Labour of Love

“Labour of love” is a funny phrase.  Here are some definitions:

“Work undertaken for the pleasure of it or for the benefit of a loved one.”

“A piece of hard work that you do because you enjoy it and not because you will receive money or praise for it, or because you need to do it”

This is what I find peculiar:  All work should be undertaken for the pleasure of it.  Why should anybody do work that is not pleasurable?  That seems insane.  Doing work that causes you displeasure seems like a form of involuntary servitude.  Yes, you might undertake to do work that is not pleasurable, because it benefits your loved ones, but then why would you do work that is both not pleasurable and not for the benefit of your loved ones (including yourself)?  It would seem that most work is assumed to not be a labour of love.

Clearly, the phrase exists because some work is not pleasurable or does not benefit a loved one.  Isn’t that a tragic thing?  Surely at this stage in the development of human affairs, we can dispense with work that is neither pleasurable, nor beneficial to your loved ones.

“A piece of hard work that you do because you enjoy it” encompasses most artistic projects (or should).  Again, doing easy work that you don’t enjoy shouldn’t even be a thing, in the twenty-first century, yet the phrase would not draw a distinction if there was no contrasting work to speak about.  It’s obvious that much work, in fact perhaps most work, is deemed to be easy and not enjoyable.

Why should you not receive money or praise for doing something hard, even if it is enjoyable, pleasurable and/or for the benefit of a loved one?  Hard work is valuable.  It seems perverse that you should only be paid and appreciated for doing easy, non-enjoyable, non-pleasurable work that benefits no loved one of yours.  Why do we adhere to that idea?

Once upon a time, a vocation was something that was literally a calling – something you needed to do, irrespective of other concerns.  Why should people be engaged in working on something they have no need to do?  Surely, the only work that matters and counts is the hard work that you do because you enjoy it, because it gives you pleasure to do it, because it benefits your loved ones and because you feel the need to do it, rather than being forcibly compelled to do it.  Why should that not attract pay and praise?

We seem to accept a world in which the only work that you can expect to be paid for doing, or be praised for undertaking, is easy work, that gives no pleasure or enjoyment, which is of no benefit to your loved ones and which you feel no particular intrinsic motivation to do.  That excludes most creative work.  It feels to me that we have this all wrong.

All work, especially artistic work, should be a labour of love, in that you take it on because you love doing it and you have a need to do, but there is no reason whatsoever that you should not be paid and praised for doing it.  A labour of love should be the default occupation and it is a reasonable expectation to be paid for doing it.  It’s time to throw out the baggage that associates with the phrase.

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Wrestling the Crocodile

I’ve often thought that engaging in artistic projects feels like wrestling a crocodile.  Initially, you don’t suspect a thing, then suddenly, it takes hold of you with a vice-like grip, it won’t let you go and it won’t let you let go of it.  The rest of the world seemingly stands still and becomes irrelevant, as you defend yourself against and fight with the crocodile.  There is struggle and a lot of thrashing about.  You spend a lot of energy trying to get to grips with it and to make things go your way.  Eventually, one of you wins.  Either you disengage, injured and never go back to the project ever again, or you emerge victorious, having completed the art work.

The fight usually starts when you’re not feeling your most energetic or at your best.  You are plunged into it, unprepared, but you must do your best, no matter what happens.  All the while, you have no idea whether you are winning or losing, or whether the outcome will be happy, or tragic.  There is a sense of urgent desperation throughout, with you needing to think quickly to react, as each twist and turn happens.  You know your adversary is formidable and you may doubt that you have the strength and courage to overcome the jaws of the crocodile.  Without doubt, you have to draw on every inner reserve you have, to avoid oblivion.

You can come to fear the bite of that crocodile.  You will try everything to procrastinate, to avoid engaging with it.  If the crocodile is sleeping, you won’t want to wake it up.  If it makes an unexpected lunge at you, you might try to evade it, until it takes hold of you completely and you’re in the focused, all-encompassing, metaphorical fight to the death (only nobody actually dies).  Eventually, even the procrastination, itself, becomes fatiguing.  Sometimes, the crocodile bites because you’re too exhausted, by all the procrastination exercises, to prevent it.

Creating is such an abstract process.  This was posted on Facebook, by Ultravox’s Billy Currie, just yesterday:

“I have nine tracks going now for my next new music. Keep it NEW guys!! Some are sketches and now need to be developed. I am still always amazed at how when I leave a track and come back to it later that I really do get a completely different perspective on the vibe. I can do simple adjustments or get further ideas right there.


I have been looking closely at the harmonic structures and melodies from my Unearthed music. I feel that some areas that I went into are now stimulating me into going further down some of those directions.


I wrote that music in a very intense period from September 1996 to September 1997. At Canalot Studios. When I finish music I tend to move on and not look back. As a composer I now think it is healthy to look back at points in my music creation. Whatever I do it will be new. Not some variation on a theme. Always hated those especially in the classical world.
This album has felt very hard to move along and develop. Sticky, with long periods of very little inspiration. Then all of a sudden the body of work is here!


The process is so abstract that I forget how abstract it really is!”

Guitarist and composer, Neil Zazza, posted this on Facebook, also yesterday:

“In the studio today in what will close the demo chapter on the first six songs for the new CD. I’ve wrestled, constructed, deconstructed, rewrote, swore like a f’n sailor at my computer screen and finally am extremely happy with the new material. I really feel it’s my best work to date as my perfectionistic focus was on the songs and sections like it’s never been. I’ve been fanatical and unbending as my focus has narrowed with every release. In any case, I’ve still got a long way to go before a release (not to mention writing more songs) and there is no eminent drop date yet, BUT…the band will be taking the tunes on a live run with our US dates next month. We’ll be in the studio immediately after to capture the energy and I’ll carry this even further by playing and tweaking my leads and melodies in performance when I tour Asia in October. Man, it’s exciting for me and I can’t wait for you all to share in this with me. Have a great Saturday!”

Everybody winds up wrestling the crocodile.

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Prescribed Process versus Personal Commitment

There’s no easy way to say this.  Most Western companies that make things make trash.  It’s not up to standard.  Much of it is breakable, worthless, prematurely-obsolescent junk.  Don’t believe me?  As a trivial example, compare and contrast the glossy, plump, sumptuous, salivation-inducing images of burgers on display above the counter at the average multi-national, fast-food restaurant with the soggy, miserable, disintegrating, unappetising, gooey, visually unattractive, industrial chemical cocktail, with ingredients of dubious provenance, that is slapped together by minimum-wage, temporary staff and served to you in exchange for your hard-earned money.  The reality falls far short of the marketing fantasy.  We’re short-changed in nearly every purchase we make, compared to the promise.

Even our beloved mobile devices fall well short of embodying what we that are old enough to remember used to call “product quality”.  It’s an old fashioned notion, I know, but there you have it.  Where this impinges on art and artists is in how things are created and made.  We’ve relegated the artists, artisans and craftspeople to underemployment and cut crucial corners.  How did we get here?

