The Tedious Transhumanist

You don’t often read an analysis of what the prevailing agenda is, in Silicon Valley and what that might mean for creativity and art, but I have a foot in both camps, so to speak, so I thought I would write a post about how I see things developing, from my perspective, as both a technologist and artist.  The irony, for me, is that I see both disciplines require a great deal of comfort with innovation and creativity, yet I sense that this is not the path Silicon Valley is on.  I could be wrong, but I sense a real subversion of art, creativity and innovation, for ugly, dominating ends.  Their collective project represents, from my perspective, a genuine existential threat to artists and aesthetics.  You can read this blog post as a critique of this collective delusion, if you like.

This is one of those blog posts I have approached with a sense of dread and reluctance.  It’s painful to write it, when your assessment of the situation is that the project is well advanced, well funded, determined and organised, while opposition to it is almost non-existent, because the consequences are barely recognised at all.  Ask the average person about what Transhumanism even is and you will draw blank stares.  Yet, the project itself is insidious, harmful, dreadful and very likely to succeed, even though it is based on junk science, a massively flawed conception of humanity and blind faith in huckster-promoted science fictions.  It feels like we’re already done for.  Even writing about it feels futile.

The catalyst for this article was a keynote speech I attended, at one of the world’s larger technical conferences, hosted by a company that makes something like over 90% of the very fabric of the Internet.  This company is currently undervalued on the stock market, dependent as it has traditionally been on the sale of hardware, operated manually, by specialist geeks.  They’re trying to transform themselves into a software services powerhouse and this means they have had to embark upon major change initiatives, to take their very conservative customer base and partner ecosystem, as well as their own employees, along on their change programme.  They have had to actively foster and promote change to survive.

Their response to this imperative was to open the floor to an unabashed Transhumanist, futurologist and, in my view, charlatan.  What this huckster said, in 45 minutes, boiled my blood and aroused my every instinct to rail against it.  That’s not because I am anti-change, or uncomfortable with innovation.  It was because what this man espoused was pure, dangerous nonsense, yet a nonsense that has been embraced like a cult religion, among the board rooms of struggling Silicon Valley technology companies, trying to change themselves fast enough to survive.  I was moved to spend most of the keynote speech jotting keywords and counter arguments into Evernote, on my smart phone, while I listened.  I was incensed by what I was hearing.  I was probably the only one, in an audience of ten thousand or more, not cheering and actively lapping it up, accepting every pronouncement as gospel.  I felt as though they had already started distributing the Kool-Aid.

For those that don’t know, Transhumanism is the belief that humans, through engineering, can design and produce a superior human being.  They wrap it up in laudable enough aims, but at its very heart is a form of spectacular hubris, born of ignorance of what a human being actually is.  They start from a very blinkered and narrow view of what people are and what they’re for, which they hope to amplify.

Wikipedia says the following, about Transhumanism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism):  Transhumanism “is an international and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human condition by developing and creating widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”  Note that emotional and empathic capacities are omitted.

Wikipedia goes on to say:  “Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as the ethics of using such technologies.  The most common Transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the natural condition as to merit the label of post human beings.”

You should be very worried about this.  It’s an arid and dead philosophy, reeking of coercive eugenics.  Ethics are very much a secondary concern and the dangers are downplayed.  In the keynote speech I witnessed, they were barely mentioned at all, except by way of glibly reassuring us that it will all be OK, offering not a shred of evidence to back the bald assertion.

The keynote speaker is touted as “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age”.  He is described as a media artist, futurist, philosopher, keynote speaker and TV personality.  This is how far we have sunk.  We now list “TV personality” as a qualification.  You can read about the dude here (not that I wish to endorse him in any way):  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Silva

Here is some of his tripe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FN57u7-x75w  Notice that the imagery is laden with tacit endorsements of weapons systems – weapons of conquest and mass destruction; weapons that threaten us all, with cold, ruthless, indiscriminate, mass murder, of innocents.  Those are glossed over, in the narrative, but the visual impressions are distinctly made.  Let’s also not concern ourselves with accidental, unintentional triggering of those weapons.  That’s not progressive enough, is it?

This dude is hyperactive, hyperbolic and young.  His delivery is imperative, like a child throwing a tantrum that demands to have his way.  He leaps and prances around the stage like a fidgety kid, high on some kind of substance.  Yet, he is considered to be a high priest of Silicon Valley’s current obsessive religion.  It’s a religion that wants to make humans live forever, but which abhors and discriminates against age and wisdom.  Their quest is to create a species that remains young, compliant and impressionable, yet also immortal.  If this is not a pure vanity and ego gratification project, I don’t know what is.  Who wants that kind of person to live forever?

At only 34 years of age, our keynote speaker lacks any semblance of the wisdom accumulated with age.  Heck, at 34 I didn’t have a clue, but I thought I knew everything.  I suspect he thinks he knows everything, too and has it all figured out.  Furthermore, your objections are likely to be only because you’re too old to understand the epiphanies he has had.  How can that be?  It can’t be.  It’s nonsense.

This guy makes a handsome living, I suspect, as a huckster for innovation, only he thinks that any innovation will do.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you should.  He’s only concerned that you can.  That said, his overriding concern is obviously how to make a buck in a world that doesn’t value media artists very highly.  He’s found his niche and he is milking it for all it’s worth.  The consequences be damned!   At least he gets to make his films.  If corporations want to sponsor him to sprout his brand of dangerous nonsense, so much the better for his bank balance.

The vision Transhumanists offer for humanity is one of ruthless efficiency, but insensate.  They want us to work more productively, producing greater profits for the few, but don’t want us to be any more connected to our feelings and emotions.  Rather, they prefer it if we were less connected to our feelings and emotions, especially if that conflicts with the goals of efficiency and improved productivity.  It’s a vision of humanity as pre-destined slaves.  What they aim to produce is a race of insensate psychopaths, made in the image of the very billionaires that are so hell-bent of pushing this agenda.

Take another look at the imagery.  It’s always similar:

Transhuman2.PNG

(From https://techcrunch.com/2016/07/23/the-assimilation-of-robots-into-the-workforce-as-peers-not-replacements/ – this article seeks to soothe those that fear losing their jobs, by telling them that robots will be peers, not replacements.  The assertion in the article is not convincing.)

The Transhumanist wet dream is for human flesh to be augmented by, or even replaced with metal alloys and silicon.  Silicon and metal alloys are poor substances and technologies for empathy, imagination, self replication, sustainability and awareness (self and situational).  Metal hands have no warmth or feeling.  Silicon brains have no introspection or empathy.  These aren’t technologies that can run all day on a cheese sandwich, like a human being can and they cannot self-heal.  They’re hard and brutal, like the Transhumanist vision.

Exoskeletons won’t protect us (in the workplace or in battle).  Like the suits of armour of medieval times, they’ll more often than not be a hindrance and an encumbrance, making us more vulnerable, not less.  Our thoughts won’t be held in smart phones.  The computing power necessary will never fit (at least not for a very long time) and its energy requirements will far exceed any foreseeable battery technology.  What would be the use of an identity, memory and consciousness that has a three hour battery life?  Yet, the Transhumanists are convinced that the robots will be our children and that they will inherit the Earth.  Not my children.  Not on my watch.  I care for them too much to lumber them with these defective, inferior technologies.

The Prussians, at the end of the 19th century, used to fit beautifully crafted prostheses to their war-maimed, telling them that they would be stronger and better than ever before.  It was a lie, of course.  They were never the same, let alone any better.  We still do that to today’s horribly mutilated soldiers, with our carbon fibre, Kevlar and titanium retro-fitments.  Ask any single one of them if they would like to have their previous flesh and blood limbs back and you’ll get a resounding affirmation, if they’re honest.

There’s almost nothing (if anything) in the Transhumanist agenda about enhancing or even fostering the human capacity for creativity – arguably our most remarkable characteristic.  There is nothing about enhancing our aesthetic senses (instead, it’s anaesthetic), our appreciation and capacity for beauty, or our art.  Those are considered to be irrelevant trivialities, not worthy of enhancement or even preservation.  In the Transhumanist conception, those things are hindrances, that ought to be expunged.  Instead, the obsession is with efficiency and productivity, as if that is the highest good.  Efficiency and productivity are nice to have, but for the ultimate benefit of whom?

