So, UK’s Theresa May believes humans rights are no longer binding!
Just yesterday, she twittered as follows: “I’m clear: if human rights laws get in the way of tackling extremism and terrorism, we will change those laws to keep British people safe.”
It is happening all over again: first, burn the laws that were made to protect people (in this day and age by exploiting people’s fear of terrorism), then expand to the utmost the definitions of the supposed threat (terrorists, traitors, commies, Jews). Current states are not any different from suppressive regimes of the past.
I am of course neither stating terrorism were tolerable, nor that it shouldn’t be prevented. I am merely saying that human rights and the associated laws can not, must not, may not ever be bent to the needs of any entity whatsoever. Also, I might imply that we should seriously think about which factors may have contributed to bringing recent terror upon us, and I might imply as one possible answer to that: capitalism, the exploitation of poorer nations in the attempt to gain ever more riches in the West.
On a much, much brighter note — and to help digesting this ugly news — , let me recommend some amazing music to you: Vincent Peirani, accordeon, and Émile Parisien, soprano saxophone, playing live (YouTube®) at the jazzahead! festival. Watch and listen, I promise you’ll be stunned and most certainly flooded with endorphines.
Let me quote Edward Snowden today, who repeatedly has talked about the claim, “I’ve got nothing to hide.”
A year ago, he recoined something he had said on reddit® in 2015 for a video he did (YouTube®) together with electronica pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre: “Saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say.”
He then continued, “It’s a deeply anti social principle because rights are not just individual, they’re collective, and what may not have value to you today may have value to an entire population, an entire people, an entire way of life tomorrow. And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will?” — Source: WikiQuote
These two siblings are really something! A few years ago, I would have appreciated their music even more than today.
Back then, I was into all kinds of electronica, like Matthew Herbert and such. But even today, with my returned focus on hand-made music, electric and acoustic guitars, and so forth, I really like the very, very unique atmosphere Tennyson are creating.
Since music is always highly subjective I will not bore you with my own associations and moods their music gives me, rather will I recommend you listen for yourself — right here:
Oh, and while I’m at it, here’s another recommendation, at least for the nerdy people amongst my dear readers: read the hilarious web comics at xkcd.com! Here are two recent ones:
Hmmm… well, since you asked nicely, here’s a third:
Yes, I Will
I certainly try to, rather than letting stress and troubles getting the better of me, be relaxed, cheery, and serene. But.
I do admit to have written a text called “Fear Not” to encourage us all to be calm in times of troubles. Fear is not helping, that is certainly true. Fear makes us blind for the possibilities to solve problems. Ignorance can be, and sometimes truly is, bliss. Ignoring problems, however, does not make them go away. More often than not it makes them even grow bigger, stronger, more annoying or threatening.
This is why I will continue writing about all things irritating, disturbing, and dangerous: not to increase your, my dear reader’s, stress levels, but to sharpen your awareness of what evil is possible and what is actually being done in this world. There’s bad guys out there, even some who have sworn to be on our side (government officials, police*wo*men, medical doctors, and such). We need to be aware of their wrongdoings even if we are not able to change their behaviour ourselves — we might still be able to avoid alerting them or getting into contact or having to deal with them. And we are most certainly quite able to diminish their influence by adjusting our behaviour (buy less, especially online, spread less to none of our personal data, and so forth).
In search of a term that would express what I intended to talk about today, I was lead to this interesting article you might wish to read.
It is exactly that, pre-emptive obedience, indeed when people change their behaviour in anticipation of unwanted consequences — like, for example, the being flagged as deviant for using the Tor browser to stay private while browsing the web, or an e-mail encryption tool or service like GPG, PGP, or Tutanota.
Don’t allow yourself to get intimidated! Use Tor, use Tutanota, use everything that is recommended by the excellent website PrismBreak!
Note: Privacy is a fundamental right and one of the pillars of democracy — not an option, nor a gift.
Today I received a small package with my mail that, unwrapped, made me a happy new owner of Jarett Kobek’s certainly terrific useful novel against men, money, and the filth of instagram entitled “i hate the internet.”
This is a tremendous gift; I will start reading immediately. Thank you, L.
Early on, one sentence made me laugh already, it reads, “ ‘Slut’ is also the Danish word for end.”
Fela “Anikulapo” Kuti once recorded a song with the pretty sticky hookline, “International Thief-Thief — ITT,” the global corporation wherein was, at that time, one of the biggest companies worldwide.
ITT, as a global player and like all global players, caused countless people suffering, made them lose everything, just as Thomas Jefferson (1743 — 1826) had foreseen: “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous than standing armies … If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of currency … the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of their property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.” – (Thus quoted in the film Wake Up Call.)
I wrote just yesterday that Babu Menos was a pseudonym. Now, people might ask, “Why wouldn’t you use your own (‘real’) name?”
It’s simple, really: I do not wish to connect the real-life person with the artist because I think they are entirely unrelated. Biographers might disagree, but I don’t find any benefit in psychological elaborations on the person, say, Franz Kafka, or Madonna, for understanding and enjoying their art.
I felt almost personally offended when the person behind the pseudonym Elena Ferrante was revealed by the dumbass (pardon my French) Italian journalist Claudio Gatti, despite her explicitly mentioning she might not be able to continue writing should her pen name ever be lifted. That was nothing short of an act of violence.
Additionally, I strongly belief that every person has a right to privacy.
The name Babu Menos is a pen name, pseudonym, nom de plume.
The first part, Babu, is a Hindu title of respect used to politely address a father, official, or gentleman. The second, Menos, is Portuguese or Spanish and means “less.”
I try to follow a few simple rules:
If you’d like to know a bit more, you might want to read the ABOUT page.
Let Us Alone
There’s reasons to try and stay calm in troubled times. Yet there’s reasons to be alert and vigilant, too.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) puts it quite eloquently in the recent film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (written by J. K. Rowling, directed by David Yates, 2016), “Well, my philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.” The aforementioned Cypher Raige (Will Smith) says in “After Earth”, “Fear is not real (…) It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.”
But then, there is the matter of surveillance in times of Big Data, rapidly increasing computing power, and ever-developing machine… well, I hesitate calling it that, but it is certainly something very similar at least: machine intelligence.
Almost ninety years ago, US attorney Louis D. Brandeis argued, dissenting in the case of Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928), “The makers of our Constitution (…) sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”
The right most valued by civilized men. Is it, still?
No, it is not. People have given up this right (among others) because of a vague sense of an imminent threat. That reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s words, “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Well, that’s actually what they get: no liberty and no safety. None, whatsoever.
Not only them, I’m urged to add, but everyone. Even if only fifty-one percent (or less, mind you!) of a population are afraid to become victim to a terrorist attack (the likelihood of which, by the way, amounts to about the same as to die from a wrong yoga move) or be robbed online (much higher likelihood, because people in general refuse to learn even the least bit about computers and how to secure one’s system), the society in whole is subject to increasing surveillance measures — increasing to a point where literally everything we do, say, and think, be it online or in the offline world, is registered and analysed.
Now, why is that bad? you may ask. You, my dear readers, are not planning on committing any crime, are you? Me neither. Nor are we intending to set up a bomb at an airport or train station, are we? That’s right, we aren’t. So, we have nothing to hide, have we now? We might as well be surveilled, because we are doing as we told. Or, are we?
Well, let’s think this through.
You are not supposed to drink alcohol while working, right? Lately, video surveillance has become way more accurate than most of us imagine in their wildest dreams. Iris scans are now possible over longer and longer distances — the United Arab Emirates are already using those —, and they are increasingly accurate in measuring the blood alcohol level. Say good-bye to your relaxing, refreshing lunch beer, then.
You are a seasoned, decent driver, yet sometimes enjoy stepping on it a little in your new car? Well, depending on make and model, your tin baby will communicate your risky behaviour to the manufacturer, your insurance company, and/or the police already, putting you in a large database that it will be really, really hard to get out of ever again, resulting, e.g., in a higher insurance premium or even the denial of insurability. Say good-bye to your new car, then.
You are a parent who believes their children should be able to defend themselves? Choose your words wisely when getting into detail before the bedtime story, because a toy might be listening, uploading your conversation to a poorly secured database, which then might be analysed and used to flag you as a security risk, leaving you confused why, the next time you’re trying to board a plane, you’re scanned unusually thorough, interviewed by men in uniform, and finally refused the trip. Say good-bye to traveling, then.
Obviously, I’m not saying you should be drunk at work, racing through school areas, or promoting brutality with your children. What I am saying is that we should not get too narrow-minded when it comes to controlling each other’s behaviour.
We citizens of the Western world usually, almost habitually praise ourselves to be much more broad-minded than those of the so-called Third World Countries (this labeling being an insult in its own right), but in my experience the taboos of those countries are observed much less strict, the acceptance toward deviant behaviour is much higher, and the individual freedom is much more important — given the country in question is not subjugated by a dictatorship, that is. That is, were we, the industrial nations, the First World, are actually moving towards: a dictatorship of the algorithm, as I have similarly coined it before.
Adding to that is a fact that most people still tend to forget or ignore: We are no longer surveilled by persons, “coffee-drinking security staff in a room full of screens,” as German publicist Sasha Lobo puts it in an excellent article for the magazine Der Spiegel (that was, to some degree, an inspiration to this text). Rather, we are surveilled by automated analysing algorithms. That, in combination with the belief in the flawlessness of said algorithms, the diminishing of privacy concerns among many, if not most people, and the increasing hubris of governments makes all this such a huge problem.
Don’t get confused — this is not about the song “Time Out” again, but to tell you that I am taking a break from recording for a short while.
I have finished six songs for the new album “If Not Now, Then When?” so far and, at the moment, feel that it might just be an EP. The other six or seven that I have composed already but not started recording might well end up being another EP. I will give it some time before I’ll decide.
