I enjoy getting “likes” on my facebook posts, and I enjoy retweets of my tweets, and so on, but I have discovered a dark side to all this.
My name is Justin, and I am a like-aholic.
There is a severe addictive quality to getting “likes.” The need for connection and acceptance is hard wired into our minds, it is essential for survival, and so expressions of approval from others give us endless shots of dopamine. So its power has to be respected, the same way you would respect any opioid.
That said, in running my “facebook fan page,” I have noticed this propensity on the part of Facebook Inc. to tell me I am getting “likes” and “page views” and “shares” that, interestingly, I am not really getting. I will get a notice one week saying “Justin has one new like.” Then, a week later, I will get a notice saying “Justin has one new like.” Out of curiosity I will go and look at the actual analytics– and guess what. The notice of the “new like” is a sham. The new like was just a rehash of last week’s like. It is now an old like.
The original like really did not have much real meaning, but then this meaninglessness is compounded by a pretense of there being more than one meaningless bit of digital recognition. Even so, I am human, and I got a little rush out of it.
Still, Facebook presumably knows that the dopamine shot of “getting likes” is a powerful force, and so like any clever drug dealer, they are giving me inflated data to get me hooked on the feeling. And of course, if I want another fix of more likes, well, now I have to pay (to “boost” the post.).
Of course, it’s not just me. There is a growing economy of likes and shares. It seems like there is a belief that merely getting liked and shared by itself is a path to real achievement and success. This is equivalent to thinking getting drunk leads to happiness.
Worse, sometimes, clearly false propaganda in my newsfeed is presented as truth because “this has been shared 60,000 times.” I like to think the general population serves as a filter for truth, but this is an illusion. You can fool most of the people most of the time. A lot of people drink Pepsi. This does not mean it is good for you.
All this support for an escapist illusion of connection is problematic on so many levels. It is a new addiction, it is taking over our world, and the addictive behavior it is cultivating is dangerous.
So I recently discovered a fellow here in Boston named Yuri Cataldo. He does a podcast on what seems to be an ever growing trend, of people in the arts starting to seriously examine and rethink how they approach the business side of things.
I was really happy with this interview. A lot of my highly experimental/exploratory thinking of my last two books coalesced into a cohesive presentation/conversation about how “poor kid thinking,” aka oppression training, is at the root of so many business difficulties.
I confess, it’s long! an hour and a quarter. Enjoy! Thanks Yuri!
We of course revere them as near godlike omniscient creatures, but they did not see themselves, or anyone else, as such. They knew all human beings are fallible and corruptible.
This is why they wrote the Constitution as they did; they had seen how Kings and other forms of government had failed, and they sought to correct those problems. They added multiple layers of checks and balances against otherwise inevitable failings of fallible human beings. A few examples for those of you not schooled in such:
Members of the house are elected every two years; this keeps them “on the ball” in terms of listening to constituents. A short leash, so to speak.
Senators have 6 year terms, and this is staggered timewise, so every 2 years only a third of the senate is up for re-election. This means that, for example, if some feverish fad is sweeping the nation, two thirds of the senate, a clear majority, has time to ride out the current fad and buck the trend without losing their seats. The Founding Fathers knew that the voters themselves were prone to occasional foolishness. (That is also why we have the Electoral College, as a safeguard against a misguided electorate falling for a populist candidate who might not be right for the gig.)
The president can’t appoint cabinet members or judges without senate approval, and he can’t declare war without approval of congress. This is not some bit of bureaucratic rigmarole. All these checks and balances are in there because the Founding Fathers had seen how, when someone gets too much power, they become driven, as Machiavelli pointed out, by greed, lust, and/ or fear.
Even the Founding Fathers forgot at first to include the Bill of Rights, and that was all added on, because they knew if they didn’t, free speech would not be there for long, and cruel punishment would happen too if not expressly forbidden. And even then . . .
And by the way, they also knew their work was not perfect, and made it possible for future generations to amend the Constitution. But they also made it hard to do, requiring a 3/4 majority of the states to ratify. Again, they knew they were fallible and may have forgotten something.
In contemporary America, I fear that, for the most part, we have become forgetful of the fact that we are all capable of being in error. We like to always think of ourselves as the “good guys.” This is an element of gullibility, making it very easy to sway our thinking. To keep from thinking about our own shortcomings, we focus our minds on the perceived evil of “others.” Our own fallibility is very hard to think about, but if we don’t, we run the risk of it running wild. If you cannot accept your own fallibility, you become an easy mark for anyone who wants to manipulate you.
