of Information Technology. Now things are very, very different. The Current Occupant got where he is by skillful application of the principles of Attention Technology.

The infrastructure for this reached a saturation point, a critical mass, since Obama's first election. A moment of public attention is now a commodity with properties that transcend or violate all previous economic norms. A new world is upon us, and in this new world, access to power now lies in the Attention Marketplace.

Power and mass attention are so tightly correlated as to be nearly interchangeable. They derive their ephemeral energy from strong emotional reactions. It isn't so important what people do, as long as they are all aligned in the same moment; the commerce is already over and done. Since terror captures more attention than anything else, we are where we are. And each new focus of mass attention has to be more intense than the last, and the most powerful person is the one who can produce the most shock and awe, and sustain it. Sustaining the most powerful emotions over time inevitably means invoking a reign of terror.

©Copyright 2017 Peter Barus