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Monday 25 March 2019

Magickal Melancholy Mondays: Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better.

Note: This is labelled 'personal' because it is mostly an unmoderated rant without research or citations to back my thoughts up with. As such, it is to be taken with a pinch of salt, as it is mostly strong emotional reactions to things not thought through clearly enough beforehand.

I've been trying to write about several things presently and they keep coalescing into one mess. This might have more to do with my own state of mind as I wait for the birth of my son, rather than any definite connexion between the subjects. Although I think that there's something there, even if it's just my own narrative attempt at understanding.

First, I've been trying to write about our, what I call, 'Emerging Online Ochlocracy' that is to say, the way in which we are becoming like a mob when we 'connect' online into groups or societies or communities (whatever we call them). I think that perhaps this is due to the depersonalisation of the connexion, but also because some of the online communities are actually trying to raise their talking points across all media on the internet, which means that on any topic that is interacted with or discussed online you find their 'take' on these things creeping into the discussion and eventually simply replacing that supposed conversation with their own ideology.

It is at this point that I realise that I've moved from a generalised look at depersonalisation online causing groups to become close-minded and isolated into an actual analysis of the alt-right and their tactics online. This especially in wake of recent events and the very active effort by the alt-right and their allies to deflect any criticism, valid or not, from touching their base. And this starts to make me think about the connexion with right-wing politics and our digital lives in totality.

That, politically, we are also become distanced and 'held at arm's length' from the real work of the government. And this in turn brings up the subject of Brexit, which is very much on my mind presently as you might imagine. That people are becoming disgruntled with the lack of voice within politics, their lack of involvement in the sense of being paid any mind by the people in control. And this makes me think about what are we meant to do to change this? Being online, gives one the illusion of immediate access to things, it also gives us the opportunity to air those thoughts 'to the wider world' and makes us believe that our personal opinion is important (after all, it always seems that way to ourselves). So, we engage with the world online, perhaps we simply comment, or join chats or forums about subjects of interest, or perhaps we become a content creator ourselves.

We can make angry videos that are sad.

We can make sad videos that are angry.

But although one might be more theoretically stable and the other mostly just cathartic entertainment, in the end, our lack of agency means that all most of us can do is watch these videos on YouTube, adding money to Google, or we circulate other forums and air other views, again to the ultimate benefit of an internet corporation, or we can be one of five million (at time writing) people signing on online UK government petition to revoke article 50, or we can go outdoors and head to London and take part in a one million person march supporting revoking article 50, or support the opposite opinion, or one of many other ways in which we can make ourselves feel slightly better about our condition without actually effecting much of anything. It all feels like screaming into the wind.

Because without several fairly major global changes in attitude it's hard to see how we might move out of this, and this might be the ultimate failure of the internet. It brings people together as it isolates, it offers alternative views while indoctrinating users into a particular ideology, it offers the harmonious global village, but actually just creates aggressive mobs. Before the pervasiveness of the internet, one had to actively seek out extreme views and hostile opinions, they were never 'just there'. The connected networks of the Web also allowed the 24 hours news media to flourish and replace objective journalism with attention grabbing entertainment as ideology programming ("pick the channel/paper/website that best describes you!"). Of course, we move towards groups and opinions we agree with, but outside of the internet we are instead brought face-to-face with otherness, with those that mildly disagree with us, with opinions we can ignore or engage with. Online, the distinct differences drive us apart, not together, and people circulate with their own, out of fear of being publicly shamed, or criticised, or made a fool of, or called out, or doxxed.

And if we do meet with opinions we disagree with, or are directly challenged by another faceless accuser, our response is typically one of childish vitriol rather than a measured respect. As fake as that respect might be, still people in everyday life react to different opinions by at least hearing the other person out in most cases. But why are we like this? Is this just 'how it is'?

The thing I come back to in every case is the influence of global capitalism on all aspects of our lives, that post-crash 2008 we were betrayed by those we voted for to protect us, who chose instead to favour those that pay their wages. We are (some of us) convinced by a competitive individualism that exhorts this sorts behaviour as merely the rules of the game. The only rule that matters being, 'Winner takes all'.

Cosy liberal friends suggest going on marches and being 'politically active' as ways in which we can all help make a difference, but this is the world as they see it, a world where having the most logically pure argument will win out. The delusions of the philosopher, but in the face of a system that doesn't care or a person that hates, their arguments are meaningless.