Today, there are essentially two ways to make anything.  Either you can do it the small scale way, where people are intimately involved in and accountable for the products made, which we can loosely refer to as “the loving way”, versus the robotic, soulless, large scale way, typified by the near-monopoly corporations that remain in each particular market, for every product made, which we can refer to as “the loveless way”.  Governments of all complexions have, over recent decades, insisted that the big way, the loveless way, is the only viable way and that there is no alternative.  If your campaign donations were utterly reliant on the largesse of huge, nearly-monopolistic corporations; you would say that, wouldn’t you?

The question remains:  is there really no alternative to making things using robotic, disinterested, minimum-cost drones?  Isn’t there some value in considering creating the things that modern life relies upon using motivated thinkers, who apply initiative and intelligence to the making of things?

In a world wedded to return on investment, instead of discovery, experimentation and continual striving for improvement and excellence, there are several mandatory imperatives.  I don’t use the word “mandatory” lightly, because the core requirement is written into law.  Under our economic system, corporations exist for only one reason – to make profit and for those profits to increase, year on year, both in absolute and percentage terms.  The underlying motivation of every corporation and hence every corporate executive, is to ensure that financial performance improves, year on year, irrespective of what the real world limits to doing so might be. 

In this world of financial and investor primacy, there is no such thing as a saturated market, a scarcity of resources, the laws of physics, the limitations of the properties of materials, a bare minimum that the actual makers (employees) can survive on or a quality bar below which the company can never dare to dip.  Those things are incidental to making money for shareholders and corporate owners.  Every corporate manager therefore has no choice but to cut the costs of production relentlessly.  In actual fact, when you make anything, there is a minimum cost of doing so, unless you make an entirely different thing. 

And so that’s what executives do.  They cut out cost, variance and risk, while telling their consumers, with hand solemnly on heart, that they still make the thing they represented themselves as making before, when the newly cost-cut item can’t possibly have more than a passing resemblance to the previous model.  In short, they hoodwink the consumer into accepting a product inferior to last year’s version of it, under the guise of it being exactly the same, or even new and improved.  Nobody ever confesses to releasing a degraded product, yet that is precisely what they do, in order to make the numbers in their balance sheets look right.

While they argue that uniformity of product is a good thing, they never confess that uniformly sub-standard is not in the interests of the customer, the maker, or the company that employs the maker, in actual fact.  They want to eliminate risk, when risk is where improvement comes from.  Hence, they eliminate the very mechanism that produces improvement – risky experimentation, at variance with standard, uniform product. 

Truthfully, the primary motivation is to cut costs, to improve apparent company financial performance annually (at least on paper).  Rather than chancing their own executive position by working to create products of such uniqueness, utility, durability and superior value to customers that it improves the company’s top line extraordinarily, the safer alternative always appears to be to cut the cost of production.  Consequently, every manager, in dreary succession, comes up with the same old, tired, ineffective ways of cutting costs, as if they were the very first to think of it, even if there is no actual waste to cut out of the cost of production.  Even when the production operation is operating on a shoe string, wholly dependent on employee loyalty, donated time and goodwill, at the lowest cost possible short of not making a product at all, some clown or other will try to cut something else – health benefits, bonuses, share options, sick days, pension contributions,  paid public holidays, national insurance contributions, security of tenure – whatever it takes.  They think this is the best thing for the company.

In order to cut cost, variance and risk, managers will typically introduce processes.  Now processes are a double-edged sword.  When processes are discovered and relied upon by artisans and makers, their purpose is to make a better product.  They are the result of experimentation and trial and error, representing a personal commitment to finding the very best way to make the finest product.  A process found and utilised by a maker, or a team of makers, is the embodiment of all their skill and experience to date, with the goal of making better things, with each iteration of their process.

While prescribed processes often start with the same noble goals in mind, when they are imposed on makers from the outside, without reference to their personal commitments to quality, their skills and experience, their preferred modes of creating things and their willingness (or not) to work in a semi-mechanical way, the same process rapidly becomes a tool of oppression, rather than an adjunct to achieving fine results.  The process can become the very means by which product quality is irreparably damaged, in fact.  Instead of increasing value, the processes can serve to create valueless products.  The joy of making, the experimental risks, the initiative and the satisfaction derived from the work and its products can be driven out, relentlessly, by the inappropriate application of processes prescribed from outside of the workshop.

What the company gets are mercenary agency staff and contractors, in the end, who watch the clock and are not personally committed to the quality of the product being made and offered to customers.  They have no meaningful stake in the product or its quality.  They are offered no ownership over or participation in the profits arising from their labours and intellects.  Treated as disposable, replaceable, commodity, identikit units of production, people who make things under these conditions do as little as they can to get by.  It doesn’t pay them to do any more.  They’re not bought into the mission or values of the company.  Frankly, with values that clearly state that the company cares not a jot about the people that actually make the things that earn the corporation their money, without which there would be no balance sheet to balance in the first place, who would want to sign up for that mission and set of values anyway?  It’s clearly insane.

Also clearly missing in the cost cutting agenda is any acknowledgement or accommodation of what the customer actually wants.  The idea fixated upon is that the customer wants things to be cheap, but they don’t.  They want good value for money.  That’s a very different thing.  Cheap is no use, if cheap means it has to be replaced frequently, for little consumer benefit.  The only thing that forces customers to settle for cheap is the reduction in real wages; the direct result of decades of corporate and governmental cost cutting, which has eroded their disposable incomes to the point where all they can afford is cheap.

The result of all the cost cutting focus is sub-standard products made by heartbroken makers.  Corners are cut, makers are relentlessly pressurised and have no ownership over the results.  The process is used to drive out initiative.  Makers, with no alternative but to make worthless products and “ship s**t”, as the process is colloquially known in my native vernacular, are deeply frustrated and demoralized.  Customers that are force fed things they know aren’t going to serve a purpose for very long also feel robbed.   These are some of the more significant societal impacts of cost cutting, but not the only undesirable ones.

Small scale production, in which things are made with love, is ridiculed by “no alternative” globalists as somehow on par with tree hugging and talking to plants.  It is considered quaint and anachronistic.  Consider the benefits, though.  Products made with love have higher quality, greater durability and are tailor made and fit for purpose.  The process of making things on a small scale results in higher levels of meaningful, satisfying, fulfilling employment, which give rise to healthy, flourishing local communities, a reduction of transport and distribution costs and the pollution associated with the shipping of goods from centralised warehouses and factories and a general improvement in the mental and physical health of the people, reducing the burden on health services.  In short, it creates a functional society.

The obsession with high volume, low margin manufacturing is utterly inexplicable, when it causes so much dysfunction within companies and the wider society.  If we are designing production processes to help us make worse products, at lower cost, by people paid less, for customers that will need to replace these products more frequently, due to their planned obsolescence or sheer shoddiness, what is the ultimate point of this frenzied activity?  Yes, it continues to take wealth from the pockets of customers / employees and shifts it into the pockets of shareholders and owners, increasing inequality, but to what end?  What purpose is served by being the wealthiest hoarder in a ghetto?

As we have imposed automated, computerised, mechanised, regularised processes on things that really require human initiative and ingenuity, we’ve also eschewed craft training and apprenticeship in favour of dubious university degrees that tend to produce no discernible output.  Students might be getting smarter and using their minds in more expansive ways, as a consequence, but they aren’t given an opportunity to apply their knowledge.  It’s a cruel irony that somebody can learn more than their forebears could but that it turns out to be less use to them and less effective than the meagre knowledge their parents had.