Our current neoliberal economic system, with its blinkered focus on productivity , already induces an emotional need to prove one’s worth through one’s job, which leave’s workers in a permanent state of “fight or flight”.  It mainly manifests in the anxiety of underperformance and a sense of not being good enough, or not living up to expectations.  Is this a tendency we want to accelerate and amplify?

I found the keynote speech far too “gee whizz”.  The speaker was protected from criticism by his adherence to blind optimism and unfounded positivity.  The greatest heresy, in the Transhumanist religion, is to be negative, after all.  To be negative is to be toxic.  Lunatics like this speaker, lacking the capacity for deep, honest introspection, or for learning the lessons of history, lacking real empathy for others, are downright dangerous propagandists for what is, in essence, a thorough-going corporatist agenda.

Here’s a list of things that are missing from the Transhumanist agenda, which (as far as I can tell) they are making no attempt whatsoever to enhance and improve:

  1. Human beings are hardwired for friendship.
  2. We’re also naturally empathetic.
  3. Kindness makes us feel happy.
  4. Our first instinct is to act selflessly.
  5. A human’s ability to fall in love is biological.
  6. Holding hands with someone alleviates fear.
  7. Our bodies physically change when we hug someone.
  8. Human beings are programmed to recover from bad events.
  9. And if all of that doesn’t convince you that there’s a lot of good in human nature, know that dogs are hardwired to love us.

(Quoted from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/happy-facts-for-sadness_us_5788d366e4b03fc3ee505b37)

While the Transhumanists are trying to design a better, faster, stronger, more enduring human being, there are other forces at work.  Meanwhile, in society at large (most notably post-Brexit and in the US elections), politicians, pastors, friends, and strangers, both in person and on social media now regularly out themselves as hateful, intolerant, and malicious—and they remind us just how close they are to us, just how deep the sickness in us runs, and just how far we have to go together.  Do the Transhumanists have a solution for any of this?  If anything, they’ll make it all worse.

I may have more computing power in my pocket, today, than a head of state had at his disposal 25 years ago, but does that make me any wiser?  Does the amount of computing power available to a head of state, today, make them any wiser?  Wisdom is not increasing exponentially, only our capacity and appetite for destruction has.

Among the many flaws in the Transhumanist project is that there is no way to make machines “desire” things.  They don’t dream.  Desire, of course, is the first step toward creation.  Only humans do that.  Why reduce that desire, through augmentation of the human with an engineered mechanism, or even with a biologically altered version of the human?  It’s fundamentally anti-creativity.

Transhumanists cite machine learning as being far superior to human learning.  This is smoke and mirrors, even if you consider machine learning at a data centre scale.  Machine learning is, in actuality, little more than a classification engine that creates categories on the basis of probabilities. Without vast amounts of data, confidence is low.  The faster you want the answer, the more likely it is to be hilariously wrong.  How does that improve on the human capacity for curiosity-driven learning?  It doesn’t.

What annoyed me about the tedious Transhumanist, giving his keynote speech at me, was that he was far too uncritical.  He represented a class of people too privileged and too corporate to really understand the needs and hopes of most of humanity.  He was quite content to perfect humans at the expense of losing feelings and sensations.  While he was enamoured with awe, he didn’t feel that it was essential that the half-machine, half human beings of tomorrow would experience the same thing.  This was the paradox at the heart of his address.  He wanted us to be bowled over and awed at the possibilities, but the vision was to excise our capacity to be so impressed and overawed.

On the whole, he came across as way too programmed, by years of pro-corporatist, neoliberal propaganda – the only dominant skein of political thought he would be familiar with or meaningfully exposed to, during his short life.  When the State becomes fundamentally corporatist (as it already has), then it is, by definition, Fascist.  The Transhumanist ideal sits quite comfortably with corporate control of everything.  It depends on it.  He’s awestruck by the amazing technological possibilities, professing non-conformity, but he is, in reality, the ultimate conformist.  There is no inkling that he knows a single thing about anarchy, voluntaryism, humanism or any of the other possible ways of organising human affairs, devoid of so-called leaders and rulers.  The question of who rules and what entitles them to do so is never questioned, in his world view.

Re-engineering humanity ignores utterly the threat of nuclear destruction (accidental or wanton).  It doesn’t factor in the many environmental threats to continued existence of any form of life, even if Transhuman.  Why should these threats even exist?  Why do we need to engineer human beings capable of withstanding nuclear holocaust, environmental catastrophe or the need to work with heavy loads, over extended hours?  The motivation for Transhuman design, like the motivation for all the problems a Transhuman is designed to endure, is simply neoliberal, corporate greed.  Without it, the threats abate and hence the imperative to design a being to deal with them evaporates instantly.  Transhumanism is solving the wrong problem, the wrong way.

Transhumanism also offers no solution for the current crisis of governance that is being experienced in many parts of the world.  Leadership has been unmasked as fraud.  Yet, Transhumanism offers no narrative or solutions to the idiocy at the top, the idiocy of those that vote them in and the sheer inequality that is driving all the childish hurt and anger.  With Transhumanism silent on all of these pressing issues, you have to wonder.  Transhumanism to what end?

Their design and vision for humanity is to make us faster and cheaper, bigger and better, enduring longer and tolerating more abuse.   What we actually need is a species that takes time to understand their fellow human beings, before creating things and experiences of value to other people.  Transhumanism is a tired, out of date, irrelevant conception of what it is to be better than a human.  It lacks imagination and is simply the stale regurgitation of discredited, dysfunctional, destructive and doomed ideas about how one improves life for oneself, while disregarding the well-being of everybody else alive or yet to be born.  In short, it’s a dead end idea, propagated by dead head thinkers.

The reality of our modern, connected, networked world is that there soon won’t be enough electrical energy generated to run our IP networks.  That’s yet another problem that remains unsolved, which Transhumanism is silent about.

What place is there for failure, in the Transhumanist future?  Every artist knows that failure is a necessary and unavoidable step on the way to success, but Transhumanism seems to ignore this entirely.  Failures will simply be re-engineered.  Version one will be perfection personified.  There won’t be any failures and no need to mop up the mess and try again.  Sure.  And pigs might fly.  Engineering, being a fundamentally creative process, doesn’t proceed in that manner.  Given that the first Transhumans are likely to be failures, what should become of them?  What are the ethics of scrapping an improved human being that didn’t turn out that way?

While this stupid huckster was prancing around the stage, espousing a perfected future, just beyond our current grasp, there was something else in the gigantic arena that gave me some small hope.  While the speaker was talking about improving on the human mind and its mortal body, above me one of the stage lights, constructed of LEDs, was flickering.  It was a flickering of hope.  We’re going to re-engineer humanity, but we can’t even design a stage light that doesn’t fail.  That flickering light was a ray of hope to me, because it proved that without superior maintenance, all our designs are worthless.

So, this tub thumper for billionaires and start up culture, as practised in Silicon Valley, did his schtick, trotting out trite, tired quotes from discredited pundits and pseudo intellectuals.  The whole thing reminded me that I was a committed Rehumanist.  See my earlier blog post on what that means:  https://tropicaltheartist.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/rehumanising-through-art/

Noam Chomsky’s view on Transhumanism and the so-called “singularity” is closer to my thoughts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kICLG4Zg8s  The Singularity is Science Fiction.

Here’s a quote from that video, about what it means to programme future human beings with artificial intelligence:  “What’s a program? A program is a theory; it’s a theory written in an arcane, complex notation designed to be executed by the machine. What about the program, you ask?  The same questions you ask about any other theory: Does it give insight and understanding?  These theories don’t.  So what we’re asking here is: Can we design a theory of being smart?  We’re eons away from doing that.”

