Social media makes us think about life in a superficial way. This is why we think that everyone is happy, while we are not.

I talked lengthy already about the effects of filter bubbles due to algorithm limitations. For example, FB will show us things we either totally agree with or totally disagree with. Thus, our perception of the world is being molded, or navigated, be it on purpose or not.

Let’s say you vote for a particular party. FB will discover this party by the way you press the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons. It also find this party through your FB chats, and correspondences. Thus, it might show you articles that most people who vote for that party will likes. But, it will also throw you another bone. It will show you things you will definitely hate. It will show you that Trump is a terrible president for example. This way FB will filter out things that might make you doubt these political convictions of yours so you are ‘stuck’ with your old believes. This is a filter bubble.

But, and I recommend you to read his writings, Jaron Lanier raises another question about FB. He argues, and I think he is right on his money, that FB simplifies things. It makes things easier, shallow and superficial. It makes human lives devoid of any complexity. Social media in a whole has this side effect. People are measured through several lines. On Linkedin, you are just a position in your Job. On FB you have a picture and a few lines about you. Even if I scan all your feed, it might result in an image that might not be really you. Because there are inner thoughts, you won’t share on FB. There are believes that you will not utter that are locked deep inside private chats or face to face conversation. A person is not the sum of his shares and likes.

But, we tend to interpret our social reality through this shallow media. We come to measure popularity through likes and followers. We come to see friendships as a binary status of FB (add as friend vs. friends). And the worst part that we think that everyone is happy while we are not. Why? Because FB again, make life experience to be seen as superficial. When people take a photo of themselves or their surroundings, they won’t show you a sad face. They will give a snapshot of the highlights. They will even fake it, just for this moment.

Nietzsche and Marx argue against this kind of thinking. They argue that when people come to analyze society and create their theories about human nature (as I spoke about that also), they look at things as they are now, and theorize about them. But, this is merely a snapshot of what is happening now. Society is complex, and the current turns of events have deep roots in other times. As things have changed, thus they will bound to change again, so how can you theorize without looking at the bigger picture? People used to treat society as a whole, as a homogenous group of people. But, there are subgroups, and clashing of believes and interests. The worst case is economists. They argue that everyone is rational, and behave rationally, to maximize their profits and get the things they desire. If that is so, why people gamble? Why people become addicted to alcohol and drugs. Why are some people becoming NEETS? All the models that are based on this assumptions are therefore wrong.

To connect this paragraph to the way FB distorts our understanding of the world, I argue that human experience is also not homogenous. When we see people that are happy and smiling in a picture on FB, we tend to think that they are enjoying themselves. And as a consequence of that, that we are not that happy, and maybe our lives are not that exciting, therefore we are not OK. But again, the human experience is way more complex than this snapshot of reality. Maybe before arriving at the bar, they argued whether to go inside or not? Perhaps they even fought. They probably were all glued to their phones, and barely spoke to each other. But we cannot see this. We only experience when we experience that. Thus, we start to build a world that does not exist. That everyone is happy. That everyone is thinking the same as me or that there is a group of crazy people that think the opposite of me.

The precious moments of boredom, grief and sadness. These moments are becoming socially excluded from the desired state of being. We have to be happy all the time, we have to smile on pictures. We have to look good outside of the house. We have to look fresh and alert all the time. We cannot be the complex selves, that feels negative energies, negative thoughts and so on. These are precious so please, don’t confuse reality with a mere snapshots of other people fake lives.

 

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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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Banal Nationalism in Popular Japanese TV shows.

Though I hate to watch Japanese TV, I mostly have no choice in the matter. My wife watches TV, or keep it open almost the entire time she is at home. I guess she likes the sound. I often just put music on, even though lately I enjoy the quite.  But when I lived alone in Japan for the first time, I did find myself open the Israeli news or Israeli programs while cleaning or cooking, just to hear a voice. I guess people don’t like to be alone, and the sounds of people are talking, even though it is the TV, makes their loneliness a bit more comfortable to deal with.

So I have to watch, passively, a lot of Japanese TV shows. I submissively accept my fate, but also use that for my thesis, as I focus a lot on Japanese advertisements and certain aspects of their TV shows. Sometimes I come across things that I find very interesting. Through those TV programs, I can get a glimpse into the social reality of the Japanese society. Their fears, their beliefs, and prejudices.

