Anti-vaccination and flat earth are just as real as anything else. This is because nothing is real anymore. About hyper-reality and Post-Truth politics

How did We Lose The Gatekeepers

Today we live in a very different political world. The traditional media has lost its powers and their dominance over news coverage. One reason for this is that the time today is “faster” than it used to be. I’m not talking about the physical (if it is physical) time we monitor with clocks, but the social times we live in. Today information moves faster and faster, and old news outlets have problems to keep up with it. People with a camera in their phones can film and upload things to social media, as they happen in their proximity.

The media was the “gatekeepers” of information and news. They went out, and sorted out the truth from false, as they gave us their detailed examination of the events. Thus, on theory, as it wasn’t in all cases, they delivered us a detailed and examined chain of events, a story. Today, in this current ever-increasing speed of social time, they are no longer able to take their time and investigate what happened. Good things need time, and truth also. Now they cannot sort out the true or false anymore; they don’t have this luxury. If their competition will publish things before them, or information is already spreading in social media, they cannot afford to stay behind and not to publish. Thus, the time window they have to examine and sort out things is becoming shorter and shorter

Another thing is that traditional news outlets are not the only players in “reporting” anymore. Social media gives the ability to report what is going on to everyone, as long as they have a camera. Anyone can speak to the masses if his post\tweet becomes viral. This raises a problem for the average person, who to trust? Who is right? Who should I believe?

 

Who to trust? The numbers battle.

In Israel every time there is a demonstration against something the government does, a battle for the numbers is starting. It appears that the number of demonstrators is important to everyone as it represents its social power and support. So, after every demonstration, everybody needs to address THE number of demonstrators. And then the problem begins. More right winged newspapers, either ignore the demonstration or report a small amount of participants. Left winged newspapers report a more significant number of people and push the event to the front page. Other papers, either give a different number or try to be vague about it, using vague terms like “tens of thousands.” People who participated in the demonstration claim that “they were there” so they know, and the “REAL” number was much higher than the newspapers reported, because “they are biased.” Other people who are in the opposite side of the political map, and had a demonstration against the demonstration claim that the numbers were minimal, and that all the left wing people lie because they are biased.

You as a viewer at home, cannot tell who is right or wrong. As if, the real event took place, and it is detached from the social world. “Real events” are there, but we only see interpretations of them as the real incident is forever lost in the haystack. All we can do is believe someone.

 

Hyperreality and Post-truth politics

This phenomenon is called “hyperreality,” and it was first coined by Jean Baudrillard. He argues that hyperreality is a situation when the real and its representations/simulations are in such a state of a blur, that we cannot distinguish between the real and not anymore. Meaning the real no longer exists, as the simulation of the real had become reality.

For example, people who watch the “Big Brother” knows it is a simulation or a situation which is not entirely real. As the viewers grow older, they might start mimicking the people who participate in these “reality” TV shows. Thus, this simulation of reality becomes a reality, as reality becomes a simulation of the simulation of reality, so nobody knows what is real or not anymore.

A good lecture of Rick Roderick about this matter gives another good example. He talks about Jurassic Park. We saw the movie, saw how the dinosaurs run around and act. If we were to see real dinosaurs, we might be disappointed. Maybe they don’t roar at all? Perhaps they don’t try to eat anything most of the time and want to sit in the sun and do nothing all day long? By that time, if we were to meet these dinosaurs, we would get upset. “Hi! These are not real dinosaurs!” but the problem is precisely that. These are the real dinosaurs, and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park are not. But in hyperreality, we would confuse the real and the unreal. The real become unreal, as the simulation of it, becomes reality.

 

You choose what you belive in

This leads to a post-truth world. There is no truth, as conflicting information is apparent for almost anything that is going on. In this hyperreality-post truth decade, we are lost. We cannot know what has happened as the representations (both of signs and images) are detached and became interpretations, distorted through various mechanisms. Not only that, when a lot of different representations appear, and they contradict each other, and we cannot verify them for ourselves, all we have left is to choose blindly. The false and the real had become one. We have to decide what we think the truth is. Thus, everybody can pick something that he or she feels comfortable with. If you are from the left side of the political map, you will go with X, and if you are from the opposite camp, you will go with Y. Neither is correct nor wrong, they both chose mistakes, as the real event might have been different in the real world.

This can explain how people believe that the world is flat. How people object to vaccination and deny the evolution theory. All of these are FACTS, as they are repeatedly proven in science. But, today, facts become just another interpretation. Through the boom of information which also might be false information, people can find things on the net that fall in line with their beliefs. These beliefs are beliefs, as almost all of them are not doctors, they are not researches and have no idea what they talk about. But in this hyperreality situation, a post-truth world, they can find enough information (though it might be a lie or false) that makes them believe the un-true is true. They can also be lead to believe in false information, as we saw bots can manipulate debates.

It feels like that the truth, and reality had gone extinct. The internet is like a vast store that people can just go in and shop for different realities that suit their needs. No one cares anymore for the truth, for real information, that was carefully distilled from false information. This is because the real, becomes just another interpretation, another simulation in the vast ocean of information and possibilities. “don’t confuse them with facts,” they like to say. The problem that there are facts for everything, even if they are not true. So people are just lost unable to distinguish the true from the false.

 

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The world on TV is not real. How does it affect our identity and “Human Nature?”

