Can we claim that we are free, when every Inch of our physical reality is part of the advertising machine? can we get a moment of peace? Guess not.

I recently studied the subject of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). It made me aware, even too aware, to language usage around me, mostly on the media. But, because language is not limited to verbal communication, pictures and the physical environment itself catch my attention as well. This made me suffer less when I watch TV because now I find it interesting, not because of the content, but because the way things and notions are delivered, and it is interesting to think about them from a new perspective.

The more I immerse myself in the history of advertisement, the more I get the irritated feeling when I look around me. I start to doubt the notion of freedom. I’m not talking about freedom from a political perspective. I’m referring to something more fundamental, freedom from social institutions that very aggressively try to influence my instincts and conscious, usually the economic institutes. If I’m free, why do I have no choice when choosing or, have a say in the shaping of our physical environment? Most of the noises we encounter in the public sphere, we don’t choose. We cannot choose to see what we want to look at. But more importantly, we cannot decide what NOT to see. As Stuart Even wrote in his book “Captains of consciousness”:

“Today, nearly every moment of human attention is being converted into an occasion for a sales pitch, while notions of the public interest and noncommercial arenas of expression are under assault.” Today this line is even more correct. When we consider pop-ups click baits, social media as an advertiser’s platform, in-app ads and many more instances when our consciousness is being hijacked by people who want us to buy something. When you pay attention, you will see that almost everywhere, when you set your eyes on something, there is information. I’m not talking about information of things that exists, like “this is a tree” or “this is a human being,” I mean information that someone wanted you to understand, to intake and to be aware of. Signs, billboards, slogans, brands, sounds, ads, all those. When I take the subway, train, just walk the street, most of this info has to do with economy, consumption. Someone wants you to know what they sell, and why YOU should buy it. Or at least keep that in mind. We cannot choose to undo it. We cannot force billboards down. Nobody gives us any choice.

During my recent trip to Tokyo, I came across an excellent example of how the whole physical environment is being harnessed into a machine of advertising. Me and my wife went to Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo. There we went to Fuji Television’s building. Fuji Television is one of the biggest TV stations in Japan. They have on the 30th (maybe a bit higher) floor an observatory, which gives a lovely view over the whole artificial island and the nearby area. After we paid (of course), and took the elevator, we were welcomed with a very aggressive advertising machine. First, there were three big televisions screens, which continually broadcasted a trailer for the cartoon movie “minions.” Not only that the screens were big, and unavoidable, the sound of the movie trailer was really loud. So the whole room was filled with what they wanted you to hear, the trailer for this movie.

The second thing that they did was to put in the center of the room several stands that created half a circle. They were big and full of merchandise, of course of the “minions.” Even if you just wanted to go to the window to see the view, you had to pass near these stands. They actually force you to prolong the walk to the windows, so you would have to pass by the merchandise and look at it. So again, we could not avoid it. Another thing that they did was to sell food. I don’t have a sense of smell after a surgery I had to undertake, but I’m sure the room was filled with pleasant aroma. The food stands were just under the big screens, and again, we had to walk past them to get to see the view.

After we saw the view, while having to hear the loud noise of the TV screens, I wanted to go to the toilet. They even had Ads inside the bathrooms in places you were most likely to look at. Like above the urinals. We had to go through a maze of ads. Every place I lay my hands, on the walls, on the polls, places that we were most likely to put our eyes on, there was a sticker, something to remind us of the “minions.” Then we went to a “real size” TV studio, of the most popular morning show in Japan. There they just bombarded us with “soon to come” tv programs and dramas, faces of the famous celebs and details about their lives.

My wife doesn’t pay attention to those things because she doesn’t care, and not aware. I, on the other hand, suffered every second of it. It got me angry, not only they charge me with money, they did everything they could to get more money out of my pocket. This is insulting, is this the way they view me? As a target for money extraction? I guess most of the people I come across in my daily life do consider me a target, not as a human being who have free wills that are needed to be considered. But instead as a walking wallet, that my will is something that needs to be changed, bent and manipulated for their profits.

Adults might be more resilient to those attempts, but children are the real targets. They want to stimulate the kids with a likable cartoon, put loud noise to force them to watch the big screen. The big screen moves fast and catches their attention. The smell and candy’s catch their nose and tongue. The kids know that in holidays and trips parents tend to be less stressed over money, so they might buy the kids things they won’t otherwise. So this “special” place with the view and big elevator, might make them understand that if they push their parents hard enough, they might get something, and they tend to try their luck. So, parents buy merchandise not because they think it’s good, but they buy some peace and quiet.

Are we free? Can I choose not to see these images? Can I choose not to hear this noise? No. I can maybe put earphones and hear music, but I cannot go with a blindfold. Look around you when you go in the street, when you drive when you enter somewhere. What information do you get the most? What the people who put this information there, wanted you to think when you read\see? Most of it has to do with you and your wallet. We cannot say that we are free, when considering that words, symbols, and pictures carry political, social values, and notions about the “right” way of life. It is everywhere, and It is impossible to escape it. Why are billboards ok? Why do I have to see them? Because somebody paid money to someone, for the right to catch my attention? Nobody came to me and asked me if I agree. I don’t want to surrender my attention. Can I choose not to look at the billboard? With the right techniques, I’m cannot. I will HAVE to look at it, even for a second, many times this second is enough to make me understand the things that somebody wanted me to understand. Think about years of indoctrination, and the lack of awareness and critical thinking about these issues. That is how we get influenced, meaning we don’t have much of a free choice.