The search for volume growth in consumption of over-specified, needlessly-complex, under-designed, overpriced, shoddy products is no longer the survival tactic we need.  This “no alternative” system has produced banking failures, which the people are expected to bankroll, economies that refuse to recover, despite having money literally thrown at them, huge increases in wealth inequality and a historically unprecedented transfer of power from labour to capital.  None of these have served us well.  The “no alternative” agenda has only one inevitable outcome: the macro-economic domination of the micro community.  This is jargon that simply means less say for all of us in what’s being doing in our name, within our society.  We become disenfranchised in our own homes.  More generally, it means the privatisation of politics, because only the wealthy can influence policy.  This ultimately leads to the destruction of democracy.  It means the victory of big, faceless process at the expense of small, personal creativity.

Instead, we must be focusing on smaller volumes with much higher value.  The products of tomorrow need to embody more quality and utility, as well as durability and serviceability.  They must be repairable, ungradeable and renewable.  In summary, they can’t be uniform, cheap, and disposable junk.  They need to be the fruits of our most creative and capable makers.  Smaller companies need to be encouraged and incentivised, by law if required, to offer honest, well-made products of which they’re proud, at a price that keeps them competitive.

It turns out that mutualised companies, where the makers have a direct stake in what is made, are the fastest growing company form, globally.  Strangely, though, the current political consensus and the media/distribution elite so distort the working of markets that they ensure only big companies, with big operations, big numbers, big ambitions and big PR budgets are the only ones allowed to compete.  This is anomalous, to say the least.

Automation, mechanisation and computerisation ought to be for making better products, not for cutting costs.  When they are used to cut costs, it throws more skilled artisans out of work, onto the street, unable to pay their rent or mortgages, or else it shifts the work to people desperate enough to work for peanuts, offshore (or both).  Neither population of workers can buy any of the company’s products.  They don’t have the money.  Yet, having created unemployment or gross under employment, through cost cutting, these same companies resent bitterly any social welfare handouts or paying for the social destruction they cause.  In effect, they resent paying to fund customers, whether their customers are in work or not.  Consequently, there are no customers.  There are no alternative ways that customers can be funded.  A focus on cost cutting in production, to the exclusion of all other activities to improve company performance and its products, is fundamentally an aggregate method of reducing the number of customers that companies have and diminishing their purchasing power.

Artists have always known that the most exciting and exquisite products require risk.  Production cost and product variance reduction are not as important or valuable as quality, workmanship, stretching the bounds of what’s possible, originality and innovation.  Products that have these attributes require that the makers take risks.  They are also the most avidly sought products, by consumers, provided they have the means to pay for them.

In contrast, under our current methods of corporate management, we reward the production of sub-standard crap and drive out the making of fine things, made by motivated and fulfilled makers.  We reward dysfunction, the squashing or initiative, the promotion of a layer of unproductive correctors and straighteners and a rentier society.

Externally-prescribed production processes distort the qualities of the products customers value most and provide a constant irritant and constraint to the makers.  Personal commitment to product quality, on the other hand, may or may not embrace processes to reduce cost, variance and risk, but they will derive organically from the craftsperson and maker, refining their way of making.  The best makers will not want to create one million identical units.  They will want each unit to be more valuable than the last, because it is an improvement on the one they just made.  The approach to voluntary process is very different to an imposed one.  Personal commitment to a process used to improve the product is very different to begrudging compliance with an externally imposed process whose sole aim is cutting production costs.

What do you want?  As a consumer, do you want mass-produced rubbish, destined for landfill in a short space of time, or handmade items of value, durability and beauty, made by people that genuinely care about the product and its users first, rather the shareholders and investors?  How would we get them?  How would we compel companies to make such products and also be able to afford them?

Customers could withhold their support of corporations by simply not buying their crap.  However, consumers have now become so inured to the low quality of products offered to them that they no longer even notice how bad they are.  In a sense, they don’t know any better or realise that better products are possible.  When it comes to exercising their purchasing power in fair markets, they have no alternative, higher-quality products offered to them, in the marketplace, to spend their money on, to express their consumer preference.  They also don’t have the disposable income necessary to exercise a choice for higher quality.  If what’s on offer in the market is a monopoly of s**t, then the customer has no choice but to put up with it, or do without entirely.  Markets are broken, when competition reduces to a choice between which overpriced, shoddy garbage you want to buy.

The answer is really simple.  People without jobs, disposable incomes or in fear of losing their jobs imminently, don’t buy anything and certainly don’t borrow money to fund their purchases.  This is why the so called recovery has been so weak.

There is a massive, egregious error in law.  It’s a huge mistake that requires immediate correction.  The sole  purpose of companies is not to make profit.  That idea is posited on the notion that if companies make profit, then through the action of the invisible hand, the best outcomes for all in society will result.  That was the theory, but through practice and observation, we may readily conclude that the theory is wrong.  The invisible hand has not created optimal economic outcomes for all.  In reality, it has provided acceptable outcomes for a very few and fewer, each passing year.  We have ample evidence that this is so. 

The pursuit of profit has caused widespread dysfunction in society.  It results in waste, inequality, the destruction of society and the elimination of hope in the lives of the many people that actually make things.  There can be little doubt about this.  The proof is everywhere to be seen and can be readily observed.   Only the most chauvinistic, pig-headed, wilfully-ignorant ideologue would deny it (and yet they do).

In fact, the real purpose of companies is (and has always been) to provide the requisites of a functional society.  By equating the profit motive to this deeper purpose, we allowed a distortion to be introduced into the system.  When it turned out that the profit motive alone was not consistent with providing the requisites of a functional society, as the theory erroneously promised it would be, we ought to have reviewed the law and taken out that one level of indirection.  We never did want to maximise profits for their own sake.  We always fully expected that the maximisation of profits would inevitably lead to the provision of the requisites of a functional society.  But it hasn’t and we did nothing about that disconnect.  What should have been written into the law is an explicit statement of what companies were for, not an implicit assumption that profit maximisation would inevitably lead to the real goal, which was never explicitly stated.

The fact that psychopathic behaviour has been written into corporate law is a serious mistake that requires urgent correction.  If companies were explicitly chartered to provide the requisites of a functional society, it would be illegal to create waste, to under-employ, to shift costs onto society as externalities, to plunder resources, to ship garbage products, to advertise dishonestly, to exacerbate inequality, to stress and thereby physically and grievously assault the health of workers, to despoil the environment and the requisites of life (air, water, food), to create work-life imbalances, to rely on unearned income, to take profits by destroying value, to monopolise and to act in sociopathic and psychopathic ways. 

This simple change to the law could have far-reaching, positive outcomes for all of us.  It’s not hard to change the law.  We have politicians and lawyers (some would argue: too many of them).  All we have to do is convince the elite that most influence government policy that it’s in their best interests, too, to create a functional, rather than dysfunctional society in which to live.  They need to see that they are unable to remain apart from and unaffected by society, though they have tried their best to do so, to date.  They’re not separate and they’re soiling their own feed.