Here is the simple fact, and this will get no “likes” on facebook:
Under the right circumstances, anyone– and that includes your mother, your best friend, your school chums, and yes, even you– is capable of abusing power, and even committing horrific atrocities and crimes against humanity. History and science has taught this repeatedly. The people who did the My Lai massacre, the Germans who threw children into gas chambers, were all just ordinary people coping with extraordinary situations.
The vague sentiment of “this feels right to me, therefore it is true” is the first step on the road to hell. No matter whether you think of yourself as liberal or conservative, the first step to true righteousness is recognizing how flawed we all are, and how easy it is for us to slip into error, bias, and denial. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and this includes vigilant introspection as well.
Since the doings in Washington DC these days are pretty much eclipsing any other avenue of conversation these days, I figured I would try to chime in, in some reasonably productive way.
One of my favorite Principles of Applied Stupidity is the Irregardless Effect. For those who do not know, the Irregardless Effect refers to making a great big intentional mistake over here, to distract viewers from what you are really doing somewhere else. It’s a little like shining a bright light in someone’s eyes so they can’t see that you are robbing them in a dimly light room. All they can see is the light. It makes many things invisible. It’s a very useful tool.
Anyway, with all the focus on the success or failure of Obamacare and Trumpcare, let’s try and open our pupils to the bigger picture.
Regulations out of Washington are always going to bother someone, but the real issue of “health care” (which is really sickness care) is far far broader than the cost of people in white coats x raying you and cutting you up and selling you pills.
If American health care is to be effective as a “system,” it can’t just limit itself to one little piece of last minute crisis care and addressing symptoms as they come up. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; and, simply stated, the real issue at hand, one that no one wants to talk about, is American lifestyles.
To be effective, any real “healthcare” legislation has to include a raft of new laws regarding nutrition, exercise, and rest.
That sounds simple, but then you get into the sugar lobby, the corn lobby, the fast food lobby, and the milk lobby, just to name a few. Then there is just the simple issue of fatigue. People in other countries need less doctor-needed health “care” because they get more rest, which is the cheapest form of “healthcare” known to man. Are we ready to pass laws (again) making it illegal to work your tech start-up employees 80 hours a week?
These are all commonly known common sense fixes, and I am not suggesting anything new. Nor do such suggestions, by themselves, come even close to being a “fix.” What I hope to do is start the fix process, by bringing to collective consciousness some of the problems that are deftly avoiding the limelight by use of the Irregardless Effect. As long as you are in a dither hating Obama, or Hillary, or Trump, you will have no time to think about sugar or corn subsidies and food labeling laws. The corporate food producers who shun the limelight are thrilled to death that no slow news days are making them targets of reporters who have nothing else to do.
There is tremendous financial benefit to certain parties in our society to maintain very unhealthy lifestyles. But if we are serious about improving health care, first we have to talk about improving health, and recognize that there are entities that stand to gain by maintaining a nightly circus of personality conflicts, thus distracting media attention from themselves. There is great power in the Irregardless Effect.
In the midst of all the political maelstrom that is daily life here in 2017 America, I am always searching for the underlying fundamentals to explain the phenomena I am observing. And here is my theory:
America is a broken home.
To explain what I mean, I have this other theory (stolen from my brother) that the two main political parties have a kind of sexual polarity. Republicans represent masculine energy, and Democrats represent feminine energy. Just an example, Republicans (at least ostensibly) are all about independence, guns, rugged individualism, and so on. Democrats represent the ideas of nurturance: caring for kids, schools, old folks, and so on.
Up until the 80’s or so, while the two parties fought like cats and dogs (as many couples do), at the end of the day they would kiss and make up and make a deal. But when Newt Gingrich came along, well, this tempestuous relationship fell apart. The two energies became totally alienated.
I have yet another theory, that the sense of belonging is key to health and happiness. So, while the two political parties have always fought a lot, as a nation, we were still a family, however dysfunctional; and we, the average citizens, could at least feel like we were part of a collective family/ tribal/ national experience.
But now that mom and dad are divorced, we have had our essential and fragile sense of home destroyed. We are being forced to take sides, even though we really need to belong to both energies. This is throwing everyone off kilter.