Kids in a dilemma. We tell them that they are special, but we push them into systems of ranking. How can this be? and what does it says?

Dividing people by ranking is part of everyday life. We rank most things, people and places even if we are not aware. But in the age of neo-liberalism that “everybody is special” and “you cannot argue over taste” we end up contradicting ourselves, both as a society, and especially, we give a contradicting massage to our children.

Foucault in his writings talks about power and society. His idea is that every relationship is also a power relationship. There is no real equality among people and organizations. If we look at a classroom, even if all the students are in the same academic year, they have different abilities in different fields. This is the “birthplace” of ranking. It is natural and it is everywhere.

The easiest to detect and think about grades. Arranging the classroom in a hierarchy of grades is easy. We can rank the classroom by their average or into separated subjects. But the students rank themselves into other categories. The broader title will be “social capital.” Who is the funniest? Who is the most “cool”? who is the most popular? Also into physical traits, who is the best in sports, who is the best looking? Of course, it is not just “the most or the best,” it can be on a scale from the least to the most. There is overlap between “social capital” and “physical capital”. The most beautiful girl in class, will likely be popular. The best kid in sports, will be with a lot of confidence which will make him “stand out”, meaning having a lot of Social Capital.

If we look at the way we educate children, we will notice that we give them conflicting messages. While we persistently tell them that they are unique, we also tend to push them into those systems of ranking. These systems deems only certain individuals as special. It starts with the simplest things. Like when a parent might tell his kids to race to the door. There will always be faster kids and slower kids; not everybody can be “special” because only one will get in first place. So when our kids discover that they are not “as special” as they were told, we adults are being confronted with the negative feelings that are produced out of this contradiction. Then, we try to encourage the child, we say things like “you have other things you are good at.” But as my mom used to say to me “there is very little room in the tip of the pyramid.”

So we contradict ourselves and confuse the kids. We say that everybody is special, but we are consistently ranking individuals. Kids also rate themselves. Raking systems seem to come naturally to use humans. It is self-evident in many instances. Usually, this has to do with physical traits; it is easy to detect the tallest kid in class. Kids from very early age use physical power to take other kids toys, to fight for their place on the sofa and so on. Some resort to different strategies like crying, so the adult will intervene because they cannot overpower their “adversary.” I’ve seen kids for more than 20 years straight due to my mom’s occupation; they live in a world of constant conflict, which in many times has to do with ranking and power struggles.

The bigger kid can get what he wants. I remember that when I was a kid, every time that I heard the line “knowledge is power” in class or cartoons, I couldn’t understand it. I contemplated on it, but all I could see that other bigger kid were intimidating, and it had nothing to do with how many facts I know or how smart I am. If they would take something away from me, I couldn’t get it back on my own. So I thought that it is better to be bigger rather than smarter. Though, when I got older I understood the meaning.

The most prominent example of this contradiction is sports. Sport is good for kids. It enhances their coordination; it builds their bodies, it is fun and improves their socialization with other kids. But, there are parts we omit, it teaches them about winners and losers. we omit this part when we say that sports give them self confidence (meaning they get confidence through a raise in rank in a particular area), and that teach them the importance of dedication and hard work (in order to raise in rank in this world of struggles and rankings).

so, in the end, a game has to have “winners” and “losers.” In Israel, many people go to the beach and play “Matkot.” They just pass the ball with a racket that is made out of wood. The goal is to pass the ball without it touching the ground. There are no other rules. No winners no losers, but it seems that even in this situation people compete. Many people consider this as a “national sport” and unique to Israel. It is so popular that you have to dodge the flying balls every time you want to go into the sea. I suck at this game so I don’t play, but through watching it many times, i noticed something. It seems that many people hit the ball quite hard, as if they want to impose on their partner a “tough position.” It seems that in many cases, they are competing each other rather than just passing the ball. Because if the goal is only to pass the ball, you don’t have to hit hard, you don’t have to change the ball’s course or to rotate it. But they often do. So it is also contradicting. Even in a game that has no rules, no winners, no losers, they still compete.

So when we put our kids in sports, which is a system of ranking, we force them to fight for ranking, meaning to win. Because nobody like losing. But when the game is over, and winners are crowned, and losers deemed as inferior, we tell them that “this it’s just sport.” And that the most important thing is not who wins or loses, it is the degree of fun they had and their participation that matters. “As long as you play and have fun, you are the winner.”

Maye, we say that, but we still end up with winners and losers. And when we get consistent winners and consistent losers we affect the kids in other fields. They get “social capital” out of those contests of speed and strength. Many kids idolize professional athletes, so the best kids in their class are “closer” to these idealizations. This is being enhanced due to the fact that in many instances professional sport has the association of “war” and “struggle.” The winners get money, fame, prizes and beautiful women to give him the “trophy”; the losers don’t. So when they watch TV, they don’t see this as a “game” but as something bigger more glamorous. More so, if the player’s fight (exchanging blows like in hockey), play very aggressive (make dirty fouls) or trash talk.

