Though this scenery is made by humans, it is worth celebrating.
While people today give great care for equality, political correctness and try to treat all people the same, sadly we wouldn’t be able to create a world where everybody is regarded the same. We are different. We are continually ranking and forming hierarchies within our social groups. The most obvious examples are on the internet, which is filled with countless articles that rank things. Top 10 movies of all time and so on.
But, the problem that I want to talk about in this post is something much more fundamental. It is the language we use. In this world, language is also ranked. Language is ranked within certain social groups and nation states. But, It is also ranked within the international community. No language is treated the same. We have “stronger” language and “weaker” ones. It has nothing to do with the sounds it produces, the diversity of its lexicon or how easy it can be learned. What makes certain languages “better” or more dominant than other languages is the simple and unpleasant fact, “the might is right.” The more the society is “accomplished,” or “successive” – meaning the more they dominate other people through economic and military means, the more their language is being used and learned by others.
It is best explained through linguistic death. The reason why languages die off. In his book “language in danger,” Andrew Dalby depicts this process, using Latin to explain this process. Imagine you live in a little village that belongs to a relatively peaceful people. You use your X language to communicate. One day, the Roman Legion march through your village, and you understand right away “who is the boss.” Your father is a carpenter. He might hate the roman’s, but they do pay for his work. To have more “new” customers, he learns some words in Latin. Over the years, his Latin improves, but he could never be fluent in it.
You, on the other hand, started to learn Latin at a younger age because this was important for your future. Your parents insisted that you will learn Latin in order to get a better job, and might find work in the big city. You grow up to use Latin with anyone outside of your community, while mainly using your X language with your family, friends, and neighbors. You move out from the house to learn a craft, and you end up staying In the city. You get married to a “foreign” girl, that was born in a different part of the Empire and start your own family. If you were bilingual, but you were a “successive learner,” meaning you learned one language first and then the other. Your children are “native bilinguals” they started to learn both languages right off the bat. You try to speak with them as much as you can in X, but they are just better at Latin, and prefer it. Your grandchildren will know few basic X words and maybe a few phrases. Their children will be perfect Monolinguals of Latin, without a shred of knowledge about language X.
When enough people adopt the dominant language (In this case Latin) and use it in ALL areas of life (including talking at home), the language will die off. You can say it is because of business; you can say that it is a choice. But, in the essence of things, Latin was placed above language X in the hierarchy. It was more important. Today this language is English. I was forced to learn English at school. I wasn’t aware to the importance of English until a later age, but I had to know English if I wanted to play video games, get access to knowledge (the Hebrew part of Wikipedia is mostly shorter than the English version). If you wish to maximize your customer number, English is a must.
Not only English. Think about your community. There are different accents, different ways to speak and so on. Those are also hierarchical. Bourdieu talks about this in his work “language&symbolic power.” The official institutions of the state (and society) dictates the norm. Meaning, what is the appropriate way to behave and to speak. Any deviation from that deems the user to be “less.” If you use a heavy accent from a town in the periphery, people might think that you lack education and manners. In Japan, people try to hide their local accents as much as they can when they move to a big city. In Israel, if you have a foreign accent (because you weren’t born in Israel), it does put you in a tight spot, people think that you are not yet a “true” Israeli.
This is natural. We cannot help that. Even if everybody in the world were to speak English as monolinguals, we would have different accents, a different way of speech (like how the Afro-Americans have their unique style of talking). We, society create a hierarchy in every area of life. Thus, as long as people will talk differently, they will never be truly equal. Why? Because language is directly tied to power relations between people. If you have an accent, it doesn’t matter who you are; you will suffer a certain degree of prejudice. You will be ranked below the “norm.”
In recent posts, I talked about how our physical environment is being polluted by economic forces. Imagine a loud vacuum running all day long. The neighbors would definitely complain, right? But when we walk the street and we pass a store which uses some very loud speakers, this “sale screaming,” isn’t considered noise pollution. In Japan, when I go to a particular supermarket, a constant speaker is working. When you go to lively areas, huge screens, speakers and people that hand out things will welcome you. But we consider that reasonable.