No, the keynote speaker I endured was evidently addicted to epiphanies, but very shallow epiphanies.  Just because an idea precipitates a personal epiphany, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

In any case, Transhumanism is going nowhere while we remain, as a people, so conservative, violent, ignorant, dependent on technologies we can’t begin to understand, fearful, paranoid, insular, addicted to the cult of leadership personalities, while we believe the fraud that is the money system to be legitimate and while we think we need daily governance, in all things, by people and corporations we think know better what is good for us, than we do, who are prepared to enforce it with violence.

Humans will never progress, while we remain drunk on power, which is just another way of saying people who think they have enough privilege to break the laws that are enforced on lesser mortals.

Humanity will not progress while we dismiss the intrinsic and fundamental value of creativity and art, or while we delegate shocking, inhuman powers to leaders that we ourselves do not have.

While we revel, with pride, in our inability to take in, absorb and live by demonstrably better ideas than the ones we doggedly, stubbornly, irrationally and stupidly cling to, there will be no transformation, Transhuman or other.

While we use anonymity to cloak our misdeeds and shame to control the lives of others, we’re going nowhere better.  While we think the key to success, meaning the accumulation of material wealth and privilege, is to remain positive and pretend all is well, when clearly there are people that need our help urgently, we’re going to remain moronic.

Instead, we remain wedded to conquest, to vanquishing and humiliating our enemies, retaliation, revenge and command and control hierarchies.  None of that will make humanity any better.  Transhumanism simply entrenches it.

There are no design improvements planned, here.  There is no current project to realise them.

 

 

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Perceptual Distortion

I don’t often work with oils, mainly because of the messiness involved in having canvases lying around that take ages to dry, but occasionally I get the chance to paint a portrait where I have the sitter available for several sessions in a row.  When that opportunity arises, working with oils can be very satisfying, because the paint handles in an entirely different way to acrylics and you have the luxury of being able to rework parts of the painting, before the paint hardens.  You get to perfect your painting, with that much time available to you.

Most of the time, I find that the work of portrait painting in oils is about trying to master the materials.  First, you need to learn how to work the paint, how the pigments interact, which colours are capable of covering others and which are more transparent.  You have to master your brush strokes and your draughtsmanship, incorporating perspective and learning to see the tones and shadows.  You have to match those shadows and tones with the colours you know how to mix.  It’s basically a battle with technique and your powers of observation.  You hone your skills until you get to the point where you don’t have to think about the mechanics of painting, quite so consciously.

At some point, though, the battle with the materials recedes into the background and you begin to glimpse the process of relaying what you see to what’s on your canvas.  This is where things go surprisingly weird.  You probably think that once you have the mechanical aspects of painting down well enough, that the process of painting a portrait is simply one of observing carefully and then taking dictation from your visual senses, via your hands, onto the painting itself.  I discovered that this view is simplistic and wrong.

I noticed that, as carefully as you observe and as skilled as you might be at manipulating paint (though never skilled enough, it seems), even though you correctly see your subject and note all the finer details of shadow and light, even though you know how to measure cardinal facial points relative to one another, at least intellectually, your brain gets in the way.  Even though you know what you ought to paint and have the facility to paint it, you paint something different.

Rather than painting the person sitting in front of you, you paint a person, but one shaped by your own perceptual distortions.  I find that my state of mind and my emotional state are subtly overlaid onto the image I reproduce.  The person I paint winds up being a composite of the sitter I actually observe, and the feelings and emotions I attribute to the image, given how I am feeling at the time.  In other words, my mental state has the ability to bend and warp the image I observe, into the image I actually commit to canvas.  I don’t produce a true image, in the way a camera might, but I create a person, drawn from the real life sitter, but augmented by my own imagination.  It’s an augmented reality.

I find I have a tendency to straighten and level individual facial features, even though the head of the subject is on a tilt.  I know it’s on a tilt and I have marked the cardinal points on the painting correctly and mechanically, yet my hand wants to re-level those features into some imaginary, idealised form.  I might like the person I am painting, but if I am feeling sad or distracted, that seems to be the facial expression I impose on the portrait.  It’s a very strange phenomena that you know is happening, but you are almost powerless to stop.

All this might mean that I have reached a point, in portrait painting, where I have to learn to divorce my feelings from the emotions I am representing in the face of the model.  So far, I don’t have a grasp of how to do that, clearly.

The challenge for me, now, is to decontaminate my image, separating what I see from what I feel and letting the feelings of the model remain in the image, rather than being smothered by mine.  That, I think, requires a deeper empathy for what the model might be feeling and their internal emotional state, as betrayed by the tiny, almost imperceptible subtleties of their facial features and comportment.  How they hold their facial muscles is a result of how they feel and so reproducing those feelings means learning how to separate those from my own.  These feelings change, of course, during the sitting.  No person can maintain the same emotional state for that period of time.  Capturing their fleeting emotions, while ignoring my own, is going to be a tough challenge, because I feel things acutely and keenly.  Suppressing my own reaction to the subject and the process I am engaged in is going to be hard.  Perhaps the key is in trying to match my emotional state to that of my sitter.  Synchronicity of emotion might make the problem less difficult to tackle.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting.  This is the first time I have really been aware of the distortion your perceptions can exert on what you observe.  There’s a greater life lesson in that, applicable to all kinds of information you think you take in objectively.  You don’t.  You’re always distorting reality according to your internal emotional and mental state.  That’s worth bearing in mind, I think.

If you are a representational painter, then removing as much of that perceptual distortion as possible is important.  Removing the distortion is how you get close to capturing the true essence of your sitter, to give the impression of realism.  On the other hand, the abstract expressionist thrives on that same perceptual distortion, making that the subject matter of the painting, more than the model in front of them.  It’s all a matter of what you’re trying to accomplish.

See if you can notice when your perceptions are being distorted by your own internal state.  Once you are aware of this phenomenon, you can’t unsee it.  See for yourself.

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The Unbridgeable Yawning Chasm

We torment ourselves.  Many creative, imaginative people dream up grandiose, highly ambitious schemes that can never be realised.  Either they lack the resources, the time, the energy, the skills or their plan is just too complex and intricate.  Perhaps its success is reliant on upsetting too many apple carts and unseating too many entrenched positions.  Yet, for all the impracticality of their designs, they have such an enchantment about them that artists remain in their thrall, hopelessly chained to ideal, even Utopian futures that can never happen, seemingly forever.

This rift between imagination and reality can be very draining.  The massive distance between what you can see in your mind’s eye and what you gaze upon, in everyday, mundane, banal reality, can be staggering.  You may have well-formed, even wholly feasible ideas in your head, but you just don’t seem to be able to manifest them.  This is an agony that only creative people know, I think.

The irony of this particular torment is that it is entirely self-inflicted.  You can stop the frustration at any point, simply by giving up on those beautiful, enticing ideas or not thinking about these sorts of things at all.  Why can’t we stop?

That seems to be the thing about creative people.  Artists gain great comfort from seeing a better world, even if only in their imaginations.  It’s a survival skill.  Being asked to accept the world as it is, with all its terrible imperfections and shortcomings, is unbearable.  We imagine to escape.  Our comfort zone is living inside our own heads, where the world can be very much closer to being arranged to our liking.  This is where the beautiful ideas form.  It’s where the messy problems dissolve into shining, benevolent answers.  Here, you can become your best self, realising your every ideal, in a friction-less way.

The problem is: it’s just a hallucination.  Living inside your head exclusively is not actually possible.  You have to exist in the real world.  If you actually want to thrive in it, you have to have some agency over it and this is where the struggle lies.  The artists’ struggle is in trying to shape the world to become a closer facsimile to their conception of it.  It’s a Herculean task, which can and has crushed many a mere mortal, such as artists tend to be.

I have to confess to becoming quite discouraged about the chasm that separates my imaginings and my reality.  There are books I would love to complete (or attempt to commence, even), paintings I want to finish, songs I want to record and release, studios I want to establish, aids to musicians and artists being able to have viable careers, which pay, that I want to construct.  I have plans for my house and garden that will require huge injections of funds to accomplish.  I have inventions and designs, musical instruments and circuits, software and tools that I would love to make, or to cause to come into existence somehow.  I just can’t get that to happen.