It would be refreshing and transformative if, rather than focusing on cutting the costs of production, the new charter legally obliged companies to focus on the top line.  If they were compelled to explore, discover and risk creating products that are so obviously superior to previous products and of such high value, that people flock to buy them, buoyed up by decent wages and standards of living and unencumbered by the dead weight of waste, society would be very different.  Many of our current perils would evaporate.  The precariat would disappear.  Recovery would be deep and meaningful, yet sustainable. 

We’ve spent a long time racing to the bottom, through cost cutting.  We’ve used process to displace personal commitment to product quality.  We’ve just about reached the bottom.  Risk creates failures, but it also generates fantastic value.  You can’t have one without the other.  This was supposed to be how capitalism worked.  Risks were supposed to be rewarded, not risk aversion. 

The essence of all human activity seems to be to strive and take risks.  Regeneration and progress rely upon it.

 

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The Story of Lost Arts

I last came here when my son was a very young, wriggly, distracted, bored, little boy, who wanted to run off and explore.  We stood for a while, watching the artisans ply their craft.  There were marvels being produced. 

The following is a stream of consciousness, live tweeted today, over a period of about twenty minutes.  I present it here:

  • They used to make beautiful things here. Then it became a restaurant, with a stunning view. That went bust, when HMRC wound it up for taxes.
  • Now, instead of making beautiful things, there is a new owner and the restaurant is named after the craft skill that is no longer practiced.
  • It’s like when they make a housing estate and name all the streets after the varieties of tree that were cut down to create the estate.
  • Nobody wonders why making beautiful things became non-viable. Nobody wonders if it should have.
  • I wonder about false nostalgia for things nobody cared enough about to preserve and keep going as viable operations.
  • Imagine being a skilled artisan suddenly being offered a job waiting tables, or no job at all. Sorry mate. No call for it anymore.
  • I liked it best when you could watch skilled artisans, plying their craft, creating amazing objects, of stunning beauty, before your eyes.
  • I suppose if you wanted to watch and learn today, you’d have to visit China or somewhere like that.
  • It’s a long way to go to hold your infant son in your arms and say, “watch what that man is making”.
  • If you never witness the making of things you can’t make yourself, you are prone to conclude that things like that come from factories.
  • You may very well imagine that they’re all made by robots; ten a penny. Well nothing is really made that way. People are always involved.
  • While we falsely imagine things are made by machines, we get to treat them like disposable, worthless junk that we can throw away on a whim.
  • Except there are no such machines.
  • We look on artisans with contempt for caring about their craft instead of bowing to the machines that make things so much better than them.
  • So we undervalue the skills of the unwanted craftsmen and neglect to notice that they’ve been replaced by craftsmen working like slaves.
  • Doing the same hard work, far away, paid even less and gaining even less respect for their skills than the craftsmen they replaced.
  • Until the most amazingly beautiful things are made by virtual slaves, working hard & long, for nearly nothing, with no respect paid to them.
  • Then, one day, they just give up because it’s not worth it. Beautiful things are no longer made. Everybody forgets how to make them.
  • This is what they call “progress”: The gradual driving out of beauty and dignity in the name of profit. So that the rich can buy what?
  • So that the rich have the money to buy beautiful things, which are no longer made by anybody. Bravo.
  • And the ovine herd simply tuts and shrugs, as if no lasting damage of any significance has been done to society and culture. But it has.
  • No child can aspire to a life lived making beautiful things. There is no call for it. Except by a tiny minority with too much cash to spend.
  • It’s a level of demand that can’t sustain any artisan. Yet, the people with no money pine for beautiful things, with their pained souls.
  • There’s no beauty to be had, at the prices they can afford. Unless the artisan is oppressed and exploited into undervaluing it.

I remember my infant son saying, at the time, “That was dumb!” on finally being able to leave the hot, noisy, bustling workshop. 

My daughter has never seen these artisans doing what they used to do.  She probably never will.

 

 

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Artist or Performing Monkey?

There was something on the television this morning about people that, as young children or teenagers, are thrust onto the stage to perform.  The piece was about the emotional and psychological damage that can result, when a young person is pressured or even bullied into being the next child prodigy, performing for audiences when they feel they are not ready, under-rehearsed, and under-prepared or perhaps even without their heart being in it at all.  So many children become surrogate success vehicles for parents that didn’t succeed at the thing they are pushing their children into.

The devastation to a child’s self confidence can be irreparable and may negatively impact a lifetime.  It can destroy a person’s mental health and render them incapable of making their way, confidently and with self assurance, in adult life.  The push to have the young person perform in public, before their time or before they feel ready, is not for their benefit, it is for the benefit for the parent living vicariously through their child and for an audience paying to see a performing monkey, not a serious, well-rounded, mature artist, who has developed their own artistic voice.

The premature promotion of a budding artist to take on more than they are ready to tackle is a form of child abuse.  They are placed under intolerable pressure.  It is little wonder that there have been child abuse scandals in music schools.  The culture of these places is to encourage youngsters to take whatever abuse and derision is meted out, as this is nothing less than an incessant competition to be the star of the show.  There can be only one.  Kids are manipulated into eschewing friendships and camaraderie so as to beat the other students to the solo or featured spot.  There is no respite.  There is no comfort.  If a child reports abuse, they are instantly sidelined and passed over, which they know, so they don’t.  Abusers and bullies thrive in such an environment.  This is a gladiatorial fight to the death.

What is telling is how few of these promising young artists turn into serious, accomplished, adult artists.  They either lose their ability to explore their art individualistically and so become unremarkable, journeyman performers, or else they give up on their art altogether.  Some go skiing, instead.  What was once a love turns into utter loathing.

Hot-housing robs promising, young, talented people of the ability to develop, as artists and find their own unique way of expressing their art.  It steals the joy of experimenting, performing and participating in their art and replaces it with a judgemental circus spectacle, where what matters has nothing to do with art or being an artist.  It becomes a fight for the survivor to take the prize.  In short, by pushing young artists to display their work in public before they feel it is ready, we denigrate and belittle their efforts at becoming serious artists and turn them into sideshow attractions – freaks that can play an instrument at a seemingly early stage in human development.  Nobody cares about the quality of their art, or its emotional impact; just that they can play an instrument at all, with proficiency, at such a young age. 

Everybody wants their own personal Mozart, irrespective of the price paid in heartbreak, nerves, anxiety, isolation, humiliation, embarrassment and abuse by the young artist.

Music education, in particular, needs to respect the ripening and development of nascent artists.  If a child shows promise and interest in music, it is vital not to kill the playfulness and sheer delight they experience in engaging in their favourite pass time.  To make it into a regimented, disciplined chore, before the artist has found their particular place in the artform, is to kill all their potential at birth.  It takes their promising potential and turns it into sheer waste, for the dubious and essentially valueless pleasure of seeing an implausibly youthful monkey performing for the baying, ignorant, uncaring crowd.

I cringe, when I see talent shows, young musician of the year competitions and anything else that exploits a child’s willingness to please, or sheer terror of not doing so, to provide entertainment for adults, whose sole focus is on the freakishness of the performer, rather than on their artistic merit.  We’re old enough to know better.  We ought not to be participating in the ritual sacrifice of young artists for entertainment.

