Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Martketing, A Guided Meditation

Close your eyes.

oh... right.

Okay just relax, into your chair. Take a moment to just notice the sensation of sitting, the contact points between you and the chair. Now breath in through your nose for 4 seconds, now hold it for 2, now breath out for a four count. Repeat this a couple of times.

This has completely destroyed my ability to write. Okay, okay, okay picture yourself sitting in your TV room. Yo tv is connected to a hard drive and you are about to watch a high quality download of Game of Thrones latest episode.

As the somewhat uninspiring open credits roll, your phone rings. You don't recognize the number but for some compulsive reason you answer, you are now talking to me as I ask you to complete a survey.

Notice your annoyance threatening to blossom into a flower of rage as you are solicited to at best forestall your enjoyment of entertaining program. Your offence that some way some how a market research firm has contacted your personal and private mobile phone.

You don't know it, but I don't really give a shit whether you do the survey or not. I have no idea who I'm calling and there's no intention to disrupt anyone from doing any particular activity, just a hope to connect with somebody who literally has nothing better to do.

It's a numbers game.

But this is your phone and it is personal and I am imposing, these are all facts on the ground. You tell me to fuck off, or worse ask me to call somebody else and then hang up.

Now it is your time, your time to watch relaxing, stimulating, anxiety sustaining entertainment.

Notice you are being entertained by your favorite show, and not paying for this entertainment. Yet the show is of high quality*, a great number of people are involved in the process of creating it. Most of them will have worked quite hard and gone through very rough periods to reach the opportunity just to make this piece of entertainment you now have at your disposal to watch, free of charge.

People have taken massive risks to make this show, to be able to make this show. There is a whole graveyard of aspiring creators behind them packed with those who took the same risks and didn't make it.

And you won't pay for the fruits of their labors. You won't pay for something you possibly love.

Notice your mind racing with justifications for your unwillingness to pay. Just notice it, making it right that you don't pay for content. Notice how reflexive it is, and how insistent. Notice how invested you are in your belief that you are a good and moral person.

Just notice it.

All entertainment is communication. And all communication is information. Information can be replicated, digitized, duplicated at minimal cost.

In marketing there are desirable luxury goods we like to buy (like tropical holidays) and necessity goods we have to buy (like a new lawnmower), the stuff we try hardest not to pay for, turns out not to be the shit we are forced to buy, but the shit we cannot get enough of.

And virtually all art and entertainment falls into that category, our insatiable desire for entertainment leads to a need for the cost to be as low as possible. While the quality of heroin may end lives, the price of heroin ruins them first.

Art unfortunately is nowhere near as inelastic as heroin.

In a world where people feel right and justified to get their entertainment for free, they will not pay artists to create art.

Who then will pay the artists? Keep them alive long enough to create the entertainment you need to scratch your itch?

There's no free lunch. And artists I might add, steal from themselves, and given they have more time to consume entertainment in general they are probably the guiltiest group of art thieves.

But you pay for art in taxes, that produce government grants that I feel are killing art faster than would happen if the government redacted their patronage altogether.

You pay for it with lunch, or your coffee, or your beer. Yes beer, much art really exists to facilitate the sale of alcohol. But you do it by paying the casual wages of the jobs artists have to work to sustain the time and space necessary to create art.

There's a lot of friction in that system, artists could make more and better art if they were just paid directly to be artists.

And they are paid by people completing surveys of course.

Here give yourself a pat on the back, you have been consistent in your refusal to pay the artists that create the content you like. The full spectrum from George RR Martin at the top, to the aspirant like me down the bottom.

You don't pay for art, because you love it so much. It's priceless to you.

(I do realise that if you are reading this, you are probably my friend, and ironically being my friend am most likely to actually own a piece of my art you have paid for, and then paid more to be framed. Still the problem of 'free content' is yet to find its solution, better and more dedicated minds than I have looked at the problem and it remains unsolved, for now. Still I hope it provokes some thoughts for you anyway).