Today, the question of the album as an art form in its own right is far less apparent than only a decade ago; it seems to me that most people’s listening habits have shifted from putting an album into the CD player/onto the turntable, celebrating the sequence of the songs as a statement or journey all by itself, to picking single songs from a vast playlist — say, Spotify® or the like — , thus generating a random “album” sequence that is never to be repeated.
What do you think: has the album become obsolete? Do you still listen to full albums?
I have shown you quite a few of my more “exotic” instruments already; now let me move on to the rather “conventional” ones for a while. This is a classical, or Spanish, guitar build by Japanese company Aria®.
It’s far from high end, but has a decent, both brilliant and warm sound. I have used it all over the first album, then equipped with nylon strings — as a classical guitar is supposed to be.
In the summer of 2016, however, when I started composing new songs for the second album, I remembered a brand of steel strings that are specifically developed to be put on classical guitars. That was before I had bought my new steel string guitar, so, I decided to try those strings, and I was amazed by the result.
At least half of the new songs include the Aria with steel strings now, because I really love the unique sound somewhere between the piercing brilliance of a steel string guitar and the soothing warmth and depth of a Spanish one. It also mixes very well with the steel string guitar I have bought in the meantime.
As the title might suggest, this is not your ordinary zither, nor is it really an autoharp; it rather bears some resemblance to a Marxophone. There has been a lot of experimenting on zither-like instruments over the centuries, especially in the 19th and early 20th century.
This one is called “Mandolia” and consists of sets of chord strings and a melody section that contains fifteen double strings. The melody strings are struck with small hammers mounted to metal tongues, hence being held rather than quickly released, produce an exciting tremolo sound. Most everyone has probably heard that sound in some film scores from the fifties and sixties — or, for example, in Portishead’s “Sour Times” that contains a sample of Lalo Schifrin’s “Danube Incident” from the original “Mission: Impossible” soundtrack (1968). (N.B.: The sound in said composition might as well come from a hammered dulcimer.)
I used the Mandolia with the song “It’s Time” from the previous album “Make Me Do” which is not yet online. I’ll let you know as soon as I uploaded it.
With Christmas behind us, I got to finish yet another song from the new album, “If Not Now, Then When?”
The sound sources for the basic beat of “Only Lonely” are samples of a kick drum and something snare-ish that originate in a much older recording of mine; must have been the first time ever for me to sample myself. For some weird reason I feel that seems very grown-up …
No special instruments used this time, except maybe the crotales (small cymbal-shaped bells) that are not overly common. The tabla intro is a sample; my respect toward this traditional Indian instrument is way too high to ever try learning it myself.
Lyric-wise this is another attempt at telling a slightly sad story by means of — well, what exactly is it? Irony? Or just trying to realise the good hidden in the sad?
Anyway, I hope you like it and, as usual, would really appreciate any feedback.
I just found some older stuff in my abyssal archives that I thought Christmas would be a perfect time to share with you.
First, I quoted Jillian C. York who wrote for openDemocracy on September 20, 2013: “Surveillance is, of course, no new thing. Governments with the desire to surveil will always find ways to do so, but when one government that imagines itself the leader of the free world takes such bold steps toward becoming Big Brother, others are sure to follow.”
Only a few weeks later, on Nov. 10, 2013, I wrote:
“Kirghizstan or Iran, for instance, have been liberal and modern countries until not so long ago. What radical Islamists are there today is what Google™ has been trying to become globally for quite some time now: the be-all and end-all. Which in consequence always results in freedom cuts. And remember the stories of native people having taken away their freedom in exchange for shiny glass beads. Today’s glass beads are iPhones™, tablets, and all those other gadgets.”
In early 2014 I then tried to make visibe and audible the false conviction I believe us to have been taught, that machines were less erroneous, more reliable, more functional, even more perfect than humans. I tried to achieve that with a little help of an almost ancient cinematic idea.
I am of course not comparing radical Islamists to the Alphabet®™ corporation and/or any of its affiliates, nor vice-versa.
I am a pianist by training, started piano lessons aged 8. That makes me feel at home on most any kind of keyboard.
The Indian harmonium is a little tricky, though; you have to use one hand to generate an airstream by pumping — which actually makes for very appealing dynamic capabilities. When pumping only lightly and slowly, this particular model even turns to a kind of pretty amazing tremolo effect.
The actual sound generators are metal reeds, very much alike those in a harmonica, accordeon, or melodica (dang! I forgot to take a photo of my melodica family! I have five of them. Too bad!) Hence the sound shows some resemblence with those, but it’s still got its own flavour.
I used it in the outro track “The Light” of the previous album “Make Me Do,” which is not online yet. I’ll let you know once I’ve uploaded it.
Don’t call us, …
… we call you (not).
Someone you know rushes past you, lifting their hand up to the ear with thumb and pinkie stretched, suggesting, “I’ll call you.” These days, this behaviour actually means, “I might call you at some point in the future, but I might as well not, because I am so crazy busy that I only get half my life organised properly.”
Without even noticing, people have become slaves to schedules packed so tightly that they are hardly capable of keeping alive their offline contacts. A quick (and automated) birthday greeting via WhatsApp®, a thumbs-up to their “friends’” latest oh-so-beautiful cocktail photo (totally hilarious cat video, beauty-filtered selfie, what have you) post is all they get done. Actually phoning someone, writing a more-than-twitter length e-mail? Not going to happen; not to mention hand-written snail mail letters. No time (patience, focus) for that!
I have been told that some, mostly younger, people now decide against being online all the time, quite old-schoolish meeting in person again instead; to be honest, I doubt that. At least I don’t think it’s many who have actually changed their Facebook®/Twitter®/Instagram® driven behaviour. I, for one, only 1 seem to have friends who are completely sucked up by modern life’s challenging requirements, ignoring their health problems (chronic respiratory diseases, chronic stomach problems, chronic headaches, in short: chronic stress) while performing their duty as modern-day citizens.
It is quite ironic that, in an age that is constantly praised for its increased connecting possibilites, communication in fact gets reduced to sending tiny digital bits over a small number of tools, making in-depth exchange of ideas, emotions, and memoirs almost obsolete.
Addition, Dec. 17: In a discussion about the topic of generation differences on Imzy, some 17-year-old wrote that they felt very irritated about old-school means of communication, like talking in person, or on the phone, or writing snail mail letters, because those were so formal. I have to accept that view but certainly can not understand, let alone share it. It’s very interesting, though. Obviously, the generation gap actually exists.
On a side note, loosely regarding the former: some other, also younger person said that the reply “you’re welcome” to a “thank you” felt much less friendly than “no problem” because it were so over-emphasising the good that had been done. “No problem” were saying just that, “it was no problem doing that,” hence not a big deal, probably somewhere along the lines of “don’t mention it.”
After a weekend’s work, I’m now happy to show you another brand-new song from “If Not Now, Then When?”
“Go Now!” is one of my more optimistic tunes; with its uplifting lyrics about taking opportunities in life, its silly children’s sing-along melody, and the upbeat groove it’s quite fun listening to. Well, at least I do hope it is.
To go with the flow is mostly good advice. Unless it involves howling with the wolves. Which it increasingly does.
I had found myself a new home in this overwhelming realm of the WWW — or so I thought. Imzy is, at first, second, and even third sight, a great community, a social media safe haven, so to speak. Kind people with their focus on friendly, understanding, and respectful communication. A place for weirdos, shy people, deviants. Where users are reaching out to each other.
Lately, though, the developers seem to pursue quite the different agenda. Almost on a daily basis they now implement new mechanisms that, fueled by magic algorithms, are meant to make the user experience more pleasant, simple, or plain greater (whatever that means). For example, where there was a new-to-old sort order for posts inside the home page feed (to me: the only logical method), now the default is a mysterious one called “activity.” Apparently, it does not only involve the count of ♥ (same as “likes”) and comments, but also a little somethin’ somethin’ that results in “disappearing” (being pushed far downwards) of even brand-new posts.
Basically — and despite the Imzy crew vividly objecting — it’s a sure-fire method to reward mainstreamness (shouldn’t this be a thing: it now is), and it evokes competition, obviously.
Other such “enhancements” involve the sort order of comments (default: by “popular”) and the automated recommendation of new communities which is achieved by another magic dust algorithm that analyses the user’s preferences by taking their joined so far communities into account and some other, unknown things. It’s much like Amazon® recommendations, about which a friend so pointedly said: “Once you’ve bought a pair of shoes you will be bombarded with shoe recommendations, as if we’d buy ten pairs in a matter of days.”
Automatisation never works (and never will work) well enough to satisfy the needs of diverse human beings. Automatisation merely serves mainstream people — and their leaders. Mainstream people are followers, they rarely develop original ideas on their own, and they need certain someones to guide them and take responsibility. Mainstream people’s posts are mainly just cross-posts or “shares” of articles by others; or they post a photo of their drink/food without words. Their fellow mainstreamers are not even supposed to comment something in any depth, they’re just supposed to “heart,” or “like,” or “upvote.”
Deviant people’s posts, on the other hand, often only take another person’s article as an inspiration or starting point for their own thoughts, or they even begin a reflection on something entirely on their own. Their posts often get quite long and detailed, meandering about various topics, and since mainstream people are lazy, they don’t even bother reading those.
Also, mainstream people are actually afraid of anything and anyone that’s not like them (in terms of skin colour, sexual orientation, musical preferences, what have you), which makes them all the more susceptible to demagogues and narrow world views.
Hence, in times of information being available and easily accessible for everyone, it is yet becoming increasingly true what has been true for centuries and ages: They who shout loudest will be heard by the herd. And they who have something to say that would actually make a difference — even the world a better place —, are muted by machines.
I’ve mentioned it already, in my post about the bulbul tarang: this is the sueng, a four-string traditional Thai instrument. I bought this one on a very colourful market in Chiang Mai straight from the instrument maker.