I’d like to see art education that focuses less on examinations, competitions, premature public performance and constant criticism into an educational culture that fosters curiosity, exploration, experimentation, playfulness, delight and joy.  These are the necessary conditions for the emergence of an original artist that has a vision, a style of their own and the drive to express their art.  The alternative (and current) method is only fit for producing regimented soldiers, capable of marching in time and step, in artificial formations, with exaggerated and bizarre movements, while wearing overly elaborate and absurd costumes.  That’s not what we want, from our most iconic artists.

With computer music sequencers now becoming ever more sophisticated, the demand for human juke boxes is diminishing.  The quality bar for an artist to command an audience’s attention for their performance has never been higher.  We shouldn’t be producing jobbing musicians.  We should be encouraging musicians to find their particular niche.  We should prepare them to discover their own excellence, in good time, when they are good and ready.

Art education also needs to recognise that becoming an adult artist is not compulsory.  Children that delight in art are under no obligation whatsoever to share their gifts in adult life.  They can, if that is their choice and they feel ready and in control of their artistic career, but there should be no expectation that the child eventually performs, as a quid pro quo, simply because attention has been lavished on their artistic education.  There is more to life than performing the works of dead composers.

For a revolution to take place in the education of young artists, society will need to become kinder and gentler, more accepting of diversity and less institutionalised, in its production and presentation of art.  We can’t crush any more young kids under these wheels.

 

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Psychopathy and Aesthetic Sensitivity

If artists hold out some hope of freeing the world from the deleterious effects of the presence of powerful psychopaths, especially the psychopaths in charge, are we sure that psychopaths aren’t among the artists?  Will it be possible for psychopathic artists, if they exist, to simply subvert the message of art and twist things around to keep the world utterly insane?

This is probably the final instalment in a series of blog posts I have done, examining the roles of artists and psychopaths in our world, suggesting that psychopaths are causing everybody else to act in psychopathic ways, artists included.  As a consequence of their disregard for the sanctity of life (and their inability to understand the value of life, except in monetary and material terms, only advantageous to themselves) and the now extreme means available to them to cause total extinction, they pose a threat to all of us that cannot be simply ignored or hidden from.  Left to their own devices, we are currently on a trajectory where they inevitably, eventually kill us all and everything alive.

Further posts have posited that artists have a crucial role to play in counteracting the actions of psychopaths and the non-psychopathic people that they have co-opted, through the simple expedient of making them so afraid, that they also act in violent ways.  We, as artists, are the creators.  What we create is what gets made.  We form and convey reality.  We are the creators of perceptions.  If we only create what the psychopathic manipulators want us to create, that’s where the trouble starts.  Further, if they convince us to destroy, rather than create, our powers to sustain and edify life are emasculated.

In previous posts, I’ve argued that non-psychopaths can be made to be perpetrators of violence and collaborators in enabling violence, just because they are frightened into it, ever since childhood.  I have also written about how artists can heal the effects of violence, if they choose to stop perpetuating the cycle of violence.  I pointed out how even innocuous sounding activities, carried out on behalf of organisations run by psychopaths for wholly maniacal purposes, can have the same effect as invisible violence, in terrorising us all into constantly doing as we’re told, to suit somebody else’s desires and needs and to suppress our own needs, desires and nature.

The psychopaths in charge ruthlessly use artists as tools, to do their manipulating for them.  We’ve been manipulated into it and told that it’s ok.  In light of the annihilation that the psychopaths in charge could quite easily and blithely unleash at any moment, it’s definitely not ok.  We’ve been duped.  It’s time we stopped playing along, hoping our contribution won’t make things very much worse.  Our art, if used to promote a destructive, life-averse agenda, definitely does make things very much worse.  We have a responsibility not to cause our own downfall, by complicity and complacency.

In short, I believe that working to reduce the impact of psychopaths is now something we don’t have the luxury of deferring, any longer.  Further, artists have the tools and skills to make emotionally affective messages that have the potential to alert the majority to the threat, without further terrorising them.  In fact, artists can act as Shaman, in that they can weave artistic magic to soothe the soul, provide truthful clarity and help a population of terrified, fearful people face down the lunatics that have lead the whole world to the brink of self-destructive disaster.

However, the whole project to save the world through art would fail, if psychopaths were simply able to pose as authentic artists and subvert the messages of artists that seek a less violent, more compassionate world, free from the manipulation, destruction and other undesirable effects of the agendas of the psychopaths in charge.  The psychopaths always have and will continue to try to use artists to convey their own twisted agenda, but artists don’t have to work for them.  Aware artists can simply not produce the messages they are manipulated into producing, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  What will the psychopaths do, if their sheep dogs (artists) refuse to herd the sheeple, on command?

The danger is if the psychopaths can do the work of artists themselves, so that they push their own misinformation, distortions and lies, without needing to use the artists they have traditionally used to do their dirty work.  Sometimes artists have promoted the psychopathic agenda, without even being aware they are doing so, or being conscious of the consequences of what they are doing on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  It has to be recognised that not all artists are aware and awake either, such is the universality of the violence used from cradle to grave to hypnotise and terrorise all of us into doing what they wish us to do.

So, can the psychopaths become artists and take control of propagating their own propaganda?  Is a project to convince artists to work for higher, nobler ideals, instead of serving the pathocracy, doomed to failure and subversion?  Can artists really change the world and prevent the actions of the psychopaths in charge from destroying first our quality of life and subsequently life itself?

There are reasons to believe that psychopaths are lacking in the aesthetic sensitivity necessary to do so.  I came across this very interesting paper, which is worth a read:

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~jharold/Without%20Taste.pdf

The paper argues that psychopaths are incapable of producing art that will be emotionally affective and potent enough to fool anybody.  If their remaining choice, to get the rest of the world to go along with their plans and ideas, is to bypass artists that refuse to propagate their twisted world view, then they are not going to succeed in their psychological information wars on their own.  They can only do it by manipulating artists into doing so on their behalf and artists have the power, as a group, to simply not do so.  Psychopaths that attempt to produce art are instantly recognisable as imposters, when they try to make anything that has more than superficial, decorative, utilitarian value.  This is a hopeful sign. 

The psychopathic agenda can be stopped simply by artists refusing to deliver its messages.  Psychopaths that run the world cannot deliver their insane messages on their own behalf.  They lack the aesthetic sensibility necessary to do so convincingly. 

Better than that, artists can use their skills and talents to wake the world up from the hypnotic pseudo-reality that has been woven for centuries, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  A different, better reality is possible and artists can describe it.

How can we be so sure that psychopaths can’t become manipulative artists?

First, let’s make some observations about a psychopath’s relationship to art and aesthetics. 

One thing we know is that psychopaths are, where fashion and trends are concerned, followers of the crowd.  They tend to be trend band-waggoners, rather than trend-setters.  Why?  The reason is that leading a trend would require an aesthetic sensibility which they don’t possess.  They might create fashion trends to make profit, but they don’t care which fashion it is.  It’s their preferred strategy to observe what is already making waves and to co-opt that trend as their own.

A corollary of this trend following is that psychopaths are typified by not knowing what they really like, where art and music are concerned.  Most emotionally affective experiences leave them cold and unaffected.  They exhibit no grand, passionate, emotional reaction to art.  They are unmoved by it, except to the extent that it can make them richer, more attractive or more powerful.  There is no difference to them between a piece of computer-generated pop music and an exquisitely sad piece of Tchaikovsky.  If they like literature, art or theatre at all, it is usually to be seen to be hip, relevant or wealthy, rather than for the qualities of the art itself.

