Does money Makes The Human Nature Go Around?

I’ve discussed some aspects of human nature. Does our nature, in its most fundamental aspect, a bad one? Are we all sinners and have to work hard to overcome our most primal instincts? Given a rules-free situation, will we eat each other alive, as Hobbes and many other filmmakers claim? Or will human can also show altruism, and good qualities even in the direst situations?

Some people, most of them are economists, believe that for the most part, we are evil. We are not evil in the sense that we will kill each other, but we are evil in the sense that we are selfish. To be more specific, we care most about our material situation.

“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 self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”

. We are, they say, a selfish materialistic animal, that will go great lengths to make sure that we take care of these selfish desires and needs.

Capitalists think that it is a good thing. If everyone fulfilled their selfish desires, we would be all better off. We will work hard to fulfill our selfish needs. The baker is greedy, that is why he opens his bakery. He might want people to eat good bread, but the idea in its roots is selfish. If his bread isn’t good nobody will want to buy it. Thus, the desire to make good quality goods might also be born out of selfishness. Capitalists think that it is so fundamental in our psyche, that people used barter economy until money was invented. I’ll give you four oranges for your one potato.

Though, they usually conducted what is called a “gift economy.”. People helped each other out of a straightforward and implicit code. If I help you today; you will help me tomorrow. When someone’s house fell down, the village people came to help him. By that people knew that if something would happen to their homes, they will get help also.

Money has such great powers, that it can ignore national borders, language, cultures and a matter of fact anything. If you had spices or precious metals, you didn’t need to understand different languages or cultures, or political realities, you could just trade with them. Muslims and Christians fought for hundreds of years, but money and trade took place between them for example.

Even states that don’t have official relations can trade. Usually, the “small guy” or trader, doesn’t care with who he conducts business, money is the same no matter its origins. That is why the U.S have some trouble to crack down all the companies that still trade with Iran.

In many cases, the possibility of profits from trade push countries to establish good relationships or to keep them peaceful. Many International Relation theories stress the importance of economic variables in world politics. They identify economy as a significant factor on peace and wars. They argue that if country A and B benefit more from peace rather than war, they won’t fight. If the economic relations are too good, war will become too costly to think of. If in the political sphere things get tense, many financial players (let’s say big corporations) will put pressure on their governments to ease down the tension because it is bad for business. If the trade volume is significant, the politician will cool down as soon as their economies suffer greatly and the public will feel that in their pockets.

So, selfishness might be seen as part of the core values of human nature, and the question is, how do we harness this for the better of humanity. Capitalists say that they have successfully harnessed it for the better good of us all. But, what about wars over scarce material goods? Like water, oil and so on? What if there is no way that everybody will get enough because there is not enough to go around? Then, this selfishness is deadly, and we might get a Hobbesian situation, a war over these resources.

There is a famous saying that goes like this: “it is easier to visualize the end of the world, rather than the end of capitalism.” After the USSR fell, nobody can even think of an alternative social system to capitalism, meaning a society without money or something similar. Try to think about a world that has no money. I can’t. We all come up with communism, and we all know that it failed.

People are so convinced that money is here to stay, and that it will ever be one of the core social regimes of powers in society. “Money makes the world go around”, and if we don’t have money at all, the world will stop. Jaron Lanier in his book “You are not a Gadget” talks about “Lock ins”. Meaning, a situation that was locked in and has become one of the building blocks of everything that comes afterward. Let’s say, the idea that we have files on a computer. It is a ‘locked in’ design, that now no other computer or program can work without this concept taken into consideration. Money might have been ‘locked in’ so hard, that we cannot even think about an alternative system that will work without it. So it might be natural to think that if this is the only available system to arrange society, this might be a natural concept for human beings.

The idea is that, it is not as Hobbes describe. People can overcome hostility if they can profit and be better off from cooperation. Thus, human nature has an aspect of evilness, but also of cooperation (out of selfishness), and if this aspect is dealt with appropriately, we will be able to limit the “natural state” that leads to war and violence and bring our dark place under some degree of control.

 

 

Are we evil? do laws exist because we are evil? The “Hobbseian deal” with the state.

The last post I raised the question, are we rotten to the core? And I tried to think about it through the movie Cube, and with Victor’s Frankel memoir of his experiences in the Holocaust, and his psychological theory that he developed through it. I claimed that both, in their own separate ways, show us that maybe we are rotten in our most basic level of consciousness.

