Wednesday, 29 April 2015

What Hobbes knew about human society

A few weeks ago, this column talked about the world’s two largest monotheisms and their intimate connection to what makes us human. We can now talk about Hobbes and the maintenance of the human status quo.

Since the terrible events of 2001, explanations of this new conflict with Islam – and what to do about it – often centres on the dynamics of belief in god. That belief is always discussed as if it were alien to the secularity of the West, even while the West retains the trappings of religion.

Our narrative describes how Western society escaped from under the glass ceiling of transcendentalism to create the Enlightenment. And how today this hard-fought freedom from gods is under attack once again by the forces of religion. But the split is not that simple.

The frightening thing about Islam for secular society is that it reminds us of the past supernatural tendencies this enlightened civilisation weaned itself of and how we could effortlessly slip back into similar Bronze Age belief structures.

We are at once fascinated and terrified of Islam because of how incoherently the West explains itself. Human systems are never threatened by the truth, they are only threatened by more effective lies. And the central lie is the existence of an omnipotent entity outside of our minds. Let me explain.

All belief structures share the same key reality: they are made up by humans and humans are not subject to progress. The further away secularism pulled from such “primitive” human instincts as belief in a higher authority, the more secularists realised the truth of the existence of that ultimate authority. The system only needed tweaking.

Thomas Hobbes knew this and created the Leviathan. It was a social contract binding together citizens under legitimate government. His most important insight, however, was the recognition that for humans to cooperate they must be told their instinct to believe in an objective authority is correct, or at least not wrong. And, crucially, what words they could use to describe it.

Hobbes understood that for human society to survive an evolution, it only requires its nomenclature to be altered. So after Hobbes, god became government; tithe became taxes; charity, aid; worship, entertainment; and “god’s will” eventually transmogrified into consumer protection.

Take the last transition. The concept of consumer protection lays bare our secular belief in an omnipotent entity. Not, perhaps, the loving god of Islam or Christianity, but a benevolent god nonetheless. A person’s judgement of risk is based on the fact that they believe in god; this is even more the case if that person thinks they don’t believe in god. It’s easy to notice this entity if you know its three characteristics: it is omnipotent, it opposes the existing (dis)order and its sole job is to protect us not from the world but from our bad decisions.

The problem is that it isn’t a well-created god. The story requires work to believe. This god is whatever the individual considers as a higher authority: the government, the Reserve Bank, laws, regulations, etc. These new structures are built to assuage existential despair and reinforce a human’s need to see patterns in noise.

We live in a society that values free choice and personal responsibility, but we are told it is safe to value these things because people expect a certain amount of absence of choice and freedom from responsibility. We operate under the assumption we would not be allowed to make truly dangerous choices.

Therefore we accept products, for example, must be safe enough for the question of personal responsibility to be pondered. How do we know it’s safe? Because some omnipotent entity allowed the product to exist. And we can trust this entity because sometimes it tries to ban defective products. This is how all of us think.

That is the West’s problem and it is impossible to solve. The belief that some omnipotent entity would not permit bad products is a window into how similar we are to those who can be honest and accept they are religious. All of the metaphors of the West imply this omnipotent entity, from “free market” to “inalienable rights” to “peace in our time”.

A commonly heard phrase during political or financial crises is that until the politicians “get their act together”, the Reserve Bank needs new strategies. Observe how easy it becomes for people to go over the government to a higher authority. Observe how easy it is to find some other omnipotent entity to save us from ourselves.

The business world can surely recall how every time a product unexpectedly makes it through the filter of safety regulations and becomes controversial, the reflex action by the public is to angrily blame the victim of the defective product and protect the corporation. This is our defence mechanism, built to save us from seeing the reality. The collective public rage isn’t because the system caught the after-market danger, it’s because the defective product is unwanted evidence the system isn’t omnipotent. And there’s nothing worse than an unreliable god, hence the rage.

Almost every child is taught by well-meaning parents to be highly suspicious of individuals in authority, yet concurrently to be reflexively obedient to the symbols of authority as long as an individual can’t be seen attached to the symbol. This tendency occupies us from childhood.

Some people call this the nanny state, but a better understanding is that we cannot escape from a desire for the watchful eye. As with Islam and Christianity, a secular society desires to pretend that the question “who can fix this” is more important than thinking about “I helped cause this”. At least the two great monotheisms reconciled this inescapable reality with a pre-packaged, plug-and-play concept of the world. Our crisis is not political, it is psychological and nothing will change until that is addressed.

What frightens us about Islam is how their narrative is so much simpler to adopt than the incoherent Western story of self. We know we’re being tricked by our collective refusal to call our omnipotent entity for what it is, but few understand the conman is actually ourselves.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Do Game of Thrones fans dream of sex or power?

Did you cross your arms as well?
I know Game of Thrones is a big hit. Not because I’ve watched it, but because everyone tells me it is. I’m not even sure they’ve watched it, because, at this point they probably know more about the show through their eardrums than through their eyeballs. Now that’s marketing.

People also tell me Game of Thrones has lots of sex and violence. Actually, after they start salivating, that’s the first thing everyone describes. Apparently the storyline is ancillary. And I’ll love it, because politics and intrigue - and boobies. Did I tell you there’s boobies? I guess no one’s querying why lumping sex and violence together tells me plenty about their brain stem. But I’m no shrink and violence/sex has been media’s selling point for 150 years.

Anyway, a “staff writer” at The Guardian noticed that ten tissue boxes-worth of sex and violence in every episode might not be a good thing. I wasn’t sure why that was front-page worthy. I guess today’s topic was finding an “angle” on a TV show and mother duck us into explaining why we’re bad people for watching it. On the one hand, violence is a bad thing, no one’s suggesting it isn’t - except perhaps the people at the wrong end of a drunken fist. Then violence is ok, but only when it’s defensive. Got it? Not really...