The psychopath’s relationship to art can be summarised in a very simple phrase.  They tend to have bad taste.

However, the meaner, crueller, more merciless and competitive we become as a society, in line with the comfort zones of the psychopaths in charge, the more critical and judgemental we become of art and artists.  We also begin to treat art and artists as worthless and disposable.  This is simply a reflection that ripples throughout society, driven by the fear of stepping out of line, of the psychopaths in charge and their relationship to art and artists.  Because they believe in “dog-eat-dog” as an article of faith and are unmoved by art and artists, they intimidate the rest of us, subtly, into behaving as they do.

Psychopaths tend to have a very shallow understanding of art and lack any awareness of nuance, subtlety and ambiguity.  It doesn’t interest them.  This is why satire, particularly political satire, is such a powerful weapon against them.  They don’t get the joke, while the rest of us almost always do.  Comedians and satirists that use humour to deflate the power and plans of the psychopaths in charge are Shamanic, too.  They heal us through laughter.  Of course, when a psychopath fails to get the joke, they still laugh when other people do, mimicking, but not experiencing their joy, delight and mirth.  It may well be that he who laughs last might be a bit of a psychopath, in reality.

Because they, themselves, are unmoved by art and have a fundamentally narcissistic world-view, psychopaths have no idea why other people are emotionally moved by art.  To them, it is both mysterious and silly.  They conclude that expressing emotions in response to art is a weakness.  It makes them intensely uncomfortable to be in the presence of people who are all feeling something, in response to a work of art, which they are unable to feel.

Bookishness is also rarely a characteristic of the psychopath.  They are, generally speaking, not particularly well read, except when feigning simulated bookishness for some personal advantage peripheral to the literature itself.  When psychopaths do pretend to be bookish, they don’t fully comprehend the veiled and hidden meanings suggested in what they read.  They don’t read in any great depth.  They are unable to read between the lines or place themselves into the shoes of a story’s protagonist, through the power of their imagination.  If they can, they don’t feel what the protagonist feels, in response to the situations described.

As a group, psychopaths are not particularly humanist in their outlook.  Why would they be, if they see other humans as prey – disposable and unimportant?  In the psychopathic world view, all other humans are interchangeable units, whereas they alone are special and unique.  There is a peculiar contradiction in the value they place on themselves, versus the value they place on other people’s lives.  To each psychopath, somehow they were miraculously granted the sole monopoly on fabulousness and every other human was put on earth to serve their purposes.  This blatant contradiction does not trouble the psychopath in the least.

If a psychopath attempts to make art at all, it usually fails to connect with or reach other people, being sterile, banal and superficial in execution.  They will usually excel at copying, but struggle coming up with anything truly original.  As artists, they can reproduce artwork, but not create it from nothing at all.

Because their only interest in art is what it can do for them, they are not particularly concerned with the quality of their artistic output and have little interest in striving to improve.  After all, they think they’re brilliant already.  Why waste time and sweat on trying to make their art better, when they can flog their sub-standard work off to undiscriminating and unsuspecting buyers just the same.

Their written and spoken language and their communications are not particularly eloquent or stylish.  For the same reason they don’t strive to hone their other artistic skills, they will spend little time extending their vocabulary or learning how to turn a phrase in just the right way.  Most of their language use will be characterised by malapropisms, colloquialisms, words used incorrectly (carelessly choosing a word that has the opposite to the intended meaning, for example) and will be grammatically suspect, with little respect for correct punctuation.

To quote from the paper, “Without Taste”, cited above:

“Psychopaths want money, power, status, excitement and sex, but helping others, changing the world, saving their souls, preserving beautiful objects, solving scientific problems, etc. are of little concern to them; indeed, they may not even be intelligible to them as projects. Psychopaths have little understanding that others care about anything else than they, themselves, care about.”

If you don’t understand what life is, if you have an arid internal life and you have no interest in or ability to understand why life might be valued by other people, you tend not to be very protective of it.  In fact, you might be quite cavalier about death, even on a large scale.

As mentioned earlier, psychopaths lack the ability to imaginatively project themselves into a fictional world.  When they do, they learn nothing from the arc of the characters that most people would identify with.  Morality tales are lost on them.  Allegorical tales fail to hit their mark.

Comparing aesthetics and morals, as the paper I have cited does, the author concludes:

“Aesthetic engagement can actually educate and improve the same abilities we need in order to make sound moral decisions”

In other words, those of us that have an ability to become aesthetically engaged with art actually possess the means to make sound moral judgements.  Aesthetic sensitivity is an advantage, when it comes to learning about and making sound moral decisions.

There is an exception, for the psychopath, of course.  The paper states:

“When it comes to non-narrative, non-representational art, it is hard to see that empathy is necessary for [it’s] appreciation.”

Psychopaths have more ability to appreciate and create non-narrative, non-representational art, than they have for narrative, representational forms.  Is it any wonder that modern art, reflecting the tastes and preferences of the psychopaths in charge, has moved distinctly away from narrative forms of art and has become largely abstract, non-representational and non-narrative?  It’s the only art that requires little empathy to understand.  That’s not to condemn modern art as valueless or only for psychopaths, but it does provide a rationale for the radical shift so far away from narrative, representational forms.

That’s not to say psychopaths have no imagination.  They often have a vivid imagination, but are unmoved emotionally by what they imagine.  They make no sensory connection to what they imagine and to how they feel, in response to what they have imagined.  Fearful things can be imagined, but they cannot feel fear in response to the imagining.

Their lack of empathy, however, is not a sufficient explanation for their relationship to art.  Psychopaths have “a more pervasive deficit: an inability to take an interest in anything that does not serve, directly or indirectly, to gratify some desire.”

Psychopaths lack an ability to appreciate an artwork from any aspect other than how it pertains to them.  They can’t see an object “objectively”, or from other perspectives and have no ability to aesthetically distance themselves from the work and its meaning to only themselves.  They can’t sense what a piece of art might mean to others, or what its purpose might be, if they cannot find a way in which the art will be advantageous to them.  In short, they lack the ability to establish aesthetic distance from the work, in the words of the paper cited.

“Aesthetic distance does not require not caring about the object at all (for psychopaths would certainly be capable of that), but caring that extends beyond one’s immediate concerns.”

“Psychopaths have no real grasp of value, other than material or monetary value.”

Why does an inability to establish aesthetic distance and a lack of aesthetic sensibility matter?  It matters because aesthetic sense is closely correlated to moral and ethical values.  The paper says:

“Both moral and aesthetic value requires appropriate distance – an ability to step back from one’s own point of view and appreciate the world around us, without concern for whether we can benefit from it.”

To paraphrase, a psychopath lacking in aesthetic sensibility and the ability to create aesthetic distance between themselves and a work of art, by corollary, is unable to appreciate the world around us.  Without that appreciation, they do not value the world around us and will not feel compelled to prevent its destruction.  In fact, if they see temporary advantage in doing so, they will think nothing of destroying the world around them.  Having invented the means for rapid and comprehensive destruction of the world around them (nuclear weapons, global warming, environmental pollution, strip mining, fracking, water source contamination, tainting of the food supply), having an inability to appreciate the world around us is a very dangerous trait.  They could blow up the world and kill all life on it without feeling a pang of regret.  Therefore, they make very poor stewards of the planet, yet are in charge of it.