The big question then is, “what is human nature?” are we good or bad? Will humans eat each other alive if given tough enough circumstances? Or can we keep our civilized selves even in the most horrific of realities? There were several times in the history of the nation-state, which the police force went on a strike. In those days, people just went to riot and steal and break into places. The pictures are quite vividly displayed in movies, or when there are riots in places that the police is “too afraid” to go into. But, on the other hand, we can see little acts of humanity even in the direst of a situation. Like people sacrifice themselves for the better good or put their lives at risk in order to save another.

Thomas Hobbes was a philosopher, and he argued that we are bad, and because we are bad, we need some kind of a strong authority that could control us, limit our freedoms and be a deterring force to deter us from doing bad things to each other. It will prevent people from hurting each other because it would be so powerful that it will uphold the laws for us and take from us the right to retaliate.

Hobbes argues that in a natural state, Nature-state, humans are animals. He claims that human beings are relatively similar in their capabilities. Meaning, there isn’t any individual that alone, could not be overcome by a group. No one is too smart or too strong to be better in the long run from a group of people. For Hobbes, that means that if people are relatively similar in their capabilities, that means that they have more or less the same desires and interests. That leads to competition because resources are scarce, there aren’t enough for everyone, so it leads human beings into a life of struggle, fear, jealousy and a free for all war with each other.

You might say that this is nonsense, so Hobbes will ask you, if it is nonsense, then why do you lock your door? Why don’t you leave your bag unattended in the street? Why are you afraid when you have to go through a dark alley at night? Because human beings, are not someone you can trust because of this natural state of competition or war among us. In many dramas like Game Of Throne, House of Cards and so on, the repeating motif is “can I trust X?”. Check how many times this issue of trust is being raised in these dramas and real life.

Hobbes says that to get away from this nature-state, we need a powerful leader, that will uphold the law for us. That means that if someone steals from me, I can go to that leader and his institutions, and they will take care of it for me. Only the fear that the police will come, deter people from doing bad things. This is the “hobbsian deal” we have with the state, as we give it a monopoly over the use of violence. We are not allowed to use force, only the police or army (in many cases) do.

So, one can argue that the the fact that we need laws, police, and organized violence, is a sign that human beings are not that bad, and they created these institutions in order to lead a better social life. But it can also show us that maybe we are that evil, that we need these institutions at all. Because if we were good in nature, than we wouldn’t need this complicated system of laws, nations and violence to begin with.

But this is one part of the limitation of “theory”. Not all humans are bad, and not all humans are good. It depends on so many factors, that perhaps we cannot figure out what conditions or variables will make an individual into a bad person or a good person. It sounds ridiculous to try to come up with an equation “abusive father + poor education – supportive adoptive parents – good friends X 20 years = a good person”.

It might depend on the time or the place, or even both. Today’s Germany is not the same as it was in the 30s and 40s. A person that lives in a third world country will see things differently from a person that lives in the First world, and so on. But without trying to generalize things, we cannot deduce general patterns and understand anything.

Follow this line; it means that Hobbes, that lived in a time of a civil war in England and was exiled, saw the world in these colors. Maybe if hobbies were to live in today’s world he wouldn’t think that our nature state is as he claims it to be.

 

 

 

Are We Rotten To The Core? Movies as Thought Experiments Vs the Holocaust.

In humanities, we cannot run experiments, Let’s say, replacing Hitler with another leader and let history run its course and observe what will happen. The closest thing we have for experiments is art.

“Cube” is a movie from 1997 (I give some spoilers so if you plan to watch it be careful). Its plot is quite a weird one. A group of human beings was put inside a vast maze, that consists of many rooms. In some cases, these rooms have traps, and the human group needs to navigate its way out safely. The main point of this movie, if you saw it and noticed, is that the most dangerous thing for the members of the group, was not the traps and the maze itself, but the other members of the group, as other human beings were the main reason why people died in this movie. They killed each other way more often than the traps did.

*SPOILER*

In the end scene of the first movie, there is only one guy who makes it out alive. This guy seems to suffer from Autism, and his behavior is not something we would consider normal. The group encounters him and soon debates as if in this situation, live or death one, they need to help him because he might slow them down, as it is hard to communicate with him, which might raise the chances of falling into a trap. Some argue to help him because he is helpless, some argue against it.
In the end, it turns that they need to calculate complicated things as part of a trap, and he, the autistic guy, can do it and do it almost instantly. Thus he can help the group and find the way out. In the end, people die off, mostly from other human beings, due to conflict, group politics and so on. In the final scene, the autistic member is the only one who made it out alive.

