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.

Kids Gam(bl)ing: today’s video games are children’s casino.

When I was in elementary school, every summer, we used to play with seeds of apricot. We used to stock them in the thousands. How did we play with the seeds? It was like currency. We used to use various games where the winner would take the others seeds. During the “long” recess the kids who were into the “seed” game would rush to a certain place in the schoolyard. The fastest ones managed to catch a place on the bench and dug a hole. The rest of the players – the “clients,” would try to throw a seed into the hole. If the “client” manages to toss the seed in successfully, he or she will win a pre-determined number of seeds. Like a 4-hole would get you your seed + 3 more. If the kid misses, he or she loses the seed they threw. Those who create the holes, make obstacles with the sand, to make it harder. They also determine the distance the “clients” need to throw their seeds from. Of course, a too tricky hole will scare everyone off, and a too easy would make you lose a lot of seeds. I wish someone could capitalize on that game and teach the kids about the economy because it was an excellent lesson.

I don’t know how this game came to be, but it was a tradition. Every summer, when the Prunus Armeniaca became edible, all the kids would convince their parents to buy these at the local supermarket to gather the seeds. All my family knew that they should not throw the seed and leave it somewhere for me to take it later. Of course, kids had kept their seeds from last year somewhere safe. The goal in accumulate was very simple one. Most of the “players” who played with the seeds, just wanted to accumulate as much as they could, so that by the time they finish their six grade, they could throw all of them for free, causing an uproar among the younger kids. In middle school nobody play with seeds, so they have no further use fo them. They (and everyone else) thought that it’s exciting and funny to see all the younger kids go crazy over seeds. As opposed to another kind of games, the seeds are almost free. You couldn’t buy seeds from the local toy shop or convenience store. The only way to get seeds was to eat – or force other to eat the fruit or to win various games. If you had a “bad day” and lost many seeds, its just seeds, and while many kids treasured their, and even painted on the seeds signs and marks, we all knew in the end that it’s just a game. Some kids did play with marbles. I didn’t like the idea because I loved my marbles and though them to be beautiful, and I didn’t want to lose them.

But kids had other games, like football cards, or other forms of games that are being capitalized on, and employ various techniques of gambling. Kids (including myself) collected football cards. The goal was to complete the magazine of the game, meaning to get all the cards available. Of course, a deck costs money, and it has a limited number of cards. You can never know what cards are in the deck, so you could never know if you will get a card you own already or not. The more the player is famous, the harder it is to get his card. So they employ randomness. It forces the kids to buy many decks in hoping they will get a rare card, either to put It into their “magazine” or to trade it for other rare cards. Every time, even today, that they start a football season, they begin to sell these cards. And they are as popular as ever.

For the kids, and I remember myself, these cards meant a lot. They were very valuable to us. We could play games with them, which the winner took the losers cards, but by a certain period, people get most of the common (less valuable) cards and usually play on those. They rarely risk their valuable cards in a game. The game is simple you stack all the cards in a stack and put it on the floor facing down. Then the players decide who go first with rock, paper scissors (we used to do it with odds or even). Then each in his turn, clap their hands in hoping to flip the cards through the wind they create. Those you flip, are yours.

Today, online games use this method of “randomness” to encourage in-game purchases. It is called a “loot box”. You pay a sum of money, usually few dollars, and you get a random prize. There is a chance to get something rare, that otherwise would cost more than a few dollars, of course it is very very rare. This is gambling. The difference between this and the “seed” game is obvious. The difference between this game and the “football cards” game is less apparent.

First, to buy these decks, the kids have to go to a physical store, with real money. The kid cannot buy too much because he or she will have to ask the parents for more money, so it is easier to control. Most of the time, the seller is part of the neighberhood, and parents can ask the clerk not to sell to the kids more packs. The “loot boxes” are available 24\7 in the game. The kids need their parent’s credit card to buy the game in the first place. They can save it for later purchases, and use it to buy as much loot boxes as they want. The parents detect this only in the next month where their credit information get to them by mail (if they don’t go over it frequently).

While the seeds were an excellent way to learn about currency, economy and supply and demand, and even about human relations when making deals about the seeds with other kids, the loot boxes teach the kids nothing but the excitement of gambling. The internet of full of kids who post the “good things” they got from these “player packs” (loot boxes), giving false hope for other to win something also. When I was a kid, we would buy a video game, and that is it. Later on, they started with a monthly payment (never played those). Today, the business model is entirely different. Some games are for free but force you to spend money in various ways inside the game. That way, they actually make more money than just selling the game. The encouragement of in-game purchases exploits a very basic human weakness of gambling. They exploit the passion kids have for their games with randomness, to force the players to buy more loot boxes. For the sake of profit, some business makes the kids into little gamblers – clients.

Many people will say that it has to do with “free will,” that a person should control himself. Blaming the victim is easy, kids lack the mental apparatus to avoid and resist these urges. That is why we have people who are addicted to all sort of things. While gaming addiction is a problem, and the game designers know how to make people addicted to their game, a bigger problem arises when gaming becomes involved with gambling. This is another example of the way moral values are cast aside in favor of more profit. The gaming industry just borrowed techniques from other shady places, and enjoy their profits, while corrupting many kids in the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can money buy love? Market Values and Romance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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