Flip that over and notice how all the protagonist sex is absolutely kosher because from the viewpoint of the observer, the logic stands that there must be a good reason for the horizontal action if you’re doing it. The sex represents what the viewer thinks of themselves. It’s an identity thing, which is the whole point of having a protagonist. Of course, anything that might affect the viewer - like imagining sex out of our control - is inescapably conflated in viewers minds with violence, hence violence/sex in the same paragraph. So, accordingly the viewer accepts the form as: =all implicit actions are happening to me=I want control=sex is violence when it is controlled by someone else. But I could be wrong here.

What’s the best way to achieve this? Double down on how sex is always horrible, even if you’re not religious. And get the audience to agree by interviewing one of the “sexually objectified” women plastered all over GoT like so many playthings. Thank Aphrodite plenty of women are ready to spill their story for the waiting media. Here’s one now:

  • Some of you may be aware that Games of Thrones actor Kit Harington complained about his sexual objectification, saying: “It can sometimes feel like your art is being put to one side for your sex appeal and I don’t like that” and: “To always be put on a pedestal as a hunk is slightly demeaning.It really is and it’s in the same way as it is for women.”

Hold up, my misdirection-senses are tingling. But I did not expect this particular bait-and-switch. Bravo. I’m not gonna lie, I thought Kit Harington was a girl’s name at first. I already understand why that makes me part of the joke and why you’re laughing, but let’s be honest, if I didn’t just tell you the subject is a man, would you have known? Oh, you’ve seen the show...

Another piece of information: this story is written by a woman. Not that this should matter - ever. But in this case, boy oh boy, is it crucial. So it’s tempting to see this as a war against men because the author has a distinct set of chromosomes. But you’ll have more fun seeing this as an insight into just how cannibalistic a movement can get when its low-hanged all the oppression fruit decades ago. The culture war isn’t a fight between men and women, it’s a fight over individual freedom and how close you can get to the edges of the box without a SWAT team being called. By the way, this is her standfirst paragraph and the she’s already distracting us with a condescending “complained” and “may be aware”. We’re being told to think everything the man says is a lie. As Yoda would say, deal with this you must. So start with the basics: if you have to say it, then it’s not true.

[1]
Thing is, using the atemporal logic of women’s lib which believes it has power: if men are talking about feeling sexually objectified, then sexual objectification exists. Never mind that this concept is only ever talked about by and between feminists. The greater irony is that although the concept of sexual objectification existed for a long time, it was only legitimated when a man says it exists - and then the knives come out. Don’t get any stupid ideas though, of course men can’t use it to describe their own experiences, no matter how accurate it might be. Kate Shepard would be turning in her grave!

Notice that it wasn’t the nasty violence part of the violence/sex-spectrum in the TV show which made the author shiver. That wouldn’t fit her narrative. I can almost guarantee that 90% of all deaths on GoT are by males killing other males. Men are supposed to be killed, that’s the whole point of their existence. No one blinks when a man is stabbed or shot (I assume there’s guns on this show?). Directors spend more money on disgustingly slaughtering men on television than almost anything else. If you’re a man and not dying, you probably have plenty of lines. No one’s quite sure whether that’s a good thing either.

A simple feminist deconstruction of poor Mr Harington’s “sexual objectification” would be to dissect it as an unexpected example of the insidious nature of the patriarchy. To turn it around and show how he’s actually suffering from the very oppression by the same system he ultimately represents. After all, the reason he’s upset with being a sexual object is because movies are meant to make money. And men figured out a loooooooong time ago that to increase the ratio of female viewers (=more money), the male characters needed to be “attractive”. Men want to emulate with and aspire to the characters on screen, but women want to look. Sartre might have had something to say about this, but 100 years of evolutionary psychology will need re-editing in light of 40 years of market-researched TV dramas.

Hilariously, the best way to get more female eyeballs is to make the male characters appear as feminine as possible. Why? How can this be true if the other great “knowledge” posits that females are attracted to large, domineering men is also true? They can’t both be correct, can they? Turns out women love to love youthful traits over age and brawn. It’s a little thing called neoteny. Women project their own identity onto media through visual stimulation as concretely as guys, if not more so. Why else would the “music” “band” One Direction attract swarms of desperate over-40s driving 60 kilometers to its concerts?

This stuff is not an accident, and it’s definitely not biology. The production studios know exactly who their target demo is, they’ve spent billions of dollars and 50 years on research. One Direction fans certainly aren’t majority girls with braided hair and freckles, even though that’s who the studio gets to pack the background of each cringy music video. What 16-year-old wants to see rival 16-year-olds fondle a boy-”band” star’s terrible upper arm tattoos? That tiny blonde waife with braces dancing awkwardly is the necessary wish-fulfillment placeholder for the true demo: the 40-year-old frustrated housewife wondering where her last twenty years went and how best to scrub the red lipstick that clearly isn’t hers off her life-partner's $300 cotton business shirt. “That’s a stretch, it’s her daughter’s favorite band. And the boys are 18 or something!” Come on, why exactly do you think the daughter likes the group in the first place? Do you think she came up with that idea herself? Jesus, and people blame fathers for projection through sons!

I’m sure that above classical feminist deconstruction angle would be interesting in an academic journal, but by god, am I glad the author didn’t follow that trail of crumbs! Instead, and I’m entirely serious here, the journalist single-handedly decided men aren’t allowed to feel “sexually objectified” by a process of reasoning so immature that if she’d said it to her grandfather he’d have backhand-slapped her out of the interpretive dance club.

  • Following the furore, Harington now says that he’ll be a “good little hunk and keep his mouth shut”. That would be Harington’s pretty little mouth spouting adorable nonsense from his fluffy little head? In fairness to Harington, he raised an interesting point: could it be seriously argued that male sexual objectification is in any way equivalent to the female variety? Because, from where I’m sitting, the concept is at once offensive and hilarious.

Oh good, yeah, laugh at the person who’s feeling objectified. That’s constructive. It makes perfect sense to point out how the term “sexual objectification” shouldn’t used by a man, because that’s a woman’s word. Actually, pause for a moment  here.