So the idea of “it is just a game” doesn’t follow through.

The ranking is not only about that; it encompasses more and more areas of life.
I’ll elaborate in the next post.

 

Walking Wallets, FB and The Opportunities That Might Never Come.

While reading the book “23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang, I felt that the fifth chapter “Assume the worst about people, and you get the worst” was a revelation. This chapter gave my vague and scattered thoughts a clear voice. Assume that everyone is out for themselves and their self-interests, that what you will get. If we act believing that to be true, it will become a force that will shape our social world to become this “a man is a wolf to another man” kind of a world.

But, that title is not entirely accurate. As market values become the hegemonic system of value in our social world, money’s power Become even greater. What was once above the laws of the markets, becomes its subject with a price tag. I talked about the possibility of buying love, but how that thinking shapes the use of social media?

When we walk down the street, go on a bus, drive our car, we are bombarded with information. If you look closely, you will see that most of this info is ads. Every piece of clothing today has a brand on it. Ads are everywhere you look. Even in places, you cannot run away like bar’s toilets. We are being forced to watch\read those ads because in many cases, business relies on Ads to become profitable. Radio stations, TV channels, internet sites, all need ads to stay “free” while profiting money.

Considering that, my paraphrase to the title I gave earlier will be this: assume that everyone is a wallet, and treat other human beings only as business opportunities, and you will get only superficial relationships that revolve solely on money.

We are being treated as wallets. Everywhere we go, someone, somewhere, in many various ways tries to sell us something. The word “to sell” means to convince us. To change our perceptions and priorities that we will incline to buy this particular thing. We can look at it as a power struggle, which people try to improve their position in the social world (through getting more money) on other’s account. That is why we are suspicious of everyone. When someone offers us help we begin to wonder “what will he or she get out of it?”, “where is the catch?”, “what will be the price tag?” So when we are being treated as a walking wallet, we start to become cynical about our relationship with other people.

So this is the reason many of us don’t delete FB. I can’t found my claims with empirical data, but FB today is not what it used to be. Today can barely see anyone sharing something of personal value. I see “likes” on pages, trending stuff, and mostly ads in disguise. So I lost the reason to use it.

So why I keep using it? Fear. Fear of losing opportunities. When you Look back at the age before the internet, you meet someone, and your ways go to a separate way. You either send letters, or you just had to give up and accept that partings from others is just a part of life. You had to invest real effort to maintain friendships. Now you can just be friends on FB. But with how many out of those hundreds of friends do we talk to regularly? Even on FB’s chat? How many out of those so-called friends do we even want to speak to, assuming we had the chance? The sad thing is that we have the opportunity all the time, but we don’t use it. Why? Because we are not close. We don’t want to get close, and we don’t care. So why are we “friends” on FB?

Because of the thinking that maybe, just maybe, we will need something from them. Perhaps they will be in a position later in life, that could help us out. Maybe they will look for a person with my set of skills. This FOMO (fear of missing out) keeps us in check, meaning using FB. This is an example of how we treat others as “walking wallets,” as an insurance for the future. And when we talk about the “future” we usually mean money. Because this is the main thing that keeps us alive.

So, we don’t care much about connecting with “people,” because we don’t use FB to communicate with the ones we really care for. And we don’t use FB to talk to those “friends”. So FB is just… just in case. We don’t really need it, but the fear of losing those “connections” keep us at bay.

This is how a market economy is shaping our perception of social media. It is to connect with other people, but not as human beings, but rather as an insurance for the future.

Can money buy love? Market Values and Romance.

While reading the book “What Money Can’t buy: The moral limits of markets,” by Michael J. Sandel I felt a relation to my previous posts. He introduces many instances of how market economy “crowds out” other morals that don’t belong to the market economy. For example, lobbyists pay people, sometimes homeless people, to stand on their behalf in queues for important congress meetings. Or how some schools offer students money to read books, or give monetary incentives to get high scores.

While these are fascinating debates about the corruption of morals by market values, I want to discuss something else. Usually the typical answer to the question “what money can’t buy” is “love.” Most people believe that money can’t buy romantic love, friendships, and in general good human relationships. Well, of course, that is true, but it is not entirely correct if we observe the way market values diffuse into our daily lives.

This is how I see it: When we are young, we tend to fall in love quite quickly. But, as time passes by, and the more we interact with others, the more we date others and gain life experience through those interactions, we start gathering information about ourselves. We learn what we don’t like, what type of people we don’t have good chemistry with. This helps us shape our preferences and character. When we become well established as ourselves, we find things we like to do; we start prioritizing some things over others. Naturally, our taste changes as well.

I think, which might be only the way I see it, while we’re young we pay more attention to things we like in our romantic partners. But when we grow older, we pay as much attention to the absence of things we don’t like in our partner זה לא מסתדר מבחינת מה שאתה אומר . While a partner can have many things we love, if he/she also has many things we dislike, it will be impossible to build a future with him or her. When we are young, we don’t need to live together or think much about the future, but when it becomes relevant, we become way more picky about the “dislikes.”