To summarise, psychopaths are dangerous to us all due to their lack of aesthetic sensitivity.  To take one more quotation from the paper I cited above:

“The abilities to participate fully in both moral life and in art are rooted in the same basic capacity, a capacity that psychopaths lack – to take an interest in what is not one’s own.”

So it’s pretty clear that psychopaths make very poor artists and very poor stewards of the planet, for the same reason.  They’re not interested in it, because it isn’t theirs. 

Unfortunately, this also necessarily implies that the reality we have created, its messages, our culture and the zeitgeist was all created by artists, not psychopaths, but at the behest of the psychopaths in charge.  I include inventors, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and technologists under the rubric of artists.  We took their money to convey the manipulative ideas they wanted us to convey for them.  We caved in on our principles and ethics.  We did what we were told.  Many of us were too frightened to do otherwise, due to the level of subtle and not-so-subtle violence we feared would be levelled against us, if we refused (for example, not being able to pay the mortgage or rent). 

The world’s mainstream and social media is as unreliable a source of truth today as it is for one reason alone.  Artists corrupted it, on behalf of the psychopaths in charge.  We collaborated, delivered and enabled their destructive, threatening agenda.  When wars are sold to the population, it is artists that are doing the selling (journalists, reporters, television producers, graphic artists, movie makers).  That’s an unpalatable truth that, as artists, we have to face.  If the world has been manipulated to the point of imminent extinction, through global warming, nuclear war or environmental destruction, we participated in getting us all to that point.  We did all the heavy lifting.

We made this mess.  The psychopaths in charge didn’t have the skills to pull it off.

In a world where the psychopaths are in charge, is it any wonder, though, that art is not highly valued and neither are artists.  Arts funding is given grudgingly and sparingly, if it is given at all.  Artists are poorly paid and their existence precarious.  Most of our world leaders cannot see the intrinsic value in art or its value to others.  They are utterly incapable of believing in the value of something (anything) that brings them no personal gain.  That’s why the money has not flowed to us as a group, except in as much as we were prepared to deliver psychopathic images and messages to further the goals of the psychopaths in charge.

To take just one positive away from this sorry analysis, it’s probable that no good artist is a psychopath.  If an artist is able to reach people, emotionally, with their work, at a deep level, there is a good chance that they lack psychopathy.

It’s high time we did some good, with our artistic talents.

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Corporate Influence is Violence in Disguise

We live in a more or less permanent reality distortion field, where the truth is hard to discern. 

Every day, we are subject to messages, via advertising, social media, the mainstream media and through government public relations that tell us “the way things are”.  In every case, the aim of all of this communications activity is so that people are manipulated to think and act in desired ways. 

Desired by whom?  In the main, we are subject to the instructions and wishes of corporations.  Corporations spend the most on advertising.  They lobby governments to adopt corporation-friendly policies.  Social media massages the content of our timelines so that we are sold what corporations want us to be sold.  The mainstream media agenda is also largely corporatist and pro-business.  We are, everywhere, saturated by corporate influence. 

Does it matter?  If it’s ambient, don’t we all simply learn to ignore it and carry on regardless?  To some extent we do tune these messages out, but if that leaves a vacuum of ideas, we’re more inclined to cherry-pick the corporate messages we find more palatable and to discard those that we don’t like so much, thinking this is the same as thinking for ourselves and being awake to the truth.  It is nothing of the sort.  All we are doing is filtering corporate influence.  We’re not acting independently of it.

I previously addressed the subject of why we are so violent, as a society and what artists can do about it, in a previous blog post:  “Art, Violence, Fear and Self Awareness” http://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/art-violence-fear-and-self-awareness/

That blog post cited a very important paper http://dkeenan.com/RJB-WhyViolence.pdf.  It talked about the root causes of violence and how we are, as young children, all subjected to visible, invisible and utterly invisible violence, which in turn causes feelings of fear, powerlessness and terror and how those feelings, subsequently, beget a new generation of perpetrators of violence and collaborators upholding violence.  This blog post will address non-stop manipulation.  What are its effects and how does it relate to fear, terror and being afraid?  Finally, does corporate influence cause a violent society to perpetuate?  What can artists do about it?

In the paper “Why Violence”, an extensive list of examples of invisible violence was given.  The paper held that these were examples of the ways in which young children were terrorised into modifying their native, organic, human behaviours into behaviours deemed to be more docile, tractable and acceptable to adults.  It gave a long list of how children are manipulated and terrorised into being the people their parents want them to be, instead of themselves.  Below is a partial list of those methods of inflicting invisible terror, from parent to child (quoted from the paper):

  • Dysfunctionally/compulsively seek child’s attention and/or distract child from paying attention to itself (child will lose capacity to focus intently on itself)
  • Try to persuade child (child will be scared that it is not allowed to choose freely)
  • Complain about child (child will be caused fear, pain, anger and/or sadness as it tries to respond to your powerless and dysfunctional behaviour)
  • Demand child’s time to do tasks for you (child will not learn to manage its time in accordance with its own self-will, it will learn to resent helping others and it will learn to demand the time of others)
  • Cajole child into doing what you want it to do, for example, to eat what you want it to eat (child will become fearful that it is not allowed to act out its own Self-will)
  • Manipulate child into doing what you want out of fear of dealing openly and powerfully with conflict (child will learn to fear conflict too and will learn to manipulate others as a result)
  • Blame child (child will learn to avoid responsibility)
  • Condemn child (child will learn to condemn others)
  • Insult child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to insult others)
  • Deride child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to be derisive)
  • Mock child (child will be scared out of clearly explaining itself)
  • Goad child into behaving in a way that will allow you to justify to yourself getting angry with it (child will be caused enormous pain, anger and confusion as it grapples with this mindbender)
  • Be sarcastic with child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to be sarcastic with others)
  • Embarrass child (child will feel embarrassed at trying its best and will learn to embarrass others)
  • Humiliate child (child will feel humiliated at its ‘failure’ and will learn to humiliate others)
  • Shame child (child will feel ashamed and will learn to shame others)
  • Taunt child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to taunt others)
  • Tease child (child will develop a low sense of Self-worth and will learn to tease others, particularly younger children and pets)
  • Snub child (child will experience enormous fear, pain, anger and/or sadness, and develop a low sense of Self-worth)
  • ‘Shut out’ child unless it does what you want (child will be scared into suppressing awareness of its own Self-will and submitting to yours)
  • Give child unsolicited advice (child might learn to rely on others rather than work out what to do for itself)
  • ‘Motivate’ child to do what you want and pretend that child is doing what it wants (child’s natural capacity to listen to, and act on, its own Self-will is warped and, eventually, destroyed)
  • Guilt-trip child into doing what you want (child will learn to feel guilty for acting out its natural Self-will)
  • Moralise with child (child’s natural morality will become warped)
  • Judge child (child will lose faith in its own judgment, particularly about itSelf)
  • Deceive child (child will experience fear and pain, its awareness of which it will probably suppress, and will learn to deceive others)
  • Trick child in a nasty way (child will experience fear and pain, its awareness of which it will probably suppress, and will learn to trick others)

Substitute the parent / child relationship with advertiser / consumer, or government / electorate or mainstream media / audience, or social media proprietor / subscribers and something uncanny is revealed.  Does any of this resemble corporate messaging to the populace?