According to Wikipedia, the sueng “is a plucked fretted lute from the northern region of Thailand. The instrument is made from hardwood and its strings (numbering either four or six and arranged in courses of two) are most often made of steel wire. It has nine bamboo frets (…) The frets on the sueng are spaced differently than western fretted instruments (…) meaning that in one octave the instrument plays seven tones, as opposed to the twelve tones of western music.”
Which makes it a little tricky to use in “Western-tempered” music like mine; yet the frets are much higher than those on a guitar, giving the player much more tolerance to bend the tone.
“The playing technique resembles the one of the oud where the two strings in the course are tuned to unison and played together as one, with a long soft pick most often made of plastic.”
The sueng’s sound is as difficult to describe as that of the bulbul tarang. I would go for a mix of banjo, actual lute, and some “definitely Asian air.” At the moment 1, you can hear it in the opening minute of “What Isn’t There”, alongside the Japanese shakuhachi and the Pakistani bulbul tarang.
1 I have started reworking the songs from the last album, “Make Me Do”, but you’ll be notified if and when the old version will be gone.
Important notice (May 24, 2017): I have completely reworked this song once again and will upload the new-new version shortly. Please be patient. Inspired by the new recordings with their slightly new approach to singing, I decided to rework (some of) the songs from my previous album, “Make Me Do”. The first to be worked on was track No. 2, “Time Out”, and here it is!
The vocals always seem to be the most delicate part of a pop song, so, please let me know what you think, and don’t hold back any criticism for harmony’s sake; should you dislike something, please do tell!
I am close friends with idling (making use of our time by enjoying something immaterial like ocean or sky view, children’s or animal’s play, or a good book), and also the lifestyle of minimalism, all of which this song tries to communicate.
The cornamuse, with its distinct nasal, narrow sound, I have used for the outro track on last winter’s album “Make Me Do”, called “The Light”. Both recorders have a very warm, wooden sound, probably quite different from what some of you might remember as the high-pitched, piercing squeak you were forced to produce by your considerate parents. They can be heard on the track “When Mom Was Young” from the same album. These two tracks are not yet online anywhere; I’ll let you know as soon as I put them up at Bandcamp.
The same is true for the song “He Tender You Tough” that includes the clarinet; so, the only one of these five you can actually hear now would be the shakuhachi in the opening minute of “What Isn’t There”, alongside the Thai sueng and the Pakistani bulbul tarang.
Starting today, I will show you a few of my instruments. For now I’ll focus on just the ones I have used or am using during the recording of the two current albums.
This is a bulbul tarang, a string instrument from India and Pakistan. According to Wikipedia, the “bulbul tarang (literally ‘waves of nightingales’, alternately Indian or Punjabi banjo) is a string instrument from Indian and Pakistani Punjab which evolved from the Japanese taishōgoto, which likely arrived in South Asia in the 1930s.
“The instrument employs two sets of strings, one set for drone, and one for melody. The strings run over a plate or fretboard, while above are keys resembling typewriter keys, which when depressed fret or shorten the strings to raise their pitch.”
I first thought of it as a children’s instrument (I had seen quite a lot of pictures of children playing a bulbul tarang), but apparently was wrong.
The sound of the bulbul tarang is hard to describe, a mix between zither and 12-string acoustic guitar would come closest, I guess. At the moment 1, you can hear it in the opening minute of “What Isn’t There”, together with a Japanese shakuhachi and a Thai sueng, which I will show you later, too.
1 I will probably rework the songs from the last album, “Make Me Do”, but you’ll be notified if and when the old version will be gone.
Been busy this weekend, thus happy to show you song number four from my album-in-the-making, “If Not Now, Then When?”
“Forever Beautiful” is about freeing yourself from the burden of consumerism, becoming a better — and happier! — person in the process. I think we all need to seriously rethink our buying behaviour and its impact on the environment and other people’s (and beings’) lives. Last Friday’s “Buy Nothing Day” was a good inspiration, simple living is another one.
This is another song taken from my current album-in-the-making, “If Not Now, Then When?”
“Why?” is one of the more political/philosophical ones. I was, and am, really touched by and sometimes very down because of the many stories of people crossing dangerous sea to escape their torn, broken, even life-threatening home countries. I will not repeat what I believe the lyrics to get across, so, just listen and tell me what you think.
I appreciate any comment (I mean it! Any!) Should you have trouble understanding the lyrics, I posted them over at Bandcamp, too.
The opening song of “Make Me Do” (the album I introduced the song “A Dog Named Blaire” from already) is sort of a hippie hymn about filling the void inside you.
I truly believe that we all have great potential, but many of us don’t fully allow theirs to grow and come out of the closet. This is my attempt to encourage us all in becoming more of what we really are. Or, it’s just a nice pop tune.
Aren’t exceptions from the rules what makes the rules so much more valuable? Well, no — actually, I dont believe stuff like that (only where there is shadow there can be light… I could do without any shadow for sure!) But exceptions are fun!
Here comes my exceptions to two rules this blog normally follows:
For about three months already, I am using the personal wiki software TiddlyWiki. I discovered it looking for an alternative to my operating system’s default PIM, more specifically an address book that would not bother me with all those useless categories and entry options I’d never need. Now, TiddlyWiki is not an address book. But it can be one. And it can be a journal, a notebook, a scrapbook, an Evernote® replacement, a novel-writing tool, and much more. Plus, there are many plug-ins, making it a mind map, for instance.
Too technical? Then let me put it this way: whatever you’ll need to jot down, archive, or remember, you put it in there. Since it’s only one single file (something like MyPersonalTiddlyWiki.html, or all.html, if you prefer it to be short) you can easily backup the whole thing by just copying it to another location, external hard drive, USB thumb drive, what have you, and open it with any browser.
It comes with an integrated search that works lightning-fast, and with something around 900 entries already — including everything from four-line addresses to 4000-word essays —, my TiddlyWiki is still loading quickly. Click on the beautiful poster below to go to their web site and try it yourself. I am pretty convinced that you’ll be amazed.
The West — a term that really means “all the countries stupid or cowardly enough to blindly follow the American Dream’s promises” (that have been broken over, and over, and over again) —, the West tirelessly self-praises its achievements. Look, we created democracy! Look, our people are on top of the global wealth statistics! Look, we have enforced freedom for everyone! And so forth. Obviously, none of this is actually true.
The reason for me writing this is a trivial one: I have not been sleeping well over the past few weeks. My bones and joints and muscles and fascia weep in continouus pain, not really that bad, but bad enough to make me feel not great. Whenever in Thailand, I suffer much less from muscular tension and joint pain, and I strongly believe that this is due to the really, really hard mattresses I usually rest my tired body on at night.
So I made a decision: I will buy one of those kapok-filled Thai mattresses that look like stitched-together cotton tubes. Very basic, very natural, very simple life. Yay! I will let you know if and how my back will thank me. (I’m pretty sure it will.)
Speaking of which — speaking of basic and simple life and physical health: Thailand is an overflowing well of things that do good to the human body. “Samun prai” (pronounced like “samoon pry”, or “summon ply”, or even “smoon pie”) is the Thai term for healthy food and natural, herbal medicine. As either Hippocrates, Paracelsus, or Hildegard von Bingen (or someone else, or all of them) used to say centuries ago, “your remedies be your food and your food be your remedies.” That is basic human knowledge, totally lost in Western societies (despite their alleged superiority) but kept alive in large parts of Asia (and Africa, too).
The Westerner’s medical system tries to “repair” people, to “fix” the broken, whereas the Asian way is to prevent people from breaking. Or, as the aforementioned Cory Doctorow quotes a Tai Chi instructor of his (or rather, his protagonist) in the first sentence of his novel “Eastern Standard Tribe”, “Western medicine is based on corpses, things that you discover by cutting up dead bodies and pulling them apart. Chinese medicine is based on living flesh, things observed from vital, moving humans.”
No wonder all deviant people, youth and artists and all those estranged to the “normal” ways, a.k.a. The Mainstream Culture, always look east. The Beatles and the Stones, William S. Burroughs and the Beat Poets, Bebop musicians and Goa Trance DJs, Madonna and the Wu-Tang Clan, Quentin Tarantino and the Impressionists (both painters and musicians) have drawn inspiration from all things Asian. Some of them more superficially, others in great depth.
More and more parts of Eastern knowledge have even become part of Western mainstream; just look at all the Yoga classes (including all sorts of [expensive] accessories like all-natural, organic rice fiber Yoga mats, 100 % chemical free highland cotton Yoga leggings, leg warmers, headbands, body suits, you name it) propagating even in small cities and villages. Those, however, mostly focus on the health and performance facets of Yoga (e.g. Power Yoga, Hatha Yoga, or Bikram Yoga), much less the philosophical and meditational aspects. Which, as many Asian people know, are as important, if not even more so. The old Latin (hence Western) phrase, “mens sana in corpore sano” (a sound mind in a sound body), I prefer to turn around: Only from a sound mind may come a healthy body. (Funny how on the surface the latter sentence does not appear to be a turned-around version of the former, but meaning-wise it certainly is. Right?)
A brief update, since it’s been a month again: I have enjoyed some beautiful weeks of late summer, now it’s getting cold — something I don’t like at all, especially if combined with grey skies and loads of clouds. Even flies flee indoors and get on my nerves (one of the few downsides to country life).
Making music manages to keep me in a good mood, though, and I am recording song after song. Slowly, but surely the next albums takes shape. The 2016 song collection “Make Me Do” found itself a new cover artwork on the basis of a painting by German artist Olaf Gasper. Another picture by him will be the cover for my next album, working title “If Not Now, Then When?” — which can also be considered the motto for most of the songs: departure, leaving old wrongs behind and setting out for new rights.