[2]
When was the last time you heard a man say a woman was being “sexually objectified”? No, I’m not talking about when a road worker cat-calls on a hot Spring day, I’m asking when you heard those two words come from a dude’s mouth? Unless the man is an academic discussing the concept in some abstract and completely non-sycophantic way, it never happens. All I ever hear is, “she’s hot” or “she’s sexy”. I know feminists think those words are bad too, but let’s stay on this topic for now.

The only people pointing out women are sexually objectified are other women. Every. Single. Time. It is a feminist phrase. But no longer is it used to raise the public's consciousness of the patriarchy, however. That’s old, low-hanging fruit feminism. What we’re witnessing with articles like this is a new kind of pop-feminism where the worst thing in the world is a sexy woman. Worse than rape. Worse than make-up. Worse, even, than bras. A sexy woman is to modern feminists what JFK is to mental patients - a conspiracy without an explanation. It’s barely logic, but apparently no man can ever feel sexually objectified because men are the objecifiers.

The author says, “It appears to be yet another low in the ever-continuing trend for specious gender-reversal – whereupon an issue in the realm of female experience is seized on and reversed”. So don’t for a second think that not all men are like this, because this would indicate rationality, and rationality leads to tempering ideology. Better to stick with the fury and vitriol or the dams might break and bring the flood of patriarchy.

The author's quite happy to admit female-to-male sexual objectification exists. I’m not sure how it helps her thesis though. Earlier the whole thing was “offensive” and “hilarious”, and there’s no universe I know of where those words don’t mean exactly what I think they mean. I’m willing to let her have it both ways because I know for a fact that sexual objectification isn’t confined to people with penis, and that’s not what she cares about anyway. But she doesn’t even want to have it both ways because her next paragraph says:

  • By contrast, female sexual objectification is an ongoing socioeconomic-cum-psychosexual epidemic, affecting the vast majority of women at some stages of their lives. Even when they are no longer objectified (losing looks or fertility; ageing), it’s used against them in a routine way. Without meaning to be crude, from a female perspective, you’re screwed when you’re being sexually objectified, then you’re screwed when you’re not. This is the truth of female objectification – it’s less about personal sexiness and more about impersonal power structures.

And it becomes clear what this is all about. Here you can glimpse the Long Con: a power struggle packaged as a gender war. Should it really have been surprising the entire game is about power? Understand that the author doesn’t care about power in some ethereal, tomorrowland of pleasure and assumed perfect equality. The real power is in the here and now. That’s always been the point. It’s a pity women’s lib has lost leaders who knew where real power resides, let alone how to use any kind of logical or strategic crowbar of “justice” to dislodge it.

Now all we’re left with is authors who’ve bought into a diversion narrative in which women are always and irretrievably under the control and domination by males. Unless women can release themselves from the deep subjugation in a male-centered universe, they will never be free. This will always be a shell game though, because the mistake is to assume anyone who doesn’t have power can attain it by force. The only way to get power is to trick others into believing you have it. The inability to convincingly achieve this despite decades and millions of pulped trees has been the singular failure of modern feminism, and it’s why the author feels rage at hearing a man use the term “sexual objectification” to describe himself.

The pursuit of power is always set within particular boundaries by an impersonal system of power. Not by people, but by a system of people acting as ants in a nest without instruction, only operating by carefully managed instinct. Those boundaries are constructed as the battlegrounds of the culture wars and are always built as far away from true power as possible. The necessary illusion is any “winner” only gains the trappings of power, not real power, because the status quo matters more than the individual or the conflict, especially when the individual represents a consumer base. In fact, more than anything the conflict itself is the most important activity because it both distracts and forces the illusion of choice, which always leads to tribalism and eventual identity branding. What happens with identities? They need reinforcing, and Prada has the perfect trinket to match the colour of your politics. Everything wrong with the current culture wars stems from the acceptance of the form of the system’s question: which one would you like, a system controlled by men or by women? It might sound like liberation, but it's a trick.

The sleight of hand happens when we pick a side. The creation of a dichotomy is the whole point. No one’s allowed to ask whether we want this system, or even a system. The default position is to assume the system of greater consumption will continue to exist, no matter what choice you make. The illusion of choice over which gender we prefer controls the process, diverts us from asking whether this system should exist. It’s always funny when the weapons seem to drop from the sky at just the right time with articles like in the Guardian or suspiciously trending videos. Thus spake the Guardian. Its voice honestly appearing as from your own mind. And off we go, fighting on some manufactured battlefield over a specifically-formed question while true power quietly shuts the door and goes back to planning three or four steps ahead for the next money-making distraction/controversy.

[3]
Do you want to know why it’s only feminists who use the term “sexual objectification”? Feminists can’t stand sexy women. Instead of beauty, they always see chains and oppression. Even worse, they see competition. No matter how convinced a modern feminist might be, they are woman first and feminist second. If you’ve ever watched a room full of women you’ll notice the little eye-movements sizing each other up as newbies stroll into the room. If all signs are oppressive, why do feminists pluck their eyebrows or trim their hair?

Who do you think they bought the handbags for? Men, really? What male has ever said, “she was ratchet-looking as hell, but that Louis Vuitton bag...I had to smash”. Nice try. The clothes, bags, and make-up are entirely about competition with other women for the attention of women. I know this doesn’t fit the neat box of power structures modern feminists wish so tersely to be true. Yet it is true. Then again, when a culture is this invested in a lie, not even the truth is true anymore.

And by the way, sexism isn’t only used for oppression and subjugation, even though that’s what most people think when a husband rolls his eyes at his wife’s latest “information” about Princess Anne. Sexism is a genuinely malleable apparatus. It’s much more interesting to see it as a tool of consumption. The bag example above is perfect, I’m gonna whip it out here too. Women are encouraged to spend far more money on clothes and appearance than men. They’re told it’s part of the requirement of modern living, to be a professional woman she needs a minimum of ten pairs of shoes and a whole wardrobe of pantsuits. Not to mention accessories. And no career-respecting woman should go without makeup!