One of the most prominent aspects of those shows, the “variety” shows, is banal nationalism. We tend to think that the Japanese are not nationalistic, due to the fact that we often view nationalism as a more right-winged militaristic, pro-war xenophobic kind of thing. But, as Michael Billing shows, nationalism can be very banal – as he calls it “banal nationalism.”. Banal nationalism is the everyday things we do, that manifest or creates the ground for our nationalistic views. But if everybody in your neighborhood will put the national flag in their front lawn, or everybody would see the national team’s game, even though they dislike the sport itself, those things could be signs of nationalism. Billing even gives the example of national symbols on money or popular expressions like “God bless America.”

The case of Japanese nationalism is a more peculiar one. It is less visible and more subtle. It is rare to see houses that hang the Japanese national flag. Usually, the Japanese society views everything militaristic with great caution and fear, as it reminds them of their past – which they try to bury. The absence of many of the “classic” nationalistic practices make Japanese nationalism elusive. But, if one will look closer, he or she will find Japan nationalism everywhere, particularly in many small daily life instances.

For example, they have tons of shows that deal with the view of foreigners in Japan. Meaning, what those “gaijins” think about us. What they mostly look for are compliments. “WOW” “Japan is GREAT.” So they give these foreigners Japanese food, for them to say that it is tasty. They show them around and film their amazed faces. Lately, they even catch people right off the plane, in the airport, and ask them for the purpose of their visit. Obviously, when people see a camera, they answer a bit differently, but most of them say things like “I always wanted to come to Japan,” as the Japanese audience feel an orgasmic sensation from hearing those comments. The ones who have a bit of a special case, they continue to follow them around.

Japan has a long history with the issue of “inferiority complex.” They had one with China. China was the center of the political system of the far east basically until the Europeans came and stripped China to the bone. Japan saw China as a role model and felt inferior to it. They adopted the Chinese writing system “kanji,” some sort of Confucianism; the Buddhism also came from China through Korea and many more. But, after a while, Japan tried to level the playing field, calling the Japanese emperor with the same title as the Chinese one in official correspondences and such.

Japan had the same dynamics with the West, first, when they reopened up to the world after long seclusion, they learned everything they could from the west, in order to survive. They understood that the West’s military power is unrivaled, and they have to attain this strength to survive, and not end like China – which was more or less their role model up until that time. At that time China was the became the role model of “how not to survive in the age of colonialism 101”. So they rapidly modernized and attained great military strength that ended fueling their own colonialism in East Asia. Then they tried to level the playing field with the West, to be seen as equal and modern. But they also viewed Japan as superior in many other aspects, mostly after the economic miracle of the 50s – 70s, which Japan became an economic superpower.

Those conflicting feelings of inferiority and supremacy, still visible to the “trained” scholarly eye. Through those TV shows, Japan uses the “others” gaze to reaffirm their own superiority. As if saying “here, the Gaijins think that we are SO AWESOME,” we must really be that awesome, maybe even more than they “the gaijins” do. Maybe if they like us so much, we ought to love ourselves as well, perhaps we are a fantastic place?

But it also incorporates their own high self-esteem – which could be viewed as nationalism. They wouldn’t give foreigners things to eat if they weren’t sure that they would like it. They wouldn’t go and make people experience stuff if they would hate them, right? So it is a final approval or quality check for their own beliefs about themselves. They think that they are great, but, they also need a bystander to affirm that for them, preferable “white western”.

Another type of these kinds of shows are about Japanese people going abroad. They have the normal type of shows that the celebrity of the day go and experience tourist attractions. But, they have another kind of shows, that are also used to enhance the Japanese views of themselves (nationalism). One show is when they send a Japanese craftsman, artists or specialists to other countries to help someone in a dire need. This is to show how amazing Japanese (mostly traditional) skills are. As the foreigners left speechless while watching the Japanese specialist work hard, and saves the day with skills that are unimaginable to them before that encounter.

The second type of shows that deal with Japanese people who live abroad, deal with Japanese people who live in untraditional places, like in Africa or developing countries in Asia and so on. In many cases, they try to show a success story, how these Japanese became rich, or famous. One time they went to I think it was Kirghistan and showed how a certain Japanese male became a celebrity there. In another case, they went to Italy to show how another Japanese male, succeeded in the “X-factor” show, to become extremely famous. They followed him around Europe when he got invitations to participate in many other reality shows, while telling his “amazing background story,” as he climbed Mount Everest and so on.