Your mortality stares you in the face.  The older you get, the more distinct is its image, when you look at yourself in the mirror.  You’re ageing, losing your youthful vigour and fading away, inexorably.  Every day is one day closer to not having the capacity to bring all the wonderful ideas in your head into reality.  My father, at the end of his days, lost the capacity to design things in his head.  Three dimensional objects no longer made any sense to him.  He couldn’t correctly draw a clock face, from memory and working out how to post a letter into a letter box completely defeated him, in his old age.  Dementia is a terrible thing.

My father was the consummate creator.  He made things.  All kinds of things.  We lived in a house that he built, more or less by himself, with his own two hands.  All of our furniture was designed on pieces of paper, and then constructed, from pieces of timber, in our own workshop.  We learnt how to spray on the nitrocellulose finishes by trial and error.

My teenage “happy place” was the workbench in our garage, where I could build guitars, solder musical circuits together, work on making things that didn’t exist before, except in my imagination.  Our teenage bands rehearsed in that garage.  So many weekends spent learning to make music together.  My dad’s band rehearsed there too.

My father constructed our vegetable garden, from the unpromising clay of our back yard, but filled it with rich, fertile, alluvial loam.  We shovelled every cubic metre of that soil into the holes we had dug into the unyielding clay, by hand, with our shovels and spades.  He and I grew vegetables in it.  That’s the nearest thing to getting something for nothing, save your willingness to contribute some sweat and care, to nurture those fragile seedlings into something abundant.  Nature’s bounty is nothing if not generous.  Those vegetables sustained us and there were always strawberries.  If you have never tasted vegetables and fruits, picked freshly from the plant, you really haven’t lived.  It should be on everybody’s bucket list.

As much as you bring into existence, there are always more ideas that remain in your head exclusively.  I’m sure it’s possible for people to imagine much more than any human life can ever accomplish.  That’s the tragedy of it.

Worse than the ideas that never become real are those that do become real, but only because other people thought them up, too and accomplished them.  I have a litany of really good ideas I couldn’t persuade employers to believe in, at the time.  Those ideas were made by competitors and it caused the companies I was in to fail.  I lost my job, too.  I felt responsible, because had I been more persuasive or taken more of the initiative, it could have been us and not our competitors that brought the thing into the world.  It has been a very painful life lesson, repeated, regrettably, too often.

And still, my head remains full of ideas that haven’t yet been done, but which could have transformed companies I no longer work in.  I have some ideas on rewarding and encouraging personal motivation that could make somebody very rich.  I believe I know how to make it possible for professional musicians to manage their own careers and product, online, making a decent living from it.  There is an idea for a virtual data centre and network so distributed that it exists only in the suburbs.  It can work.  I know it’s feasible, but it’s too much for me to build alone.  The task of persuading enough people to believe in any of these, to secure their support and effort, in a clear, concise and compelling way, is even too big a task for just one man.  I’ve incubated some of these ideas for well over a decade.

There are superior ways of making music with computers that I know can work.  I even know how to build them and have a track record in making these sorts of things.  What I lack is the energy to muster the support and to fight the doubters.  I can’t divert my energies to second guessing and end-running the funders, when they try to subvert the exercise.  The politics of creating a creative organisation repel me.  These distractions are friction; a complete waste of energy that doesn’t advance the process of creating something one little bit and is, if anything, just another obstacle.

Why can’t people understand that bringing something imaginary into reality is hard enough work, without introducing all the peripheral baggage to the exercise?  People, who aren’t creative by inclination, fill their days on Earth with concerns over things that, in the process of creation, have no value.  They’d rather worry about their position and privilege, or their money, instead of whether or not something magical can be brought into everybody’s reality.

And so, my everyday reality is to live staring into that unbridgeable, yawning chasm between ambition and ability.  I don’t know how to resolve it.  I suspect this is a common experience to most artists.

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Still Searching for the Illusive Magic Leader

Being an artist lets you see things differently.  I like that.  Thinking like an artist let’s you pick complicated things up and view them from different angles, noticing the aspects that are mostly out of sight, ordinarily.  You can get different viewpoints and perspectives, even though the thing you’re examining is a familiar thing, which everybody else can observe, too.  I see things differently, as a result.  Sometimes I don’t like what I see, though.

When I sat down to write this piece, this morning, I was so disillusioned and dispirited by all the ugliness I had seen, since the UK referendum on membership of the European Union campaign got under way, that I felt too much disgust to even attempt to write.

Can I be bothered commenting on this post-referendum fiasco?  I’d rather be upgrading my recording studio, right now, to be perfectly honest (I bought a new version of Cubase on Friday).  Yet I feel compelled to have my say, in an attempt to describe it the way I see it.  I don’t have a monopoly on wisdom either, unlike some people that think they have.

There are people, for example, who actively campaigned to leave the EU just to defeat what they perceived as an evil EU dictatorship.  They’re right about what it is, to some degree and I share their critiques of how the EU has behaved, but these campaigners have done bugger all to safeguard people and the environment, in the transition they’ve had a hand in precipitating.  I don’t think their master plan was very wise.  They’ve left a lot to the vagaries of chance and potentially very destructive forces.  People can get hurt that way.  I don’t think that is conscionable.

The other thing that has been glossed over, in all of this, is that it’s globalism that’s failed to consider the safety, security and life chances of the majority of people, not just the bureaucracy of the EU.  Every national government has been complicit in this assault on the working and middle classes as well.  The EU was just one evil of many.  Singling it out for a damn good hiding is pyrrhic.

I started from a position of not liking either of the two referendum options available to me.  Both were crappy positions, in my view.  The only good options were going to take a widespread change of mindset and that would take patience and time.  It would need to be gentle and protective.  Perhaps time had already run out, but it has to be said that the mindset of most people is still as off-target as it ever was and arguably more so.  That would include all of those that imagined that campaigning to leave the EU would strike a blow for the people.

Here’s what happened (I wager).  A bunch of boys, brought up to believe they had an entitlement to lead, as proven to them by their privilege and attendance at Eton, messed up.  Three amigos, Cameron, Gove and Johnson, cooked up a ruse to settle their ultra right wing Tory back benchers down, once and for all and to defeat the blatant chancer, Farage, who kept muddying their waters.  The plan, it seems, was to put up an absurd campaign for exiting, lead by people that could subsequently claim to have fought an honourable, if unsuccessful fight, which would be defeated by an overwhelming realisation that common sense must prevail.  It relied on a belief in the deep seated conservatism of the nation, which had brought them back to power.

Part of the plan was to terrify the electorate into remaining in the EU, partly by direct threats to their livelihoods, but also by portraying the leave campaign as something insane.  In essence, they were playing both sides against the middle, using Farage as a pawn.  It was pure theatre.  Outrageous lies and manipulation were employed, to shore up the PM’s personal power and prestige, while paving the way for his school chums and lifelong allies, as his successors.  The gamble went wrong.  It blew up in their faces, as evidenced by their stony faces in press conferences, when the referendum result was announced.  My favourite quote was a description of Michael Gove as looking like somebody that had come down from a bad acid trip, to the realisation that he had murdered his best friend (I wish I could recall where I read that, so that I could give it proper attribution).

It has been said that David Cameron will go down in history as the worst post-war Prime Minister; a gambler lacking even the spine to bet his reputation (and the country’s economy) on something he believed in.  The whole referendum was rooted in deep cynicism.  Former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, indicated as much in his post-referendum editorial piece in the newspaper.

What was as much breathtaking as noteworthy, in this cunning plan, was the sheer arrogant self-assurance of their reckless gamble.  They thought they could order around the “little people”, ad-infinitum and that they would have to suck it up and be meekly manipulated, yet again, but the people have bitten back.  They’ve said, “No more!”

There never was a plan for leaving the EU.  A ban issued from Downing Street on Brexit preparations – lest it boost the leave campaign – meant Britain’s most senior officials were permitted to “think” about a Brexit, but not allowed to write anything down.