Monetising envy has very low costs and extremely high returns. Try turning up to work in the same five shirts every week, no matter how feminine looking, and you’ll soon see where the high tide mark of “workplace equality” sits. Dressing up is sold as a perk, despite women being paid less on average than male counterparts. The fight has never been to wear fewer expensive things and trinkets, because those decisions have already been made for women. Besides, even if they wanted to fight against this self-imposed systemic manipulation for consumption, they’d have to be sure their outfit matched the rhetoric. Can’t fight the power in heels, but maybe you could in neon pink Adidas. Better see if TopShop has a sale on...

“Good thing fighting the system isn’t on the Fem agenda anymore, we fixed that decades ago.” Really? How exactly does Helen Clark affect YOU as a women? It doesn’t, the average women is as far away from power as ever. There’s just a few more toys in the gift basket ($19.99+GST) to keep the movement from thinking about this distance. Now all we get is angry articles exorcising the ability of males to use meaning-heavy/impact-weak words strictly reserved for oppressed women. At least this goal offers a horizon-- crucially just out of reach for eternity. Controlling how women are perceived as individuals at the workplace is an attack on the system - and since the author has no control over the media she writes for, that goal will never work so it has been abandoned. Only people with power can do that can trick the system.

  • Maybe it’s time for men to speak up about things that genuinely affect them instead of putting a spurious man-spin on typically female experiences.

Alright, no problem. Can I have a turn? If women’s lib is so worried about gaining power, why are women most likely to be found as employees of power? Why is it that not enough of them occupy positions to move the machinery of power? Instead it’s now considered a victory to be yelling on an internet article or owning a start-up that you’re told is only successful when you sell it to someone else. In other words, when you give up the power of owning the production of capital for the fetish of power. And that's the goal of every SME everywhere. That’s got to be the easiest game, set and match ever played. The yearning was originally to wrest power away from the powerful and liberate women. Yet as soon as we all started collecting the shiny trappings of power, they thought they’d won the battle. And the status quo string-pullers bow as the curtain falls.

The lesson? Give angry women the trappings of power with earnings of $120,000, throw in a Toyota Lexus or a job as a journalist “for one of the biggest papers in the land” and you can convince them all that these equate with securing power - and the whole house of cards collapses. Simple as that. No oppressed person wants to be free, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. It’d be torture. And no oppressed person ever thinks they’re oppressed, the system’s feedback loop lets them self-enclose by asking for the feelings of freedom but not true freedom. They want to appear to be free because how you appear in the eyes of others is all anyone’s ever been told is worth caring about. This affects men as well, don’t think it doesn’t. Although the “freedom” most men have is only in a different part of same black room in a box called “work/home life balance”.

Sometimes it’s funny to watch a person pull up to the lights in a $300,000 car and see the absolute vacuousness in their eyes. They know something’s missing, but just can’t put a finger on it. Everything’s where it should be: retirement plan, career, beach house, kids in private schools, investments in Bermuda, trophy wife/husband. Yet still they can’t do the things they want. They were promised power and freedom, but all they got was this stupid paper money and a $10,000 “heirloom” wristwatch. You can see their eyes are red, partly hidden under Nivea cream or a “cultured” amount of make-up - never mind who’s culture. The late-night drinking is obviously helping deal with a mid-life crisis as they realise all that effort won’t leave anything behind of value for their 2.5 kids.  

[4]
What’s more important from the system’s viewpoint is that the effort shut the angry disenfranchised up for 40 years while they tried. At some point, this became the individual’s goal all along. You've convinced yourself that you came up with the idea to “get a career and a house” as markers of respect and self-worth. I bet the white male bankers and politicians of yore wish they knew keeping the illusion relevant was this easy 100 years ago. Funnelling the unstoppable frantic energy of defending against impotence was how they gamed the prols into something - anything - more useful than throwing rocks. Keep them where they are, but tell them they can succeed if they try. Most people confuse being rich with being wealthy. Those in the latter mansions don’t see money, they only see a headstart. That’s the true insidiousness of the system which everyone is now confusing to be an issue with a rising wage gap. Not enough money for the poor? Tax the rich, that’ll sort it out - says the person who’s never seen a government balance sheet.

Put it this way, the less money in the correct places, the simpler it is for those whose money is already in those correct places to get even further ahead. It’s not about the money, never was. It’s about keeping everyone exactly where they should be. That’s why you can’t escape from the rung you were born onto. The ladder doesn’t go up high enough and there’s always other people watching to see what’ll happen in case the illusion stutters. Every minority or oppressed group thought it could win real power in politics or banking. No one stopped to ask the most basic question: if there’s more minorities represented in those positions, then that lowers the space available for white men. Because, come on now, white males in power is the trifecta of click-bait headlines. Nail that, and you’ll drive traffic from all over the specific part of the internet. I don’t need to name the websites, because you’re already thinking about them. And if you think the white males know where the power is, wouldn’t it be better to ask where they’re all congregating silently rather than congratulating yourselves that you kicked them out of this or that sector? Sorry, too slow.

If there’s a thread running through the last few years of media headlines about the culture wars, it’s that white males in power are still the preferred targets, so don’t tell me they don’t represent power. Time seems to think this is true. And the absolute rapturous glee from the New York Times when a black kid was (finally) filmed being shot by a white policeman last month registered at least a 6.2 on the narrative scale. Neither publication could believe the luck that after all those American fake rape scandals, tenuous black shootings, kinda-white guy shooting black kids and cop chokings, clear evidence now exists of white power corruption. If they believed in god, they’d propitiate in the required direction for more column inches.