I know I didn’t write in a long time, and I kinda sorry for that, not because I thought you all wait for me to write, but also because this blog for me, is a place to test various ideas, a place to think out loud and share it with whoever is willing to read. I hope that whoever read these ideas or loud thoughts, enjoy them, and try to think about different things for a change, and taste something that is not “more of the same” news articles, or gossip garbage.

I was busy with my thesis, as I completed my first or second chapter’s draft (depends how you look at it). It is fascinating, and I had great fun in these five tedious days of writing. Of course I had many days to read and digest everything, so I could actually write down everything in 5 days. It was challenging to produce something worth called a research. I’ll sure try to share it with you, as I will feel that I had this subject of “human nature” out of my system.

So, I talked about how some people believe that we are evil, that the only thing that keeps us from eating each other alive are laws, and the sovereignty of the state, as it monopolizes the use of force. But, some believe that our nature is not necessarily “bad” but self-preserving kind of egoism that we can channel it to advance ourselves through our economic system. We are all greedy, but we can be all happy if we create a system that takes this greed, and turn it into a way for us to produce things that make us better off. That we are rational in our attempt to be happier and more wealthy, and we carefully device plans to maximize our profits.

These are arguments within philosophy\economy about what we are. Even though many other philosophers argue about different things which I will try to tackle someday. The last trend in philosophy is Postmodernism and constructivism. We are not born, or we do not operate as X because we are born, or we function as such, but we are the product of our environment, both physical and social ones. A violent criminal wasn’t born a violent criminal; it is most likely because he was born into impoverished conditions or into a family that abused him or her. They grew up in such an environment that their understanding of the world, and how one should navigate his way in it is different from a “normative” child who grew in a happy, loving family. We experience life, and through those experiences we come to understand the world, which shapes our character and identity and act according to it. As we act we reaffirm our identity. Identity is a fluid thing that can change over time, so people who say “people are bad” just experienced the world in such a way that drove them to conclude that. Maybe they were born in times of wars and great violence? Or were abused themselves? Victims of their reality? So, maybe there is not “human nature” at all, as we recreate ourselves over time, depends on what is going on around and within us.

Maybe there is no right or wrong, good or evil, truth or reality? We all live the world through our experiences, our social encounters and so on. Maybe the world we think we know, through TV, is not actually what is going on at all? I think the media has a big part in our perception of the world. Though it is essential for us to see and understand that there are different realities outside of our own, media has its limitations. But, most people’s lives are to some degree predetermined, meaning that they fall into a daily routine. Then in most places, people relay on the media to understand the “bigger picture.” Think about it, when do you meet the “state”? when do you encounter different people? Most likely rarely. The “state” you meet when you go abroad and go through custom or immigration, or when you have some bureaucratic business with it. Otherwise, the “state” is an amorphous body that is hard to grasp for the ordinary person.

In the end, we get these “realities” through some other people. They are like a filter, that sort out what is essential for us and what is not. They produce a program or write an article that then we consume. But who said they got it right? Who said they don’t have any agendas? Or maybe they lack understanding of the subject? Maybe they don’t do their job that well? And it happens quite often. Newspapers and news sites live by advertisements. To sell those they need to create traffic or ratings. How they do that? Well, one of the ways is to create a “Moral Panic.”  This idea was developed by Stanley Cohen, as he identified that there are some things, or some phenomenons in a society that become to be identified as “dangerous” or detrimental to the core values of society. Then the media for a certain period, discuss about this phenomenon and keep it in the head of the news. Thus, creating this “panic” of morality. He gives an example of how youth violence was this issue in the 60s and 70s in Great Britain. It can be things like domestic violence, or robberies and drugs, or corruption.

But, in many cases, these issues are constantly happening and more or less at a stable rate. The thing that had changed is not the “real world” but the attention this phenomenon get from the media and through it the public. So suddenly everytime a youth violence occurs, there is a big scandal of it in the news. This is precisely one of the features of “Moral Panic.” This is an example of how the media can distort reality, make us believe that human beings are bad or the world is a cruel place, even though we have never experienced the world in this manner. It effects out a way of understanding the world, and how we perceive it, so do we actually understand the world? Or just get a distorted image of it? I’ll continue to speak about things that might make our understanding of the world different, and ask, maybe there is no real world?

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. At first, in Japan I lived in my own place. In that period of time, I took the TV’s plug out. I hated it. I never watched it, and despised it. I thought it to be a torture. So I unplugged the TV, to save some electricity.  Now I live with my wife, and she watches A LOT of TV. So I cannot run away from it. It is hot, and we only have an AC in the living room, so I cannot retreat to another room. So while I can concentrate on my own things even in the most nosiest of places, I noticed that it is hard to run away from the TV, more than I thought. They are everywhere.

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. In some bars, they put TVs to broadcasts commercials, or somekind of entertainment. But in these cases, these are just public channels.

If you go to the doctor, you also have a good chance to see a TV screen in the waiting room. Also In many supermarkets in Japan. In some supermarkets you can buy an ‘obento’ (a lunch box), and you can eat in the ‘dining area’ inside the supermarket. There 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 restaurants. In big junctions and commercial areas, big TV screens are also present. In big stations, on every column, 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 sometimes speak.

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 to notice that sometimes I raise my head to the screen. I tried to figure out why. 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 couldn’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. Sometimes it is like a “ding’ or a bell, or the sound of someone clapping their hands once. 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.

Another annoying thing is that the noise pollution in public spaces is quite frequent. Pachinko slots are extremely loud. When the automatic doors are 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 ads from reaching to 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 friends of friends, that we don’t know well enough, 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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.