Perhaps this seems unfair, cruel even, to be thinking this (especially now!) and perhaps it is just harmfully cynical. I should say that I'm very proud of my friends that made it to London on Saturday for the march. I gives me joy that they still hope. I've pinned my hope elsewhere. Not to my child, you understand, but to myself as a father, my family, our future together. Albeit one that looks outwards and is not just an insular motivation.

But what to do about our present circumstances? I have no idea. I keep trying to make sense of it, give it a reason, but failing every time. "Try again, fail again, fail better." - Beckett.

London, March 23rd 2019 'People's Vote March' Image from Sky News 

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Quotes Worth Saving (27): 👌🐸 ironic meme 'culture' is tyranny

Anyone with the heretical gall to ask an ironist what he actually stands for ends up looking like an hysteric or a prig. And herein lies the oppressiveness of institutionalized irony, the too-successful rebel: the ability to interdict the question without attending to its content is tyranny. It is the new junta, using the very tool that exposed its enemy to insulate itself.

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), quotes from "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993)

'Tweets are a lot like sound bites' -cgm

Friday 15 March 2019

Filosophy on Friday: What is the web becoming?
Tim Berners-Lee in 1994

A few days ago (on March 12th) the World Wide Web Foundation launched a what's next #ForTheWeb campaign to mark the 30 year anniversary of the web. It is essentially a link to the campaign for a Contract for the Web.

Sadly, I can't help but see it as an optimistic, but ultimately futile gesture for something that has gone so far down one style of being that only a total restart could bring it back to what Berners-Lee and others had originally hoped that the Web would be for.

This isn't to say that some of the fundamental principles behind the formation of the World Wide Web are no longer present, indeed, most are, but it is just that they have become so corrupted, so toxic, that simply existing 'online' is a constant challenge and can only really be achieved by some effort to ignore or fight-back against all the negative influences that permeate throughout.

The web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available.

It has brought people together alright. Terrorists, racists, fascists, religious fundamentalists, child pornographers, scammers, organised crime gangs, and many other forms of extremists and criminals can freely meet online and exchange their ideas, they are free to isolate themselves within their ideological echo chambers and further radicalise themselves without any pressure to analyse their thoughts or consider their actions, they are free to manipulate online resources to exploit, harass, and steal from others.

Communication, we are told, is quicker and easier than ever, but it is also more shallow, emotional, and duplicitous than ever before. After all it is easier to lie when you can't see or hear another human and often you will never face any repercussions for what you say, no matter how vile or blatantly false your words are. When there are so many statements being constantly made the only way to be noticed to say something so incendiary, so hideous, so dramatic, that people simply have to pay attention.

Although information is widely available, access is not always free. To gain access might mean something as simple as spending your time watching an advert, or scrolling through adverts, or signing up to receiving adverts, in order to gain access. Or, more straightforwardly, if you want some information that has actually taken some effort, some work, then you will meet a pay wall, "and why not?" All us good capitalists say. However, the web is a flood of available information, most of it promoting, directly or indirectly, some other ideology. Truth is only of secondary importance (if that) to many of the suppliers of this information.

Knowledge is not freely available if the people accessing the information do not have the skills to analyse and discern between what is false and what is a 'sales technique'. Between what is objective fact and what is emotional supposition.

Watching and reading the general reaction to horrible events online is possibly the best way to obtain an entirely negative and cynical view of the Web, I hold my hands up to this, as I know that there are many good people who work tirelessly to promote positive projects for the public good on the Web and they do so without consideration to financial benefit. Those people, however, are easily imitated and replaced by corporate copies who take their ideas and make them a money making scheme instead. Watch, for example, the #MeToo movement become an advertising and film/entertainment promotional technique, see the power of an anti-abuse campaign reduced to corporate promotion.

I've spent today looking at; the alt-right rubbing their hands with glee on the Breitbart News Website comments section, posting videos of Hitler speeches ("it's alright once you get past the 3rd Reich stuff"), blaming the Left, blaming Muslims, suggesting a hoax or 'false flag' operation, and countless other lies and defamations (also, a link to this page was originally posted by the POTUS), then dredging through Twitter where people are all to happy to make whatever personal capital out of a horrific terrorist attack that they can, to twist whatever part of the narrative best suits their particular worldview and fail to consider the actual lives lost and the evil behind the motive.

Sometimes it is difficult to see the goodness in others and the Web only makes this harder to do by distancing and flattening what a person is into merely a hyperbolic sound bite. Let's make the attempt to treat people as complex dynamic beings and as deserving of fair treatment (until proven otherwise) as it states here:

Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online. 