It is as if the people who made this film wanted to criticize human nature and show us how cruel we really are. First, they argue through the movie, that human beings in life or death situations reveal their true nature, and will do anything to survive. They will kill, rob, steal, take advantage of other people, deceive and cheat others. In this movie, Cube, the autistic one, is the antithesis of this human nature. He is pure, he has no intention to harm anyone else, and this movie, as rewards this pure and innocent behavior, makes him the only one to survive, like saying that he Is the only one really deserved to survive. This fact in this movie indicates that if good people exist, they must be irrational or lack the standard capacities of human conscious, otherwise they will end with this “human nature.”

*END OF SPOILER*

Many other films tackle this idea that when human society falls, laws and governments crumble, this true nature of human beings takes over, and we end up in situations like “mad max,” “Waterworld” and many other dystopian movies, of course not something we want to live in.

But the question remains is, is this human nature? Are we really programmed like that? Are these “thought experiments” – movies, really tells us how human beings would behave? In the end, there are one or some people, who come up with these hypothetical situations, and they out of their own life experiences, beliefs and convictions, tells us what that situation would be like, and how human beings will behave in it.

But, there were real situations of that sort in human history, and it seems that people behaved to some degree, as these dystopian films predict. The book “Man’s Search For Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy,” Victor Frankl tells us about his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp in the Holocaust. Frankl was a Jewish man, who was carried to this camp trying to escape death. He says in this book that the good men and women didn’t make it, that the best among us, didn’t make it. Those who stole food from each other and were selfish had the better chances to survived.

But of course, these are not the only cases. In many places, like in Ghetto Warsaw, even in great deprivation, made schools, concerts, theaters and so on. On the face of it, there was no real rationality to make these, it had nothing to do with the survival of the people, and actually, it was a waste of energy. But, I guess that people, by doing those activities tried to preserve their humanity, in an environment that took humanity into one of its darkest hours.

I will keep poking this idea in future posts; this is not over. What do some philosophers have to say about human nature? And how postmodernism argues against the notion that human nature is solid because of human nature change in different cultural and physical environments.

China will implement a Social Credit System in the near future. Afraid? We all ready have one of our own.

China is going to implement a social credit system. Meaning, it’s going to rank its citizens according to various criteria like what job one’s hold and the degree one contribute to society. I guess it will also include education, credit history and to what degree someone keeps the rules (like parking tickets). This sounds like a bad idea for most of us, and it rings the “dystopia” bell and makes us think straight away on “Black mirror” or other sci-fi movies like 1984.

But, if we will look around us, we could see that we tend to rank a lot of things. Let’s say you want to go to a restaurant. You don’t know which exactly, but you have a rough idea of what kind of food you want to eat. So, you look for Italian restaurants near you on Google. Well, you have a lot of options, but you will probably choose the one who has good reviews. How do you know which one has good reviews? You have a 5-star system that indicates that. If you want to know more, you will have to go into the review section and read what people wrote about it.

If you look for things to do, let’s say in Japan. You will maybe search on google “trip in Japan.” Then you will have many options. These options are ranked in a specific order. How does this order come to be? Well, Google algorithm scans all the text and decides which site is more relevant which are less. Other things that might be able to influence the ranking is money. People can buy the first positions by bidding money on it. Amazon makes HUGE money out of it. In many instances people pay money to jump to the start of the line to be visible, it’s a key strategy in the “attention economy” of today.

So you will probably tend to go to sites that are ranked higher, than the places which are ranked lower. When you choose one of them (probably the first second or third one), you will see that users of the site also rank the activities that are offered. A good example will be trip advisor or Booking. Those are ranking systems of hotels, holidays and so on. So, your daily choices, everything that has to do with buying things, is a form of rank. Even the places on the shelves in the grocery store are sometimes offered to the highest bidder.

Why not people? Let’s say you look at people’s FB page. You might see which movies they like, which books they’ve read. But obviously, the number 1 variable that ranks on FB is how many likes do you get? You know these people who get few hundred likes for posting a silly picture, while others write deep and provoking things just to get one like? (sounds familiar ain’t it?). If you think that this ranking is only taking place on FB, you are dead wrong. Potential employers check your FB page and guess what; they consider those likes a lot. My friends constantly reported to me how in job interviews, there were asked to add the interviewers as friends on FB. There are even “tactics” or ways to improve your visibility on FB for future employers.