All those different shows, create the idea that the Japanese people, society, values, and state are amazing. If the “others” come here and are amazed, and we go there, and we are successful and can use our unique skills and ethics to help “gaijins,” we are surely an amazing people. Putting It all creates a story, about the superiority of the Japanese in many aspects. This is Japanese nationalism.

A good example is this would be the compliments the Japanese people received when “the world” was amazed by the way Japanese fans cleaned the stadium after their team’s matches in the world cup. They consider these kinds of things as signs for their moral superiority and triumph of their values, as other fans do not clean after themselves. But the thinking is deeper than just “other fans”, it goes like this.  fans -> other countries -> other moral and value systems -> we are superior in our values of cleanness and order, and caring for the other.

Obviously, they also show how “others” are superior to the Japanese in some aspects, as they modestly view themselves in some instances. But this is another story.

Another example of nationalism in commercials would be this commercial. You could see how many German people dance and sing “we love agriculture, as the “we love” part is spoken in German as the “agriculture” part is spoken in Japanese. While between these lines they say the name of the company “Kubota.” As they all finally reach a place looks like a “farmers market,” and all the Germans gather around Japanese women, who dressed quite different from the German surrounding her,  as it can be understood that she worked there and prepared the food they now eat. And in the end, it says Kubota even helps agriculture in Germany. As I can see it, it is we the Japanese, are so skilled, even Germany, a first world western country with amazing skills, use our help. For me, maybe some people won’t accept that claim, it is a kind of nationalism. I think that its nationalism because it shows how the “Japanese” make food for the Germans, as they all singing and dancing thanks to us.

Of course, they want to show the global aspect of the company. Only showing agriculture in Japan would downgrade this big corporation. It is understandable that they want to show that even among highly developed countries, our products a popular, and we succeed in our business there. But they could do it in another manner, without the act of gathering around the Japanese person who made the food. They could show German farmers use this company’s products, without a Japanese celebrity there to “make food”, and getting complimented for it.

Do not get me wrong; every nation needs to be proud of their culture and achievements. Evey nation has some degree of nationalism, as people usually like their state and culture. The problem with this Japanese version is that it heavily relies on the constant comparison, as it is mostly in the state of relativity to the others. How do we compare to them, how they, think about us. In Israeli TV those shows do not exist, and I never saw or heard people from other countries say that they have similar TV programs. The fact that they keep comparing themselves show how insecure they are about their own value.

But, the real problem is that it repetitively creates the rigid dichotomy of “us” and “them.” This dichotomy creates a xenophobic view of the others, and reduce the ability to accept cultural differences and understand them. The Japanese people are used to constantly measure different value systems against each other through those TV shows. When a society gets used to looking at “others” behavior or practices as representative of their moral values, and that they regularly have to compare those value systems and decide which is better, it leaves no room for acceptance. The thinking that those two (or more) ways to do something, are acceptable and none are better than the other, just different now existing in these kinds of shows. In my opinion, this makes it harder to accept differences that might arise from foreigners who come to LIVE (not to travel) in Japan.

It might be a bit harsh to say those things, but this is my analysis of these kinds of shows, and how they fit into the definition of “banal nationalism”, WHICH is prevalent in any country, not just Japan.

This is how you actually live in the matrix. How your political ideas and understanding of the world is being manipulated and shaped by others.

In relation to my previous post, I would like to continue to argue that the reality we live in is false through the manipulation of various forces. Thus the attempt to determine what is the real human nature is impossible.

Every time we walk down the street, use the public transportation or visit the mall, advertisements surround us. Though most of us tend to ignore these posters or screens, we are being influenced by them. Williamson, a CDA (Critical discourse analysis) and media discourse researcher, wrote the book “decoding advertisements.” She argues that advertisements form a system of meaning, or structures of meaning, that sell us ourselves. Meaning, ads shape and form meaning, through our interpretation of them. Its functions are to steer our understanding of them, but not control it entirely, thus leaving us a room to form a unique individual understanding. Their function is to connect things to human values and feelings. For example to connect diamonds with eternal love and vice versa. Ads are used to connect the dots, the feelings to the products, in order to shape our understanding of the world. Ads influence the way we view society, as ads usually tell us that “everybody do this or that” and that it is normal. Though it might be a lie at first, it can become truth, as more and more people succumb to this “fact” ads made for us.