When you read the cutting comments of otherwise sane people, either on facebook, or in a comment thread on a news site, and you realize that what you are reading is not a logical argument at all, but an expression of pain and fear at the rending of the two essential poles of socal fabric, it all starts to make sense. One can then more easily rise above the fray and keep a sense of calmness.
Bear in mind when parents divorce, they often try to turn the kids against the ex-spouse. That is what is happening here, on a grand scale.
Regular readers may have noticed that I have not posted a blog in a long time. There is a reason for that: I could not come up with anything that was as interesting as all the other news that has been going on of late, so, rather than fail out of the gate, I gave up.
However, now that I have had some time to recover and reflect on what I am observing day to day, I hope I can offer something that actually may be of some use. It is a simple yet grand question: how the hell did we get to this sorry state of affairs as a society and as a nation?
People who know me know that I rarely take anything at face value as mere phenomena. I always look for the underlying fundamentals that have produced whatever we are observing. Is it just natural and normal for human beings to behave the way we have been of late? Or is there something manipulating us into this way of action?
I will start with this observation: There has been a disintegration of language. The language itself has become corrosive. I myself, have had my own language corrupted. This has happened even though, for my entire life, I have prided myself on my command of the English language. From an early age I was often told that I had “a way with words,” and I debated successfully with my English teachers as to how language works . . . But now, as a force of habit and as a reflection of the emotional dialects I hear all day every day– I am finding it difficult to speak in open forums in terms and phrases that do not carry a kind of electrical charge of shame, anger, and/or protective preemptive disdain. This is understandable, since so many voices I hear speak this same way and strike me as needing and deserving such a response. But wait– is this just the inevitable order of things, or– was it foisted upon us?
Here is my theory: language is simply labels we put on experience. And our collective and individual experience is, more and more, becoming one of isolation and abandonment. If you place a person– or, for that matter, a dog or a cat– into a state of isolation, they will start to deteriorate emotionally. Their language starts to become labels for that experience.
Every problem starts out in life as a solution, and one problem we now have is the solution of too much isolation, even within crowds. For example, take “education.” High test scores are fine by themselves, but consider the cost– In Sweden, they have eliminated homework and tests because they figured out that the real learning, personal development, and growth occurs best when kids interact with other people, not from being immersed (read: emotionally isolated) in homework and tests. Just as every battleship means 27 hospitals not built, every hour of homework or Facebook or Youtube is an hour spent away from the company of our own kind. This profitable, even sometimes well-intended lessening of genuine social interaction has led us to here. Freedom of speech morphs easily into license to kill if there is no real tribal connection that one can lose by abusing precious trust and connection. If you have nothing to lose, if there are no consequence of loss of connection, or social joy to be lost due to lack of etiquette, the incivility that rises from, and seeks to conceal, the underlying aloneness takes over. If I am separate and lonely, then my language consists of labels for the ensuing pain and fear.
Let’s look past the labels and understand that we have been sold a bill of goods. There is always a tradeoff, and the empty emotional calories of social media and every moment spent staring at a computer screen, or a test, or a textbook, is, in the final analysis, time spent alone. And aloneness is always the gateway to the most destructive emotions and actions.
In the construction trades, there is a delightful phrase known as “a real s**t show.” This refers to a building that needs new siding, but you can’t put up new siding because the framing underneath is also rotten, but it can’t be replaced because the foundation is cracked. You can’t patch it. It can be fixed, but you have to rip it up and start all over.
Bad as it is, we can fix our situation. But first we have to get past our stoic denial, and realize how badly we have all been treated in order to be this far downstream communicating the way we do.
[I wrote this post in December 2016 long before anyone really knew the full extent of Russian meddling in elections with phony facebook posts . . . Not bad, really ;-)]
Like most people, I am still wandering around in a dull state of shock after all the emotional hits of 2016.
Regular readers know I am always trying to figure out maps of human behavior in order to acquire some sense of control. And here is my latest: I call it Binary Tribalism.
Terms: “Binary” means there are only two; and
Tribes: We now have political tribes, not parties. Note that tribes are different. There were not 12 political parties of Israel, there were not Apache political parties. Tribes are extensions of family, they are much stronger bonds of belonging and shared beliefs. They demand strict adherence to dogma that may conflict with math or physics, and they invoke willingness, even eagerness, to defend the tribe to the death.