So, maybe the Chinese only made it official? It’s already here, like it or not. Today we quantify our productivity, our popularity and even in university, professors are ranked by Google’s impact factor (Google Journal Metrics). And of course, we rank people on how much money they have in the bank. Again, why not just make it official?

Why do Japanese people put TV sets almost everywhere?

I live in Japan now. I used to live here before studying Japanese for 15 months. After that I went back to my country to do my B.A. Now I’m back in Japan (probably for good) doing my M.A in Nagoya University. During the time I lived in Japan in my own place, I took the TV’s plug out. I hated it, I never watched it, and I wanted to save on electricity. Now I live with my wife, and she watches A LOT of TV. So I cannot run away from it. But, I noticed, that it is harder to run away from the TV than I thought.

I also know in Israel that it is a common custom to place a TV in waiting rooms, usually in clinics like the dentist. But in Japan, I’ve noticed that this custom is implemented on a broader scale. First of all, most Japanese cars have a navigation system with a central panel on the dashboard. It has a screen obviously, to show the map, but it is in most cases also a TV set. It can pick up TV broadcastings and the driver can watch TV in the car. The picture disappears when the car is moving, leaving the driver to “hear” the TV, but the screen appears when the car is not moving, like in red light for example. So, basically, people watch TV in the mornings just to turn it off to put it on again in the car. Meaning, that they also consume TV during the commute time. People who go by train can, and often do, watch TV by their smartphones. I saw many people watch TV while standing on the train during the rush hour, miraculously, keeping their balance without holding onto anything except for their phones (small TV sets).

TV sets ‘decorate’ small neighborhood cafes as well. If you will go to eat in a small café, and take a counter sit, you will probably sit in front a big TV screen. It is also right to some small neighborhood bars – Izakaya’s when people sit there talking, while a big TV screen is above the counter. If you go to the doctor, you also have a good chance to see a TV screen in the waiting room. In many supermarkets in Japan, you can buy an ‘obento’ a lunch box. If you decide to eat in the ‘dining area’ in the supermarket, you will also likely enjoy the company of a TV set.

So in many places, TVs are part of the view. But that is not all. On buses and trains, there is a frequent announcing. Japanese tend to over explain and over announce things on public transportation (not only). Recently I’ve noticed that they mix in some advertisings into the announcements. For example: For a kind and patient driving school, please get off at this station to get to BLA BLA driving school. Sometimes it can be ‘Pachinko’ (slot machines) place or a restaurant. In big junctions and commercial areas, big TV screens are also present. In big stations, on every collum, there is a TV set broadcasting some commercials. Sometimes with a sound. Neon signs no longer just show writing, but also pictures, moving texts and so on.

In my home, even if I don’t want to watch commercials, and I tend to ignore the TV (while playing with the dog or using my computer), I cannot help it but sometimes to raise my head to the screen. I try to figure out why, sometimes, instinctively I lift my head to look at the TV. In Israel for example, during a commercial break, they purposely raise the volume of the broadcast, so if you don’t lower the volume down, someone might come and yell at you “Why the TV is so loud.” Obviously, it’s to either catch your attention or to make sure you will hear the ads. I tried to look for a device that will negate this annoying volume increase and decrease, but up until now, I didn’t find one.

In Japan, they don’t use this annoying trick, but they use other methods. For example, they at the beginning of the advertising, have some high pitch voices or a shouting voice (without being too loud) to catch your attention. In this instances I found myself raising my head to the TV set. They might use other techniques like putting a recent popular song at the beginning of the ad. They also use a very strict and fast pace speech, which sometimes also catch my attention.

But, also the noise pollution of public space is quite frequent in Japan. Pachinko slots are extremely loud. When the automatic door is opened, the deafening sounds of the slot machines penetrate the public space. I guess that this is an ad in its own right. Sometimes in supermarkets, in many places, small speakers are broadcasting ads inside the shop. Also in convenience stores, the speakers announce on sales. I get the feeling that If I don’t go with my headphones on, hearing music (where I get ads on youtube), I cannot stop the ad machine from reaching my ears.

