This week, “tax protesters” gathered across America to dump bagged tea into symbolic bodies of non-potable water and Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to a Twitter follower showdown. I admire anyone who takes to the streets for their ideas and recognize the power of media, even when it is lowered to the level of counting masses of followers. Oprah followed me today. I have no idea why she did, other than to get followers, and that demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about social media.
First, the “teabaggers.” These folks are protesting taxes in the nation with the lowest taxes in the developed world. They are mimicking the actions of their forebears, who were protesting taxation without representation—less than six months after the most participated-in election in at least a generation. They are not idealists, nor do they have any idea what they are talking about, but talk away they should so that someone might engage them in discourse and collectively we learn something.
Ultimately, it costs more money to reinvest in a developed economy than in a growing first-generation industrial economy. That’s why we have taxes. The problem with our taxes is that, for the past 30 years they have been invested in the wealthy, which is why the United States and Great Britain, the forebears of Reagan-Thatcher top-down economic planning now suffer the largest wealth differentials between the average citizen and the richest one-percent of the population of any developed countries in the world. Instead of protesting taxes, these people should be protesting the indifference toward the middle class of the past 30 years and demanding even greater investment in schools, basic science and other seedings of future prosperity than the Obama Administration has imagined. That doesn’t mean lots more taxes—we could do the same by simply cutting wasteful stupid spending or returning half-way to the old top-income taxes of the past—it only means the priority becomes investment in the people, not a class that will save the people.
As for Mr. Kutcher, he seems like a nice enough guy. As a celebrity, he strikes me as the perfect attention zombie, stumbling through our screens to eat our brains. But the fact a television news network even bothered to compete with a B-grade actor over their popularity is a sign of how low we will stoop to conquer anything that can be defined as “high ground.” Now, with Oprah glomming on to Twitter, we are seeing spamming by celebrities desperate to retain their mass-media reputations. Oprah touts more than 100,000 followers in less than a day because so many people auto-follow, whether using a program to do so or simply because they are flattered by Oprah’s follow—that’s a spammer strategy.
In both cases, teabaggers and Twitter follower races, we’re seeing the aping of past behaviors, the Boston Tea Party and the popularity contests of high school and Entertainment Tonight!, turned into events that supposedly enact meaning, but are merely empty gestures. Tea baggers aren’t patriots, they are people convinced they are paying too much in taxes (just about the only obligation this country asks of its citizens), when the debate should be about how taxes are spent, what to cut and, if more money is needed to make the world a better place for our children, who among the current beneficiaries of that system should pay higher taxes.
As for Oprah, Ashton and Ev (Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter), I will not be following anyone who for all intents and purposes is a celebrity bot seeking to claw some of my attention away for themselves. I am sure that today marks Twitter’s high-water mark. Oprah’s endorsement is like being on the cover of Fortune, which, surely, Twitter and Mr. Williams will soon be. The utility of a social ecosystem is destroyed by false followers and other aggressive species that suck the air away from the genuine exchanges of ideas and information by individual members.