But imagine that those people who stand in the street corner, or beside the crossroad, trying desperately to enter their bar, would stand in your living room. Be with you in your car. Be in the coffee shop and follow you around. Well, they are. I read the same thing in Marcuse “One dimensional-man” and in Allan Bloom’s “the closing of the American mind”. TV, Media Radio, follow us everytwhere and they pollute our individual thought process. In Japan, most cars have a navigation system with a screen. This screen can also be a TV set, so a lot of Japanese people watch TV while driving (the screen suppose to disappear while they are not standing still). They get up, open the TV, and they close it just to reopen it in the car. When they go to a small neighborhood coffee house, they might have a TV screen on the counter. In the supermarket, if you buy something to eat and want to eat in the “dining corner,” a TV set will wait for you there. When you wait in the doctor’s waiting room, a TV will ease your boredom. In big junctures, TV screens will be present. My wife and her mother are used to falling asleep while watching (passively) the TV. Sometimes I wake up in the early morning just to realize that the TV was on the whole night.
Commercial breaks are very often; They are short but very frequent. They always put them in the “right spot” when an answer or a big thing is gonna happen. Some programs have sponsors and “product placement.” They go to shops that I guess strike some kind of a deal with the TV channel to shoot at their place. It gives me the idea that the TV is lacking any meaningful information. The problem is much deeper. “If man’s home is his castle” it’s not the case anymore, it is of foreign influence. When we watch the news, someone decides for us what the “agenda of the day” is. We are controlled and forced to think about issues THEY decide for us. Not WHAT to believe, but ABOUT WHAT to think. If the media is an extension of society, society is in our living room, on our phones, and our streets. We are constantly connected to it. Is it bad? Well yes.
Marcuse says that oppression is not something that started with TV and the mass media. It began when the distinction between our inner world and the outer world (society) became blurry. Our private sphere, the only place that we could Be independent and isolated from any foreign influence, is dead. He says that this is the only place, that we can discover our true selves, and can be independent of society and thoughts that are dictated by someone else.
While working with teenagers, I often discovered the extent of which they lack any capacities to write complicated notes. It means that their inner thoughts are not complicated either. They are by no means stupid. They just have hard time to create elaborate ideas by themselves. I trained them to be well prepared for the army. One day when some of them already enlisted, they asked me how can they deal with 4-8 hours of guarding duty without any phones or books. Meaning, anything that they can stimulate them while they consume it passively. I told them him that they need to “connect to their inner worlds.” It was before I read Marcuse’s argument, and Alan Bloom’s argument about the TV and radio didn’t resonate well enough in me. Then one guy asked a question which I was not prepared for. He asked me what does “inner world” means. I was amazed. I’ve never thought about that. After I thought about it for a while, I told him “the world of content we create from within yourselves, without anything external that stimulate us.” Meaning, a world of concepts, thoughts, and emotions you and only you create, in your private inner sphere, without anything dictating you what to think. It appears that young people don’t have this skill anymore. We are also (adults and more grownups) losing this. Whenever I step into a line, my head reaches into my pocket to take out the phone. I feel that I cannot ride the train without my phone.
You can argue that it can be just turned off. But can we? Can you say to an alcoholic or addicted person “just stop?” I don’t think so. Can we recreate this inner sphere, which Is our purest form of thought? Where are WE in the most basic and most authentic form?
Marcuse says that the forces that control our society have no interest in letting us recreate this sphere, and they want to pollute it and shrink it down, as they cut forests in favor of industry. This way we cannot be isolated and create our own needs and wishes, and rethink our existence and way of life. In this way, our true selves disappear or will never be created in the first place. Our wishes and craves are created for us through the mass-production society. Our wishes become consumption for the sake of identity. Can we take hold of our thoughts and make them our own? Can we think independently and not as a part society? Where is our REAL individual resides? That is separated from society’s values and thought processes.
When I was in elementary school, every summer, we used to play with seeds of apricot. We used to stock them in the thousands. How did we play with the seeds? It was like currency. We used to use various games where the winner would take the others seeds. During the “long” recess the kids who were into the “seed” game would rush to a certain place in the schoolyard. The fastest ones managed to catch a place on the bench and dug a hole. The rest of the players – the “clients,” would try to throw a seed into the hole. If the “client” manages to toss the seed in successfully, he or she will win a pre-determined number of seeds. Like a 4-hole would get you your seed + 3 more. If the kid misses, he or she loses the seed they threw. Those who create the holes, make obstacles with the sand, to make it harder. They also determine the distance the “clients” need to throw their seeds from. Of course, a too tricky hole will scare everyone off, and a too easy would make you lose a lot of seeds. I wish someone could capitalize on that game and teach the kids about the economy because it was an excellent lesson.