Wernick came up with the term. ‘promotional culture.’ It means that most communications, texts, and media, one of, or their primary function is also to promote some kind of a product, value or idea. In the past, while these kinds of media, like TV programs, newspapers and movies, today also function as promoting tool\platform for other things. Take this idea and combine it with my last post on the ‘Avengers’ It is clear to understand what drives most of the “art” today, to promote itself, or its merchandise (for you to consume more). Thus, the idea of ‘promoting’ also come to pollute almost all daily encounters with people. Our lives revolve around work. But work started to penetrate our “free” time. If we sit in a bar and talk to people who are friends of friends, it becomes a small ‘networking’ meeting, which each side measure and try to find a lead to his or her next job. “what are you doing for a living” is a frequent question. Sometimes it is so basic, that people will tell you what their job is, just by asking “what do you do.” Soon the conversation might drift into the direction of networking, meaning “business talk.” It is very natural considering that most of the messages that are directed to us are of the kind of ‘promotional culture’.

 

Why I will probably won’t go to see the new “Meme – Avengers” movie, and why I think that the “DC” movies fail.

The new Avengers’ movie just hit the big screens. It didn’t take time for my news feed to be full of people take selfies and pictures in the cinema bragging and letting others know that they are about to watch it. It was the same with the new Star Wars movie. Why people bother to share those two movies, but not sharing any other? Well simply put it, because it might get them points.

Points? Yes, in the form of “social capital.” To look cool might make you “earn points” in society. How come this movie became such a cultural phenomenon, that it actually can be considered to be social capital? Well, I guess one explanation might be that the hype feeds itself. If people think that “everybody” is hyped about it, they might get hyped about it, or at least show that they are, as everyone does. So, it might lead to certain hypocrisy, meaning they are not as excited as they show.

When I was little, I used to watch a lot of cartoons, even in the age that it was considered not cool anymore. I just liked it. At least I watched those who were broadcasted in Israel. I watched Superman, Spiderman, and many more Heroes cartoons. I knew those characters well (as much as you could from those series). When these movies began, I know that most of my friends, that didn’t watch those cartoons, nor read the comics (which I didn’t also). But somewhat, they are now going and sharing “I watch the Avengers.” When I was a kid, from a certain age, this wasn’t considered to be cool at all. So, I get the feeling that just needed the idea that “if most people like it, I guess it’s cool.”

Well, I guess one way to look at this phenomenon is through memes. I’m not talking about cats in a piece of bread or something like that; I talk about the scientific term of Memes. The term Meme was first coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “the selfish gene.” He said that as genes are passed down through heredity, Ideas and cultural customs pass through imitation. He claimed that cultural habits, have sort of life on their own, and are passed through us, as we are the tool for spreading them. So, the most
“viral” ideas, and maybe only a tiny fracture of them, get to the point that they are established within our civilization, like let say, hand shake. Like genes, Memes are exactly like Genes, they are being replicated, they compete and some of them, survive. Memes are competing over the attention of the host (us), but only memes suited to their sociocultural environment spread successfully. Other become extinct. It is interesting to think about those things as “memes”.

So if every cultural habit, can be understood as a meme that we learn by copying. People copy the idea that the “masked heroes” movies are cool and a cultural “treasure”, thus it will be better for them also to go and see it. Some people might argue that they like it, and it is an action movie that is a “no-brainer”, you don’t have to think while watching it, and it is entertaining. Well, I understand that claim, but I still think that the idea that these kinds of movies are good for us, is a meme.

Why I won’t bother to see that? Because it is precisely this, a “no-brainer.” Adorno and Horkheimer in their work “Dialectic of Enlightenment” talk about the role of mass media in our social world. They said that the belief was that everything that was out of the reach of science was the realm of art. Science doesn’t claim if something is better or worse if extinction of animals is good or bad, they just claim that this is how things are. In economy, economist won’t tell you what a good or bad decision is, they usually refrain from deciding. They only show the options, because the science of economy doesn’t take the role of claiming morals, like science, it should be unbiased and distanced.

But some people argue that science should follow art, and penetrate its realm. By using big data and mathematics, people can understand what the masses like, how they react and what should be expected. So, art, as Adorno and Horkheimer claim, has become (or becoming) a commodity just like shoes. It is designed to be consumed, and produce merchandise. Adorno and Horkheimer will say that art, has a critical role in society. Art is the only place we can play with moral ideas, think about what is right and wrong, and challenge the system we live in. By taking the path of becoming a commodity, Adorno and Horkheimer claim that art had become just a tool, like opium, to make us go on a “trip” to escape our reality, which mostly revolves around work. After people work for hours, when they finally come home, they don’t have the capabilities to deal with heavy, complex ideas. Art is just a tool, a commodity, to ease the “free time” of people, to be able to rest just enough, to continue working hard. If this system of “working hard” is good or not? It depends on the goals of it. Adorno, Horkheimer Marcuse and the rest of the “Frankfurt School” will say that the goals became irrational, but that is for another post.

