Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Myth of Happiness

What most people define as happiness is really just self satisfaction. Some may achieve it through counter-intuitive means, like self sacrifice, but they are still conforming experience to self image. Happiness as a discrete quality may not actually exist. Cheerfulness, ebullience, optimism, these are not happiness. Contentment is a form of happiness, but it can slide into complacency. And they're all still just forms of self satisfaction.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

How do you know?

With the 2016 presidential primary already underway, I've been thinking about the way people get their information now, and how it has changed since the time before broadcast media.

Before radio, anyone interested in political information and candidates would have to read whatever printed matter was available, or encounter the candidate in person, or listen to another live speaker. Political participation depended on literacy, because no candidate could travel so widely and address large enough audiences to mobilize a useful number of voters.

According to this suspect graph on Wikipedia, voter turnout was quite high between 1836 and 1896, before dropping off sharply at the beginning of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, data on voter statistics from before broadcast media don't come readily to hand, so I have no better numbers to offer. But I don't really care about overall numbers. Think about the methods of communication and how they affect the lives of ordinary citizens.

With the coming of radio, people no longer had to be readers. Later, with the coming of television, they no longer had to imagine the visual aspects of what they heard. As video has developed it has followed in the footsteps of film in providing instruction as well as entertainment, so that an attentive viewer can learn concepts and procedures through multiple senses, and inattentive viewers can think they did. The process of examining and reviewing written words has fallen off, while the absorption, conscious and unconscious, of information that may be wildly skewed, has risen sharply.

The Internet is the descendant of television. According to a Rodale article, video content is expected to comprise 86% of the Internet by next year. Obviously, people would rather see something that walks and talks --and dances -- than read something that sits there and requires them to engage more analytical faculties to absorb it.

Personally, I tend to skip videos and look for something I can read. But I am politically and economically insignificant, being nonpartisan (though left leaning) and dirt poor. But as a canary in a coal mine, I have to chirp out that encouraging people to absorb most of their information through what are basically animated cartoons does not bode well for the intellectual future of the species.

Intelligent people will think about what they've been fed, but they have to fight through the psychological manipulation inherent in the medium to do so. People with less time or inclination to think will be herded. The shepherd and the crook may be one and the same.

As animated content takes over more and more, written information will become harder to find. In the Dark Ages, illiteracy created a wall between the people in power and the people over whom they exercised it. Grubbing for survival, the serfs and peasants learned what they needed from the people around them. No one asked for their opinion about affairs of government. Now, in the era of video serfing, the semi-literate, harried multitudes are simply steered with simple words on paper and a lot of haranguing through speakers and screens.

Even if you dig for the more measured tones and thoughtful presentation of public broadcasting you're getting only a peephole view of the world. And public broadcasting is picking up a lot of corporate financing, which has to alter the content, even if it's done subtly, so as not to alarm the shy, skittish intelligentsia. Because every single human views the world from within the confines of their individual brain, the most rational individual will still transmit and receive through a filter of preconception. These prejudices apply to written material as well as audiovisual.

Written material is superior because it stimulates critical brain activity more effectively than video. You may agree or disagree with material in either medium, but the forced pace of video carries you past each point faster than you can say, "hey, wait a minute." Written propaganda has had plenty of influence through the centuries, and continues to do so. But seeing it on paper and being able to look at it over and over without rewinding allows you to review it, to catch things you might not have noticed before, without sitting through a bunch of the rest of the presentation as you try to rewind to the spot you remember. The emotional impact is more controllable without an animated presenter cranking up the feeling.

Of course information in any medium is only as good as the investigation behind it. So the whole thing stumbles over access. Can a reporter get to information? Has the information been formulated for effect, or is it really unaltered primary data? Has the information been filtered through the editorial bias of the publisher? Since that is almost inescapably true, has that bias rendered the information useless, if not outright harmful?

Many of the details we are given, and encouraged to either enthuse or rage about, are irrelevant to the broader implications of a given event. That's when the reader, viewer or listener has to rise above the thicket of detail to think about major movements and basic principles.


My employer had one of his periodic foaming shit fits yesterday. These typically consist of a disproportionate rage response to a triggering event. Underlying stressors have accumulated until he blows a gasket, usually bellowing impotently about his authority.

When you have to yell about your authority you have none. I can't remember the last time I yelled. Even when I was running the retail concession at Jackson Ski Touring in the early years of the century and had an employee who could be a real punk asshole when he felt like it, I did not yell. I did my best to understand the man's limitations and work with them, to maximize his strengths. It would do no one any good to get in endless pissing contests with him. We developed a functional symbiosis. Eventually, he moved on. I got a new colleague.

I don't have subordinates. I have colleagues. And I AM no one's subordinate. This does not guarantee that my employer does not think of me as a subordinate. He does have power, for all his lack of authority. He can order me to do things, leaving me to decide whether to follow the order, ignore the order or quit. He can fire me. But he cannot command my respect. No one can. Nor can I command anyone to respect me.

Life gets a ton easier when you just do your thing and don't worry about whether anyone bows down before you.

My employer's problem is that his kids never rebelled. He's got these great authoritarian rants saved up that he never got to spew at them. Since a certain kind of employer considers his employees to be so junior that they are actually juvenile, the incoherent bellowing about attitude and respect transfers neatly.

My bluntness is an expression of efficiency. To me, the shortest distance between a stupid idea and the trash heap is a straight flight launched with a sharp kick. I get away with this often enough to lull me into believing that my employers actually understand how my mind works. Then a blowup happens and I have to remember to let them do what they want. I will simply wade through it, climb over it or walk around it, and hope it goes away. If it doesn't, it becomes the new normal.

If I thought all their ideas were stupid you could accuse me of being an arrogant punk. However, I understand how they fit into their particular community. I oppose only the ideas that will do them -- and us -- a harm they have not considered. Ultimately, they have the power to institute the harm. After whatever token critique I attempt to offer, my next responsibility as an employee is to do the foolish thing they command, or at least stand back so it can play out in all its collapsing glory. If all goes well, it will cause no outright harm, only inconvenience. At worst it brings the whole place down. Then something new can arise.

Monday, May 04, 2015

The Basics of Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theory boils down to one essential principle: Everything supports the theory.

Lack of evidence is some of the best evidence. It proves how high and deep the conspiracy goes, because they can cover it up so well. So lack of solid evidence proves concealment. If you can't find it, it's just really well hidden, because WE KNOW IT'S THERE. It DEFINITELY EXISTS.

Evidence against the conspiracy is disinformation. Scientific explanations of phenomena are junk science. It's all just public relations produced by shills working for the conspiracy.

Any unexplained event or phenomenon is not the work of natural principles you are unfamiliar with. It is ONLY the work of sinister forces.

Anyone who disagrees with the conspiracy theorists is a dupe. Yet unswerving belief IN the conspiracy does not make you THEIR dupe. No, you are one of the intelligent faithful who see through all the smoke and mirrors and pesky "science" produced by the conspiracy to cover up their heinous schemes.