The media was getting a little worried for a second. It looked like the whole narrative was coming apart. Everyone *kinda* knew white men were still oppressing minorities, but it was getting really hard to find some actual, unforgivable proof to back up that assertion. Overworked reporters were going out of their way to find stories about bad white men, but they either came back empty handed or, under pressure from editors, made up tales of woe in the elevator returning to the desk they’d been absent from for five weeks. Gold star for effort, but unfortunately, lies don’t sell papers in 2015. It has to be the truth, and the best way to believe a crucial lie is not to make the facts fit the world, but the world fit the facts.

One thing’s for sure, if this perfectly-filmed white-on-black shooting video turns out not to tick all the boxes, it won’t be the minority community that suffers. A much bigger victim is set for flushing purposes if this thing backfires: the mainstream media. This is its final attempt to prove to everyone that if something exists or doesn’t exist depends only on whether it says it does. It holds the cards, and no one else.

But the MSM has become such an extension of our identities it’s starting to sound like the early-onset alzheimers patient knocking on the door asking where Mr Tiddles has gone. No, we haven’t seen the latest black lives matter video. Yes, we will watch it, but Youtube has way better quality than your watermarked 320p rip. Besides, Youtube doesn’t bother with the boring article clogging up the rest of the page. No one reads words these days anyway.

“You really need a proofreader”. Shut up, I’ve already finished my bourbon so I’m almost done.

[5]
Now that the oppressed have reportedly “grabbed power” from capricious white men, the female and minority victors sit comfortably in nice, neat posturepedic office chairs tapping merrily away on keyboards undermining the foundations of the establishment one article at a time.

Yet when a movement has worked up this much energy and anger, over so long a time, then stands on the mountain top catching its breath, it’s really difficult to go back to normal life - whatever normal life looks like. It’s even more frustrating after they realise somewhere along the climb they were diverted onto a completely different summit. The feeling of victory and accomplishment is real, but fulfilment escapes. It's the wrong damn mountain. What exactly is the utility of being in the halls of power, if power has already moved on again? Your spot behind the computer as a CEO of some tech start-up or standing in front of 200 students at Princeton might sound powerful, but you’re only taking a spot vacated by the people who know where power actually is and how to get it.

So what do you do? The only thing old war fighters without a war can do: become the oppressor you fought so hard to defeat. No one blames feminists for attacking white males in power. However, after all those years firing shots into the mist, hitting one hydra head after another and seeing three more sprout in place, never once thinking about aiming for the beast’s heart - it’s gotta feel a bit disheartening that the system couldn’t be beaten.

The mistake most people will make when they read an article like this is to think this had anything to do with sexuality. Since everything in the culture wars is about power and all combatants are fighting on the wrong battlefields - on purpose - it shouldn’t be a surprise when they fail. From a women’s lib point of view they failed at gaining any real power or control over their lives. But from the system’s point of view they are successful at feeling like they’re in control. That was its goal. The power war was originally important but the trappings of power felt so good to attain, they forgot it wasn't true power, which is why they will never win.

I’m not saying I feel sympathy for this inevitability, but I do understand why it happens over and over again. The persona of being oppressed in 2015 while working in jobs and earning salaries one’s forebears would only have dreamt about - the frantic activity - keeps the dark, depressing reality of failure away. The reality of actually trying to change things requires work, or getting outside to throw rocks. Staying in an office writing articles in media you don’t own is never going to work. It never could. And since the last thing anyone in a movement that's this distracted by titles and gimmicks wants to do, or even knows they should do, is affect any real change in society.

The female journalist writing about some mediocre GoT actor is only the latest iteration of a long line of people fighting the wrong battle and winning exactly the wrong war. Her problem isn’t that the guy thinks he's feeling “sexually objectified”, her problem is that he represents the nagging feeling of complete impotence and diversion she can’t do anything to fix - hence why her strongest card is the defence of words. She probably could change things if: a) she knew what the problem was, and b) was prepared to give every up last benefit gained over the past 100 years if the cause required it. But she and the entirety of modern feminism is willing to do neither, and that is why my head is in my hands and Tumblr will earn a billion dollars by year-end.

At one point it looked like victory might bring more than the simple control of words, but the reality is slowly sinking in that words are all the modern feminist movement was ever allowed to have. The journalist is attacking an actor about his use of a word. If that’s not the definition of a lack of power, I don’t know what is.

  • Thus, even something as quintessentially female as sexual objectification is given a clumsy man-spin, turned into “male sexual objectification”, and hey presto, everyone’s in the same boat. Except they’re not.

Sure, say whatever you want. Make up whatever word you need to tell yourself this white man is representative of blame. Anything to distract from the reality that only the trappings of titles and perks - and none of the benefits - came with the supposed “power” your frantic activity spent so long trying to attain.

Sexual objectification might be a feminist phrase, but no one is very impressed when your realisation of failure leads to becoming exactly monster you fought against. Everyone except you reads loud and clear that the goals were never about equality and peace. The fight was about gaining power, and since it’s impossible to take power by force unless you’re throwing stones, all you got was this stupid t-shirt saying “I love the status quo”.

Good luck being the bully. Because if you don’t actually have true power, the kind of behaviour of the modern feminist movement exemplified in this article will get old real quick. Not that it’ll matter in the long run, because guess who profits from your yelling and screaming about a TV show? Have a think. It certainly isn’t the local zoo.

Filling the void, with extra void

This is an email I received:

In other news, [name redacted] wants to move in with me.

He just brought it up last night. I told him I hate going to the grocery store everyday but I don't know when I'm going to see him so I can't plan for a couple of nights at a time. He said "what should we do about it?" 

Then he told me that he spends more time at my house than the backpacker so its a waste of money. I told him I agreed. He wants to know how much he should pay to live with me and what my rules are. So far my rules are: 

1.) put the toilet seat down 
2.) Don't scrape your bowl when the food is gone from said bowl 

What other rules should I have? 

--------------

Bear in mind that this is my friend and we've had conversations about similar things before. So, I reminded her that these are the facts.

