framing a problem: how corporations manufacture public (and private) consciousness

in 1967 the u.s. supreme court ruled to deport clive boutilier, a canadian, on the basis of his being homosexual. the decision was based on the immigration and nationality act of 1952 that stated “aliens afflicted with psychopathic personality…shall be excludable from admission into the united states.” the legislative history of this act reflected how congress interpreted ‘psychopathic’ to include homosexuality, an interpretation informed by psychiatry and the DSM-II (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, kinda like the bible of psychiatry).

now, the assumption might be that if homosexuality was included as a pathology in scientific literature by medical professionals then there’d be nothing more to argue. but this would be naive. for the medical sciences and health industries are far from being objective. in fact, by designating homosexuality as a mental illness psychiatry simply mirrored the values of a homophobic society interested in maintaining a certain status quo, imposing conformity upon society. for even if a majority of homosexuals turned out to be afflicted with mental illness, it would not necessarily follow that their being mentally ill was a result of their being homosexual,  rather it would be just as plausible that their being mentally ill were actually caused by the oppressive forces of a homophobic world. their pathology would not be anymore due to intrinsic causes than extrinsic ones.  and if intrinsic, the cause of pathology would be indifferent to sexual orientation, just as readily discovered in heterosexuals as in homosexuals.

the point of this post is not to defend homosexuality per se, rather the issue i’m trying to get at is that what people naively believe to be truisms are nearly always manufactured by society. they think they come to their ideas and beliefs by themselves through rational thought when in actuality they were coerced and pre-programmed to think along certain party lines. all this is just another example of how many of people’s values and beliefs are socially constructed and politically coerced. an example of how lobby groups and corporate interests manufacture public and political policies, in turn shaping societal norms and values. it is naive to believe that anyone can be invulnerable to such impositions, that one has shaped one’s own destiny in life of one’s own free will, and nihilistic to believe that such deception doesn’t warrant an active resistance against such evil and a transformation of how we live our lives or engage with our world. in an interview, robert spitzer, a psychiatrist acting as a consultant to the DSM-II, revealed how diseases became categorized as such not so much due to scientific facts but due to political coercion. when asked about how new diseases were included into the DSM:

spitzer: you have to lobby, that’s how. you have to have troops.

interviewer: so it’s not a matter of…

spitzer: having the data? no

interviewer: it’s nothing to do with science then, and nothing to do with evidence?

spitzer nodded.

and the scary result of such political coercion that is dismissive of diversity, and that only embraces its self-interests that reflects the dissolution of the democratic process, is that it produces morons like this guy (below) and many others like him who go around duping that part of the masses who are too lazy or disinterested to figure out for themselves the meaning to things. and we haven’t even begun to discuss how the online medium of communication only exacerbates and spreads such nihilism. although the DSM has since taken homosexuality off its manual of disorders, there are still morons who keep its seedy legacy alive. below is a comment that some poster left on this youtube video, to which i replied:

its been four decades since such gender issues were stricken from the DSM and yet, here we still are today feeling the effects of past lobbyists and regimes of the nihilistic status quo or the phallic discourse of the same…a repetition of the same, a return to the same. the violence of metaphysics has lasting temporal effects. meaning, the dogmatic adherence to apparent truths  necessarily marginalizes, objectifies and does violence against those who fall outside the purview of such illusory and politically manufactured truths. but these ideas seep into consciousness and are petrified there as belief. set into stone. setting Others in stone. and so its our task to continue to break such stone tablets at the foot of mountains that write in fire.

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philip seymour hoffman: on performance and resistance

NPR’s program Fresh Air with Terry Gross recently put together a great tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, a collection of highlights from past interviews. I highly recommend listening to it here. Below is a selection from one of the interviews that is insightful and thought provoking. A phenomenon that I’ve been reflecting on lately is the performance. Does it entail a deceit or an irony? Does it conceal meaning with the spectacle of its surface appearance, or does the actor reveal a deeper meaning or hidden truth by embodying it in performance? Reading and interpreting a performance is one thing. What about being the one who performs? To this question, Hoffman sheds some light.

GROSS: The late Anthony Minghella directed you in a couple of films.