So much for me. On a less personal matter, let me talk about the right to privacy not in a general sense (as in, everybody must be allowed to keep things to themselves and remain reclusive to any degree of their own choosing), but in connection with public figures.
As some of you may already know, Babu Menos is not my real name; it is a pseudonym, a pen name, a nom de plume. I do not believe that the person of the artist is in any way important to the work they are creating. I wish to seperate the man I am to my friends and family from the public figure of the recording musician. As did Italian writer Elena Ferrante. Yet, along came an investigative reporter by the name of Claudio Gatti, Italian himself, and he refused to accept the author’s desire for privacy, rather snooping around for months in an effort to find out the real identity of Elena Ferrante. He did this in spite of her openly expressed need for seclusion and despite the fact that other (male) writers have been praised and declared more of a genius for exactly that reason, like J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon, and others. The writer f.k.a. Elena Ferrante has declared in the past that she would not be able to continue writing should her anonymity ever be lifted. So, the arrogance of Mr Gatti has taken a source of highly acclaimed literature from the world. In this particular sense, he might even be called a murderer. An extremly ignorant and ugly person he is for sure. — This text was largely inspired by an excellent article the excellent writer Margarete Stokowski wrote for the magazine Der Spiegel’s online edition; she calls the author’s exposure an “act of violence”. I have to thank her in particular for pointing out how the right to privacy every now and then is granted men, yet much less women.
No blog entry in over a month, not much recording new music, and not so much work for money either. So, what am I doing? — I’ll tell you. I’ve just been busy idling. Idling, as you know, may include reading, and gosh, am I doing some reading!
Whenever I am really impressed, emotionally touched, inspired, or otherwise being affected by a book I like to recommend it to others. I did so in this blog before, and today I’m gonna do it again. Cory Doctorow is a Canadian author who, besides being well informed about everything web and computer related, has a very appealing writing style that gives him the ability to condense complex matters into enlightening, entertaining, yet profound paragraphs. Right now, I am reading his novel “Little Brother” that is freely available on his web site, since Cory is also an advocate of Creative Commons, a way to give out any work of art, music, writing, what have you, to others free of charge within a subset of predefined conditions (may others change your work or not? may they use it for commercial purposes, too? and so forth).
Back to “Little Brother”. Marcus, 17, drops class one afternoon, just to get caught up in the middle of something that appears to be a terrorist attack on his hometown San Francisco. He and his three friends, one of them wounded as a result of the four trying to escape panicking masses, stop a van on the street in search for medical help, a van that turns out to be Homeland Security. The gang of four gets transported to a ship outside city limits, held captive, and being questioned for a few days. DHS eventually releases three of them, the injured one not being heard of again. Marcus, being terribly scared while in custody, gets angry at the governmental forces and starts fighting them by means of modern technology.
I have not finished the book yet, but I can already say that this is very frightening, eye-opening stuff. Cory Doctorow describes The Force of our day’s governments very impressingly and shows us why it is always a good thing to fight for your privacy. Obviously, I don’t mean any kind of physical fight, but we have to make sure, by all means legal, that we will not become some twisted sort of “collateral damage” in the so-called war on terrorism. Read “Little Brother”, and you will get a much better understanding of how multi-faceted surveillance works, and how it can damage or even destroy people’s lives. For example, did you know that your gait, the way you walk, is almost as unique to you as your fingerprints? And that a camera-computer setup can easily “remember” you just by that characteristic? Well, I didn’t.
What I did know was that “learning” camera programmes are able to distinguish deviant behaviour. If you sit down on the floor of an airport lobby, if you stroll while others are rushing, if you “behave suspiciously” (whatever that might include): those surveillance cameras will flag you, and they will recognise you, even if you change location via tube or bus.
Needless to say, I’m not planning on doing something even remotely illegal. I may well describe myself as your law-abiding citizen. But I do not like being watched all the time, being analysed, being followed. And I know that this kind of mass surveillance (mass being the key here) does not help the police doing their work. It only installs fear and an odd self-awareness into people. It has been proven several times that people who know that they’re being watched behave differently. Being watched very basically means being unfree.
Please, do yourself a favour and read this book. Read “Little Brother”.
If you find yourself “not having enough time” (which I still believe to be a myth), you might surf Cory’s web site a bit, and you might then find sentences like these: “Every TV in the sportsbar where you go for a drink will have cameras and mics and will capture your image and process it through facial-recognition software and capture your speech and pass it back to a server for continuous speech recognition.”
Furthermore, “Every car that drives past you will have cameras that record your likeness and gait, that harvest the unique identifiers of your Bluetooth 1 and other short-range radio devices, and send them to the cloud, where they’ll be merged and aggregated with other data from other sources.”
Those who still believe the dystopian view of the coming tech area to be a tremendous exaggeration, Cory shows how all these control bits will be brought upon us: “The reality is that when every car has more sensors than a Google Streetview car, when every TV comes with a camera to let you control it with gestures, when every medical implant collects telemetry that is collected by a ‘services’ business and sold to insurers and pharma companies, the argument will go, ‘All this stuff is both good and necessary — you can’t hold back progress!’ ”
Remember, Cory Doctorow was a very enthusiastic technology lover who, probably due to his accumulated knowledge, has turned to become a warner about the dangers hidden underneath the shiny surfaces of modern technology.
1 Interestingly enough, or should I say: frighteningly enough, Apple®, with the new iPhone 7™, has just now abandoned the headphone plug, a fact that in consequence creates increasing need for Bluetooth devices (and is praised to — finally! — make the iPhone™ waterproof. Now you can — finally! — take your beloved machine with you under the shower and use it in pouring rain. Finally!)
A Luddite With a Laptop
As a follow-up to what I wrote the other day, let me add another self-definition I came up with about eighteen months ago, on February 17, 2015.
My quest for answers to the ubiquitous question “Who am I?” has arrived at yet another definition. Simply put, Ludditeshave been, and still are, human beings who reject technology for various reasons. Having been an early adopter of all things internet (I even owned a Handspring®Treo 180g “smart” phone) and still not going anywhere without my laptop, I am worried for quite some time now that technology might — and probably will — overrun us. On top of my worst and most terrifying ideas ever list are, in no particular order:
Lamentably, all these developments are already more or less unstoppable, given that most people don’t even guess or understand what’s coming up, as Jean-Claude Juncker was counting on in his time as premier of Luxembourg: “We decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.” 3.
So, ambivalent as always, I find myself described very well as a Luddite with a laptop, a person both loving and rejecting technology, with the former decreasing and the latter growing exponentially.
If one deems the Oxford Dictionaries trustworthy (I know I do), the Japanese word ひきこもり or 引き籠もり (“hikikomori”) means “hermit”. A hermit is a person who lives, for religious reasons or others, a reclusive life at a secluded place, far from others, avoiding company. Quite frankly, having been a social person for many years of my life, I lately have to conclude that living la vida local is not the worst idea.
Just yesterday, in an extended, very interesting, and enjoyable conversation with a friend on the phone, I had to admit that I really like the circumstances of my present life. Which is not the life of a hikikomori, yet, but comes pretty close. You have to leave the actual area of the village I live in (which homes a mere 300 inhabitants, anyhow) to find the house in the middle of… well, not “nowhere”, but somewhere nothing much is happening, except for tractors and dog walkers passing by every now and then.
I have praised the advantages of country life already, so, I’m not going to bore you with that again. And that’s not the reason for my enjoying this place so much. It is the quiet. The calm. The absence of chatty restlessness, of busy-ness. The absence of people.
As the British writer Sara Maitland puts it in a text originally published by The Guardian, now online at World Observer: “On occasion, I do not see another person all day. I love it.” Sara has lived alone for over twenty years, in “a region of Scotland with one of the lowest population densities in Europe, and I live in one of the emptiest parts of it.”
My friend, the one on the phone, warned me, that the problems I already have with getting more and more distanced from people (simply put, because I am not willing to share their means of communication, Facebook®, Twitter®, “smart” phones, and the like, and they are not willing to share mine, secure e-mail, e.g. Tutanota or ProtonMail, old-school land line phones etc.) will increase. I must reply, “I know, but I am not able to do anything about it.” Because I am certain of several things, and if others contradict me and I am not able to convince them otherwise, I have to retire.
I’m well aware how obstinate and self-righteous this may sound, but I am by far not the only one to be concerned — and I am not talking conspiracy theorists here. Reasonable journalists of sound mind and proper education are the ones to have reported Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s boundless greed for all things data, and who continue to warn about the future and the extinction of freedom, caused by the uneducated use of all those seemingly o-so-useful new devices and apps. As the Austrian author Robert Misik lately wrote for the German newspaper taz ,“Careful what you twitter today, in twenty years it might ruin your career.” (Translation: B.M.)
People are careless to such a degree that it will make them victims of a currently ascending unsympathetic, immoral, and inhumane system, as Theodore Roosevelt saw it coming in 1912 already: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” — 1912 speech “The Progressive Covenant With The People”.
And it has only gotten far worse.
Where they don’t have already, machines will take over very soon. Every time someone tells me, “there’s no need to encrypt communication, for who would read all our personal e-mails,” I feel so helpless facing this incredible amount of ignorance. Of course, there are no men in black with hats lowered over their eyes reading our e-mails. It’s the machines, stupid! They did, they do, and they will continue to scan all messages (i.e. all they get hold of) for key words and key phrases, and whenever a word or phrase matches one they are programmed to flag, they will.
A little red flag here, a little red flag there, and depending on the current key word database, most anyone and everyone will raise suspicion. Since every and all messages are stored away for good (read: eternity), anyone who comes to power will be able to access them and modify the search parameters, hence find people of a certain hobby, consumer behaviour, political opinion, age, area of residence, health issue, income, race, gender, you name it — and connections and combinations thereof, weaving a web of entwined micro-, macro-, and metadata. With the rise of right-wing parties all over Europe, chances are we’ll face an ongoing dramatic change in matters of tolerance, acceptance, life choices, and — I said it already — freedom.