I think it does.  I think that you can read the efforts of advertisers to shame and humiliate a potential customer into buying their product as exactly analogous to a parent doing the same to a child, which is an act of invisible violence.  Social media and advertising will distract you.  Governments have deceived us.  Companies often trick us in nasty ways.  They do manipulate us into eating what they want us to eat and cajole us into acting the way they want us to.  The mainstream media does humiliate celebrities, through prurient reportage, that demeans us all.  In plain sight, we are having violence perpetrated upon us, by private corporate interests, pretty much constantly.  We are absorbing a tremendous amount of invisible violence on a daily basis.

Some people claim that:

There’s nothing intrinsically evil about the idea that large corporations might be trying to manipulate your experience and behaviour.  Everybody you interact with–including every one of your friends, family, and colleagues–is constantly trying to manipulate your behaviour in various ways.”

(http://www.talyarkoni.org/blog/2014/06/28/in-defense-of-facebook/ )

This, to me, is an ample demonstration of how invisible, all-pervasive and banal the violence has become.  We’ve so internalised it, that we’ve become collaborators in it.  We don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with being manipulated constantly, by private interests, for their own gain.  It’s as if we have surrendered dignity, self-determination and freedom, so that we can enjoy the abuse and think of it as entertainment (or worse, as truthful information).

The thesis of the paper “Why Violence?” is that whenever you, as a human organism, are coerced into behaving however somebody else wants, instead of according to your own will and needs, through the subtle intimidations of the techniques of invisible violence, we are sustaining damage to our psyches.  We’re becoming just that little bit more afraid of punishment for non compliance, just that fraction more terrorised and a tiny bit more afraid of standing up against the barrage of violence.  We acquiesce.  We roll over and comply, instead.  Some of us join the gang and become perpetrators of this kind of manipulation ourselves, while others aid, abet and enable the manipulation, as willing collaborators.  We are all poisoned and damaged by it, in one way or another.

The constant downpour of messages telling you to be fearful, ashamed, afraid, isolated, guilty, self-loathing and blameworthy for your own failures is what does the damage.  Corporate controlled advertising and government policy increasingly deliver precisely those sentiments.  When the powerful, revered and admired are constantly telling you that you are unworthy, unsuccessful, unwanted, unloved, unlovable, weak, powerless or inadequate, unless you do what corporations (or corporate influenced governments) wish you to do, it is little different from the scenario where a parent exerts psychological violence on a child to get them to behave in their desired way.  There is a power inequality and it is being used to bludgeon the less powerful into fearful submission.

What’s the result of this violent onslaught, without end?  Violence begets violence.  Fear instils fear.  We live lesser lives, because we are subject to the controlling and manipulating messages of corporations, the corporate media and institutions run by manipulators.  We’re conditioned to do the same to others, as if it were normal.

There are some commentators that reject the idea that corporations influence by fear.  They draw a distinction between fear and seduction, arguing that manipulation by flattering deception is not the same as manipulation by fear.  Here’s a typical position statement:

“Seduction, rather than fear and coercion are the currency, and as such, they are a lot more effective. (Yes, short of deep totalitarianism, legitimacy, consent and acquiescence are stronger models of control than fear and torture—there are things you cannot do well in a society defined by fear, and running a nicely-oiled capitalist market economy is one of them.” 

(https://medium.com/message/engineering-the-public-289c91390225)

Well, actually no.  I disagree.  I would argue that seduction and acquiescence are merely different flavours of invisible violence and that as a consequence, society is utterly defined by fear.  If it’s not fear of being detained, imprisoned, tortured and shot, it’s the fear of not fitting in with the crowd, of saying and doing the wrong things, of not being acceptable and of stepping out of line.  The evidence we have before us is that the nicely oiled capitalist market economy runs very nicely on this brand of fear, in fact (though that doesn’t justify it).

It follows that we’re violent because corporations and governments are constantly seeking to manipulate, straighten and correct us.  Do we truly need governing and influencing, in an incessant, belittling manner, when what we reap as a consequence is a violent society, full of psychologically broken, fearful and afraid people?

We engage in damaging the psyche of everybody, by creating insatiable desires for unnecessary purchases, which we can only fund through indebtedness (and the guilt, restriction of choice and obligations which that course of action entails).  We infect everybody with mindless emacity.  Buy this, don’t do that.  Shame is used as a tool.  Our vulnerability is exploited as a weakness, rather than celebrated and embraced as part of the shared human condition and experience that we all have in common.  Predators are constantly seeking to make the rest of the population into prey.

As artists, do we wish to support and prolong the violence disguised behind corporate influence?  Do we want to enable it, or subvert and disable it?  Is our art being used to bludgeon our fellow humans into some sort of submission to the will of corporations?  Isn’t that a big deal?

Artists have the power to create emotionally affective works.  It’s our stock in trade.  We therefore have the tools of influence in our skill set, which is why corporations seek us out.  As artists, will we produce works that illuminate, rather than manipulate?  Will we edify humanity, or vilify it?  Will our works inform, or deform?  Is our art in the service of education, or discombobulation?  Do we promote and uphold life, or peddle death?

Good-hearted people, many of them artists, try to simply earn a living through working in advertising, but most (if not all) are unaware of the wider consequences for society.  By feeding the perception manipulation beast, we enable it to prey on the minds of people who might not, under different circumstances, be made to feel so small, powerless, fearful and afraid.  In acting to conceal their terror, these people, in turn, make others feel small and afraid.  We unleash an unstoppable cascade of violence, on an unimaginable scale, like a hideous, doomsday, domino effect, simply by creating ads that seek to manipulate.

Is the ultimate purpose of life really as impoverished as to merely submit to constant manipulation?  Are we put here to manipulate or be manipulated?  Isn’t the desire to manipulate fundamentally psychopathic in its nature, stemming from the fear of not being in control in the first place?  Do we need the constant, stealthy, insidious nudges to shape our behaviour, through social media and its algorithms?  Why can’t we be left in peace? 

The wise among us know that we’re not left in peace because there is no money in it.  A population at peace with itself doesn’t need to consume, dominate or compete quite so avariciously or rapaciously as one in constant fear of falling behind or being sanctioned by the authorities.  Fear is good for profits.  This seems to be the only reason that can be given for why we can’t be left in peace and quite frankly, it’s not a good enough reason.  If we want a less violent, more peaceful world, then we’re going to have to rethink quite a lot of the things we accept today as “just how things are.”

Advertising is not fluffy, friendly and harmless.  Corporate influence is not anodyne or cost-free for society.  It inflicts invisible violence on all of us, all the time, in ways we’re sometimes not even aware of.  It’s relentless.  It insults us.  It demeans us.  It makes us fearful and afraid.  We are entitled to reject it.  We are entitled to live our lives, free from perpetual, concealed, insidious manipulation.

 

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