How does it connect to market economy? It is simple. The more the market economy’s values become the norm, or the standard way to see the world, the more we can agree on the “proper” way people “should” live their lives. Thus, we value certain types of characteristics more than others. Those who live by the values of the market economy are considered to be better. It is enough to look at motivational speakers, self-help books, etc, to understand what society deems to be the “good values that everyone should have”.

These values are connected to the idea of what it means to be successful. While there isn’t a clear answer to the question “what is a successful individual,” we do have a vague, general answer. How can I claim that? I watch TV carefully. Look at American romantic comedies. The protagonists are usually single. They live in the big city and have a well paid position, something which is not usual to their age. They live in a big studio apartment and never have to worry about money. Work takes most of their time, so they don’t have time for romance, until one day…

To be successful is to be well established financially. Our subconscious tells us that if someone has a good job, and he gets promoted or has a high position at their job, he has to have the “right” set of characteristics that allowed him to be successful. He or she is hardworking, intelligent, good with people, has a good education (probably), he or she lives productively, and most likely take good care of their health (it matters in social places). In short, they are exemplary.

As opposed to that, people with inconsistent employment that pays little, are considered to be the a bad example to how to live your life “properly”. The impression is that they don’t want to work hard. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in that situation. They don’t lead a healthy life and they don’t care about their future, so they are irresponsible and cannot be trusted when push comes to shove.


When we get to the time we look for a partner in life; money is a big issue. We look for an insurance, we want our future to be stable. Thus money plays a big role in picking a partner. So while money can’t buy love, it can “buy” people a chance to be evaluated and to be noticed. So in a roundabout way, money equals successes. Success is a “proof” that an individual has the right set of characteristics, thus more likely to be respected and eventually loved. The market economy serves as a basis for the “right” values, and show us how we should live our lives.  Money don’t by love directly, it serves as a basis to evaluate people positively, thus making them more likely to be loved.     

Do We Really Need the Future “convenient store”? and What Does Humanities and Social Sciences Has To Say About It

I live in Japan and research the effect English has on Japanese culture. I usually try to dodge the bullet that is called “Japanese TV,” but when I have to watch it (no choice), it teaches me a lot, not about the world or anything too complicated, but about Japanese culture (though not the way one should expect).

They always have some special on TV, so the one on new year was about inventions and the future. It dealt with various fields, but the one I watched was about the “convenience store of the future.” They showed the evolution of the cashier since everything was done manually until the bar-code scanner. Then they showed the viewers the future, as it is being designed in the R&D section at “Lawson.” In the future, you might have guessed; everything will be automatic. You will put all the products in a basket, put the basket on a designated space, and then automatically the basket will be inserted into a machine. The machine will identify and scan all the products, and give the total sum the customer have to pay. After the payment is complete, everything will already be inserted into a bag for the customer. So only have to take the bag and leave.

Now, the superficial thinking is “how cool” and how convenient. The second or the third (or fifth) thought must be “why do we need this? Why do we need to make things so trivial MORE efficient and straightforward? I can understand when someone wants to create a better metal; there is a need to consider the process and find ways to make it better and efficient. However, why does this thinking is diffusing into spheres that don’t need it? Why does it matter if a person needs to put the groceries in the bag or a machine?

In my neighborhood back home, the guy who ran the mini-market still works as he worked back in the 70s. No one has ever complained about it. Even though sometimes people get the feeling that he “invents” prices because there is no way he remembers everything by heart. On the contrary, it felt warm and personal. He ignores debts of poor customers and gives food for free to people in need. He has donation boxes all over the place and he is always cheerful and nice. His mini-market act as a center of the neighborhood, when people meet they can have their “gossip” quota filled up. We will lose all this Value if it will be done by machines. This value is transparent to way the market operates and values things. This is important, and this will go away by the same people who argue that “it will make our live easier”. Who made you in charge of our lives?

This “Fordism” idea, which I guess came from the famous pin factory by Adam Smith, is to make everything simpler and more efficient in increasing profits. But this comes at a price. As Marx argued, it alienates the workers from the creation (production) process, and well, to put it bluntly, it’s tedious and degrading human beings. The market that puts profits on top of everything pushes business to find ways to make everything cheaper and faster. So, if they can save money on workers, great. Machines are better than humans in many things, and the more technology is moving forward, machines and robots come on top in more areas of life.

So many starts to be terrified of the day when all the cars will drive by themselves. How can we find to all those people new jobs? Will the market create them? Well, the way the car replaced the horses, is not the same as autonomous cars replace drivers. People had to “drive” horses, so the “tool” just changed. Now we don’t need drivers at all. And maybe we won’t even need people to take care of the cars. About driving, due to the number of casualties caused by human error, It’s inevitable. But, and that is a BIG but, why do we need to replace cashiers? No idea. Nobody stops to think about it; they only think in the manner the market has molded them to think in.