My friend (the one on the phone, again) also tried to evoke my understanding for people not being able to handle technology properly, hence feeling helpless even opening a new mail account. I must tell you, I don’t follow. I think that what you handle, you have to understand. As I was (and still am) entertaining the idea of a “parent’s licence” similar to a driver’s licence, I’d second the idea of a “user’s licence” for anyone buying any piece of computer technology. Well, not any, maybe; a digital odometer for a bicycle works just fine without us understanding its inner mechanisms and won’t do any harm.
The minute you log into the WWWW, though, access your e-mail, post anything to any “social” network, upload anything to The Cloud (e.g. Dropbox®, Google® Drive™, Apple® iCloud™, Microsoft® OneDrive™) or anything slightly similar, you need to fully understand what you are doing: handing over your personal data (including, but not limited to, the exact time and location when and where this or that photo has been taken 1, hence, where you have been at any given time; who all the people around you are 2, hence, whom you spend your time with, although you might not even actually know those guys; and so forth) to an obscure process that not only keeps your data forever but keeps on harvesting information forever and ever.
Remember: Big data is not about making life easier for Us, The People.
It is not even about fighting crime and terrorism.
It is about controlling people.
People like you.
And the more you let that happen, the more I will be controlled.
That is probably the real reason why I have to recluse.
Also, the words of Jim Morrison are very true, who, in an interview with the Rolling Stone, said: “If for some reason you’re on a different track from other people you’re around, it’s going to jangle everybody’s sensibilities. And they’re either going to walk away or put you down for it.”
A to-the-point example of that: “Ach Quatsch” would be an answer many Germans would shut me down with, a phrase that sounds something like “uch kvutch”, the first “ch” being the typical throat-grating noise that one hears a lot in Northern parts and in Arabic countries. A very harsh-sounding reply this is, and a harsh-feeling at that, since it means “nonsense!” They put me down for my constantly warning about the dangers lurking in the dark of server parks. The problem, or one of the problems at least, is that people take democracy and freedom for granted. They are not, my dear readers, they are not. We are closer to a dictatorship than most of you most likely imagine, and probably not a dictatorship of *wo*men over *wo*men but of machines over humankind, or, more precise, and not to put ludicrous images of an army of robots in your head, a dictatorship of software over humans.
“But software is written by programmers, by human beings, and it is also controlled by them,” so many have told me repeatedly. See, that is just not true. Well, the first part is, obviously; software is made by *wo*men. But the conclusion is plain naïve. Today, software has gotten complex in ways that even most programmers aren’t able to grasp. Additionally, more and more software is programmed to learn by itself, which subsequently shall lead to something called “artificial intelligence” (A.I.), always making for a good appearance in a sci-fi film, but unfortunately already much more in use then it would deem reasonable. Only think of drones killing “enemies” based on algorithms and you get the idea. Software even now is “acting” autonomously — and will do so much more in the very near future.
No actual person will be involved when you get a 20% increase in your health insurance premium (based on a calculated risk you don’t even know the origin of), when you don’t get the flat or apartment (based on your estimated income, or the rather frequent change of homes you have been through lately, or another calculation you are not even aware of), or you don’t get the job (based on how long you’ve held jobs in the past, or how much money you seem to spend, hence demand, or any other calculation you are not even aware of). No actual person will be involved when you are let go, based on an algorithm only taking efficiency into account (or time spent working, or punctuality, or something you are not even aware of), not anything else you did contribute to the company over all the decades. No actual person will be involved when you are denied entry into a foreign country, based on an algorithm that assessed you a possible security risk.
All this can and will not happen to you? Well, just wait for it. Maybe you’re lucky. “Maybe”, not “likely”.
After unsuccessfully trying for years, many years, too many years, to open eyes, to raise sensitivity, and to inform my fellow *wo*men about the dawning of just another Age of Aries (as opposed to the supposed dawning of the Age of Aquarius, which would be a time of love, peace, understanding, and hashish, according to the musical “Hair”, that is; the Age of Aries is associated with war and fire and the rise of empires, never that much of quiet times), the only way I see now is — out.
So, here I am, back to the brink of my little village and to the heading of this article: from now on, you may address me as “Hikikomori San” 3. To a certain degree, I dearly love you all (well, most of you), but there is so much I disagree with that I have to go my very own ways. I’m just glad that some still walk alongside.
1 Those are only a few of the metadata stored inside all image files (unless you strip them bare, which is possible).
2 Facial recognition software is already working so well, it is truly scary.
3 “San” being the Japanese “Mister”.
The more stupider people are, the more louderer they proclaim what’s right and what’s wrong and how things must to be done.
I refuse to be of use for this world. I refuse to be made use of. I refuse to give anything to this world except all the useless things I have to give: my thoughts, my ideas, and my music.
Bees Don’t Have
Erich Fromm was a German psychoanalyst, social psychologist, sociologist, and philosopher who, in 1934, moved to Columbia University in New York; his last name in German means, ironically enough, something like pious or religious.
Ironically, because he questioned the very beginning of mankind as the Bible tells it: Adam and Eve were by no means sinners who refused Gods command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, but, as Wikipedia explains, “Fromm extolled the virtues of humans taking independent action and using reason to establish moral values rather than adhering to authoritarian moral values.”
His most popular book probably is “To Have or to Be?” — the topic of which is fully outlined by its title. It can’t further be broken down than that. We live in times of people preferring ‘having’ over ‘being.’ This is, and now I am not quoting Fromm any more, but elaborating on his thoughts on my own, simply wrong. Having only makes us wanting more and getting sick from not getting what we want; only re-focusing on being might give us back calm and balance.
“But how is it even possible to be without having,” many of you will exclaim in anger, or angst. But it is, really. I can easily imagine a world where people just live their lives without craving for something all the time. I am not too convinced that this world will come into existence anytime soon (or ever), though; as it turns out, people are lazy, selfish, and lacking self-confidence, the latter making them prone to bragging, hence depending on things to brag about.
There is a second pair of words that illustrate another aspect of this dilemma, one of which was mentioned already: to want and to need. Certain things we simply need for our survival, like air, water, food, and shelter. The things we want, on the other hand, are not necessary for survival. In many aspects, they are even hostile to it.
“I want this beautiful red pullover,” says John, already owning a whole cabinet’s worth of pullovers, sweatshirts, and cardigans. It is even pretty expensive, but John feels the urge to own it regardless. Today, want is a very strong desire, but there are still societies that reject the whole idea of possession. I think that between these two extremes there should be a possibility for us to own a few things but not walk into capitalist’s trap to want new garments (gadgets, games, what have you) every month. Because, what John does, is ruining the lives of children and poisoning the environment in Bangladesh. Since there will never be a capitalist company truly observing moral and/or ecological standards (for that is against their own codex of maximising profit), the only way of stopping this evil is to stop buying things.
That is a tough call to many, I know. So, let me suggest to ease the task by learning how not to want things any more. How to achieve that? Simply by searching fulfilment in all things free. In voluntary deeds (helping someone with something they’re not capable of). In long and profound conversations with our partners and friends. In sharing love, extending a smile to people, chatting with strangers. In idling in the sunlight, strolling under the moon, watching water (creek, river, or ocean). Watching birds fluttering, dogs running, children playing. Reading a good book. Eating good food in a very, very slow manner, enjoying every bit and focusing on the different tastes and textures, the whole composition of smells and sensations, the epic opera of sensory stimuli!
There are so many things to do, so many hidden treasures do discover, that fill our hearts with joy! Trust me, the more time you spend with these “useless” things, the less you will want anything else. If you are yet to be convinced, read or watch anything Tom Hodgkinson has to say on that matter, maybe start with a list of “Ten ways to enjoy doing nothing”. Tom is an idling teacher, wrote a lot about the perks of doing absolutely nothing (well, besides looking into the sky, reading a book, or lying down) and illustrates some of his ideas in brief videos which are entertaining, funny, and eye-opening.
Once you got there, make your job at least a part-time one (or quit to become freelancer), that way others who are unemployed might get work, too, and enjoy your spare time. Breathe. Smile. Giggle. It’s just plain divine.
Still No Time
Something I honestly find questionable with the music business are re-releases of albums that are still available. It happens a lot, you wouldn’t guess. But what I do like are re-releases of my own blog posts every now and then.
Due to me frequently building my blog anew — from scratch, so to speak — all the old posts are missing. Most of them are not exactly made for eternity, but some I do consider worthwhile still. So, here goes a text first published on November 7, 2012:
It seems to me that this is the core problem of our (part of the) world: Nobody takes their time any more. Exactly, it says “takes their,” because I firmly believe that to a large (the largest!) part it’s up to us how we “manage” our time. Most readers may be surprised to learn that our concept of time is not very old at all; a little more than two centuries ago, people in Europe lived without the permanent influence of clock-measured time. Very interesting in this connection is an essay I read a while ago: “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” by Edward P. Thompson. The publisher’s note of the German edition goes something like this: “About 200 years ago in England, with the emerging Industrial Revolution, time became ‘clock-time.’ 1 Experienced time, measured by nature, changes to time spent ‘with work’ or ‘in recreation,’ to ‘used’ or ‘wasted’ time.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
I write this in a country where the clock has way less influence than it demands in our part of the world (yet). Okay, it’s “crazy Asia”, it’s far away, “the clocks work differently” here. But in Greece already, a mere two thousand kilometres from well-organised, schedule-loving Germany, people stop their cars in the middle of the street to have a chat, and quite some time goes by before anyone starts honking their horns. Why would they, right? Even Germany basically has the tools at hand, too, one example being the saying “nichts wird so heiß gegessen, wie es gekocht wird” (“nothing is eaten as hot as it was cooked”). Remembering this alone can already be of great help.