Wednesday 13 March 2019

Library Tales: The Fall of an Avalanche in the Public Sector

I've been working at a public library for nearly two years now (after being at university libraries for the previous six) and have seen two council budgets come and go. On both occasions the head of the council department that (currently) includes libraries voluntarily offered to; in the first instance, close all libraries except one, and at the second time of asking, close a third of all libraries (which included the single library from the previous year's budget proposal).

Both times, the council railed against what a disaster this would be for the local residents and how vital libraries were for the most disadvantaged in our community. Both times, the entire proposal relating to libraries was wiped away, but I don't feel any more secure in my job for all that.

This is because I know that next year a similar or worse proposal will be made, then there will be the same managerial crocodile tears and claims that "they didn't want to do it" and when it goes to the council, the same performative outrage will be rolled out, script no doubt written by the same people who 'reluctantly' put the service forward to face the cuts and then we are all meant to celebrate after being spared for another year.

However, perhaps you are thinking "what's the worry? No jobs have been lost, no customer is without service, it's only the threat of removal." Well, that's the thing, for those at higher levels in the council there is really very little threat to their livelihoods, they are not facing wage cuts (but they should be), they are not facing an increased work load while other departments and roles are 'phased' into nothingness, and more importantly they already know the priorities of the council and what is actually at threat of closure and thus have the time to plan. They have the time to consider their situation, weigh up prospects, look elsewhere and if needed move to another post. While, for those at a lower level in the council, they get their 'news' for the local press or more likely from grapevine gossip, only 10% of which is likely to be remotely close to the true and the majority of which will be fear mongering and only manages to make the workplace more stressful and uncertain.

Let's end with a story...

Once upon a time.

High in the snowy mountains there is a small group of people responsible for watching for avalanches, being so high up they can see them happening and can even predict where the next avalanche will be going and can therefore make sure to move out of the way in time. However, despite this it is widely acknowledged as a dangerous job and they are duly rewarded both in prestige and in gold.

Whereas down deep in the valleys, where the workers toil, the echoes of an impending avalanche terrifies the inhabitants of all the nearby villages, but they can never tell until it's too late whether the avalanche will come crashing down their valley, or their neighbours, or whether it might even crash harmlessly into the river.

Still, all the people say that surely the guardians of the avalanches, who return each spring to the valleys to received their yearly praise for saving (most of) the villagers from an icy death, are not the ones who are actually starting the avalanches? But the thoughts continue to bother the villagers, might the guardians merely gathering the praise for something that they themselves created? No one in the villages really believes the guardians would do this, because they are good-hearted people and they know that no kind person would ever act in such a way.

And yet, despite the guardians saying every year that this would be the last time, the following year the avalanche comes again and sometimes a once beautiful little community is utterly wiped away and many 'livelihoods' are lost.

One day, a brave young woman decided to climb up into the mountains from the valleys and see for herself what exactly was going on. She was driven by the desire to know, which although a laudable goal, she should really have been driven by the desire to tell the truth. This is because when we share the truth we affect many others, when we drive toward increasing our knowledge no one else can tell us that we are wrong. Without others, without a care-for our community we are cold and alone.

And alone in the mountains our brave young woman certainly felt the cold. She missed her family's warm fire, her parent's comforting words, her siblings encouragement and her friend's laughter, but still she drove on. She wanted to see what the guardians saw.

Once she had reached the top, she had become one with the cold and she no longer thought that the villagers needed to know. Indeed, it would only further worry them to know all the details. As such, she was welcomed into the guardians and did not return down the mountain for many years.

Her parents were always proud of her and despite the yearly terror, their village was never crushed and they liked to think that this was because their daughter was watching out for them. That spring, who returned with the guardians? Their daughter! They were so proud to see her, pointing her out to all their friends. They even believed her when she told everyone in the village that there would be no more avalanches in this valley for at least three years, maybe even never again!

But next year, the deep distant rumbling started again and the village fell into a panic. "Don't worry!" The girl's parents said, "it won't be us, our daughter promised last year that we'd all be safe." So, when the command came, from a different guardian, that all the villages should clear out of their homes from this valley 'just in case' the parents scoffed and stayed at home.

All their friends and neighbours tried to convince them to leave, but they wouldn't hear it. Their daughter had said so and they weren't going to move because there was no need. So they stayed.

When, months later, the scavengers dug through the icy wastes, that was once a thriving village, they found them. Faces frozen into beneficent smiles.

The End.