GROSS: “Cold Mountain” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” And he was quoted in an article as saying this about you: Philip is an extraordinary actor, cursed sometimes by his own gnawing intelligence, his own discomfort with acting. Does that sound right to you? That you have, like – your intelligence is, like, sometimes a curse? And that you’re uncomfortable sometimes with acting?


HOFFMAN: Ah, I miss him.

GROSS: I bet you do. Yeah.

HOFFMAN: I really do. Um, wow. You took me by surprise with that. Um, you know, I think I am as intelligent as the next guy. I think that the amount of concentration, sometimes the amount of personal exploration it takes to do something well, can be not pleasant, you know, like hard work is. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to do it or that you don’t love it or that it’s not ultimately satisfying. You know that old cliche, you know, nothing’s worth it unless it’s hard to do kind of thing. I wear that on my sleeve sometimes when I’m working.

And I think that because I trusted Anthony so much and I think – you know, and he got to know me, you know, like all really, really, fine directors do; they allow you to be who you are. The best and the worst of you is allowed to show up at work, and they are OK with that because they know that the actor needs an environment of trust, and he was one of those people. So he gets to know me probably better than some people that might have known me longer. So he’s probably referring to that, and he’s a very intelligent man and obviously very insightful, and he’s right. You know, I think I do wear that discomfort of sometimes the process, that the creative process of something, and how sometimes it’s not pleasant on my sleeve. And I think that’s what’s he’s talking about.

GROSS: What is that discomfort with?

HOFFMAN: When you’re shooting a film, the day can be 10, 12 hours long, usually. And you have to stay in a certain place through that time because you’re, at any moment, you’ll be called to do what you do. And you’ve done a lot of work and prepared a lot of things, and the level of concentration it takes to kind of keep those plates in the air is – it can be – that’s what’s tiring about the job. Like any job, everything has – there’s always something about that job that’s exhausting, and that’s what’s exhausting about acting, is the level of concentration over a very long period of time.

And if there’s something emotional about what you’re doing that day, you’re carrying that emotion on one level or another for a long period of time. If you think about life, first off, we don’t want to – we’re not too introspective. We don’t walk around our lives just constantly trying to delve into the understanding of ourselves unless you’re in therapy or something. And – but that’s what actors do, you know? We really explore ourselves and other people and all that stuff.

And if you’re carrying that around and the emotional life of that around over a period of time, it can be burdensome. But it’s part of the work, and you’re trying to create something artful out of it. And so, it’s not therapy. So, you’re not there to be in thera – you’re there to take, you know, what you know and the experiences and behavior and emotional life of yourself and others and try to make something artful out of it. But the carrying of that around and the focusing of that can be, it can be tough.

[ ... ]

HOFFMAN: No. No, I think they’re the same. The same – what it takes to be a great athlete is the same thing that it takes to be a great actor, I think. That kind of concentration and that kind of privacy in public and that kind of unselfconscious kind of experience are very similar, and that kind of pressure of the people watching and finding privacy in front of – and all that stuff. So, you know, I find it very similar.

Certain actors and actresses are examples of lived bodily extremes insofar as the extent to which they are able to fully and publicly embody other identities is also the extent to which they’re at tension with their own private identity and bodily existence. There’s a certain fluidity to their identities that withstand the petrifying imposition of cultural norms and expectations that enables them to mime, subvert, destroy and re-create our preconceived illusions of what constitutes normative experience. The private/public distinction here does not apply, for the performer’s connection to the body is never severed by a prevailing symbolic order or dominant form of language; it is on the strength of private tension with the body that what is reformulated as public is not mere spectacle but truth. True in the sense that it resists that which is an illusion, that which is assumed as normative, it resists incorporation and assimilation into a singular interpretation. It resists objectification. True in the sense that it is not truth in presence; but in its absence of absolute meaning, compels one to suspend any definitive judgement, and to continue seeking, to continue querying, to continue queering. The performance calls into question the autonomy of one’s existence by calling one to respond to its undeniable presence in absence. Indeed, this call is an invitation of hospitality; we are invited to the performance and to see and respond for ourselves. Quite the gift. Standing before us as an irreducible Other, the performance calls us to query the possibility of other worlds, other scenes…Others’ language.