*subjectively speaking.

Gripey McGripe Gripe

I've reached a stage where I now know and accept that there's work that I can do that will make me a beeter person to be, and make me a better friend to my friends and lover of my loved ones. So I'm doing it. Beginning it.

I have completed 16 days consecutive meditation. I'm not sure if that's my record, but I plan to continue doing this work until it well and truly is. It's just a part of my day that is now, non-negotiable.

And I've already been to some strange places, and am experiencing really weird visions that I wouldn't expect. Yesterday taking advantage of the stormy weather, I experienced a strange hallucination which was seeing with my eyes closed, I would be looking in a spaced out way at the room, then become aware that my eyelids were shut and hence the vivid image was an impossibility. I didn't open my eyes though, the image would go out of focus as soon as I became aware of it, then collapse into the darkness we usually envision when we close our eyes.

I'm not sure what was going on, I'm fairly certain though that whatever was going on was a product of my mind. The sensations I was feeling were the product of my mind. Nevertheless it's pretty cool to trip like that just through meditation.

My gripe, which is an internal frustration is with a kind of closed minded person who is convinced they are open minded. My particular friend when talking conversationally about my meditation, told me that when they meditate they seek to merge with Jesus Christ.

This is not an insane project. Not in our cultural context. My friend is a devout Christian and she has produced many beneficial personal results from her faith. Nevertheless, my response was 'I wouldn't know Jesus if I merged with him.'

Both an attack and a self-defence against dogmatism, I am not proud of my response except insofar as that I do think it witty. But it isn't the best way I can deal with other people.

But I do have a legitimate gripe, with people who won't entertain the possibility that a phenomena of their experience is possibly a product of their own minds, rather than a communion with the creator of the Universe.

I cannot explain the phenomena I myself have experienced while meditating, but my doubt falls on the side of it being anything but a product of my mind. I do not doubt that my mind is a product of the operations of my brain, I have no good reason to and no incentive to believe otherwise.

My gripe itself is a product of my mind, and I do not know on whose behalf I assume I am angry. For some reason I percieve a boundary has been crossed when somebody claims to know the mind of the omnipotent creator. I myself am fearful of my own hubris.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ad hominem

Owing to my immense privelege, I always am tempted to speak out of turn. I am not a highly influential straight white male, but I have the frictionless existence of one. Though I have been in many situations where I experienced outsider status, I have never really felt oppression. Not really.

Thus to empathise, to take the perspective of somebody who does experience these things is difficult, but fascinating to me. And there's the temptation upon looking at somebody who is fighting for the freedoms I take for granted, need empirical methods even to notice, to offer up some 'tips' some 'pointers' to those fighting for a privileged position.

Now since my past gajillion posts have been quote heavy (very little of my mind, originates from my mind) here's a bunch of quotes I think we can all agree that nobody agrees with:

"For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her;" ~ Niccolo Machiavelli

"And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." ~ Abraham Lincoln

"I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place." ~ Winston Churchill.

I imagine your involuntary reactions to such quotations range from bemusement to throwing up in your mouth a little bit. Of the three white (and as far as I can know, straight) men's sayings your reaction may also entail an ad hominem fallacy.

Let's sidetrack a bit and come back, I promise.

Say you are freshly enrolled in a course called 'The Secrets of Wealth and Power' on day one you take your place at a desk in the lecture theatre and patiently await the arrival of the lecturer.

He enters, coughs a couple of times, taps the lecturns microphone and says 'can you hear me up the back?' puts his glasses on and decides to open with a joke (which I have lifted straight from Family Guy)

'Why did god give women breasts?' ... 'So you have something to look at while they talk.'

Do you get up and leave? The lecturer has just revealed himself as sexist, misogynistic, chauvenistic etc.