His: he’s travelling in a new country, he doesn’t speak the host country’s language very well, he’s mid-20s, he has no transferrable skills, he is not a millionaire, he probably doesn’t have a lot of family financial support, he’s a guy, he isn’t experienced with relationships (due to aforementioned age), his psychology is an unknown quantity due to his lack of language skills, and he’s at least 70% romantically involved with you. 

Yours: you have an apartment, you have money, you have a job, you have transferrable skills, you speak the host country’s language, you’re mid-30s, you’re experienced with relationships, but you’re not in a good space psychologically about  relationships, you don’t need family money support, you’re a girl, and you’re at least 75% romantically involved with him. 

These are the facts. Do you want to know what I think, or not? Because I can stop here. 

She said she did, so I continued.

The 70%/75% split was a rhetorical ploy to describe your relationship depth as mutual, but not identical, and from my perspective (which admittedly isn’t entire) the relationship doesn’t appear to be formal and far from 100%. It was the only way I could pictorially and uniquely quantify the type of the relationship I’m seeing. I wouldn’t read too much into the stat. It wasn’t important to the facts, but it was meant to get your attention.
 
Overall, here’s what I think, and again, this is simply what I’m seeing based on what info I have. It’s a story based around a crazy little thing called love.
 
I notice you’ve been desperate for a ‘real’ relationship for a while now. You seem to enjoy being in a relationship and from what I can tell, you’re not very good at being alone. I’m not sure why. Being alone isn’t weird or bad. After a while, your body and mind can get used to being alone. It can get used to anything. But in the meantime - and I’ve seen it before - the body’s natural reaction is usually to attempt to restore the status quo back to what it feels comfortable with. People HATE change and will do anything at all to avoid it, even by convincing themselves that not changing is changing. We're nuts, I already know that.
 
In your case, the status quo is “being in a relationship”. Even if the relationship turns out to be emotionally abusive or otherwise negative, it’s still better to be a part of one (according to your brain) than to not be part of one. Because the alternative is being alone and I don’t think you know how to exist like that or so much want to be. Really though, what you tell others you want isn't nearly as important as what you do.
 
On top of this, I've observed for a while to see if you were comfortable with being in the “middle-ground”. But you aren’t. In fact, the only reason you were in the middle-ground was because it was a place to be while travelling towards another inevitable relationship. You were just passing through. What is the middle-ground? It’s the place where people mix short-term relationships (often fast-tracked by sex) with long periods of zero relationships at all. This mix isn’t structured by patterns recognisable to you and, depending on how attractive you are, can weigh heavily in one or the other direction on the existence spectrum.
 
Now I see you can’t operate in the middle-ground because, in your case, you decided to use Tinder as a relationship app rather than a hook-up app. That’s never what it was meant for. Tinder attracts users who want to be in the middle-ground for perpetuity. Sure, the chemicals in human brains make it difficult to have sex regularly without relationship tingles forming. That’s not necessarily the brain’s fault. We’ve been told ever since we were young that sex MUST accompany a relationship or at least lead to a relationship, otherwise one becomes a slut if he or she doesn’t do sex “properly”. So that weird empty feeling we get when we sleep with someone isn’t actually natural, it’s mostly a result of what how our mothers told us to live so that they could feel powerful and in control of their daughter's sexuality. But I digress…
 
Bring this back to you. So here you are, seeing and sleeping with some really cool guys. You’re enjoying yourself and for the most part, it’s pretty fun. In fact, even better for you, it kinda feels like you’re in a full relationship because each of them offers a small piece of the puzzle without any single guy offering the entire deal. That’s great, but everything eventually comes to an end. Now you’ve moved off Tinder because you needed a break (the whole deal extremely looked tiring to be honest!), and you quickly discovered that only a few people were still around, and even fewer people stayed that you wanted to sleep with. However - and this sucks - almost none of them were “relationship material”, or if they were, the total number of candidates probably never reached more than five. They’ve all gone or moved on to other Tinder matches.

The whole point of Tinder was to tap and gap - so to speak. And that’s all you had for a while, so your reality was built around the app and the people you met on it. Meaning that when it was gone, so were most of them.
 
[name redacted] is one of these people. He’s a nice guy (although I haven’t talked to him longer than a few minutes, so I’m really guessing here) and he clearly is attracted to you. Is he in love with you? Does he want a relationship longer than a year? I don’t know, and I’m guessing (again) that you don’t know either. But you’d be happy to gamble he does because, at bottom, the alternative is being alone and you really have no idea what to do in that scenario. You’re clearly attracted to him, but that’s not the real reason you want him to stick around (and you do want him to stick around, but I’ll get to that later).
 
So, it’s a bit of a mix as to what to do. On the surface you don’t want to manipulate anyone into loving you. Notice how that’s not what your unconscious is thinking. In fact, your unconscious isn’t thinking at all, which is always the problem. It’s just acting on stimuli. And what your unconscious wants, it gets. Especially if you don’t know how to guide or control it. The unconscious you wants to avoid being alone. It may not be that you ever say overt things (although the grocery store thing was a bit obvious) but hints aren’t supposed to be obvious. Even you may not know you’re doing them.
 
And then one day [name redacted] says he wants to live with you. Neither of you talked about getting into a relationship or formalising what you already had. It just sorta…happened. But you knew it was coming. You felt like he might eventually say something like this. You weren’t going to say anything before he did, but you’re certainly glad he eventually did open his mouth and commit.

The truth? You gamed this entire thing right behind your own back. Of course the moving-in thing works for you, because you wanted it all along. And now your conscious has caught up to your unconscious. The only thing that feels weird, hence the question to me, is that it doesn't feel like a 'normal' relationship beginning. But it is. The only thing different was that you were on autopilot the whole time. Is this a harbinger for the rest of the relationship? I don't know, although I can't see it being helpful. The weird thing? Skipping the formalities of relationship building is precisely what someone would do if they’re the kind of people who use Tinder. Don’t worry, I’ll explain myself.