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the politics of information and self-surveillance

i’ve been slowly watching the bbc series sherlock and sherlock repeatedly expresses this sentiment of frustration: “why don’t people think anymore?” its not that people have become entirely unreflective or pathologically incapable of neurological functions; what frustrates sherlock, and myself as well, is that we no longer ask the right questions, if we’re asking at all. who, what, when, where, why and how are all important questions. but ‘why’ is the question that involves the most work, demands the most honesty, entails the most risk…that is, if its answer is sought to the bitter end, an end that never arrives. unconsciously, people are afraid of what comes on the other side of why for what they find there may just challenge their comfortable assumptions- the lies they’ve built for themselves. what follows why is always another why that leads to more questions. which is why its the most difficult of the questions, it becomes an inquiry that never ends. whether its because laziness, feelings of inadequacy or fear, we dont ask questions anymore. we dont wonder why, and we dont think. instead, what we do today is we process information. we consume it. and reproduce it for it to be re-consumed by others. and because information is always instantly available at our fingertips, information that comes pre-processed, it takes the chore of thinking out of the equation, ‘frees’ us from that burden. we no longer think, we just peddle information. we no longer possess knowledge, only information. we only possess the cheap stuff- the robotic function of memory recall- trivia devoid of human relevance and meaning. what do we know? nothing. if by ‘knowing’ we mean that which is a quality relative to humans and not robotic automatons simply regurgitating information.

‘why’ is the ethos that is completely missing from political discourse (see-house of cards). for if it were asked, politics as it is currently constituted would be dissimulated, and the deceit of social values and political capital that are currently being alloyed to information would be exposed. but such a sentimental hope is fast becoming fantasy. with the reign of surveillance firmly entrenched in society today the regressive historical movement from knowledge to information seems irreversible. we have become too beholden to spectacle.

but the politics of information gets even more problematic. not only are we consumers of information, we’ve become information. the correlations to alienation, dehumanization and nihilism are apparent enough, i dont feel like i need to explain them. the surveillance policies of the obama administration and the nsa are also obvious enough as primary examples of exterior forces that are coercively shaping what it means, not just to be american, but to be human. and what it means to be human today is to be a compilation of data. a further reduction from the statistics we used to be…oh, the good ol’ days. we no longer require compiling before acquiring analytic meaning for research interpretation or public consumption. indeed, if statistics was the massification of humanity, data is the singularizing of the human as data, but of course a schizophrenic human with multiple data disorder. data is what now constitutes our identities, our humanity. bodies, minds, souls- these are irrelevant and are no longer required prerequisites for human membership. all that matters is that you receive and return, accept and proliferate data. you might be thinking this is a bit of a stretch or overstatement. let’s see, or should i say- let’s review the data, shall we?

consider that human identity is a political construction and its the only iteration of ‘human’ that is of any practical relevance. what i’m asserting is that any conception of what it means to be human is hopelessly naive if it is divorced from its political context. any other account of what it means to be human apart from the political will be easily undermined once one begins to consider freedom and rights. ‘human rights’ only exist for the individual insofar as said human is identified with a state. indeed, there are no such things as ‘rights’, only privileges, privileges that can be taken away at a moment’s notice, at the whims of the state’s self-interests (see- snowden, edward). humanity is a quality that is relative to and dependent on recognition by the state. if you’re not identified by a state, then you’re for all intensive purposes, not human but an alien.. until you find another state that will take you in. i’m not saying that this is how it ought to be, i’m just saying this is how things are today. and clearly this is problematic especially when taking into account that the state encourages economic activity on part of its citizens, that what it means to be an active and dutiful citizen is to be an actor within the economy. and yet it is this very system of exchange that buttresses the state that creates poverty simultaneously with wealth, and those who find themselves at an economic loss, those who become poor, indeed, their ‘rights’ become diminished, and they are eventually alienated from what constitutes being ‘human’- a contributing member of the state (for more on this see the paper i wrote on hegel, the rabble and the modern state). it is only in this sense that ‘democracy’ still exists, that it is via participation in the free market economy that one ‘represents’ oneself, that one casts one’s vote and has his/her voice heard by the state by being a producer of data, of information. which is why there is actually no such thing as a sphere of politics, its all economics. and ‘rights’ are coextensive with capital, with what information one can peddle. indeed, if we re-read the constitution we’ll find that ‘inalienable rights’ such as the freedom of speech readily lends itself to the consumption and reproduction of information. the exchange of information is an inalienable right. we are conveniently feeding the leviathan by simply giving way to our gluttony and sloth, just sitting there consuming data. we even do it while we sleep, with our smart phones by our bedsides updating apps throughout the night. what it means to be human is to possess certain rights, what dictates these rights is the welfare-state, what it means to be human is enforced by the policies and laws of such a state, the state values its own preservation and progress, and the reduction of humans to information streamlines this process. information constitutes who we are, what could be more constitutional?