Humanities and social sciences are free from this “market” thinking and free to say “why do we need this?”. That is why Humanities matters, though those fields usually regarded poorly. People at the top of the market and engineers might come with good ideas, but only if you measure them in the way the market does. But, when you think outside of the box, sometimes those ideas are just plainly stupid. I believe that these people believe that those things will make our lives better. But, they lack the tools to critically think about the way those things will affect our society. Because while they can program, they have ZERO understanding of social sciences, history, and humanities. Sadly they are entirely ignorant of this fact. It is sad to see how some smart people, who specialize in a certain field in science, like computer science, fail to see that they are not specialized, and have no idea what so ever, about our society. If someone reads newspapers, it doesn’t mean he is an expert on politics. If someone is a part of our society, it doesn’t mean he is an expert on it, or has a better understanding over people who dedicate their lives to research it. When technocrats will be honest enough to realize that, we, society, might have a chance. More technology won’t save us from problems technology has created. Only humans can deal with and heal our society. And the people to do it are scholars, not technocrats.

There is more to say about this, but I’ll leave that to next time.
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Tokyo and Odaiba, the artificial island that defies not only Nature, but also Culture.

Tokyo is enormous. It’s so huge that it is hard even to call it a city. I went there few times and every time it makes me want to run away and cower in my little town. On our second night we moved from Tokyo to Saitama to see a mixed martial arts event. One hour drive from Tokyo in the highway was enough to get away from this huge-city skyscrapers jungle, into a place where the building are in the normal size. We felt like we were back to civilization from the future. Everything is big noisy and moves so fast it’s breathtaking. I always get the feeling that even if I’d go on the same train, on the same wagon, on the same time, every day for a year, I would still not be able to see the same face twice. This is how big this city. It makes me feel lonely. Every encounter in this city is a one-time coincidence that won’t repeat itself. That is why I get the feeling that people are more apathetic to strangers. Why to invest any energy on someone you won’t see again for the rest of your life?

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In game-theory if you come to a store just once, the owner of the store has incentive to deceive you, he will try to maximize his gains by raising the price. But if he knew that this is not just a one-time barging, but there are more possible encounters in the future, he will have more incentive to be nice to you and even to give a discount. Because he can create a loyal customer that will come to buy frequently. This is why people deceive tourists more than other people. This is how I feel in Tokyo and that is why I feel very lonely in it.

Another interesting thing was to see the artificial island called “Odaiba”. I don’t know why I go there every time I’m in Tokyo, but that what happens. Usually I stroll around to see the parks outside, while trying to go inside the malls only to take a breathe and cool\warm myself after a long stroll. But this time I wasn’t alone and my fiancée wanted to go into the malls which left me no choice but to comply. The second mall is called Venus Fort. The second floor designed to look like an Italian, I guess Roman street. While the floor below is a full of old Toyota cars placed in a section that looks like an old street. It made me think about my post about creating and controlling nature when we contact it from a different angle.

We also do it to other cultures. In this case in Odaiba there is a big statue (not as the original) of the Statue of Liberty. Also, a huge – 6 floors tall Gundam robot statue.

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But the mall was the most blatant. I think it copied the way Caesar palace las vegas shopping mall is mimicking Roman streets. So, it might be a copy of a copy, but still. The attempt to recreate a cultural and historical atmosphere is intriguing. First of all, it gives nothing but atmosphere. It’s not a museum for Roman culture. It doesn’t have an educational role. I also fail to see how this might makes me want to buy things. I spent more time looking at the design than the stores. Also, sometimes people want to create something for the sake of creation, but I don’t see how it falls under this category. So if you have a clue, I’ll love to hear your opinions in a comment or a message. 20171228_143805[1]

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Second, we might treat the ancient world as a place to reminisce. Maybe we think about it in a romantic way, when life was simpler, slower and more straightforward. Though we tend to forget how violent and dangerous life was back then. Maybe we are drawn to the thinking that society was simpler than today’s. That one had the freedom to go where ever he or she wants, because there are no clear borders and no passports to limit our freedom to travel. Also, there was so much to discover, huge continents that were isolated from the rest of the world. Every journey was an adventure and not a plane ticket. The Internet is full of people who admire those who realized the “dream” and went around the world and visited a three-digit number of countries. We are amazed when we see a place without humans, be it the wild or just desertion like Chernobyl. So, we might treat the old as same as we treat nature, we love it when it’s controlled, close and comfortable. Not in its raw form.

It is funny that we have a more complex social structure that is supposed to give us more freedom, but it takes most of them away. We are not allowed to enter another state without a good reason, documents and a clear timetable to our departure. I don’t know what people do if they possess no passport at all. We have the freedom of speech, but if we say something that is not nice and it gets recorded on social media, we are socially dead. This notion is stressed by Foucault, But the rest will be a separate post.

Society Treats Silicon Valley in The Opposite Manner To The Saying “Don’t Throw The Baby with The Bathwater”.

In this article, by Ted Chiang claims that Silicon Valley has become its own worst nightmare. When people talk about the future, A.I. is one keynote in that harmony. The idea that machines could learn, adapt and come up with ideas that us, humans, just could not, is appealing as much as it’s frightening. To give a clear “face” to this problem, Chiang give the example that Elon Musk gave. An A.I. machine that its purpose is to pick strawberries. Then he argued that the AI might conclude that to maximize its output, it needs to destroy our civilization and kill all the humans, thus converting the entire earth into a strawberry farm.