Getting up and leaving as a protest is, I should point out, perfectly rational. There is no question in this day and age that the lecturer is grossly unprofessional and almost certainly in breach of his contract and/or duty of care.

What is fallacious though, would be to conclude that he had no ability to impart the secrets of wealth and power. That within the domain of actual expertise he possessed, that listening to his views within his expertise was a highly worthwhile activity. You don't know, and depressingly, there are a lot of well resourced people in this world that share this fictitious characters misogeny.

Then enters the challenge of history - the all stars if you will. If the first quote was the featured one on the blurb of every copy of Machiavelli's 'The Prince' I suspect, but can't know that a lot less people would read it. Even without it, Machiavelli's place in most people's perceptual cages is already in a rogue's gallery of evil.

But to me, the thought that women would never read and study 'The Prince' is really depressing. It is not one of my favorite texts, but it does stand the test of time, exposure to the ideas it contains and the mode of amoral-consequential thinking Niccolo employs is I think important. And if it's only read by straight white guys like Machiavelli himself and Tupak, men will retain a tremendous political advantage over women in the aggregate.

The Prince is not a 'secret' text, but in effect because of the author's identification with an in-group, and subsequent treatment of outgroups in his language of metaphor, it becomes one if the out-group cannot read it without feeling revulsion and the in-group can read it and not feel any personal attack.

An emotional cipher if you will.

The Lincoln quote is one of my favorites of his, only because it so brilliantly highlights the 'ad hominem' in its regretability. In the context of someone like Lincoln, to me the greatest leader in history, saying this one is tempted to make excuses for him. Decontextualising the quote may make it appear worse than it is as well, but still it reveals one way or another something distasteful about the man.

Yet the rest of what Lincoln has said and written is pretty much the finest stuff ever said and written. To me it's so clearly wrong to strike Lincoln out because of this statement, this is the man who ended not just a civil war but the practice of slavery in the the United States of America.

Winston to me is the most ambiguous, I know little about him. My general feeling is that he was the leader that happened to go up against Hitler, as did FDR and Stalin. But knowing little about his merits it is hard for me to make an argument as to what is lost by dismissing him on an ad-hominem basis.

It is important to remember that distasteful actions can't be dismissed either. The flaws in a person's character are part of the whole package. The fallacy in ad-hominem is to say that a person's flaws invalidate their merits.

I was reminded of this by a crappy video I watched. It was about Queer's breaking up with the political parties (in Australia) that claim to speak for them. LGBTI(Q?)* issues are real and present issues, progress is only progress not mission accomplished. But this video I interpreted as a parade of Ad hominem. My interpretation was that the video called for queers to disengage from the political process, if by default. It pointed to Marriage Equality, Sex Party and the Greens all making at least one compromise in policy or endorsement.

Here, my perspective and 'the' Queer perspective (I guess, I noted the hypocrisy of a video claiming to speak for all queers, panning parties it claimed, claimed to speak for all queers) differs.

To me the Greens believe in a whole heap of garbage, but I still prefer to vote for them because on crucial fronts they believe in much less garbage than the major two parties. More so with the Sex Party, and Marriage Equality probably sounds sufficiently specialised to be of only marginally more interest to me than parties whose primary focus is on Duck Hunting and freeway speed limits. My point being, there is a whole spectrum of political parties for a white man like myself to choose from based on who has the greatest concentrated competence to run shit, or failing that the least potential for lasting damage.

Ad hominem is in effect a negative screening process. Whereby you have a criteria for elimination, which the video suggested they use - do one thing we don't like and you are gone. Deal breakers certainly exist, but if I were to adopt a negative screening process I would try to limit the criterion down to what I truly can't live with - genocide, mass deportation, apartheid, imperialism, jingoism etc.

But say every single political party supported the genocide of any permanent residency holding citizens of Sweden and Switzerland. Do I disengage? No, I would be heartbroken, but that is where I would switch to a positive screening process. My vote would be based on the presence of merit.