We like to think of ourselves as somehow apart from all this information. We are real — the information is merely about us. But what is it that is real? What would be left of you if someone took away all your numbers, cards, accounts, dossiers and other informational prostheses? Information is not just about you — it also constitutes who you are. We understandably do not want to see ourselves as bits and bytes. But unless we begin conceptualizing ourselves in this way, we leave it to others to do it for us.

- colin koopman, the age of infopolitics op-ed for the NYT (read it here)

all the fuss over government surveillance practices and policies is quite the red herring. its been effective in distracting everyday people with the unwelcome intrusion of big brother’s prying eye into their everyday habits and behaviours. people are concerned over issues such as evasion of privacy not realizing that they’ve been surveilling themselves all along. our fusion with online technology and instant media renders all our actions predictable. all the shopping decisions we make have become predictable, but worse than that, have become pre-determined. there’s no practical reason for the government to check our phone records and whatnot, and if there’s a big fuss that’s made over it its because its beneficial for the government in terms of reinforcing its own power to set the terms of discourse, to have such a pre-determined discourse internalized in people’s minds. this is all rather foucauldian (see his book discipline and punish), and its descriptive of what’s going on. participation in the free market is a form of practicing self-surveillance, of incorporating and assimilating oneself into a discursive world that dictates via statistics measuring capital, gain and loss, etc, what one does. we think we have options and choices and that this in part constitutes our freedom, a freedom to choose between options, but this is no freedom, indeed it is a being limited by options, options that are given to us by the powers that be. if you were born and raised in a cellar and all you’ve ever known were the options of bread, beans, and pudding, you’d also think you were quite free in being able to choose between the three. freedom only appears so because of a priori limits. this is pure and simple social construction. we are products of the products we buy. all that we know is what is given to us. we are the information of the information we exchange. there is no trace of any real freedom in any of this. our embrace of information over knowledge, of  the deceit of spectacle over understanding is the fruition of the reign of nihilism. this is similar to the phenomenon of self-direction that i previously described here. nothing has meaning anymore for information is precisely pre-packaged meaning that rarely inspires the question ‘why?’, tis just a means to an end, a means to more information, a means to more means that never sees an end. information cannot go anywhere without us. it transitions in and through us, we mediate information. we’ve become extensions of our computers. we no longer use technology, it uses us. but hey, i’ve ranted about all this before. “somehow, ‘i told you so’ just doesnt quite say it.”

once upon a time i wrote a long blog post about why i had left facebook. looking back, not much has changed except that my understanding of the issues and concerns have become more nuanced and well-informed. and now we’re at a juncture in history where our complicit participation in data mongering via memberships to such sites as facebook, google, amazon, twitter and whatever else has transformed into an act of self-surveillance where we’re doing all the government’s work for them. it is in this sense that democracy has never existed, or if it has it’s just a more sinister form of totalitarianism where all the control is not explicitly performed but implicitly and tacitly under the guise of economic freedoms. there’s no need for big brother for we’re watching ourselves. by checking our daily feeds. automating our bill payments. default navigational settings on google maps. and so on.

meanwhile, obama announces $750 million worth of pledges to student technology. gotta give and get that information to/from the kids even while they’re at school, and especially while they’re young. this is not progress or liberalism. its social conditioning. economic coercion. its self-surveillance.

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