The main argument is that art had lost its edge and ability to criticize our most hegemonic ideas. After watching the Avengers, did you change as a person? Did you start to see the world in a different light? What did you learn from it? What did “thoughts” it evoked in you? My guess is nothing. Just a never-ending story, about the struggle between good and evil in the most superficial way, which will never see any conclusion, will never have any “say” about anything in particular. The problem is, that deep art, which forces people to think fails. From the simple reason, because “hi, it’s my leisure time, don’t let me think about heavy stuff now.” I guess this is part of the reason that the “DC” movies are failing, they try to say something more complex.

 

Why don’t I tip my doctor? and why should I thank anyone who helps me because it is his or her job to help me?

The reason for the lack of action on my blog is because I was preoccupied with a gig in the last week, as I helped a tour guide with his tour in Kyoto for a week. Unfortunately, I got sick, and I’m still recovering (only the weakness and dizziness are left). While I helped the lost souls to understand the Japanese “miraculous” way of doing things, and find the reasoning behind their new and uncharted environment, I couldn’t help but feel mildly torn apart.

I went to recover forgotten bags, help people in the group to order food (they have no clue what they are eating most of the time) and many more things, that were my job, I got paid (little) for those actions. In some instances, I did things that weren’t trivial. In the last three days, I became quite sick but tried to put up with it. One day after the schedule was over, I decided to catch a cab to my own guest house because it was raining, I felt not so good and didn’t want to walk in the rain for 20+ minutes. The problem was that everybody in Kyoto had the same idea, so cab after cab was occupied. They have over 10,000 taxis over a small area which is Kyoto city, and I think they were all taken. When I tried to ask the hotel to order a cab, I was told that the line is busy for the past hour or two, so they cannot help me with that. While I tried to catch a cab, two women (all of them were around my mother’s age) came outside hoping to find a cab also. At that moment, miraculously, a taxi had stopped in front of us, and someone got off. I waited for some time for a cab, but instead of taking it, I let the two other ladies take it. After enough cabs passed by me, all occupied, I realized that It would be much faster if I walked back to my guest house, and that is what I did.

The next day, of course, they didn’t ask me if I was okay because I got used to the idea that most people are just self-centered and pay little attention to others problems. But still, when I parted ways with the group, they thanked me and felt a bit sad. When I retrieve a lost bag, or offered explanations to various things, of course, they were thankful, but I just replied that “it is my job” or something along this line of thought. Thinking back on this, and trying to add this experience to other topics I’ve discussed in my blog, about money and market economy pushing human values out an such, I couldn’t help but to doubt most of our human interactions.

When I go to a doctor, and he helps to resolve a medical condition I have, I thank him. When I use a service, like the Amazon to get a book I want to read, I thank the mailman. Most of our human interactions revolve around business, meaning money making mechanisms. It is mostly during working hours (of either of us) that we interact with “people.” After work, we just go home and rarely interact with people we do not know. Another instance when we talk to strangers is when we (a very euphemized word) “networking.” People meet and talk to people for the sake of creating a “network.”, Meaning “maybe he or she could help me advance myself or find opportunities. Meaning: make more money. So meeting a friend of a friend and such, becomes a “business” activity. Some people take this idea to the next level, and treat every single encounter they have, as a chance. This makes me sick. They treat everybody as a wallet.

So as Adam Smith said: “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.” It turns out that he was right. Not because this is the human nature, but because the current system that dictates and govern our interactions with almost everyone we meet, construct us to behave like that.

Why did they thank me? Why does anyone thank anyone else for their work? Why do we tip the waitress or the bartender? They are doing their job. In Japan, they don’t tip, because people do their job and they get paid for it, and it has nothing to do with the customer. Why don’t I tip my doctor? Why don’t secretaries get a tip from their bosses? Why does it end in very limited places? The feeling that most interactions revolve around “business” and take place in the market economy make human morals and values obsolete. Sure it is nicer for everyone to say “thank you,” but it feels a bit awkward to say it to someone who clearly helps me out of sheer interest.

What do you think about this issue?

 

Not All Languages Were Born Equal: What happen when the way you speak is not considered the “norm”.

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 Today’s world, Men’s home is not his castle, it’s a cage of foreign thoughts .

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.