Through consumption, we come to understand our role in society in a capitalist society. If we buy expensive things, it means we belong to a higher status in society. If we have a particular hairstyle, and we dress with specific brands, it signifies that we belong to a certain group of people. Through ads, we understand the world around us because they sort out for us the material reality around us. Through advertisements, we know that “coca cola” is for “young spirits” or that “Nike” is for people who live a healthy lifestyle (but not those who actually make these products).

To achieve that, advertisements were changed and modified to attack and manipulate our unconscious minds. Ewen Stuart in his book “Captains of consciousness,” depict how this came to be. In the past (before the 20th century), ads were the same as long articles, which explained in a rational manner to potential customers, why these goods are “good” and worth buying. People didn’t buy out of desire but out of necessity, as thrift was a virtue. As production expanded, the heads of the market came to realize that they have to convince the public to consume out of desire, so that the rate of consumption would meet the ever-increasing rate of production. So, people like Edward Bernays used Freud’s (he was his nephew) theories to convince us through our unconscious desires. To make the irrational to be rational.

This is how we came to think about cars, not as “tools” but as symbols that will enable men to “get the girl.” This is why people eat and consume when they are sad or happy. In Japan, KFC took over Christmas, as people came to understand that Christmas equals eating fried Chicken in KFC. Valentines came to be associated with chocolate. In Israel, a holiday called “Shavuot” came to symbolize dairy products. Dairy products became “the right way” to prepare the holiday’s dinner table. Ads and campaign do this “matching” as they shape our understanding of social events as well.

This is how ads control our environment and shape our understanding of the world. But today in the era of WEB 2.0, this “shaping” of our environment became even worse. Regarding ads, we know that they are there to convince us. We can resist them to some degree (we mostly don’t unless we are incredibly aware and have studied about ads history and way they operate), things became worse. The recent turmoil about Facebook and the U.S elections show to how degree it is dangerous in the current era.

First, we have the notion of “Filter Bubble.” Through Filter bubbles, we become isolated from ideas on the internet and social media as we are exposed to the same ideas over and over again. Facebook algorithm for example, “study” us and our likes and dislikes, and monitor our activities, thus determine where we are on the “political scale.” When the algorithm knows what we like, it tends to show us things that align with our tendencies. For example, if you are Vegan, it might show you more pro-vegan articles, shares, and opinions over articles and opinions regarding other matters. You might come to think that “most people you know are vegan” or that “Vegan beliefs are expanding rapidly”. But, it might be an illusion due to the “filter bubble” that isolates you from other pressing matters.

Another problem of the “filter bubble” is that the algorithm “knows” what we hate, and is programmed to give us small doses of “hatred.” We tend to engage with extreme opinions because they trigger us. The algorithm notice that, and starts to show us more extreme opinions from the other political spectrum. This helps to create the false notion that the “other side” had lost it.

This means that our political environment is being shaped and manipulated. Before that, people read newspapers, and they knew, more or less, what agenda which paper has. But today, when we search in google, different people come across different results. Two people can look for the word “Egypt,” and one will see tourist attractions, while the other will see news about “the Arab spring” or Isis. When we go on FB news are shared and appear on their own. The algorithm decided what we “want” to see. Thus, we falsely think that we expand our horizons as we read the “news“ and search the net, while we actually explore the same ideas over and over again, as they shape our limited understanding of the world outside. So is there really a reality? We might actually start to doubt that.

More so, the social media is being polluted with bots, which spread posts and create false engagement with them. Thus, these opinions become “viral” because those fake profiles – bots, share and like them. It was found that in Israel the right side of the political spectrum, uses many bots to create more engagement with their leader’s posts. Due to this fact, more people are being exposed to those ideas or messages, as FB treat them as “viral”.

When we read a politician’s post or a news article about something they said or done. These are used to create the misrepresentation that these opinions or leaders are more popular than they are. It might convince us that this opinion is popular and that it might be right. But they also use bots that use fake profiles to make this appearance. They also pay people to comment and argue with other people, to enhance the misrepresentation, not only for popularity to “our arguments” but also to deem the other side with labels, such as “traitor” or “detached from reality.”

Thus, many “realities” we come to understand might be fake. We live in an era when the truth is obsolete. I will write about “post-truth politics” in my next post.

 

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?

Does money Makes The Human Nature Go Around?

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

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

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

*SPOILER*

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

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

*END OF SPOILER*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do Japanese people put TV sets almost everywhere?

I live in Japan now. I used to live here before studying Japanese for 15 months. After that I went back to my country to do my B.A. Now I’m back in Japan (probably for good) doing my M.A in Nagoya University. 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’.