In fact, this is all the proof you need that the whole scheme was cooked up and that Cameron, Gove and Johnson were complicit in it.  Had they sincerely believed in leaving the EU, they would have made careful preparations for the moment when this rare opportunity presented itself.  They would have detailed plans of action to execute and be able to navigate the choppy waters with assured confidence, for what to do next.  At the moment of their victory, they would have seized the moment and put their carefully thought-through next-steps into action.  But they didn’t.  They have no plan.  This one undeniable, unarguable fact shows they were never serious about winning.

Farage has spent his entire adult life, it seems, replaying some secret childhood psychodrama, from which he seems to find no relief.  A dusty old letter that emerged during the campaign, from the staff of Dulwich College, begging the headmaster not to make him a Prefect, because of his offensive and unacceptable bullying and behaviour, is as illuminating as it is disturbing.  What happened to that child to turn him into the thinly-disguised, rabid racist that he evidently is?

Yet, having unexpectedly won, leave campaigners present themselves as people that know what they’re doing.  Their new leader will be along shortly.  All will be well.  You’ll see.  The Armageddon has been greatly exaggerated.  When their new leader is installed, all the fears of the Remain camp will be dispelled and utopian conditions will prevail – unless you’re an immigrant, of course.

Leadership is bullshit and always was.  It’s a delusion.  It imagines the existence of some superior, wise being, with insight, courage and integrity far beyond that of ordinary mortals.  The very notion is comic book fiction, not reality.  This referendum fiasco provides ample proof that leadership is so fallible, as to be utterly useless.  Our so-called leaders cooked up this mess.  They made what they regarded as a foolproof plan, that didn’t result in their expected vote to remain.  They let resentments and exclusion fester, for several generations, in ruined, shuttered, unemployed towns and cities, while they got rich.  They turned blind eyes to genuine suffering and misery and did nothing to alleviate it.  “Let them eat cake”.  Enshrined in their dogma was the primary need to protect the economy (meaning the biggest beneficiaries of the economy), even if that had to be at the expense and sacrifice of the lives of other people.  Leadership did not have its eye on the ball.  There was no leadership.  Just weasels on the make.

The Labour party is reacting to the referendum result by questioning its leadership.  The conservatives are currently effectively leaderless, with Cameron having resigned rather than clearing up his own mess.  Even the Greens are searching for the illusive magic leader and putting their faith in leadership, as a concept.

Meanwhile, nastiness and bitterness has been unleashed.  We’ve seen a wave of rampant, unalloyed hate speech.  I’ve seen examples of harassment, abuse, insults and racism – putrid, vile, naked racism – with my own two eyes.  It wasn’t as visible, before, though I’m sure it was present.  There’s plenty of evidence for it, now.

Sadly, I was publicly slandered, on social media, by somebody who I respect and follow, but who is a little too Gung Ho, for my liking, about the urgency of bringing about the destruction of the EU bureaucracy, without saying or even suggesting what will fill the resulting void.  He alleged I thought all who had voted to leave the EU were stupid.  Regular readers will know I aim to edify and uplift people, consistently.  I believe sincerely in the potential people have to solve their own problems, through creativity and application of their own particular genius.  In other words, I believe people can live without leaders telling them how they should.  I also happen to believe that, to date, hardly anybody has thought things through to the degree necessary.

That, I suppose, makes us all stupid, to varying degrees.  I don’t discriminate in this by singling out the Leavers.  The Remainers don’t have any better answers for a fairer, more equitable society either.  And I certainly don’t have all the answers (and why should I?)  My belief is that it was the haughty, out of touch, imperious leadership of the EU and UK that brought us to this point.  Everybody thought they had it all under control, but nobody really did.

To suggest I think only the Leave voters are stupid is a crass, gross mischaracterisation of everything I stand for.  I’ve been writing in support of social justice for years.  Starving artists are, after all, just a symptom of the political detachment and corrupt malaise at the top.  Artists are but one group of many that have been grossly disadvantaged, by neoliberalism.  Such misunderstandings are, of course, easy to reach, in 140 characters, I suppose, but the slander has been repeated.  There is no way to stop its propagation.  I feel the indignation of it keenly.

Michael Sandel, in an interview with the New Statesman, said this:  “Politics, for the most part, fails to address the big questions that matter most and that citizens care about: what makes for a just society, questions about the common good, questions about the role of markets, and about what it means to be a citizen.  A second source of the frustration is the sense that people feel less and less in control of the forces that govern their lives.  And the project of democratic self-government seems to be slipping from our grasp.

A large constituency of working-class voters feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture, that the sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by developments with globalisation, the rise of finance, the attention that is lavished by parties across the political spectrum on economic and financial elites, the technocratic emphasis of the established political parties.”

The above is a pretty accurate summation of what’s going on.  The problem’s root cause is correctly identified, I think.  It doesn’t, however, suggest where to go.

I had an interesting exchange, on twitter, with somebody representing The Design Trust’s twitter account.  They said: “So sad how many people blame lack of jobs & affordable houses on ‘foreigners’. How can the facts be better communicated & understood?”

With tongue in cheek, my response was, “Better infographics?”  Anybody that knows me well will understand that I am often torn between writing something out, in painstaking detail and the need to condense my message into sound bites and easily digestible infographics, to cater for reduced attention spans.  It’s an issue that torments me often.

The response came back:   “That didn’t seem to work? I saw lots of great infographics showing facts vs. beliefs”.

My answer?  “Then perhaps a relentless 40 year campaign of newspaper mogul points of view being thrust down everybody’s throats daily?”

Democracy has been hollowed out.  What kind of democracy is it when the electorate’s information comes from 95% of the media that knowingly endorses lies, to suit their agenda?  I think journalists and the media played a role in getting us to this point.  I meant it with some irony, but there was a serious subtext.

My interlocutor then responded: “how can we get people to think for themselves? To question? To stop blaming? To take a positive stance?”

I replied that, “It starts with education. Evidently, education hasn’t equipped people to do those things.”  It’s not fit for purpose.  In other words, it has been merely playing its part in shoring up the power and privilege of the few, for the longest time.

Somebody else helpfully chimed in: “the older generation, who voted ‘out’ in droves, get their info from newspapers, not online infographics.”

To which, the Design Trust tweeted: “One of many things we need is law to make papers print corrections the same size as original story”.

In any case, I think it shows that urban elites would rather blame communication than the real root causes.  I don’t think the Design Trust was being deliberately off-target and it’s true that communication plays a part in all of this, but it also wasn’t the whole reason that things had come to a vote to leave.  I’m grateful to whoever is behind that twitter account for engaging in a debate.  It helped me clarify my thoughts.

 

All economies are underpinned by human effort.  The only real things in an economy are ingenuity, effort, sweat, application, diligence thinking and working – all totally human factors.  There would be no economy if people just didn’t bother.  The rest – the money, stocks, trades, asset registers, risk assessments, preference shares – is abstraction.  It only exists to describe the real economy, consisting of human activities, trying to improve life.  There’s only so much exploitation of humanity you can accomplish and frankly, we’re nearing saturation point.  Neoliberal economic policy has milked the people that create the real value, in the economy, to the advantage of people that deal only in the abstractions.  Somehow, in so doing, those traders in abstractions get a bigger share of the tangible benefits of all that effort and skill.

The trouble with flouncing into a revolution, such as leaving the EU represents, is that there is nothing in place to create currency at the point of value creation, by the value recipient.   Bitcoin mining doesn’t even achieve this.   But that’s how to bring ownership of the abstractions closer to those that make the contributions to the economy that actually produce better conditions for human life.  Even a homeless person, devoid of hope, with a tattoo plastered over their face (inflicted on them by a psychopath, to take their money, with little regard to the ruination of their life chances) can give something of themselves to somebody else, in order to earn some medium of exchange that lets them trade and become economically active.  While we passively wait for leaders to act redistributively, no money reaches those at the bottom.  They’re not considered valuable, even though everybody is capable of contributing something of value to others.

As a people, we haven’t done the really vital, important work, however.  The population barely knows how to remember its facebook passwords and for some, even social media is beyond their skill set, so we’re not very well prepared to live in a hierarchy-free society.  Expecting a leader to emerge from this stock is an exercise in hallucinatory fantasy, of course.  Living without leaders is currently just a little way beyond our grasp.  The point is: we’re not doing enough to close that gap, but we could be, if we chose to.  Instead, we’re too busy hoping and waiting for a magical leader.