Again, referring to my general rules and maps, people seek power, and once they get it, they seek to consolidate it, and once they consolidate it, they seek to expand it.
To that end, it is my belief that the true power elite are seeking to expand their power over the rest of us even further, by using the ancient Roman policy of divide and conquer. This is why we now live in a world of binary tribalism. Individualism and independence are being crushed at every turn. This is why we are all so exhausted right now. Our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness has been alienated. This is not an accident.
“Nationalism” – single tribalism– worked for Nazi Germany, because they were a small state that needed to be united. France, England, Jews, and Communists were handy pre-existing opposing tribes to unite against. Of course, propaganda always misrepresents the members of the opposing tribe.
Without the USSR, America is now too big to be managed as a single tribe, it has to be broken up into two diametrically opposed groups. To that end, we have taken a few relatively minor social issues and blown them way out of proportion. We have also been loaded up with massive amounts of disinformation, in order to to be conditioned to fear and hate eachother. And that is what is being done to us, a nickel at a time. Death by a thousand sponsored posts. In a world of such evil, you are told again and again that you cannot survive or function individually; you must join a tribe. And again, binary tribalism, you are forced to choose between one or the other, and once you choose one, you must immediately disavow and detest anything that smacks of the other.
As I explained in my latest book, the need to belong is one of the most powerful human emotions. That need can be exploited for good or evil, and if you seek to divide and conquer, the easiest way to do it (and this has been done to humans since the dawn of civilization) is to create opposing tribes of near equal power. If a teeter totter is on perfect opposing balance, even if there are a thousand pounds on each side, it takes just a pinky finger to push it one way or the other. There is tremendous social and economic pressure on all of us to become members of one tribe or the other. Membership requires despising all members of the other tribe, and the power and malevolence of the opposing tribe is always exaggerated to create more and more need to join up.
Life is a complex predicament but we are forced into a simplistic binary system. You are either liberal or conservative, blue or red, republican or democrat, right or left. To not be in one tribe or the other is to be a nondescript barbarian with no rights at all. And whichever tribe you are in, it is all right and righteous, and the opposing tribe is all wrong, misguided, and evil, as are its leaders.
At the risk of being ostracized, I will conclude with this: Neither tribe is entirely good nor entirely evil. The word “sin” means “to fall short of one’s highest potential.” In that meaning, we are all sinners. The evil of the opposite side is often magnified to obscure or rationalize the evil of our own.
That said, there is a third tribe of sorts: It is a third-party malevolent force that seeks to drive us apart into warring tribes, enervating ourselves into an easily controlled mass. The history of the world is about two genetically identical groups being split into warring factions, thus giving power to a few. Seeing this requires a bit of calm objectivity about the self.
This onslaught of propaganda hits us all. But you have the power to say no. Freedom means having the choice to not bow to the dogma of the tribe. This choice is what so many Americans have fought and died for. A broader understanding of our susceptibility to tribal membership drives, and a broader consciousness of our freedom to make individual unique choices, just might make America truly great again.
So I gave a talk to a group in Foxboro MA last month, and the local cable station did a great job of shooting it for me– below, 3 excerpts. Two are classic stories from Real Men Don’t Rehearse, and the last is a little intro to my latest book Time Light Love.
First, What is a lunch? A little look at the union/ trade agreement tussles that happen in a professional orchestra.
Students of history may recall that in the wake of large disasters, people have seen the need to take steps to make sure such disasters don’t happen again. For example, after World War I we created the League of Nations, now known as the United Nations. After World War II we stationed troops in Germany. The lack of any organized method of dealing with Civil War dead led to the creation of the Red Cross. The lack of any rules for handing prisoners of War led to the Geneva Convention. After the Coconut Grove fire in Boston (and similar such events) we instituted Fire Marshals and fire codes to prevent such things from happening again. When movies got more and more risque we came up with a rating system for what kids can see and what they can’t. Not perfect solutions, but way better than what was.
Now I am not going where you might think. The national disaster I think needs to be avoided is the disaster known as our current level of civil / political discourse. It’s not good. It’s causing great psychological distress. Not to mention a rift in our national fabric.
So my proposal: the creation of The Women’s League of Political Temperance.
I can’t really say why it should be a women’s league except that, well . . . I just think women are better at this than men. It’s a tradition. Women just have more interest in social mores, and they also have more power. “If momma ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.” The whole topic of what is proper social behavior has always been the bailiwick of females. I think it is time for women to rediscover their power in this regard.