A positive screening process looks for the presence of things you like.

I've strayed a bit far from ad hominem, and when I think about it, Nietzsche wrote a much better and more succinct bit on this in 'The Genealogy of Morals' the lambs mentioned below I imagine set up a moralistic ad hominem based on screening negatively for the distress caused by the birds of prey, their oppressors:

That the lambs are upset about the great predatory birds is not a strange thing, and the fact that they snatch away small lambs provides no reason for holding anything against these large birds of prey. And if the lambs say among themselves, “These predatory birds are evil, and whoever is least like a predatory bird, especially anyone who is like its opposite, a lamb— shouldn’t that animal be good?”

*The video I saw was read by a computer voice, which is to say de-identified and depersonalised. It nagged at me in a possible application of the ad hominem fallacy that this video was claiming to speak for an entire in-group that I feel has no actual true unified voice (nor should it) furthermore based on the closing essay/afterword of Genderqueer, I have been persuaded that Queer issues are human rights issues. That I don't feel the consequences of the limits currently in place on my freedom of expression are coincidental, they exist though. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Hidden Benefits of Ostracism

Ostracism (Greekὀστρακισμόςostrakismos) was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant.
Crucially, ostracism had no relation to the processes of justice. There was no charge or defense, and the exile was not in fact a penalty; it was simply a command from the Athenian people that one of their number be gone for ten years.
A modern use developed from the term is to describe informal exclusion from a group through social rejection, although the psychology of ostracism takes this further, where it has been defined as “...any behaviour in which a group or individual excludes and ignores another group or individual”.[1] This could therefore be a conscient act or an unconscient one.

I've never before heard the word 'conscient'. And I want to be clear up front - ostracism is horrible, it's a horrible way to treat people, and yourself. The benefits I describe are hidden behind a lot of very salient downside that I won't go into, but among social animals like primates, right through our ancestry the need for social inclusion, acceptance and attachment is a universal one. Ostracism like the death penalty, can't even be justified as a deterrent.

There are in life though, many necessary seperations. It can be a last resort for dealing with crappy people whom harass you, relationships that fail after a time when pushing down fundamental incompatibilities can no longer be sustained, seperation can be necessary for grieving and healing (if you can actually make a distinction).

What line do a draw between seperation and ostracism? I don't know.

But you find yourself ostracised, I found myself ostracised. I accepted it, I got my instruction to be gone from the great Athenian experiment. I have found the following beneficial.

Firstly, as ostracism endures my denial does not. My counterwill reaches exhaustion. It becomes clear that I am merely arguing with myself over questions of justice. I can embrace finally the power of negative thinking and play devil's advocate to myself. Nothing is at stake any longer, no ego. Nothing, nothing changes and finally I am free to explore perspectives other than that which shines the most flattering light on me.

It is also, a most unusual form of stimulus. Because being ostracised, in exile, if only in my own mind means that beyond the initial events, there is no further stimulus. Here crucially for me was one of the key benefits. When I found myself revisiting the same old argument, it enabled me to realise that this was all just taking place in my head. It wasn't something being done to me, but a habit. A mental habit that I am prone to getting stuck in. Not even in the specific but in the general. I am constantly trying to justify myself.

I mean imagine if somebody close to you died, and you found yourself mentally rehearsing the conversations you never had. Clearly, that person can't be driving these conversations, they are dead. It must be you, the entire relationship is now in your head. Ostracism helps you realise you can do this with anybody you know.

Alecturer told me the real value of a University degree was that it told an employer you could get something done without being told what to do all the time. In a similar vein, while ostracised you can genuinely do your own healing, your own redemption. You have the space to do so, and no possibility of doing so cynically. Our exiled Athenian can go 'woah, so people saw me as a potential tyrant, I need to work on my people skills and cooperation.' But doing so doesn't reduce the sentence, communications are down with the parole board.

