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.

Mission statement?

Before I started my B.A I used to be a heavy consumer of the news. As an Israeli, politics made its impact on my life in a more explicit fashion, as opposed, I guess, to other teenagers in other parts of the globe. After I started my B.A in Japanese Area Studies and International Relations, I found myself abandoning the news almost completely. I studied the same subjects but from different angles, have learned how deep and complex world politics really is. Then I started to be dissatisfied with the superficial news articles and reports, and stopped watching the news almost completely . I was so immersed in my studies, and got so excited, that it became almost all I cared about. One day my mother asked me, when I came home for the weekend, “how are you”. I immediately started to ramble own about this article and that book, and how I would like to use them in my mid-term paper. Suddenly she got angry with me, and said, I asked about YOU, not your studies. It took her some time to understand that these issues occupy my mind, so this is my way to tell her how I am.

But as I dive deeper into the academic world, I find myself at a loss when I need to speak about politics with other people. Teenagers, my parents’ friends and so on. I just find it rather difficult to convey the simplest ideas that are in the heart of the consensus in my studies. Together with the calls from Israeli society that Humanities and social sciences are obsolete, I made it one of my goals to try to explain why Humanities and Social sciences DO matter and relevant, even more than before .

In Israel people use the term “Grass-studies” in order to mock Humanities and social sciences. it means that the students in those fields learn easy subjects with no importance to the real world, and thus sit most of their time on the grass on campus and talk. My ambitions is to change this image, as much as I can.