Because, alongside health, time is our most important asset. No iPad® or “smart” phone, no TV, no fancy clothes, no car, and no beautiful flat can protect us from the passing of time, and in reality we don’t need all that. In reality, we are — by advertising, social envy, and greed — driven to trade our time for money and this money then for goods. Who has any interest in that — except those who produce these goods? In reality, the clock is the most powerful tool of the capitalists who, ever more unchecked, brazen, and radically, propagate in our society.
Thompson already realised that almost 50 years ago; here goes another excerpt from the editor’s note: “In 1967, E. P. Thompson illustrated in his essay that the changed perception of time is not only a symptom of the prevailing capitalism, but a key element to understanding modern society. From organisation and division of time to pre-planned recreational activities, all structures are fully clocked by chronometers.” With the objective of subduing humans, taking from them the only asset they freely have at their command, and replace this asset with bric-a-brac, glittering junk breaking down after two years so that one has to buy anew.
Now, the question is: what can we do?
First, we might take as an example the Degrowth movement, or Décroissance (French) in France and Switzerland, the aim of which is to reduce consumption, hence forcing production to downscale (e.g. by disposing of their mobile phones, TVs, cars, using as little resources as possible, buying only the bare necessities), thus breaking the vicious circle of ever more consumption — ever more economic growth — ever more environmental damage — ever more psychological damage — ever more consumption…
Second, we may say good-bye to the most ludicrous idea that any paid employment could be a life’s purpose or provide fulfilment. To the self-destructive illusion we were “needed” in “our” company. (As soon as your function will become obsolete or someone younger, dewier, better-trained will apply, you will be let go.) And to the idea work be something honourable, meaningful, important. Hired labour always, with no exception, means voluntarily extending the hands to get cuffed, gladly relinquishing freedom, and giving oneself over to slavery. (I know, at this point some will mutter, but I mean exactly that. Any company today, be it thousands of employees big or the tiniest workshop with a staff of only three, has to bow to the capitalist ideology, has to be efficient 2 and growth-orientated, hence has to act against basic human interests, no matter how nice the boss and colleagues.)
Third… well, we might pause once in a while. Contemplate a detail at the side of the road. Browse through some items at an antiquarian book shop on our way back from lunch break. Spontaneously drink an extra cup of coffee. Pay someone a surprise visit. Clock off early today (feign a headache) and drive to the seaside. By train, bus, or bike, of course. Water, actually: sitting down at the water is the best resource to strengthen the soul. And lazing around idly is the best way to benefit from our time.
Let me add one more thing: it is an illusion, too, to think that growth be possible indefinitely. This is, as a matter of fact, the core concept of capitalism, and, as all natural sciences have already realised (law of conservation of energy), it is plain wrong. This fact is long well-known, too: 1972, five years after Thompson’s essay being first published in the British “Past & Present” journal, the report ”The Limits to Growth”, commissioned by the Club of Rome, was presented and almost immediately generated an ongoing “fervent debate”, as Wikipedia puts it — only to this day next to no one feels actually addressed. But we all are. Every single one of us, our behaviour and awareness. It should come as no surprise that politics and politicians, with eyewash actions like plastic bottle and can deposit, recycling, battery return, laws on thermal insulation, and “Energiewende” (the German approach on an energy turnaround), do not help in the matter, since they are entirely entangled in capitalistic structures 3. Compact fluorescent lamps, enforced by law, containing environment-damaging mercury, and ethanol fuel mixtures like E 10, making the soil unusable for food production, are only two randomly picked current examples.
Addition: After reading this text, a dear and long-time friend sent me a bit from history I did not know, mentioning the antique Roman word pair of “otium” and “negotium”, the former being “leisure”, the latter “duty.” She then wrote, “So, leisure is the basis of all, and everything else is ‘non-leisure’ (neg-otium). I always found that quite likeable about the old Romans.” — All translations: B.M.
1 This is “Uhrzeit” in the German original, which is not actually possible to translate, but you get the point, I guess.
2 A few years after this text was originally written, German author Hannes Koch wrote in the newspaper taz :“One-dimensional economic efficiency is the opposite of democracy,” and substantiates, with VW as an example, that large multinational companies almost inevitably are organised dictatorially: “Two years ago already, Der Spiegel portrayed the Volkswagen corporation as ‘North Korea minus labour camps’ and former board chairman Martin Winterkorn as ‘one of the last dictators.’ ”
3 Not only today, too, as Theodore Roosevelt pointed out in his 1912 speech “The Progressive Covenant With The People”: “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”
In a recent chat with a friend, a musician himself, the topic of the album came up. A few weeks earlier, I had found an example sentence in the Oxford Dictionaries (highly recommended, by the way), that reads: “Does the advent of downloading herald the demise of the album format as we know it — a tangible sequence of songs selected, ordered and packaged according to the intentions of the artist?”
My friend, at present in the process of recording an album himself, doubted the right to exist for the well-composed song collections and asked himself the same question, “Isn’t an album something completely obsolete?”
The simple answer: no. I would even like to not give out any single-track downloads at all, which will probably not be possible. But the album as an art form in its own right will survive, I am sure of it. Provided the artist puts all their effort, heart and soul into every single song and into the sequence of songs, too, the album is a way of telling a broader story than any one song can. Plus, the act of enjoying a full album gives you a totally different listening experience, a higher degree of focus, and a chance to actually drop out of everything for a while. Now, if it’s even a vinyl edition, all the senses are triggered; touching, smelling, viewing the cover artwork all add to a holistic experience.
(I’m guessing, to all the kids 1 who just stream Spotify® all day, thinking they were actually listening to music, all the above must read like a paragraph from a really old book, say, 19th century. But I don’t mind, and “those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind,” as Dr Seuss puts it so eloquently. Edit, 19 Feb. 2017: Or not — apparently, that’s a common misattribution, as Wikiquote points out.)
1 Kids are people with a more limited life experience; they can be of any age.
No More News
I would like to elaborate a little further on one aspect of the text “Fear not”, during the research of which I found something interesting. About five years ago, Swiss author Rolf Dobelli has written an essay titled “Avoid News” in which he reveals the danger — both mental and physical — of your daily news bits.
The text was last edited in 2013 (but has become even more relevant since), and I’d like to encourage you to read it in full, although “many people have lost the reading habit and struggle to absorb more than four pages straight,” as Dobelli says in the prologue. Like him, I didn’t read news for quite some time, just started again recently and am certain of getting back to a news-free life; I can confirm the effects he describes: “less disruption, more time, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more insights.”
So, what is news, anyhow?
Let me quote Dobelli, who says that “(…) most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation.” So, we come back for more. And more. And more. But — to what end? Are we better informed? Do we get provided with tools to enhance or secure our lives?
Dobelli gives an example of a news article about a car crossing a bridge, causing it to collapse. “What does the news media focus on? On the car. On the person in the car. Where he came from. Where he planned to go. How he experienced the crash (if he survived). What kind of person he is (was). But — that is all completely irrelevant. What’s relevant? The structural stability of the bridge. That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking and could lurk in other bridges. That is the lesson to be learned from this event.”
In other words: News is not relevant. “The car doesn’t matter at all. Any car could have caused the bridge to collapse. It could have been a strong wind or a dog walking over the bridge. So, why does the media cover the car? Because it’s flashy, it’s dramatic, it’s a person (non-abstract), and it’s news that’s cheap to produce.”
News distorts reality, too, a phenomenon of which the best example is a plane crash. By comparison of the plain numbers, a plane ride is still the safest way of travelling, but since every single one event of everything from a jumbo jet to a four-seat Cessna crashing or going missing is covered by the media we develop a “wrong risk map”, as Dobelli calls it: “Terrorism is overrated. Chronic stress is underrated,” or “Britney Spears is overrated. IPCC reports are underrated.”
This is all as worrying as it is pretty obvious, at least when you look closely enough. Really interesting the essay gets with its third thesis: “News limits understanding.”
Huh? Limits? News is supposed to expand understanding!
Well, it doesn’t. As Dobelli puts it, “news has no explanatory power. News items are little bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world.” Knowing plain facts does not equal understanding the world. “It’s not ‘news facts’ that are important, but the threads that connect them.” Those threads, I may add, are more like spiderwebs, though, making the world and all things in it very complex. Much more complex than any single person is capable of grasping. Hence we need journalists who are well trained, well paid, extremely persistent, and as objective as humanly possible to connect the dots for us. Not many of those are out there any more. Thus Dobelli says: “The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below the journalists’ radar but have a transforming effect. (…) Reading news to understand the world is worse than not reading anything.”
Another aspect of news reading has to be considered even physically dangerous, because “news constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. News consumers risk impairing their physical health. The other potential side effects of news include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitization.” Allergic, anyone?
You know what? I am actually still writing about, and quoting, page four of the eleven-paged essay. Which makes it perfectly logical, according to Dobelli’s own estimation, to stop right here. I will do so, but not without at least listing the further paragraph headings and provide some conclusion.
News massively increases cognitive errors
News inhibits thinking
News changes the structure of your brain
News is costly
News sunders the relationship between reputation and achievement
News is provided by journalists
Reported facts are sometimes wrong, forecasts always
News is manipulative
News makes us passive
News gives us the illusion of caring
News kills creativity
Really, I have to urge you again, read this, all of it. Then follow Dobelli’s advice and “go without news. Cut it out completely. Go cold turkey. Make news as inaccessible as possible. Delete the news apps from your iPhone. Sell your TV. Cancel your newspaper subscriptions. Do not pick up newspapers and magazines that lie around in airports and train stations. Do not set your browser default to a news site. Pick a site that never changes. The more stale the better. Delete all news sites from your browser’s favorites list. Delete the news widgets from your desktop.”