Chiang argues that Silicon Valley is behaving as that imaginative A.I. Chiang argues that these companies will do whatever they can to increase market share, and even use scorched-earth like techniques to achieve that in the “no-holds-barred Capitalism” struggle. That these companies and people are lacking “Insight”, meaning they cannot reflect on their doings and stop to think about the consequences of their deeds, “Taking a step back and ask whether their doing Is a good idea”. But, as Chiang argues, that this step won’t be rewarded in the market economy, because it’s against the main idea of it, more profits.

He argues that more government regulation is needed, and that the idea to “disrupt” entire economics and eco-systems (of economics) is considered to be a good thing. But by doing it, as Facebook slogan was, “Move fast and break things”, they are violently destroy good things, and replace them with things that are not quite better. So the A.I’s thinking that the goal justifies the means, will be just an inheritance from those who planned it.

It was a good read, but lacking some insight from a broader perspective. Well, it’s not only Silicon Valley. Let’s look about terminology that is the base for Capitalism. Competition is a good thing, it drives humanity to new heights and business will grow and become better to survive in the market. We could use our selfishness to become better off, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”. Shares are like dominance. Market dominance by big corporations. Consumers are good. To consume is a frequent verb as well. “the market forces”, big players and so on.

Those are words that are also used in other places, like war and sports. From those keywords we can see that It’s a power game that People and companies need to win, and they will do it by any means, legal, and sometimes, not legal. There is not a single company that will say “we are big enough so let’s let other to take over the rest of the market”. “Grow or die”. Well, it is a competition, and this is the underline of it all. If it’s a good idea? I’m not sure. When Capitalism was in its raw form, we saw slavery, colonialism by private companies like the East India Company, Child labor and many more distorted realities. We got rid of those bad systems of oppression, but we still have sweat shops nad we still can’t regulate financial markets, well because they are the “experts” and they want freedom, to do… profit. And the hell with the economy (2008). But this is not their fault, it is the incentives of the system. The socialization process that forces you to become a competitor, or else you will “die” economically, which sometimes is the same.

We worship people with wealth that will do almost anything to achieve it. “The Wolf Of Wallstreet” is a good example for the romanticism of this notions. People worship Steve Jobs, though he had personalities issues. In the documentary “the financial brain of the London City”, the main argument that to succeed in the financial trade, you have to become a psychopath. Not MAD but “characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits”.

While this may sound extreme, when you look carefully at the lexical terms and the terminology that is the basis for the values and aspired behaviors in the neo-liberalism world,the picture is clear. When the most underline rational idea is competition, struggle and survival, it becomes reasonable to become a Psychopath. This is the best way to survive and gain money – meaning assure your survival in the world that one of its most important aspects is capital.

Through capital we can gain access to social capital, education, status, fame and access to all sort of other places and get certain services we could not otherwise. Just by opening the newspaper the socialization begins. Celebrities are news headlines and they are tied tightly to money. They serve as a major axis to this culture. If someone of them dies, or do something outrageous, it becomes the talk of the day. We (society) look at the “glamour” on the red carpet with sparking eyes. We agree for paparazzi to hunt down celebrities to see only a glimpse to how they live their lives. People go out of their way just to shake hands with them, or stand in front of the crowd in a concert. Those behavior s help us to understand how much we respect money. This is why part of artists evaluation is the question “who makes more money”. Money is a way to measure success, even in art. How much a paint costs and so on. Money is the global way to value stuff. And this way omits great and important things out of the equation, like morality, eco-friendliness and many more.

Money is powerful. This is why people want it, and look up to people who have a lot of it, to the point they forget that theese people are sometimes mentally sick. If I would be addicted to drugs, I would be called a drug addict. If I were to be addicted to alcohol I’d become an alcoholic. But if I’m addicted to money and my job, and I have so much money that I couldn’t even spend it all, but I keep wanting more and more how will you call me? I will become a “productive citizen”. I will become important, a genius. People will worship me. They won’t worship an alcoholic, they will say that he or she needs help. Money addicts don’t need help, we envy them.

Maybe silicon valley masks it up, maybe they do think they are important. Well many inventions are good, no argue about it. But some might not be, and we keep forgetting that. It’s like the opposite to the saying “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. We want the baby so bad, that we keep the dirty waters to ourselves. Maybe if smartphones were to be clinically tested as new drugs do, people would have found that it’s addictive as drugs, and would advise to change the product to counter that addictiveness. But in market value, addictiveness is a good thing, more profits because it keeps the product relevant.

 

Conquering Nature, as We Conquer ourselves

Nature as I’ve spoken about in recent posts, is something that is considered being the opposition of modernity. One will be on the account of the other. If we build big cities and use cars, we have little place for nature, and we need to expand while pushing it back. Thus, we get huge metropolises. I remember when I went on The Tower of Tokyo, Even when I was in such a high place, the city spread as far as the eye could see. We have parks and “green lungs” inside the cities, but as I told before, this is not nature, because we engineer it, we tame and organize it. A park is not a forest.

So the belief is that humanity using technology to conquer nature. While tech is something we are using to make our life easier safer and more efficient. But as we use this, we advance but drift apart from nature. We say that we have escaped from the clutches of evolution (though some argue against it), and we do this by curing diseases, and reducing death rate of born babies. When we will start to manipulate our genes or use robotics to modify the human body, we will no longer be at the mercy of biological evolution, but a technological one. But nature’s evolution is fair. Technological one is not.