We live in a post-fact age.  Carl Sagan’s combustible mixture of technology dependence and ignorance is blowing up in our faces.  Facts have never been so disdained, distrusted, discounted and ignored.  That’s not a good basis to build a new reality or social settlement.  Ignorance is not, in fact, bliss.

Some people who voted to leave thought they were making a protest vote, not a decision.  Now they regret it.  People are petitioning to overturn the result.  It’s too late.  Things will move on faster than that.  Brussels already acts as though we’ve left.  Patience is exhausted.  This genie is out of its bottle.

Interestingly, some people that voted to remain also feel the disenfranchisement of the current, prevailing, neoliberal establishment acutely, with its rampant, heartless, insouciant inequality.  They just didn’t feel that jumping off a cliff was the best way to proceed.  There’s some validity to that point of view.  Even the most ardent leave campaigner must acknowledge that.

As a population we all still have an entrenched belief in States and State governance, even if we shift the boundaries and leaders around.  We believe in its inherent violence and in hierarchy.  We think it’s all better if everybody is the same, ignoring the fact that without dissent, progress is impossible.  We don’t understand money creation, media manipulation, or commerce’s role in inequality.  We are frankly bamboozled, as a populace.  And NOBODY has the answers.

Quoting Vincent Bevins of the LA Times: “Both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for thirty years.

Questions such as – Who are the losers of globalisation, and how can we spread the benefits to them and ease the transition?  Is it fair that the rich can capture almost all the gains of open borders and trade, or should the process be more equitable?  Can we really sustainably create a media structure that only hires kids from top universities (and, moreover, those prick graduates that can basically afford to work for free for the first 5-10 years) who are totally ignorant of regular people, if not outright disdainful of them?  Do we actually have democracy, or do banks just decide?  Immigration is good for the vast majority, but for the very small minority who see pressure on their wages, should we help them, or do they just get ignored?”

Decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all – these are all at risk, right now.  It’s no good for a chosen few have them and the rest not.  We’re no further forward.  This is where we started.

Some want to revive Thatcherism, brutal, bigoted Nationalism and Fascism.  As in any corporatocracy, they want to hand the reins of control to corporate power, through privatisation – the theft of public goods, sold to corporations at bargain prices, along with a license to milk us all for profit, in perpetuity.  These, in fact, are the stated aims of many on the “winning” side.  Will any of that work?  Why hasn’t it worked before?

In this referendum process, but also through the institutions we have jointly upheld for some 40 years, we’ve lost empathy, compassion, tolerance, kindness, interdependence, agency, inclusion, and the embrace of diversity.   We’ve lost our reputation for calm, considered, measured progress.  The promises made to secure the win can’t and won’t come true.

Taking their country back (or making American great again, by voting for Trump) won’t end unemployment or underemployment, won’t end zero-hours contracts, or increase their real wages.  It won’t re-enfranchise them.  It won’t result in cohesion in their communities or investments in their future, their community infrastructure and their well being.  It won’t make the passive, powerless, downtrodden, have-nots into overnight successes, unleashing them to make positive contributions.  It won’t end their misery and precarity.  Their health and healthcare won’t improve.  There won’t be any new opportunities created and perhaps rather fewer of them will be available.  Childcare, flexible working, part-time working, parental leave – these are issues which affect women more and which received very little focus.  These improvements in life are not automatically granted or conferred, simply by overthrowing the current leaders and putting in new ones.  It’s going to take doing the hard, long work to learn to live without leadership and their attendant oppression.

I like the idea of anarchy, in that there are no rulers, but I don’t like a disorderly anarchy.  A free-for-all, where people are free to rob, murder, lie to and cheat each other, is not the optimal outcome and certainly not the only possible outcome.  In any case, many people live with the prospect of being robbed, killed, lied to and cheated right now and we have leaders!  Often, it’s their damned leaders that are doing the robbing, killing, lying and cheating!  People can and should be and do better than that.  They can find that within themselves, not at the point of a gun or under threat of being locked in a cage by a “justice” system (which frequently acts in profoundly unjust ways).

I feel that the UK referendum has brought us no further forward and potentially a long way backward, despite the assurances of some that this is all a carefully worked out, cunning plan, to defeat “the man”.  The hubris is staggering.  They think they can control the forces unleashed, too.

Pandora’s Box has been opened, releasing fearsome demons and nobody has a viable plan for the future, of any sort.  Jo Cox was violently murdered – a person trying to extend compassion and fairness, as far as I can see.  How did we honour her memory?  By voting against everything she stood for.  Nobody knows what’s going to happen and nobody knows how to put things right.  The chancers will insist they do, but they don’t.

Government minister Sajid Javid, appearing on the Andrew Marr show this morning, was accused, on twitter, of “saying nothing, being nothing. The very problem at the heart of UK politics today. Nothingy nobodies wasting time.”  These are not the leaders we seek.  We will never find the leaders we need.  No Blairite, no Neoliberal, no Thatcher-invoker, no greedy Globalist, no Eurocrat, no Little Englander, no New World Order zealot and no Way-seeing Warrior against the covert eugenic conspiracy of oppression.  Not a one of them has a single clue.

We don’t have a population on top of the brief either.  They’re not prepared for the national debate or for negotiating a better place in the world.  They haven’t the vaguest conception of a post-State society or what’s possible without leaders.  “We’re in the midst of something far grander and more perilous than just a crisis of government or a crisis of capitalism.  We are in the midst of a broad and devastating crisis of authority”.  Nobody has a clue about how to live in a post-authoritarian world.  They’ve got nothing.

They should have been up at night studying, but they weren’t.  Where there should be knowledge and a solid grasp of the issues at stake, there is only gut feelings, childishness, tantrums, jingoism, intolerance, impotent rage, uninformed opinion and a belligerent belief that whatever they think must be right, because they think it.  If you disagree, you must be the stupid enemy, fit only to be violently eliminated.

You cannot portray this course of action (the decision to leave the EU) as rooted in careful consideration of how to remove the things that have robbed most people of their dignity and sense of control over the forces influencing their lives.  It’s nothing of the sort.  They really haven’t prepared for this and no amount of insistence that they aren’t simply amoral, ignorant, unthinking beasts will turn them into people with a considered view as to the society they want to create.

To simply dismiss the urbanites as regarding working and middle class people with disdain, believing them to be ignorant bigots, a lesser-evolved sub-species, who don’t know what’s good for them, is just another form of lazy prejudice.  It is as breezily dismissive of urbanites (and those that have tried to think a little more deeply) as is the dismissiveness they’re condemning.  It needs to be said that there is no solid intelligence underlying the course we’ve now embarked upon.

Hardly anything has been thought through.  We’re all expected to respect acting on visceral, raw, base, primal, brutal instinct.  They felt deep pain and howled.  In reality, all the leave voters accomplished was showing two fingers to the failed establishment elites that have ruled them so badly.  Great, bravo, but that’s not enough.  We shouldn’t pretend it’s enough.  While their grievances, rooted in economic exclusion and inequality, are wholly legitimate, their solutions are infantile, wrong-headed and unlikely to work.  As a group, the leavers don’t even have a coherent goal or project.  They are divided into factions that stand for completely different and mutually contradictory visions of a future Britain.  There is no unity.

It’s an establishment article of faith that, for people to get what they want, they need to know what is going on.  That’s been repudiated at the ballot box, but who can seriously suggest that to get what you need, you absolutely need to not know what is going on?  That just makes no sense at all.  Yet, the privileged now have almost no ability to stem the tide of anti-establishment rage, even when it’s irrational and driven by ignoble impulses.

And still, regrettably, the vast majority of people are default authoritarians at heart.  They’ve had no mental preparation for anything else.

This fixation with leadership (from Paul Mason) is typical: “Is Jeremy Corbyn the ideal leader?  It’s impossible to tell what an ideal leader is.  For the historic period that’s opened up, with populist politics and nationalist rhetoric corroding the power of reason I really don’t know what kind of leadership we will need.”  Even David Cameron, in his resignation speech, cited the need for fresh leadership.  Clinging to this notion of leadership is what is at the root of our current crisis.  Our expectations of a leader can never be met.  There’s no such God-like human being.  Therefore, we need to think of another way of living.