Don’t be afraid to miss anything important; information that truly has an impact on your life you’ll get anyway, from the people around you. Read books instead, long and detailed magazine articles (choose those wisely, too; I know quite a few manipulative propaganda instruments that come in the disguise of magazines). “The world is complicated, and we can do nothing about it. So, you must read longish and deep articles and books that represent its complexity.”
Let me add one more thing: Facebook® and Twitter® and the like are news sources, too. So, avoid them just like any other news. Repeating myself, I know. But it’s really a matter of now or never. We are lab rats already, let’s free ourselves from the laboratory (read: international finance and corporations, backed by local, national, and international media).
Oh, and by the way: don’t flatter yourself into believing you could handle it. Just like advertisement, the news influence just works, without us even realising. Those in charge have a number of tools at hand, and they learned from the best psychologists, sociologists, and propagandists how to play with our subconscious. They know how to push the buttons.
I mentioned already twice I was composing again; last Wednesday the recording process has begun — with song number eleven that I had just started composing.
Originally, I had the idea to again add a few already half-done tracks from a few years ago to the new record; as it turns out, I will probably not be able to do so since I believe an album should not contain more than about twelve, thirteen songs.
(Well, we’ll see, it actually wouldn’t be the first time for me to break my own rules.)
“Angst essen Seele auf” was the title of a 1974 film by German author and director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, which literally translates as something like “fear eat soul up” (with the rudimental, flawed language due to the storyline that “revolves around an unlikely relationship which develops between an elderly woman and a Moroccan migrant worker in post-war Germany” [Wikipedia]). Lately, I’ve been reminded of that title quite a lot.
If the soul of a person, as many spiritual *wo*men do believe, is the very essence of one and by definition good, then it is apparently true that it gets eaten by fear. Last year’s refugee crisis all over Europe marked the final return of conservative extremists 1 into the open; people from other countries “flooding” our own are feared for various reasons (e.g. “they take our jobs,” “they rape our women,” “they scheme to undermine the Western culture,” and so forth), all of which are, for the most part, obviously nonsense. When you look at them from a rational, de-emotionalised perspective. If you’d look at them from a rational, de-emotionalised perspective. Which our souls are supposedly capable of, our fear-poisoned minds and/or hearts not so much.
In the aftermath of Turkey’s military coup last night and the assault by a homicidal truck driver in Nice, France, the night before that, the media are spreading fear again. Headlines read “Nightmare,” “Dramatically Dangerous Situation,” “Impotence At The Côte d’Azure,” and the like. I am not saying that the events were not terrible, mind you! What I am saying is, bad things can, do, and will happen at all times, at all places. Question is, in which way does the public get informed? Neutrally (“there has been a shooting, three bystanders, a policeman, and the perpetrator are dead”) or emotionally (“in this terrifying act of atrocity not only the killer himself, but also a father of three, two young women, and a policeman heroically performing his duty were killed and families devastated”)?
Fear comes with imagination. As Cypher Raige (Will Smith) puts it in the (controversial, but not really that bad) film “After Earth” (written by Gary Whitta and M. Night Shyamalan, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, 2013): “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity.”
Whenever messages are delivered with images (both literal and figurative) to illustrate them, the listener’s, viewer’s, and reader’s fantasy will rev up, imagining themselves in this very situation. Leave out all the colourful hyperboles, and the audience will still be affected and empathetic, but stay calm(er). Which seems to be the opposite of what is wanted.
As people (both plural of single persons and inhabitants of a nation) have to be ruled (at least that’s what all rulers of all times have proclaimed) and the act of ruling is eased so much by inducing fear, there is a significant itch for governments, leaders, kings, what have you, to do exactly that. Induce fear.
What goes beyond my understanding is, why do the media aid them in their doing? Wasn’t there something like The Free Press at some point? Is it gone?
No, it isn’t, of course not. But the press is under heavy pressure with this whole internet shebang and such, trying to make “new” money with the “old” (sales of printed editions, you know, this prehistoric stuff) gone. The reflex of most magazines is to try and get closer to the readers (read: be more populistic), which includes the apparent demand of most people for blood, tears, and dramatics. Most newspapers and monthly mags I used to read with interest and a feeling of being actually informed in a solemn manner have shrunk to just another specimen of the yellow press.
And then there is another facet of people being ruled much easier when afraid: Since nineeleven (which was also terrible, don’t get me wrong) all the rights that humans have fought for over the past 50, 60 years by and by seem to vanish, most of them for reasons of “fighting terrorism” 2. Privacy, the right to undisclosed communication, ownership of one’s own data — all gone already, as is the responsibility for one’s own health. The next to disappear may well be the right to assemble and the right to one’s own opinion. Democracy, as flawed and faulty it may be, is also not a gift but something we all have to keep alive. You, me, and everybody else. Every day.
1 I know, I know; there were quite a few helpers and supporters out there, too, giving out food and provide shelter, clothing, and encouragement. But still, the right-wing party nobody ever believed to become anything other than ridiculous, has gained power in several federal states of Germany. So, considerate support by the few seems outvoted by the many.
2 Not one act of terrorism has actually been prevented, nor any terrorist exposed, by means of mass surveillance. Quite the opposite is true: All assailants of the past years were known to police forces already due to ”classical” police work, even those of the World Trade Center attack.
Did I mention already I was composing again? Twenty days after the first strums on the guitar I’m at a total of ten songs already. Most of them are done so far, composition-wise, only two or three are missing a few lines of lyrics. All of them have to be recorded, though, and that means a lot more additional arrangement work. But the basics, guitar chords, melody, and words are there. So excited!
Jakob Augstein, well-known German journalist and publisher, sees the need for a new Europe.
Following Brexit, in his latest column for the magazine Der Spiegel he puts it very eloquently: “The EU was built on the ruins of fascism. Today, it has to be re-built on the ruins of capitalism. The promise of Europe’s foundation was: no more war. Today, it has to be: no more inequity. (…) “A caring Europe — that’s the modern variant of the peaceful Europe’s founding promise. And it’s the only promise left to possibly put the right-wing revolution to a halt.”
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, in an essay published by Newsweek, seconds the apparent threat of the growing right wing: “Look at the strange bedfellows that found themselves together in the Brexit camp: right-wing ‘patriots,’ populist nationalists fuelled by the fear of immigrants, mixed with desperate working class rage — is such a mixture of patriotic racism with the rage of ‘ordinary people’ not the ideal ground for a new form of fascism?”
In a commentary , again for Der Spiegel, Hamburg/Brussels based journalist Markus Becker furthermore quotes British reactions: “The European Union was pursuing a similar goal to Hitler in trying to create a powerful superstate, said London’s former mayor Boris Johnson mid-May: they wanted to get the whole of Europe under their sway. ‘Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out,’ albeit by different methods than the EU, deemed Johnson.” Becker sees the dawning of a “dictatorship of the frustrated.” Hence his warning of referendums — at first glance, a way to involve the public with political decisions; but populists, propagandists, and demagogues were the ones to control the process of opinion-making, not by quality of arguments, but by emotions like fear, rage, even hatred. — Translations: B.M.
After all, money 1 does not make the world go ’round, but rather go down.
1 More precisely, the boundless greed for it of a few and the lack of it for the many.
As of last Tuesday, I am working on new songs again.
With the previous album “Make me do” being inspired by the open D tuning called “Vestopol” on my acoustic guitar, this time I changed one string, the F♯ string, down to an F, making the major chord a minor one and the tuning an Open Dm.
Amazing, how much of a difference this teeny-tiny change makes to the sound of the guitar and the chordal possibilities; it even evokes a different style of strumming.
So far, I have laid out four songs already, and I am truly thrilled.
R U Bot Or What?
Let’s stick with the online world a little longer, shall we? Having quoted Tariq Krim and the reasons for his falling out of love with technology yesterday, today I am inspired by a German article on the use of algorithms and programmes in manipulating votes and elections.
Quite the topic, isn’t it? Imagine a government being pushed into office despite a broad disagreement throughout the human population just by the power of bots shifting results.
Well, you might not even have to imagine; all evidence indicates that we are very close to this sort of tyranny. Based on a sociological study, said article states that 15 % of both Brexit supporters and adversaries on Twitter® are no humans but mere software.
Moreover, around 30 % of Donald Trump’s Twitter® followers apparently are bots, and 10 % of Hillary Clinton’s, too. This is not a brand-new phenomenon; six years ago, Twitter® bots did discriminate a Massachusetts politician, and in the 2012 elections in Mexico, the impressive amount of more than 10,000 fake user profiles seem to have supported the Partido Revolucionario Institucional.
Until today it is still true that a bot is not able to actually vote, but it is also very true that many voters are undecided and easily to be influenced by supposed fellow humans. So, the results of elections are in fact already shifted by those bots. Additionally, since the “techno doctrine” is invading more and more parts of our society, the day is nigh that we’ll be forced to vote electronically (as, for example, Germans are already forced to use the internet for tax returns). That will be the day when the actual count of votes will be open to hacks and fakes. Remember: the one in control of technology is the one in control. (That, by the way, is an essential part of “The Circle”, too.)
Also, you might want to remember that some of your Facebook® “friends”, some of the Twitter® posters you follow, some of the Amazon® recommenders of a product you consider buying, are probably small pieces of software, not actual people.
The End Of the Internet?
Lü Buwei, a politician of the Qin state in the Warring States Period of ancient China (Wikipedia), supposedly once said: “Every ending is followed by a new beginning.” So, fellow internet inhabitants, let us not mourn the downfall of our favourite refuge — for that is what has to happen: the internet as we know it has to make place for a new online community.
Tariq Krim, start-up entrepeneur, founder of Netvibes®, Jolicloud®, and former journalist, feels highly reluctant toward the WWW these days.