The moment prosthetics arms will be better than normal arms, and people with prosthetics will be better off, and could find better employment, let’s say the police recruiting people and write in small letter “prosthetics are an advantage”, people will cut their biological arms and plant prosthetics instead. Though it’s sound extreme, but it won’t sound like that when people could lift 500 Kg with those hands.

The feeling I get is that we drive to the future within a vehicle that has no driver, no breaks and no steering. Nobody stops and think about things people do or come up with. While new drugs have to go through many tests and trials, new phones and new technology often doesn’t. We leave It to the invisible hand. If people would have done clinical tests to smartphones, maybe they would have said that it is highly addictive, and force companies to change things in those devices and apps to be less addictive.

But as I claimed in the last post, that technology solution has a divisive influence on society, it does something worse. In his book, “The Abolition of Man”, C. S Lewis argue that the more we, humanity, conquering nature with tech, we are not becoming powerful, but slaves. He argued something like this: Those who buy the tickets for a flight are not powerful. This power is in the hands of a few and they can deny us that power, put us in the black list. We have social media and many more wonders, but the more they become a daily part of our lives, we build a social world that use that as a necessity. Are we powerful? No. Because again, those things can be taken away from us. We can be easily banned. We don’t have control over them. Our feed is biased (for the higher bidder). It might shape our thinking and view of the world. It shows us a distorted reality by the algorithm.

So, technology can be chains, can make us weak. As in the last post I argued that only some countries could apply technological solutions to deal with global warming, most of us don’t hold the power in the technology we own. I recommend to read this book “The Abolition of Man”. While it came out in 1943, it only became more relevant and thought provoking.

 

 

From Space Borders Are Invisible, But Borders Are The Reason Why We Cannot Do Anything To Stop Global Warming.

In the Last post, I gave examples of how we influence nature. I also said that the only way to solve these problems is through politics, and not through more (of the same) scientific ideas. If we rely only on science to resolve these matters, we might need to resort to living in huge domes before we could fix all these problems. The domes themselves might be this solution while abandoning the outside world to its fate. It is easy to imagine which societies could build those enormous domes, and which societies couldn’t. Technology solutions have this dividing effect. It divides nations and segments of society to those who can afford it, and those who can’t, making the gap between first and third worlds not only to be unfair but detrimental to the poor, meaning annihilation.

We divide our social structure into first vs. third world. The western world vs. the non-western world. This is lunatic. We divide the planet into different “worlds” which is not only wrong, but dangerous. Many astronauts said we could not see borders from outer space, well this is because borders are socially constructed social phenomenon, meaning they are real as long as we believe in them.

This notion that earth looks peaceful from space is a good allegory to the reality that our international system cannot solve and cope with global issues. The United state’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a testimony to this problem.

Not that the United States isn’t aware of the problem, but as the second most significant polluter, they have to slow the rotation of their economic grinding wheels to cut the co2 emissions. It means fewer factories, fewer jobs, more regulation and investing capital into turning the economy green. Which president wants to deal with an angry mob of people who lost their jobs because he tried to deal with this vague problem that is hardly felt in people daily lives (yet).

More so the conventional thinking might claim that to turn green will harm America’s military production. Economic power is crucial for security because fund are needed to fund big armies. No one in their “right minds” will stick a stick into their wheels and jeopardize their safety just because someone came with the idea that we need to cut emissions. Especially with China is rising in power and challenge the American dominance in south-east Asia.

It’s costly to change the economy to be environmentally friendly, not only because time, money and energy are needed to actually transform the economy, but also that the new ways might be less efficient and more expensive to produce heat and power. It will also take time to switch engines and turbines. Time is money. Tech is costly. Reducing emissions means producing less in the short term.

No one wants to pay the price, which “others” won’t. This case is like the situation when two people point a gun at each other and arguing who will drop his gun first. It’s called the “prisoner’s dilemma”. The prisoner dilemma argues that even if all sides in a dispute will act rationally, they won’t be able to get the best results to solve a problem. The story is like this.

Two people get arrested for robbery. The police isolate them so they could not talk to each other. Then they said to the two of them while separated the following. If you “snitch” on your friend and he will admit, we will release you, and your friend will get ten years in prison. If he will snitch on you, and you will admit, you will get ten years, and he will be released. If you both blame each other, you will get five years each. If you both deny you will get three years each. They cannot take the chance that the other guy will blame them while they admit. So the safest thing to do, and the rational,  from the individual point of view, is to blame the other. Because they will both likely blame each other, they will get five years. This is how a less than optimum result can be achieved even if both players are rational.

This rational behavior seems to be self-preservation. “If I will lower the gun when the other side won’t I’ll be dead. Because the other guy thinks the same thing, neither will drop their weapon. So America doesn’t want to hinder its economy while China and other states won’t do it.

With this being said, another factor that might explain why states act selfishly. If we look at short-Term vs. long-term threats we might “understand” selfish acts. For the U.S, China might be conceived as a short-term threat that needs immediate attention (and resources), while Global Warming is a long-term problem that can wait. America prioritizes economic and security problems over environmental issues. They hope that science will come up with a solution before the problem will get out of hands. This is another divisive way of tech, who funds it, who controls its application and execution. Those are politicians or people with enormous power, which have little incentive in terms of the economic market to act on behalf of the greater good. The market economy is not the right way to gauge happiness and hope for remedies. If we will look at health, (of us and the planet) the more we are sick, the more we spend money on medicines, the better the economy.