And I guess if you find yourself ostracised, the best thing I can say to you is that I sincerely believe every human being is worthy of redemption, and equipped with the authority to redeem themselves. You may never come back from the wilderness, but you can be whole and complete.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hipsters Don't Exist

'hipsters' are just consumers. Regular old consumers.

Have you ever tried to be off-season, unfashionable? It's far harder work than being on trend.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Word From the Wise

Aristotle defined hubris as follows:
to cause shame to the victim, not in order that anything may happen to you, nor because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification. Hubris is not the requital of past injuries; this is revenge. As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.
I looked this up following a discussion with a work colleague yesterday on Pride. From a theological viewpoint pride itself is viewed as a sin. I think pride is fine, judgement is what I wish to stop.

I would agree in my experience, what I take pride is followed closely by comparison and judgement. Hubris is definitely a problem for me. But taking pride in oneself is a wholly worthwhile exercise, much like cultivating gratitude.

Pride is what makes an investment in experiences so worthwhile, it is perhaps a form of gratitude. Aristotle's definition is remarkably close to a description of bullying. A role I have played in my life.

The ancient Greeks were pretty amazing. To think we were sufficiently advanced in language and ideas that early, and that so much of our thought and philosophies are still derived from that ancient language. More recently Ben Franklin said:

"Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame."

And so I have found it to be true. Aristotle and Franklin were bouth undoubtedly wise men. Note that they were wise enough to know the minds of those they describe and likely experienced first hand the mindset.

Like me.

Like you?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

8 out of 10 cats

The show is based on statistics and opinion polls, and draws on polls produced by a variety of organisations and new polls commissioned for the programme, carried out by company Harris Poll.

When eating and unable to do anything else with my hands I turn to back episodes of 8 out of 10 cats. Not the greatest show, but a reliable featurer of Sean Lock and Jon Richardson.

Normally something like a British Panel show would not be worth writing about, but 8 out of 10 cats is noteworthy not just because it has no Australian spin off that I know of, but also because it's poorly made.

It's first segment which despite being first, takes up 2/3rds of every episode consists of sort of open conversation between panelists on what were the most 'talked about' topics in Britain.

This is the thing, almost every week in Britain, one of the three most talked about things is one of 'The X-Factor' 'Britain's Got Talent' or 'Strictly Come Dancing'

I imagine this reflects news coverage, twitter trends and whatever other social media platforms that their diagnostics can glean.

I suspect I shouldn't draw too many conclusions from low budget comedy panel shows, but I do suspect that this is objectively verified.

It isn't just a perception that everyone's disillusioned with politcs, the economy etc. and obsessed with celebrity. But people's attention really is on 'reality tv'. The people aren't just disillusioned, but willfully illusioned.

I stopped following news quite some time ago. And more recently stopped reading my news feed on facebook even. This for me was the realisation that nothing in the newspaper is particularly important for me to know.

But in the UK at least, news coverage is dedicated to reality tv shows. Shit that isn't just unimportant to know, but at best a synopsis of shit that isn't news, because they are covering events that transpire on air.

I don't really live in a world of TV viewers, and haven't for quite some time. So I'm simply not qualified to make any suppositions about Australia. My work occassionally has me experience the bizarre phenomenon of 'My Kitchen Rules is on.'

But I couldn't characterise the public at large as a bunch of reality tv feasting slack jawed yokels. I don't think that is going on. But it certainly could be, and at the very least a lot of 'talent' shows are being produced and advertised.

In 1993 'Red Faces' was a rip of the US 'Gong Show' that was a segment in the middle of the program 'Hey Hey It's Saturday'. It quite possibly found more stars who made better livings than everything from Idle, X-Factor, Australia's Got Talent, the Voice etc. combined. The thing is, now though our whole TV program appears to be reality-talent shows, and disillusioned as you may be about the state of politics, These shows have an even worse record at producing competence and longevity.