“The uncomfortable truth is that I fell out of love with the technology world and that I am not excited by the future any more. At least the future that is being built today,” he writes in a Facebook® post, and he has good reasons for his criticism, “at least three things that make me fear this future.”
First, he worries about “(the lack of) ownership. For many people, entering this new digital world means the end of ownership.”Spotify® owns our music, Netflix® our films and TV series, Amazon® all of the above and e-books, too. With quite dramatic consequences for the “real world”, too, as Tariq points out: “I didn’t mind subscribing to some services until I started to see, in Paris or everywhere I would go, that it also meant closing bookstores, record shops and even public libraries. That struggling magazines have to loose some of their identity to the advertisers. And Culture is becoming increasingly commoditised.”
Next, his concerns focus on the “algorithmic choice. (…) Today, it’s really hard to accept the fact that the machine should decide what’s important for me. Because as good as the algorithms are, they are black boxes with very little control over them.” But “content, like life, is about finding pleasure in messy and unpredictable situations. It’s about content serendipity and friends mentorship. It's about all these little things technology wants to make impossible in the future.” So true, isn’t it? Friends know me so much better than any machine ever could (because a machine wouldn’t understand my sense of humour, my erratic, almost capricious mood and taste swings, my … incalculability), hence I’d prefer any friend’s recommendation over all those algorithm-based “you-might-like-that-toos.”
Last, Tariq mentions “the impossibility to slow down.
“There’s an incredible paradox to see the rise of meditation and mindfulness in Silicon Valley while most products that are built are designed to accelerate time and stress. “While the Dunbar number of meaningful interactions with other humans is around 120, our social graphs are breaking records every day about how many people we can talk to.” Actually, Dunbar’s number seems to be a little higher even, namely around 150 in average. Which is still vastly exceeded by the amount of Facebook® friends, Twitter® followers, Instagram® fans one might have. (I can not even imagine to know and relate to the overwhelming count of 120 or 150 persons.)
Tariq then concludes, envisioning a “sort of slow web that is to technology what slow food is to processed things,” and a “sort of ‘organic sustainable slow technology’.” I second that and would like to invite everyone reading this to our new community of “slow webizens.” As I wrote earlier, in my text “City Zen”: let’s rather be idle than busy for a change. Let’s read full length texts instead of Twitter® bits and tl;drs. Let’s breathe, and float, and close our eyes every now and then. — Sources: Tariq Krim @ Facebook®
“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country (…)”
“We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society (…)”
“In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons (…) who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.” — Edward Bernays, “the father of public relations”, in: “Propaganda” (Routledge, 1928)
I lived in cities quite a while. But for almost a decade already, I prefer staying in rural areas.
Not that I’m much of a “nature guy”; I am not so much into hiking or biking, not a busy gardener (yet), nor bird watcher or bee counter (and no tree-hugger either, mind you). But I appreciate the proximity to all things green and growing, and I also appreciate the basic, laid-back lifestyle of many, if not most, ruralists 1. Even those who are not working in the fields or breeding cattle seem to be more earnest, down-to-earth, and at the same time merrier than your average time-lacking urban dweller: always in a hurry, always busy, always on top of it all.
Still, the inhabitants of a country or state are called “citizens”, implying that those from towns and towers are the predominant species. That is so chauvinistic! Each city’s every street corner should get warning signs applied, similar to those on cigarette boxes, “LIVING IN THE CITY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH,” “URBAN LIFE IS A DANGER TO YOU AND EVERYONE NEXT TO YOU”! Bad air, bad attitude, bad atmosphere are the downsides of a vague possibility for inspiring encounters and collaborations.
In cities, you can buy anything and everything, but you can never be sure of the product’s quality, especially when it comes to food. In the countryside, however, you may grow your own vegetables, fruits, raise rabbits, or befriend an organic farmer. With TTIP on the threshold, with herbicide and fertiliser producers pushing for their poisons’ permits to be extended indefinitely despite indications of their apparent carcinogenic “side effects”, industrial food is really not getting any better but increasingly worse instead. (Tragically, this is true for many products carrying an “organic” stamp, too.)
Many a friend I hear complaining about the demanding harshness, breathlessness, tension, and anonymity of urban existence. Actually, there are means to make city life a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable. Just try to adopt rural behaviour while inside city limits:
Let the others hurry; remain at a relaxed pace yourself
Keep your head down; at eye level there’s only advertisement and other distractions 2
If you own a car, sell it; use public transportation instead 3
Find parks and city greens; go there as often as possible
If none of the above works: move to the countryside. I promise, you will not regret it. It will change your life, of course, but for the better.
Possible alternatives: Move to the outskirts of a small town. Take long vacations (at least two months) at a secluded beach, in a little village, or a mountain hut. (Don’t forget to send me a postcard then.)
1 Unfortunately, there’s a growing number of city*wo*men who just own a house in the countryside, but have grown up and still work and spend a lot of time in the city; those are just as tense as any other urban person, hence spreading their illness countryward.
2 I am well aware that it is impossible to walk heads-down all the time. Just do it whenever possible. (Also, I am well aware that this is not an adoption of rural behaviour. Outside cities and towns I’d recommend quite the opposite!)
2 This may not appear a “rural recommendation” either, but it is the right thing to do, wherever you live. The more people demand to use buses and trains, the more buses and trains will be put on road and rail.
Transparent New World
Today, I want to recommend a book to all those who didn’t read it yet: “The Circle” by Dave Eggers.
The story unfolds around a young woman, Mae, who starts her new job at an internet company that might be described as a mix of Google® and Facebook®, with a few more ingredients. All the reservations and concerns I have against my fellow *wo*men being hooked on their digital profiles are confirmed and elaborated on by this dystopian novel. Frightening enough, most of the developments depicted by Eggers are done, or in the making, already.
Let me show you some excerpts, and let me add: Close your Facebook®, Google®, YouTube®, Dropbox®, Twitter®, Instagram®, and whatever else accounts you have. Close them all, today, for good. For your own good. (Yes, I am serious.)
“Most people would trade everything they know, everyone they know — they’d trade it all to know they’ve been seen, and acknowledged, that they might even be remembered. We all know the world is too big for us to be significant. So all we have is the hope of being seen, or heard, even for a moment.”
This, to me, is the most brilliant paragraph, because it delivers a very convincing explanation as to why people tend to lemming blindly toward “social” networks and into surveillance. (The underlying theory is backed up by the fact that an increasing number of young people, asked for their goal in life, want to become a “star”, “YouTuber”, or otherwise famous.)
“It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.”
Counters Mercer, Mae’s once boyfriend and the novel’s one of two antagonists who keeps warning her.
“SECRETS ARE LIES” “SHARING IS CARING” “PRIVACY IS THEFT”
These three mottos are invented by Mae herself while she’s stepping up The Circle’s hierarchical ladder; it is certainly not by accident that they resemble those found in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.
“(…) the volume of information, of data, of judgements, of measurements, was too much, and there were too many people, and too many desires of too many people, and too many opinions of too many people, and too much pain from too many people, and having all of it constantly collated, collected, added and aggregated, and presented to her as if that all made it tidier and more manageable — it was too much.”
This is a brief moment when Mae doubts her job, her calling, The Circle. It won’t last long, though.
“Suffering is only suffering if it’s done in silence, in solitude. Pain experienced in public, in view of loving millions, was no longer pain. It was communion.”
P.S.: While you’re at it, you might additionally read the … well — blueprint of a sort (at least in parts) for “The Circle”, Aldous Huxley’s dystopia “Brave New World”, followed by the aforementioned “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Finally, to calm your nerves a little, read “Island”, Huxley’s last novel and a utopian vision of a better world made possible by combining Western science with Eastern (mainly Buddhist) wisdom. “Island” is in fact one of the very few books that have made me rethink my perception of the world.
All Under Control
Many, if not most, people hope for sport, exercises, and health apps to expand and control their life expectancy. They try to control their lives’ risks by signing countless insurance contracts.
Companies, governments, and law enforcement agencies use big data analysis to predict and control future behaviours. Undoubtedly, the one thing modern men fears most is the loss of control.
There’s at least three downsides to this control mania.
First off, it’s an illusion. We are not in control, however desperate we try. Life has its own way of surprising us; people with a healthy lifestyle, well-fed, well-trained, non-smoking, die at an early age while smokers, sport refusers and greasy meat eaters get to live 90+ years.
Second, the desire for control strips us of real experiences. If everything goes as expected, our brains go into hibernation since there’s nothing to compute. But we are designed hungry for something new, hence the growing market for extreme sports, exotic travels, and so forth. (Those distractions happening in a controlled manner and environment, too, makes them way less satisfying than the real thing, though.)
Last, control is rarely left in our own hands. Self-proclaimed sports scientists decide which exercises to do (happily changing their minds every now and then), app developers put average values into their programmes that might well not apply to a certain individuum, insurance companies define exception over exception in the fine print, making sure they won’t have to cover your claims, and governments … well, Edward Snowden was not the first to demonstrate how recklessly data miners assume that anyone might be guilty of something, so everyone must be observed and surveilled.
“Every person I know is pretty poorly constructed. Everyone has an excuse for not dealing. But eventually that’s all they are — excuses.” — Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix), in: “Dollhouse” (Season 2, Episode 1, “Vows”; Joss Whedon 2009)
This website looks shitty on mobile devices (“smart” phones, i-Phones and -Pads, tablets, phablets, shabblets…) because those are shitty devices designed to get you hooked, then addicted, then lost.
They seem to be fun and inspire communication, but their intention is not to help you, but to surveil you, read all your messages, know exactly where you are at this very moment. (And your communication gets shitty, too: less then ten lines is not communication at all.)
Good luck with this invasive tech. Some day you will most likely regret ever having started using it.
Clicking (touching, tapping, swiping, what have you) anywhere on this screen should show you the website anyhow.