People want a magical, strong leader – a figure of genuine authority, to set the world to rights.  In the midst of a crisis of authority, where the authorities and elites are (rightly) held in contempt and disrepute, why are we still searching for authoritarian solutions and authority figures?  It’s so self-contradictory as to be utterly insane.  Like every previous revolution, people are hell bent on installing a different version of the very establishment institutions they’re revolting against, with all the same faults and corruptions.

It’s time to begin to consider alternative social settlements, which don’t involve hierarchical, privileged, elite structures of power and governance, the inevitable failure of which have caused this crisis.  To turn Brexit into something positive, we need to lose our appetite for authoritarian structures and embrace the ideas set forth, for over a century, by anarchists and voluntaryists, for less interference into the lives of others, by self-appointed, privileged elites that imagine they know what’s better for you and me.

People had better start doing their studying.

And there is no magic leader.  There never will be.  There never was.

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The Implications of Brexit for Artists

Turmoil.

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Neo-Nazca Lines

While flipping channels on the television, in a dazed, distracted stupor, I caught the end of a programme about Nazca lines and it piqued my interest.  It brought back a vague, indistinct memory, from my early twenties, of gee-whizz documentaries speculating wildly on the origins and purpose of these mysterious lines in the Peruvian desert, which were only clearly discerned when commercial air travel began over-flying this route, in the 1920s.  The explanation that has come to be accepted, on the basis of balance of probabilities, while not universally accepted, is far more prosaic.

Nazca lines are a series of gigantic pictorial representations, mostly of animals, incised in the desert by humans.  The lines are known as geoglyphs – drawings on the ground made by removing rocks and earth to create a “negative” image.  The rocks which cover the desert have oxidized and weathered to a deep rust colour, and when the top 12-15 inches of rock is removed, light-coloured, high-contrasting sand is exposed.  Because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for 500 to 2000 years.  These pictures in the desert, incomprehensible from ground level, were made between 200BC and 600AD, it is thought.

The Nazca lines are elaborate, vast, ingenious, ceremonial, baffling and essentially useless.

The Nazca lines are, if nothing else, a monument to delusional human folly.  Believing it would please their Gods; these lines were drawn in the desert in the hope of restoring water supplies and fertility to the soil.  It didn’t work.  It was never going to.  The theory was all wrong.  The Nazca’s entire concept of cause and effect was based on faith and delusion, rather than evidence and proof.

The Nazca perished, as a civilisation, despite their evident, ardent devotion to pleasing their sky Gods.  It is amazing what lengths they went to, as a society, in order to construct these geoglyphs.  Consider the time, resources, opportunity costs, planning, ingenuity and sheer labour that were expended in their construction.  A lot of people must have been fully convinced that what they were doing was worthwhile.  To endure and persevere, they must have been certain that building these geoglyphs was the right and best thing to do.

Today, there are vast populations that think they are doing the right and best things.  They’re convinced that what they’re doing, with every day of their lives, is worthwhile.  Faith in neo-liberalist economic theory, market forces, austerity, authority and the NASDAQ is deeply embedded in our culture.  It’s a system of worship and people place their faith in these things, these entire systems of belief, to restore decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all.  This is how we spend our resources.  We endure and persevere, even while these systems of belief so obviously fail to provide what we want them to provide.  Just a little more applied effort and all will be well, we think.  To question this is heresy.

But, just as the Nazca lines didn’t work, neither will the NASDAQ work.  Both will be monuments to our collective ignorance, stupidity and failure to take actions that are actually effective.  They will memorialise our collective failure of imagination and courage.  Our delusional adherence to markets, as a route to solve all ills, is our modern societies’ equivalent of the Nazca lines – neo-Nazca lines, if you will.

Authoritarianism is a false hope.  The belief that some people, if given the right badge and costume, know better than the rest of us how we should all live, is based on a ludicrous conception of the role bestowing the wisdom and judgement on an otherwise fallible, imperfect human being.  We tool them up with unspeakable weapons and coercive, blunt force, believing that you can bludgeon people into compliance with any cockamamie idea you choose.  It just doesn’t work in practice, yet we delegate to the authorities powers that we, individually, don’t have.  We give the chosen, imperfect humans in authority carte blanche to write their own standards of behaviour, giving them literally the power over life and death, when any ordinary individual would never presume to have such rights and unrestricted powers.  Is it any wonder they ultimately turn against us, rather than upholding and delivering the good things we all want?

An honest person would admit they have absolutely no idea what’s best for another human being and that they should be allowed to figure out their life choices on their own, without interference, but authoritarians presume to interfere with force.  The fatal contradiction at the heart of every authoritarian’s belief system is that they want to control me, but they don’t want me to control them.  What they argue for is a power imbalance, with them holding the advantage, not reciprocity.

Austerity is demonstrably a failure.  By any rational analysis, it is precisely the wrong thing to be doing and this has been borne out by the data.  The reason austerity fails is that a government is not a household and their budgets have very different characteristics.  What a government, as currently conceived, is supposed to do is encourage the humans, under its governance, to be productive to provide decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all.  If you believe in austerity, however, you start from the position that we, as a society, can’t afford any of that.  In which case, why do we even need a government?  Austerity is actually an argument for anarchy, except it does so in the most wrong-headed way imaginable.

The American Dream is a sham.  We’re led to believe that hard work, patience and determination guarantee that we will all have the good lives we deserve, but we know that misfortune and events beyond our control can scupper that project, for any given individual, at any moment, for no coherent reason.  It’s random.  You can be riding high, living the American Dream one day and be totally wiped out, through no fault or action of your own, the next.  Hard work and diligence offers no guarantees.  Some of the hardest working people I know are the worst off.  This is not due to any inherent character flaw in their makeup, as the theory insists.  It’s the theory that is wrong.

We all turn a blind eye to the fact that those in power are not spending their days in sincere and considered concern about how to do what’s best for the people they represent.  Instead, they’re mostly focused on how to cling to or seize more power.  We ignore this fact, because it doesn’t fit with our belief system.  We’re too busy shifting rocks in the metaphorical desert, to construct a picture of a giant eagle.

Chauvinist pride and jingoistic nationalism do not deliver decency, prosperity, independence, self-determination, liberty, human dignity, safety, security, a good environment to live in, nutritious food, clean air and water for all.  They never have and they never will and yet, probably half of people believe it will.  Where is the evidence?  Why do they cling to this notion?  Which sky Gods are they trying to appease?

“Watching international sport is the modern day equivalent of watching Rome burn whilst playing the violin.” – My imaginary mate Neill, with two L’s.

Sectors of our society believe that the biggest problem is immigrants and those collecting benefits, whether or not they are in some way deserving of our collective support.  Our default assumption is that they didn’t work hard enough, or else have a flaw in their character and we can’t afford to help them, even if we wanted to.  That’s why they’re down and out.  Given those assumptions, disciples act in ways that try to “solve” that problem, but it’s not the real problem and the people causing it know it.  This is distraction.  You’re being had.  Both the Leave and Remain campaigns, in this week’s UK referendum, present a false dichotomy, neither of which delivers what is actually required.  What we need is something different to what both sides are presenting as their ideal outcome.  Every vote that is swayed by these spurious arguments is a neo-Nazca line.

What people cling to as beliefs, their very concept of who they are and the place they live are hopelessly confused, bamboozled and filled with drip-fed, noxious propaganda.  Their ideas are a mess.  That’s why they’re effectively drawing geoglyphs in the desert.  They think they’re doing something that is going to help, rationally, moderately and soberly, unaware that the very theory they base their actions on is utter nonsense.  They can’t see that their actions are futile, in the grander scheme of things.

