The participatory culture of the internet will overturn our sense of ourselves as individuals, says the activist and new religious leader
Read my recent hit piece for The Guardian, and Editor’s Choice on the home page, in full below or read the original here.
It is two years since Alexander Bard founded a new religion called Syntheism in which he claimed that the “the internet is God”.
Activist, musician and now religious leader – and playing “the nasty judge” on Swedish Pop Idol – Bard now has a new way to spread the word with the publication of his latest book, Syntheism – Creating God in The Internet Age, out this week.
“In Christianity, one of the last things Jesus said to his disciples was ‘I will always be with you’, meaning that the Holy Ghost is the manifestation of God when the believers are together,” says Bard. “The internet is 7 billion people connected together in real time, and if that isn’t the holy spirit then I don’t know what it is.”
In Bard’s analysis of history, where feudalism had Christianity to keep people on the land and capitalism had individualism to keep people consuming, so the internet age is going to have Syntheism to keep people online.
“What we have been lacking up to now is the storytelling. Someone has to do the fucking Immanuel Kant for the new age. So Syntheism is preparing the way for a new elite and I am one of its storytellers. For my friend Julian Assange what Syntheism does is to create a bigger story for WikiLeaks. It is the popular movement that could support something like WikiLeaks eventually.”
If Saint Paul had his vision on the road to Damascus, Bard had his “while spending the night lying next to a beautiful naked actress at Burning Man during which I realised that rather than carry on writing books about the problems the internet was causing I should write about Syntheism.”
Burning Man, the annual week-long festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, embodies the same anarchistic values of the opposition to hierarchical authority and belief in voluntary self-government that are central to the ethos of the internet, says Bard. He describes it as “an experimental temporary utopia that is the world’s first physical manifestation of the internet itself”.
Burning Man, and spin offs including Burning Nest in the UK, show that digital natives under 25 now see “the online world as the real world and the real world as a reflection of the online world,” says Bard.
The same is true, he believes, of WikiLeaks and other radical groups such as the Pirate Party movement that fights for digital freedom, which has now spread to 70 countries across the world, the Internet Party in New Zealand, campaigning for an end to mass surveillance, and those campaigning for net neutrality in the US.
“Religion is first practised then formulated. Saint Paul wrote his letters after Christianity was being practised across the Roman Empire. I firmly believe that Syntheism is already being practised and we are just formulating it.”
Bard was born in Sweden in 1961 and although he studied Economics and Philosophy at university, he first had success as a pop star in various bands, including Army of Lovers and more recently Gravitonas, known as the world’s first Spotify band. He founded Stockholm Records and is the nasty judge on Sweden’s version of Pop Idol. Bard has also campaigned on such issues as the liberalisation of sex and drugs laws in Sweden.
Since 2000 Bard has written three books about the internet revolution in collaboration with the media theorist Jan Söderqvist that together form The Futurica Trilogy.
Bard helped to found Syntheism in 2012. It is based on the idea that if man creates God, then it’s about time we created a religion relevant to the 21st century. “Syntheism” comes from Greek syntheos, meaning humanity creates God – as opposed to the “God creates humanity” basis of the traditional monotheistic religions. It is inspired by the writings of the French surrealist philosopher Georges Bataille in the 1950s and now has “thousands of followers of its online forums”.
What WikiLeaks and the Pirate movement have understood and what Syntheism is all about is, he believes, that the internet is actually going to overturn our sense of ourselves as individuals. It teaches us, rather, that our value is as social nodes in the networks created online. Bard dismisses those who see the internet as creating a culture of narcissism as “completely missing the point”.
“At the moment it is a hybrid of old individualistic models and the new ones where people really get involved with each other and do something together with them. This is called interactivity and is a key part of a participatory culture.
“These forces are so powerful that institutions like the Guardian will be swept aside if they can’t embrace this new interactivist culture, just like what happened to the Catholic Church after the invention of the printing press.
“After all, once you’ve had a smartphone in your hand you are never going to get a phone to just answer the phone with. There is no way back from interactivity.”
But Bard warns about the dark side of Syntheism. Much like the wars of religion that followed the invention of the printing press and then the Reformation, Bard says the major conflicts of the 21st century are going to be between the old and new elites.
“The state and the big corporations will want to control the web – the new netocracy will want it to be free and open,” he says, drifting further from lucidity. He claims to believe that controversy over net neutrality and mass surveillance will lead to physical conflicts.
“It will be a physical conflict and it is the Netocrats online who will start the revolution, not the workers in the factory. We don’t know who will win but we hope it is the young people, unless they throw too many atomic bombs.”