Tinder is a algorithmic sorting machine built to find the people who are willing to forgo tradition and marginal safety in favour of short-term gratification and adrenalin. Sure, it’s mainly about sex, but that’s not the underlying driver for humans. The avoidance of being alone is the main driver for humans, Freud would have sold more books if he figured that out (yes, this has everything to do with fear of death – but this isn’t the time to talk about that). Tinder is only for people who either don’t want traditional relationships but still want sex but kinda maybe want to feel like they’re in a relationship. In other words, Tinder gives us all the trappings of a normal relationship without the substance. It also attracts people who want to use other people for certain selfish ends (why else would it be built as a hook-up app if the eventual hook-up wasn’t the point?). And if you’re willing to use other people to satisfy your sexual needs - which are needs buried deep in our lizard brains - what exactly is stopping that person from using other people for things like movie tickets, food, transport, or even money?
 
And there’s this old saying in advertising: “if you’re seeing it, it’s for you”. I don’t think that’s out of place this time either. If you’re using Tinder, then you are one of those people. You were using the app to feel not-alone - sorry, you were using people to feel not-alone, and Tinder was only a facilitator of this action. Remember how I said Tinder was a very small pool filled with a huge amount of people looking for exactly the same thing? Well, if you weren’t one of those people and neither was [name redacted], then why were you using Tinder? If you’re using it, it’s for you. You don't get to choose who you are, your actions do that for you.
 
I don’t know this guy, really, and no matter what I say next it won’t sound anywhere near as neutral as I want it to sound. But take all the facts I outlined earlier and feed them through the realities of human psychology and I think you have reason to be concerned. Not of him of course – I don’t think he’s anywhere near smart or sneaky enough to trick you into doing anything you don’t want to do. You should be concerned about what your own reasons are for making this choice. In some way, your entire history was leading to this point. Every decision you’ve ever made created the situation you’re now in. Someone who ticks a below-average amount of boxes could be moving in to your apartment for the foreseeable future. Which part of you does this benefit? Does it benefit the self you’d be happy to listen to on a quiet day, or the self you’d rather drown out with wine or loud music? Is fear of being alone driving your decision-making or is this the clear path to relationship bliss for ever you’ve been looking for? I don’t think anyone asks themselves these questions nearly enough, or at all.
 
Can you describe this decision in a way that will make sense to your 40-year-old self? I’m not saying you have to be happy with every decision you make, but you do have to live with them for the rest of your life. I’m sure that’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The ponytail offers you a look into your soul

Add a pic of a chick and maximise your ROI


Let’s just get one thing out of the way first. I actually feel sorry for the waitress at the café.

That makes one of us, because no one else seems to be treating her story with the proper respect. She’s been used by everyone as a proxy for whatever deep-seated psychological problems they’re struggling with in their own lives. Yes, the problem is always you. Time to see why.

Don’t worry, I don’t really care about the ponytail girl or who she is either. Mainly because five days ago I didn’t know she existed. Now I do, and that’s what bothers me. What’s more important than her story is that she’s offering us a chance to peer into the mirror and look into our collective souls. Will we like what we see?

I was going to write something about how this debacle is a problem with government and society. As if it’s an issue fundamentally with democracy when we use people’s “true” pain to balm our own frustrations at not being part of the winning political team.

I’d have included a bit about how we’ve collectively transformed the position of “prime minister” into an almost physical object. As if someone can become more than human and transform into the title or idea in an unholy reimagining of a particularly disturbing Greek myth. As that person becomes prime minister, any action they take is seen in the environment of his title.

So when Mr Key ends up acting like the human he really is – by pulling a ponytail or taking a selfie – we react with shock and blubbering. “How could he do this? He’s our leader! He’s supposed to be better than that!” Well, a) your “leader” never stopped being a human and, b) show me a person who can occupy a position of leadership without acting like a human and I’ll show you a fairy-tale.

Do we really want to know why we have such poor candidates every single election? It’s because we ask for them. We want someone to easily judge for a trumped-up sexual indiscretion or because they can’t remember a terrorist leader’s name. With every article consumed or vote box ticked, we’re telling the system that these things matter to us. So it baffles me that people are surprised when we get what we ask for.

Then I was going to write something about how this reflected the bias and prejudices of the media, but I realised I still had no idea what really happened on those days in the cafe. I’m assuming it was a dark and cloudy day with just a hint of danger and foreboding in the skies.

But I began to wonder why it was I knew about ponytail girl and what it had to do with me. Her goal of seeking justice and keeping Mr Key honest never stood a chance. The media don’t just decide truth and falsehood but existence and non-existence.

You can agree or disagree with the ponytail issue, but you must do so alongside with media, not with the young woman. She ceased to matter immediately when you heard her name. Last week she was nothing, this week she is everything. And of course what happened to the ponytail woman represents the “sexist society” which trivialises harassment and belittles all other women. Fourth-wave Twitter Feminism to the rescue!

If all this doesn’t make you suspicious that the narrative might not be fully explained here, you’re not paying close enough attention.

How much power?
Aside from having terrible café guests, the ponytail girl’s problems changed dramatically when she went to the media. It’s not her fault she took this action, the entire system is built to encourage scared and hurt people to run to the nearest journalist whenever something goes wrong (or right).

She thought telling a reporter would fix her problem and bring some measure of justice. Whether she knew the people she talked to were actually journalists is largely beside the point. She wanted to talk to the media. She displayed an implicit belief that telling her story to a reporter gained greater meaning than if she took alternate routes. Bad move.

People think talking to a camera gives them power or offers them an unsilenced voice, but they are wrong. It is a complete and utter surrender to the media. They sign their own waiver allowing the media to use the story or photo in any way it wants. And they will use you in any way they want. The media wants you to talk, it has convinced us there is no other way to get your message out.

The media tells us what to care about. It’s certainly not the girl, she couldn’t be less important. The whole issue may have started as a story about a man in a privileged position manipulating a weaker individual. But before the ponytail girl even finished her sentence to the reporters, the editors had packaged it up and reproduced it like it was part of a reality show.