And that's worrying.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Immaturity and Emotional Competence

"There's a wonderful feminist book by Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur. It discusses how the exclusive role that women have in early childraising distorts child development. When the woman is married to an immature man, she is also a mother to her husband, so she hasn't got the openness and energy for her kids." ~ Gabor Mate, When the Body Says No.

I liked this quote so much and so instantaneously that I went to post it in a fb status update because I wanted it to be seen. I couldn't though because I felt without laborious explanation it would be seen as me griping about my own father, rather than myself.

I don't know how long it has been since I posted, but the time in between then has had me traverse much mental terrain. I feel quite reoriented towards my life, in a way both subtle and dramatic.

As Misaki would say of me 'I'm proud myself' for the uncanny foresite demonstrated in previous posts here about my penance and here about denial that turned out to really accurately describe what I went through in the last couple of weeks. (despite the fact that it turns out I don't know how to spell 'penance')

My subconscious kicks me in the arse some times. I actually have come to live in awe of it, and be moved by how desperately some times it tries to communicate with me.

One such time was in the semi-lucid waking hours of February 2nd, a Monday where I drifted into a dream I did not wish to wake from. This dream sparked off a chain of mental & emotional events. For starters, my penance actually began to work. The time and space that had built up as part of my penance suddenly clicked into place. By accident more so than design (but hey, subconscious?) I had managed to do the work that was necessary in order to do the work that was necessary in order to do the work that was necessary to actually serve my penance.

I drafted up a document that I think belongs historically along with the Cyrus Cylinder, the Napoleonic Code and the Declaration of Independence.

A veil of denial was lifted and finally I could confront myself without dissociating from myself. I could look at what I did, without dismissing it as some stupid former version of myself from 5 months ago - a totally different person (untrue).

Not that it was easy, shame and my brain still made it difficult. I didn't go metaphorically blind. I went literally blind trying to read my own words, once I had tasked myself with what to look for and relaxed all defenses of my ego. It was incredibly painful, and delving this dark aspect of myself had natural limits to endure. I could not do it all in one sitting. I cringed at my own actions too frequently and then literally went blind and couldn't perceive the words on the page.

But I got through that. It's an interesting experience that I could recommend to nobody, unless you really don't want to keep being a cunt into your future to everyone you know and care about.

So I wrote my apologies for what was owed.

And then I turned and I think finally took a walk in my new neighborhood. My quality of life improved immediately now able to understand and accept my actions and their consequences.

Leaving me with myself, and nobody else. (...and I must admit a forlorn terror knowing I would have to, at some point, tell Misaki just what I had done.) Here's what needs saying about acceptance - is that it is incredibly liberating. It's a good day.

Which brings me to emotional competence, immaturity and emotional repression. This is what I have to work on now. For me, maturation means accepting that I can no longer coast by letting myself behave like the child of my early developmental years. That means finding emotions that I experience below the level of consciousness and that I unconsciously repress and actually finding healthy ways to express them.

Everything is culminating. Step one is to do the work of mindfulness. The goal truly is the path with mindfulness. I know from past experience that it works and it works immediately. I have committed though to doing this daily, for 30 minutes trying to build up to 1 hour. This is what I owe to myself and everyone in my life.

I have the critical amount of self-awareness to now go the extra step and actually gain some semblance of control of myself. It's time to move from my substance sobriety onto behavioral sobriety.

I suspect currently, this means recognising a lot of stress and anxiety and stopping myself from repressing them, ignoring them. As recently as last year I wasn't aware I even experienced anxiety. (though it would be misleading to label myself as suffering from anxiety)

My penance also indirectly lead to having the space and time and inspiration to recognise my own anger as my own (rather than external) and both deal with it and let it go.

I plan to do the same with judgement. To catch myself, be aware and interrupt myself from escaping into judgement.

These are my particular obstacles to maturity. Emotional competence is what I need to overcome them. Building this emotional competence is my task now.