Turner (1810) The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons

Sunday 10 March 2019

Songs on Sunday: Gravenhurst, 'The Velvet Cell' and 'Reprise'

To understand the killer
I must become the killer
And I don't need this violence anymore
But now I've tasted hatred I want more
The velvet cell within men
Gloriously rusted masks
Grey death heart crocuses
And I had always thought
The desire to kill was a disease you caught
But it's dormant in the hearts of everyone
Waiting for a spark, an emotion

Nick Talbot AKA Gravenhurst, 2005, from 'Fires in Distant Buildings'

Nick's interview with philosopher John Gray is excellent. I should re-read Straw Dogs as it's been some time and it would be interesting to see if it still resonates as strongly with me as it did in 2004. It was the spark of contemporary philosophy that made my degree choice for me when I was considering other paths...

Thursday 7 March 2019

Thoughts on Thursday: A Genuine Question...

A genuine question,

Why is there not a larger scale Green Conservative movement?

Further. Why is it that those who would otherwise set themselves up as defenders of tradition, not want to defend the tradition of having a breathable atmosphere?

Or to put it another way, why would those that are adverse to sudden change, be okay with sudden climate change?

Surely, Conservative is only a few letters away from Conservation?

Alright, seriously though, why must it be that those of us who consider the continuing survival of the ecosystem an important thing to be considered radicals? I would have thought that there's nothing more traditional than being able to provide a safe and sustainable living environment for our children and future generations to live in. Aren't these the people that love inheritance?

If you want it to continue to be a 'Green and Pleasant' land in more than just words, you would must also believe in doing your utmost to protect the natural landscape from unnecessary and dangerously damaging exploitation.

However, to do so those on the Right must make more than a small movement towards environmentalism without getting caught up in their own little England. For although the environmentalist of the past might have been concerned with 'saving the Hedgehog' or 'protecting the Church's duck pond from the Bypass' the problem nowadays is that our environmental problems are of a much larger, much more global scale.

The problem isn't that Mr. Popescu isn't doing his fair share in the bottle recycling drive at the Rotary Club, the problem is greater than the individual and greater than the small town mentality of the countryside Conservative who pays lip-service to Environmentalism but refuses to criticise the collusion between governments and corporations. Such are the problem with Roger Scruton's otherwise commendable efforts in Green Philosophy, 2012.

And this might be the crux of the matter in the current debate. The Left posits views and solutions that most of the Right can seemingly dismiss in otherwise ridiculously stupid ways. Although the view 'across the pond' in much different, perhaps due to green politics being effectively excluded from the mainstream political debate for generations, whereas although it is often downplayed and dismissed, at least there is a stream of environmental politics in Britain that has never gone away and does do good work in communicating it's message to the wider public (however difficult the media continue to make that). So, it is for that reason the 'leader of the free world' can make the monumentally stupid statement, "when the wind stops blowing, that's the end of your electric."

Although, the currently prison-free POTUS has a long acknowledged inability to understand green energy or issues, his famous opposition to wind farms was based on the turbines "ruining the view" from his hideous already-an-eye-sore golf course that was build on a SSSI mainly due to the 'bung' he paid Alex Salmond (allegedly). I'm pleased to say, his opposition failed, but mainly because he became 'otherwise occupied' than a change of heart.

Anyway, keeping this to British politics, as we drive inexorably towards the cliff-edge of Brexit I can't help but wonder if this will provoke a greater interest in our longer-term survivability as an energy producing nation (our renewable energies market has grown massively in the last few years and could spell a certain freedom from being tied to foreign gas and oil) or whether we'll be drawn to making whatever short-term deals are 'needed' to keep the rich wealthy and in power at the expense, not only of the poor (because it seems we've never been that bothered about the poor) but also at the expense of the natural landscape of Britain itself.

And don't you want to save the British Hedgehog?

Still, think tanks like Bright Blue do exist... so, I'm more hopeful for the general British political consensus to consider and react appropriately towards environmental matters. I just worry about (1) the speed of this action, and (2) our inability to fight a stronger anti-environmental pro-corporation message being promoted by the US, Russia, and China. This will only be harder to fight against outside of Europe...

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Quotes Worth Saving (26): How to make a terrorist

"Isolation is the most effective way to radicalise people because one never gets corrected by others."

Anders Behring Breivik

Edvard Munch (1892) Melancholy

Friday 1 March 2019

Filosophy on Friday: Learning to be Rational

This will be a wee bit more 'stream of consciousness' than my usual posts, so apologies for that. And additional apologies if you thought that's how I write normally, but I'm actually trying quite hard to sound reasonable in my posts, even when I'm in fierce opposition to something I will try to give it a 'fair shake'.