The free-rider dilemma is also a crucial aspect of the global warming problem. The free-rider dilemma deals with public goods, which no one can restrict access to them, like air, water and national parks. If only the U.S cuts their emissions, it won’t change a thing, because others will continue to pollute the air as much as they like. Unless every country reduces their CO2 emissions at the same time, the problem won’t be solved. So, until other’s will act, I won’t be the only “sucker” that hurts his own economy. It is similar to the situation that people leave their trash at a park while you pick yours. You feel that even if you pickup your junk, it won’t turn the park into a clean one, so sometimes people just give up and leave their trash as well.

I think environmental problems are not solvable by technology and technocrats but through political acts, this is why Humanities and Social science matter. Technocrats usually give solutions that are not necessarily the moral ones.

 

 

We Need More Social Scientists Rather than Environmental Scientists to Rescue The Planet.

I discussed the ambiguity of the perception of nature. But Nature and Humanity are not separate spheres with no connection to each other. They are linked together in a way that they affect and influences one another. We usually think it to be a one-way connection which mostly humans influence nature, while the other way around is rare. In the next post I will refute that notion, but, we do gravely change nature. Since the dawn of humanity, as hunters and gatherers, we did make animals go extinct, usually the big mammals like the mammoth. We made several species more “successful” by domesticating them, making sure they will stay safe. But as we pushed technology to new heights, we started to change the environment gravely. The most prominent example is, of course, the global warming, but I want to introduce other influences that are less common.

In 2007 beekeepers reported that honeybees are dying off by an unknown cause and that hive’s population has just vanished, leaving their colony deserted. Bees are an essential part of agriculture because bees pollinate flowers, without bees to pollinate we will lose 1/3 of our agricultural output. In market view, bees are a bottleneck in the process of agrarian manufacture. This plague threatens a significant portion of our diet, though there is some recovery. This phenomenon got the name “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).

Many tried to identify the causes of CCD, some have claimed that cellular transmissions confuse the bee’s sense of direction causing the bees to get lost. It seems that this is not the case, but it can be an exciting “thought experiment.” If the cellular transmission are the cause, to solve CCD, means we will have to isolate fields from reception, which might include huge areas. Could we pull it off? Can we bend the corporation’s hand and force them to change all their infrastructures? The recent thinking is that the cause for CCD is chemical pest control. Even though it looks like this is the cause, it is still hard to force companies and people to stop relying on this type insecticides.

Another example has to do with whales and dolphins communication. As you probably know, whales are communicating by high-frequency sounds waves they send. Some scientists argue that they can talk across whole oceans. But they find it harder and harder to communicate successfully, which hinder their attempts to hunt using sonar and gather in certain places. The reason? The oceans became very noisy due to the increased traffic of ships, so they cannot hear one another. We still rely mostly on cargo ships to transfer goods across borders, meaning it’s the central vein of economic activity. Maybe it influences not only dolphins and whales. Perhaps it causes more significant issues within the habitats of other animals we are yet to detect.

Can we put to a halt the whole economy for saving the oceans? Can we limit ships routes?  We cannot find a solution to a “simpler” problem like overfishing. We won’t be able to solve this by science. Science might develop noiseless engines, and might come up with a way to make the bees resistant to these types of insecticides, but is this the right way?

I remember one day when I was little, I played with all my toys and scattered them on my room floor. The toys covered the floor until the point I couldn’t make one step without stepping on a single toy. When my mom saw the mess I did, she told me that before I go to bed, I need to clean the mess. I thought I came up with a bright idea. I made two lanes that connected my bed and the closet to the door. I thought that I’d solved the problem. I went proudly to my mom and told her that I did what she asked. She came to the room and saw my idea, and said that she wants all the toys back to their place. I explained to her that I can move around, so the toys are not a problem anymore, but (of course) she didn’t listen. Why? Because maybe I solved the problem of moving around, but the room was still a mess.
We try to solve overfishing by growing fish in ponds, but we need something to feed them with, so fishers fish extensively for their source of food (shrimps), but that is disrupting the ecosystem’s balance. The only way to solve those issues is to affect the human activity and control it. So fishers could not overfish. In the whale case maybe if we could force all of the ships to go through specific lanes, or could limit the number of vessels, could solve the problem. In the case of the bees, we need to stop using pest control because, in the end, we eat it as well. These are not problems that “hard science” (biology physics) can solve. Only social sciences can.

Why? Because these problems are political problems. Can fishing in international water be stopped? Who has the right? Can A country arrest B’s country’s vessel which is overfishing in international water? The most extreme example is that In the end, all the scientific community can stand and scream their lungs out that global warming is a fact. But, if the American president doesn’t believe that, the environmentalists will just end up with a sore throat. These problems are political and could only be solved within the premises of political discourse by political means. My professor had a Ph.D. in environmental studies. He left it to study Humanities and social sciences. He told us that “the world doesn’t need more and better environmental scientists, The world needs better politicians and political scientists.