It would be dicey of course, but if enough women got together and started saying to the major media “stop speaking in such inflammatory rude tones” with the threat of boycotting sponsors of the shows airing such, I think this might be a very good thing for society as a whole.
I am all for freedom, but there is a difference between freedom and license. Freedom does not mean you can do whatever the hell you want without regard for the consequences.
It’s up to you, ladies. All we need is a little leadership.
Back in the 1920’s, when Henry Ford was running his massive factories, all was well for him except for one problem: the union.
He was not at all happy about the prospect of his many thousands of workers getting organized into a union, and thus being able to demand concessions for themselves.
Being a pragmatic sort of fellow, he decided that the best way to keep unions from forming was to keep his workers from talking to one another. He actually had gangs of “goons” whose job was to physically intimidate, and even viciously beat, any Ford assembly line worker who looked like they were conferring with any co-workers. Unfortunately, his efforts ultimately failed, as the workers found ways around his clunky methods.
I experienced a similar situation in the industrial poor-kid elementary school I attended, which was based on the car factory model. Even though communication skills are key to success in life, if any of us made any attempt to communicate with fellow students by passing notes or talking in study hall, we faced severe corporal punishment.
But let’s make a grand mental leap here, and instead of trying to maintain control over a Model T Ford factory or a classroom of seventh graders, let’s assume you are trying to maintain control over an electorate of 175 million people. How would you do it?
Various police states have tried to keep citizens from chatting amongst themselves by using fear of violence, but as Henry ford and my third grade teacher discovered, the use of brute force ultimately does not work. What to do?
Well, one nifty way to keep voters from communicating with one another is to simply create an environment where they don’t want to communicate with one another. This is far more effective and efficient.
So . . . if you flip thru Fox News or the AM radio dial, you will find station after station of people informing you of how disgusting, criminal, immoral, unethical, sexually deviant, and just generally cooties-infested all the people are who are on “the left.” And if you flip through the liberal media / intellectual NPR Radio/ blogosphere or Comedy Central, you will find the exact same message of how disgusting, criminal, immoral, unethical, sexually deviant, and just generally cooties-infested are all the people on “the right.” If you remove your own bias, approving of one and tsk tsk-ing the other, you will see that the emotional responses they are trying to evoke are identical mirror images of one another.
Is life really so simple that there are only 2 opposite ways of doing everything? Can a state only be blue or red? Most of us are actually centrists with many common interests, such as aging bridges and gas and water pipes. But that is not how Voters Inc. works.
Like the farm factories (See “Food Inc.“) that have carefully and relentlessly redesigned cows and chickens to suit their purposes, the real underlying purpose of the vast political propaganda media industrial complex (of which the “parties” are a mere subdivision) is not about “issues.” Issues, visions, and policies are secondary to simply acquiring and maintaining power.
Like industrial farmers who work with chickens or corn, the owners of Voters Inc. think strategically about voters, i.e., how they can inject us with hormones of fear and anger to alter how we normally function, to suit their grander purpose. They do it on a massive industrial scale. And like the food conglomerates, they shun the spotlight.
I invite you, dear reader, to step back for a moment and think, not about policies, and further, not think about specific candidates and their personalities or character, and instead ask yourself this:
If the overriding number-one goal of the people with the most power was simply to create an environment where consensus among the middle and lower tiers of society is impossible, would our current situation, where a 49 % – 49% even split of totally opposite irreconcilable differences is the norm, not be a near perfect manifestation of that goal?
All the emotional noise-making that you see should not be taken at face value. Even those in office who execute the planning are not conscious of it. It all has a shadowy hidden purpose. It is all carefully designed to distract, and cause so much emotional distress in the moment, that is it very hard to see what is really going on. It just makes it feel “icky” to seek compromise and consensus. Thus we are all relegated to minority status, being members of, at best, a 49.5% minority party that can never make the changes that most of us want.
The next time you are feeling incensed, disgusted, or shocked at the statements or positions of some leader of an opposing party, stop and think . . . is this the entire story, or . . . is it all part of a grand ruse to distract you and make it impossible for you, on a deep gut level, to find consensus with your fellow citizens? Isn’t it all just a little too symmetrical, a little too consistent, a little too absent any centrist news stations? Is your delicious sense of contempt and moral outrage evidence of your being played?