Talking with pdb on my recent 'sensitive' topic post made me think some more about how people are treated in society, but it also made me think about why I'm trying so hard to be rational about things. Especially when everyone about me is acting so... irrational. Some it seems are just too willing to be led by their emotions, others are led by a desire to control or dominate others, or at least, to exploit them for financial gain or for social power. Still others have equally ill-thought-out reasons for their behaviour, like why would you support a politician like it's a fitba team? Makes no sense to me.

It's fair to say that I've a bad temper, but this isn't to make me sound like a hard man. No, what I mean is, that once I lose my temper I'm utterly useless, mostly if I need to communicate something. I can remember this being a problem when I was little. Like my parents would think that I'd done something wrong and (if I hadn't) it would make me so cross that I'd been falsely accused I'd just go mental; crying, laughing hysterically etc. Which, of course, just made me look guilty as anything and I'd then get unfairly punished for it. Conversely, when I had done something bad, I was able to play it off really cool and they wouldn't suspect a thing. In this manner I was able to get away with all sorts. I think that this might sound like the beginning of the diary of a psycho, but I didn't do anything really bad. Not really.

Sadly, something like this has continued until adulthood and even now at the 'mature' age of 40 I still go 'dumb' with rage. This has been particularly harmful in relationships. However, the difference from being a lad is that now I can put a hold to my anger if I get there soon enough. In this manner I've been able to remain reasonable in the face of quite extreme provocation (like talking with a Tory).

I suppose then that this abstraction led me to appreciate philosophy's attempt at objectivity, flawed as that might be in actuality, still it's the attempt at something like neutrality that is appealing. Most likely it's just that I'm easily overwhelmed by my own emotions and that the lack of control is frightening to me, or something like that. Except, that can't be it, because I don't really worry about control. I'm well aware of how little actual control we have over our lives. Also, as someone who was extremely interested in art and the lives of artists, this led to various attempts to get 'out of my head' in one way of another. Hallucinogens were really helpful in this regard and not something that someone with an overly developed need for 'control' would experiment with, I would suggest. An attraction to surrealist dream and sub-conscious automatic works and the inter-relation with the mystical experience would be another example of my interests that I could cite as evidence of my lack of fear about being in control.

Know thyself, is really quite tricky when you start looking at it. Because there's nothing there, or because we're always making stories about it all? Both perhaps.

Something else that occurs to me is the type of masculinity I was exposed to as a child in 80's Scotland. It's a style of manliness that is rather old-fashioned nowadays, but still lingers about like a bad smell. I assume that this smell is tobacco, alcohol, and B.O. Anyway, the main thrust of 'being a man' when I was younger was not to show your emotions, and certainly don't get 'carried away' by anything, unless it's fitba of course. At that point screaming, crying, hugging strangers, fighting, everything was allowed. But, as a rule, men didn't get emotional, they got angry and when they were angry it was righteous male anger, not bawling and greeting about being treated badly. And they got their way, they got revenge, they were always in the right (somehow, this was always the case even when two men disagreed, normally you could tell who was right because he knocked the other guy out).

Perhaps I could tell that this was nonsense. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out after all. Perhaps because I wasn't willing to be that sort of man. There were plenty (well, several and not all of them 'real') of male role models who didn't fit into this archetype and I latched onto them. Still, it took me some time to figure out that I could be something other than whatever was expected of me, because those expectations weren't coming from my parents.

The main problem, as I see it, is that everyone thinks that they are rational and it's the other guy that's being unreasonable, if only they'd just agree with me... It's not so much that, although I certainly feel that that's one way of taking it, but that people won't give someone who starts as 'different' a fair hearing. The fact is, most people don't even try to understand the other person's perspective and some times you'd have to say that that's the best course of action. Why am I going to try and analyse why some random kid thought it was alright to shout abuse at me, a total stranger, let's not waste our life with considering that rubbish. Still, it bothers me, that we willingly blind ourselves to HOW they got to think the way they do, which is more insightful than WHAT they are thinking. Perhaps it's because we all feel this pressure of time, like I don't have the time to find out about why this person feels this way, it's easier to just write it off as something that X group of people think and move on.

Ah well, I'm rambling now. I'll just end this chat by trying to describe it once more in as simple a way as I can, the reason I try and treat people they way I do, is because it's how I'd like to be treated. I guess I took that Bible lesson to heart. Shame it isn't true then. Still, it's worth trying to be decent even if the world doesn't care.

Remedios Varo (1955) 'Transmudo'