And by the time Ms Glucina spoke to the young woman, we had already been prepared to expect someone like her. It might look like we’re given the full information and allowed time to think for ourselves. But if we’re honest, we’re only reacting to what we’re being told.

And while we’re here, let’s talk a bit about sexual harassment. We won’t talk about it much, because it’s largely irrelevant to the story. Remember, no one cares about the girl. But it’s worth talking about the glaring contradiction flapping around in front of us showing exactly what we apparently do care about.

The rage over the Prime Minister’s actions were explained by the talking heads as representing barely veiled sexual innuendo, which is never a good thing, especially when it isn’t consensual. But the media slaps stories like this into headlines, screaming at us that sexual harassment is bad because it treats women like objects, and then runs advertisements representing precisely this objectification a few pages behind.

We know this is a contradiction, but we don’t care about that either. Because we desire the contradiction, and the media knows that. The whole point was to tickle the reader’s emotional responses, all the while feeding us exactly the pervasive marketing and exploitative psychology that probably got us into this predicament in the first place.

Step back for one minute and try to identify which side the New Zealand HeraldDailyBlog and other media chose to take on this topic. Wait, how did you know? Sorry, wrong. It’s super easy to assume this is all driven by some nefarious political “bias”, but it’s not. Because it doesn’t matter what the girl wants or what happens to her. The entire game was to capture her pain and repackage it and the harassment into whatever the media needed it to be.

She thought going to the media would help get her message out. But it didn’t, it helped get the Herald’s and the DailyBlog’s message out. I hear people retort that they don’t care for mainstream media, the newspapers haven’t had any real journalism for years. And yet given the infinity of websites, people still click and read the same ten websites, searching for and finding exactly what they want. Like a toddler playing peekaboo in the mirror over and over again.

Which reminds me, this isn’t the media’s fault. It’s yours. If we really want to talk about bias, we should look at our reactions. It’s time to find out why the media knows more about you than you know about you.

Media as the ultimate wish-fulfilment
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it won’t be the last.

You might remember an incident last year where a series of nude photographs of female celebrities was stolen by hackers and delivered – as fresh as hot pizza – to the cesspit of the internet.

Those photos were selfies or snapped in loving trust by boyfriends. None of the celebrities thought their privacy would ever be compromised. And then everybody, and I mean everybody, went absolutely berserk. “It was a violation of privacy, an affront to human rights. This attacks femininity itself!” An army of lawyers and a serious amount of money were used to hunt down the people responsible. Sigh… 

But anyone with even a passing knowledge of the internet should have spotted the hypocrisy immediately. And that no one actually noticed this says a lot about our society’s priorities.

Talking strictly from third-hand information of course, “apparently” there are thousands of websites dedicated to hosting as many private pictures of naked women as possible. All of those pictures were taken in trust, exactly as with the celebrities. And every picture was spilled into the public realm without the female’s consent, exactly as with the celebrities.

There are millions of these pictures of real, physical, you-might-even-know-her women. But no one says anything. No one cares. It’s just part of the story. The pictures are on the internet, and everyone knows you can’t remove pictures from that terrible place. And besides, who are those girls? 

But ask yourself this: what’s the difference between a “girl” with breached privacy and a “celebrity” or “star” who lost her photos to a bunch of bored teenagers? Why was it worse to attack a celebrity than an anonymous woman? Think about that, it hasn’t always been so. The former is an attack on the system so the system must respond with lawyers and SWAT teams; the latter is an attack on a woman, so…

And it’s the same with this ridiculous ponytail fiasco. Hundreds of cases of sexual harassment occur every month in New Zealand, according to the statistics. People who know more about this than I do suspect there’s far more that doesn’t get reported. But because none of the parties involved have anything to do with the machinery of power, nothing is done.

But a girl gets her hair pulled a few times by the prime minister, and suddenly everyone launches to DEFCON 2. So what’s the difference between a woman and someone within arm’s reach of the PM? The former is an attack on…(see above). Why didn’t you do anything about this? Now who’s the bad guy – the media, or you?

Instead, everyone preferred to see sexual harassment and misogyny, so the media got another trending series of articles about how the problem has a penis, is white and is also the Prime Minister. That’s known as the trifecta, ladies and gentlemen.

Did we learn anything?
The poor girl with long hair thought she was getting some justice by going to the media. I’ve already explained how horrible this decision was. Little did she know, her problem fit perfectly with the media’s desire to frame it as a new front in the gender war, the political war and the race war (he's white, after all) because that makes for good clicking.

There’s something to be said for why this story gained such high social media traction too. Everyone claimed to be defending the poor girl’s hair, but it was all frantic energy. People rushing around yelling at things, all noise and no substance but plenty of selfish pleasure.

Here’s what’s important, New Zealand: the primary thing isn’t what you’re angry about, the primary thing is your anger. You need to understand that your anger has nothing to do with John Key.

For all the people yelling on Facebook and Twitter about how despicable and slimy they thought Mr Key was being, they weren’t voicing their anger as an opinion - they were looking for a fight.

Because of the failure of modern politics to evolve away from the primitive “red team/blue team” dynamics, the whole point of voicing an “opinion” on these things is to provoke someone else on the other side – the other team – into responding. At this point, all the angry internet people tapping or typing away in rage about a ponytail don’t hate John Key, they hate John Key supporters.

Thing is, the media knows you’ll click on these stories. The media goes out of its way to find stories that tick the juiciest boxes, because the feedback it receives is that people want to read these things.

Let’s quickly summarise the issues according to outraged New Zealand:

• sexual harassment is a women’s issue, never mind the thousands of men who are harassed every year;
• the best way to handle women’s issues is not necessarily to solve them but to discuss them in the media.

Some people are claiming the importance of raising all this is to “build awareness”. Don’t worry, we’re all aware. Are you aware of how much money you made for media at your expense and without changing anything?