From Ukraine to Israel: ontological bubbles as a tool for destabilizing societies

two ontological bubbles

Haifa format, instead of an introduction

When we started the Haifa Format project in 2017, we knew that the radicalization of the political agenda and dehumanization of political opponents that we saw in Ukraine was a technology we would not want to see in Israel.

But unfortunately, our suspicions have been confirmed and in Israel 2024 we are witnessing a conflicted state of Israeli society due to multiple socio-political cleavages. We see all the signs of radicalization and dehumanization of political opponents, which in Ukrainian society, led to civil confrontation and armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Thanks to the many studies that Dor Moria 2023 has conducted, we have enough sociological material to come close to explaining this phenomenon of radicalization and dehumanization. These are, for example, such sociological polls: “Image of the Future: Israel after the War”, Israelis’ expectations from the US presidential election, Image of Israel’s Future: “Russian Footprint”, Israel and Hamas: War and Peace, “Israelis’ Attitude to the Question of Israel’s Neutrality”, Maidan Technologies for Judicial Reform, Israelis’ Attitude to the War in Ukraine.

This situation is well explained, in our opinion, by the concept of ontological bubble.

The ontological bubble as a premonition

Ontological bubbles are closed world pictures formed by social groups. They are based on peculiarities of human thinking, such as the tendency to simplify complex reality to simple oppositions “one’s own-another”, “good-evil”. Social crisis, information overload, value vacuum and social media also contribute to this. Ontological bubbles are characterized by a high level of information filtering with low permeability to the new and active rejection of anything different.

Ontological bubbles usually occur in pairs, in the process of confrontation between two world pictures. Each of these 2pictures” are sets of narratives that, prior to the formation of “ontological bubbles”, are the subject of public debate. As the ontological bubble forms, these sets of narratives become the absolute opposite of each other. Interestingly, in doing so, they paradoxically need each other, deriving energy and meaning from the image of the enemy. For an ontological bubble to form, it is important that there is a dehumanization of opponents. You need to create a black and white picture of the world in which there is a struggle between good and evil, light and darkness. It’s the only way to rally supporters around your narrative and justify intransigence toward the other side.

Two as one

We believe that these bubbles gravitate towards two poles, conventionally postmodernist and traditionalist. Or in schizoanalytic terms to a “schizoid and paranoid” perception of reality.

The schizoid pole is associated with slipping away from any stable identity, breaking down traditions, and corresponds to the impulse to explode any structures in the name of liberating desire.

Paranoid, on the other hand, is associated with tightening boundaries, finding the enemy, systematizing. It seeks to order the streams of desire under the sign of transcendent law or traditional identity.

There are similar worldview splits in different countries. For example:

  • The confrontation between “globalists” and “nationalists” over Brexit, which has defined Britain’s political landscape.
  • The split in American society into “two Americas” – liberal and conservative – especially exacerbated during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, has been a major issue in the United States.
  • “Yellow Vests” in France as a revolt of the periphery against the “bubble” of cosmopolitan urban elites.
  • The conflict of “global” and “soil” narratives in Russia, defining the ideological spectrum from Westerners to Eurasians.
  • The confrontation between secular-modernist and Islamist discourses in the Middle East, which became one of the main factors of the Arab Spring.
  • The polarization of Ukrainian society between pro-European and pro-Russian orientations, which turned into a split of the country.

However, not all of these splits turn into ontological bubbles. The key factor in the formation of ontological bubbles is the merging of disparate oppositions and narratives into coherent ideological complexes that claim to be a total description of reality. Dehumanization of opponents and radicalization of political discourse to the format of religious warfare. Ontobubbles form around narratives and ideologems that provide simple answers to complex questions and demonize opponents. They give their bearers a sense of belonging to a right-wing cause, of safety in a world of chaos. The infrastructure of ontobubbles becomes media and social networks that filter information to fit a given picture of the world.

The business of chaos

In conditions of information overload and attention deficit, the only way for any ideas and narratives to “break through” to the audience is maximum dramatization, emotional sharpening, transformation into an easily recognizable meme or brand.

Hype culture with its attitude to the hard-selling of meanings is ideally suited for fanning symbolic “wars” between the bearers of oppositional worldviews.

Polarization brings huge profits to the media, allowing them to monetize the audience’s hatred of conventional “enemies”. It forces rational dialog out of the public sphere. Ontological demarcations are embedded in the business models of mass media and social networks based on targeting content and advertising, forming information “filter bubbles” around users

The loss of a common language and communication space between the bearers of alternative worldviews is fraught with fragmentation of society, paralysis of basic institutions, and outbursts of identity-based violence. In the extreme case, the process of ontological polarization can lead to the collapse of states and civil wars.”

Israel’s ontological bubbles

Conservative (paranoid) ontological bubble:

1. National Security and Territorial Integrity: Conservative narratives often focus on prioritizing national security and preserving Israel’s territorial integrity, including the issues of settlements and control over certain territories.

2. Traditional Values: There is a strong emphasis on supporting traditional Jewish and family values, as well as religious identity.

3. Economic conservatism: Emphasis on market economy, entrepreneurship and limited role of the state in the economy.

4. Foreign Policy: Tendency to support international alliances with restraint or conditionality, while emphasizing the importance of Israeli sovereignty and security.

The liberal (schizoid) ontological bubble:

1. Peace Process: Strong emphasis on the need to restart the peace process with the Palestinians and support for a two-state solution.

2. Civil Rights and Democracy: Focus on the protection of civil rights, including minority rights, and democratic institutions.

3. Social Justice: Supporting social justice, economic equality and enhanced social protection for citizens.

4. Foreign Policy: More open to international cooperation and support for international efforts to address global challenges such as climate change.

In lieu of a conclusion

Unfortunately, the ontological bubbles that have been formed cause any patheticness and emotion to result in their amplification. Political forces, interest groups, mass media, and Internet communities work to reproduce meanings in ontological pusillanimities, filter information, and suppress dissent. The phenomenon of “echo chambers” and “information cocoons” emerges, in which only complementary points of view circulate, creating the illusion of their self-evidence and infallibility.

We consider “ontological bubbles” as artificially created instruments of controlled chaos, which are aimed at the destruction of societies and states.

The usual methods of information warfare or fighting against fakes in the conditions of formed ontological bubbles do not work, because they reinforce both bubbles at the same time. We can say that a person in an ontological bubble loses informational subjectivity and reproduces only the narratives of his bubble.