I don’t know how this game came to be, but it was a tradition. Every summer, when the Prunus Armeniaca became edible, all the kids would convince their parents to buy these at the local supermarket to gather the seeds. All my family knew that they should not throw the seed and leave it somewhere for me to take it later. Of course, kids had kept their seeds from last year somewhere safe. The goal in accumulate was very simple one. Most of the “players” who played with the seeds, just wanted to accumulate as much as they could, so that by the time they finish their six grade, they could throw all of them for free, causing an uproar among the younger kids. In middle school nobody play with seeds, so they have no further use fo them. They (and everyone else) thought that it’s exciting and funny to see all the younger kids go crazy over seeds. As opposed to another kind of games, the seeds are almost free. You couldn’t buy seeds from the local toy shop or convenience store. The only way to get seeds was to eat – or force other to eat the fruit or to win various games. If you had a “bad day” and lost many seeds, its just seeds, and while many kids treasured their, and even painted on the seeds signs and marks, we all knew in the end that it’s just a game. Some kids did play with marbles. I didn’t like the idea because I loved my marbles and though them to be beautiful, and I didn’t want to lose them.
But kids had other games, like football cards, or other forms of games that are being capitalized on, and employ various techniques of gambling. Kids (including myself) collected football cards. The goal was to complete the magazine of the game, meaning to get all the cards available. Of course, a deck costs money, and it has a limited number of cards. You can never know what cards are in the deck, so you could never know if you will get a card you own already or not. The more the player is famous, the harder it is to get his card. So they employ randomness. It forces the kids to buy many decks in hoping they will get a rare card, either to put It into their “magazine” or to trade it for other rare cards. Every time, even today, that they start a football season, they begin to sell these cards. And they are as popular as ever.
For the kids, and I remember myself, these cards meant a lot. They were very valuable to us. We could play games with them, which the winner took the losers cards, but by a certain period, people get most of the common (less valuable) cards and usually play on those. They rarely risk their valuable cards in a game. The game is simple you stack all the cards in a stack and put it on the floor facing down. Then the players decide who go first with rock, paper scissors (we used to do it with odds or even). Then each in his turn, clap their hands in hoping to flip the cards through the wind they create. Those you flip, are yours.
Today, online games use this method of “randomness” to encourage in-game purchases. It is called a “loot box”. You pay a sum of money, usually few dollars, and you get a random prize. There is a chance to get something rare, that otherwise would cost more than a few dollars, of course it is very very rare. This is gambling. The difference between this and the “seed” game is obvious. The difference between this game and the “football cards” game is less apparent.
First, to buy these decks, the kids have to go to a physical store, with real money. The kid cannot buy too much because he or she will have to ask the parents for more money, so it is easier to control. Most of the time, the seller is part of the neighberhood, and parents can ask the clerk not to sell to the kids more packs. The “loot boxes” are available 24\7 in the game. The kids need their parent’s credit card to buy the game in the first place. They can save it for later purchases, and use it to buy as much loot boxes as they want. The parents detect this only in the next month where their credit information get to them by mail (if they don’t go over it frequently).
While the seeds were an excellent way to learn about currency, economy and supply and demand, and even about human relations when making deals about the seeds with other kids, the loot boxes teach the kids nothing but the excitement of gambling. The internet of full of kids who post the “good things” they got from these “player packs” (loot boxes), giving false hope for other to win something also. When I was a kid, we would buy a video game, and that is it. Later on, they started with a monthly payment (never played those). Today, the business model is entirely different. Some games are for free but force you to spend money in various ways inside the game. That way, they actually make more money than just selling the game. The encouragement of in-game purchases exploits a very basic human weakness of gambling. They exploit the passion kids have for their games with randomness, to force the players to buy more loot boxes. For the sake of profit, some business makes the kids into little gamblers – clients.
Many people will say that it has to do with “free will,” that a person should control himself. Blaming the victim is easy, kids lack the mental apparatus to avoid and resist these urges. That is why we have people who are addicted to all sort of things. While gaming addiction is a problem, and the game designers know how to make people addicted to their game, a bigger problem arises when gaming becomes involved with gambling. This is another example of the way moral values are cast aside in favor of more profit. The gaming industry just borrowed techniques from other shady places, and enjoy their profits, while corrupting many kids in the process.