Our current systems of belief, our mammoth, bureaucratic administrations, the organisations and concepts we place our faith in to deliver a better life are, just like Nazca lines, elaborate, vast, ingenious, ceremonial, baffling and essentially useless.  They’re neo-Nazca lines.  They will stand as lasting monuments to our ineffectual ineptitude, as a society and mark our stubborn refusal to think beyond our self-reinforcing belief systems.  We’re going to look like idiots.

If your art is to have any meaning, value, worth and impact, it can’t just be a series of neo-Nazca lines, haphazardly rendered and representing an upholding of human nonsense.  They might be beautiful, spectacular, awe-inspiring and only visible from space (or high-flying aircraft), but they serve no useful purpose and they’re a record of placing our faith in idiocy.  Please, make art that makes a difference.  Don’t settle for blind adherence to crappy ideas.

References:

http://www.crystalinks.com/nazca.html

http://www.unmuseum.org/nazca.htm

http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/nasca-lines/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazca_Lines

 

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Is Mood Manipulation Ethical?

It’s a bit like hijacking somebody’s brain, really.  If, through your art, you invade somebody’s emotional state and change it, so that they feel something about your art, instead of about their current real-life circumstances, you’re manipulating them.  It’s unarguable.  You’ve taken command of their attention and consequently, you can level their blood pressure up or down, make them feel inappropriately hopeful or else unrealistically despairing, or you can turn them on and arouse them, when that has nothing to do with their current surroundings.

Artists use their art to create emotionally affective experiences.  That’s what they do and they do it deliberately.  Art is meant to reach you, emotionally and touch you deeply.  The best art always does and we enjoy art which has this power, in the main.  We have a preference for it.  In a sense, artists are manipulators of mood.  It’s quite a potent ability and using it unwisely or maliciously can have unforeseen consequences.  Murders have been committed because some piece of art or other compelled a madman to act on impulse.  Granted, it might not have been the root cause, but art is often a contributory factor.

During the great depression, the playing of “Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?” was discouraged, because it was thought to lead to swathes of suicides.  It does beg the question:  when is it right and ethical to manipulate the mood of an audience and when is it not?

Advertisers and propagandists will tell you that they’re manipulating the mood and emotional state of an audience for a higher good, but what is that higher good?  Is it to shore up unearned, illegitimate privilege, to milk people of their money or support, for causes they would not ordinarily support?  Are they being led to act against their own interests?  Is it to change their minds about the observable facts, so that they enter into a fantasy hallucination, which whitewashes reality, rather than trusting their own senses?

Advertising exists because of a belief that you can manipulate people into buying something they don’t actually want or need and often cannot afford, relative to more worthwhile calls on their spending.  Is that ethical?  Should artists participate in and contribute to this assault on reason?

When is it good or acceptable for an artist to affect the mood of other people?  I think this is an important question, which goes to the very heart of our humanity.  If you have a strength, should you use that strength to dominate and control, conquering all in your wake, or should you use it to protect and safeguard those that lack it?  When you hijack somebody’s emotional state and change it, through your art, don’t you owe them a duty of care to do no harm, in that act?

In the jaws of abject misery, should you make people feel unrealistically happy and accepting of it, or should you show it back to them, in vivid detail, at the risk of making them feel even more miserable than they already are?  When people are content and satisfied, should you induce insecurities about their acceptability and their prospects, so that they worry unnecessarily about things that don’t matter and buy products to solve their newly perceived (and wholly manufactured) problems?

Before advertising, there was no such thing as halitosis or body odour.  Of course, there was, but nobody felt like a social pariah for having wholly human aspects to their existence.  We’re animals, after all, prone to bacterial invasion of our mouth cavities and arm pits.  Now, we’ve been manipulated to believe in pure denial – that only the unfortunates have bad breath and sweaty underarms.  We’re invited to believe that the best people don’t and that in order to join them, we must pay money to a beneficent manufacturer who has, fortunately for us, created a temporary solution to this dreaded problem.  The bacteria haven’t seen those ads.

Is it right to let advertisers, through their art forms, made by artists, assert that your beautiful girlfriend or wife is ugly, unsightly, inadequate and less than human?  Should she spend her days in guilt and angst, worrying about her cellulite and less than perfect bosoms?  Will she come to believe, through those manipulations, that she is less than a real woman unless she disguises her features with paints and unguents, applied directly to a very delicate and vital organ, her skin?

Most popular music encourages a lifestyle of debauched excess and rampant promiscuity, but is it realistic or even possible to live such a life, without foreshortening it prematurely?  If we felt the way the totality of our art, to date, encourages us to feel, how would we feel?  Would we believe we lived in a violent world which cannot be changed, where all disputes are settled at the point of a gun and where intellect and rational debate are seen as stupid weaknesses and vulnerabilities that must be exploited by stronger people, willing to assert their macho personas?  Would we believe there is no alternative and that our helplessness is absolute?  Would we lose touch with our agency and our ability to shape the world into a better thing?

Are we also in danger of inducing manipulation fatigue?  Have people been so mood altered, for so long, by so many other people, that we’ve become numb to it and everything else?  Has it caused us to lose any sense of who we are, what we really want and of how we would ideally live a fulfilling and satisfying life, as opposed to one that requires us to live in constant fear of violent reprisal for any transgression from orthodoxy?  Have we been so manipulated, to saturation point, that we’ve lost the ability to even see it?

Is it right to so fatigue people’s emotional responses that they become desensitised to things they really ought to react to, in a healthy, emotional way?  Do we rob people of their empathy and ability to care about important things, if we bombard their emotions with demands to change, on our command and whim, for no worthwhile reason?  Is mood altering in a capricious way actually just causing everybody to become insensate, in aggregate?  Do we want to create a population of unfeeling robots?

Go into any retail store and you’re subjected to mood music.  It’s meant to prime you for purchasing.  People are harvesting your emotional state all the time, with a view to manipulating it in their favour.  Just the way you interact with a touch screen (sentic signatures) can reveal a lot about how you’re feeling.  Facebook and others are patenting techniques for using the violence or passivity in your touch screen gestures to target ads at you, meant to exploit your current emotional state, or catch you at moment when you are susceptible to having a mood induced.  They don’t just change the ads, to match your mood; they change the content of your timeline, knowing that you will react in certain ways to selected content – selected by them to change how you feel.  You are being manipulated without you even being aware of the manipulation and it’s at a colossal, previously unimaginable scale.

As an artist, it’s important to ask yourself if you are manipulating mood to exploit a person, without their consent and awareness, or to nurture their growth, contributing to their well-being and ability to thrive.  If you take responsibility for nothing else, in this world, you at least have to take responsibility for that.  Do you entertain the mindset that your audience is yours to experiment with, psychologically, whether or not they consent, like some kind of freely available resource, or do you believe you owe them a greater duty of care, as fellow humans?  Do you provide them with the ability to engage in your emotional manipulation, with informed consent and do they have the ability to opt out, rather than having it imposed upon them (like advertising often is).  Is your opt-out deal a realistic option, or is there a punishment attached to not playing?  Are you offering everything on a take it or leave it basis, with no real option of being left alone, emotionally?  Does your artistic, emotional manipulation rely on deception or stealth for its impact?

There was an outcry when it was discovered that Facebook was deliberately and surreptitiously manipulating mood as a giant psychological experiment.  People were rightfully dismayed and highly vocal in their disapproval.  Everybody, except Facebook, intuitively felt it was wrong.  Now, Facebook simply invites you to volunteer your emotional reactions, through those cute little emojis that come up when you hover over “Like”, so that they can mood match advertising and content to your self-reported emotional state, when you are, by your own admission, most open and receptive to their messages.

What if the message is to keep you enslaved in a fictional version of reality, which through your acceptance becomes your actual reality, where someone else is your master and you are their captive slave?  What if you are made to vote “leave” or “remain” through sheer mood manipulation, rather than facts or any rational analysis of what’s actually best?  The big data analytics technology exists to overwhelm your free choice and to manipulate you every which way, using your emotions against you.  Is that something you want to participate in propagating and upholding, as an artist?

Artist: are you an open, honest, authentic, trustworthy affecter of emotions or a bloody sociopath?  What’s it to be?

Artists, in being able to influence the emotional states of their audiences, wield an uncommon and potent super power over the rest of humanity.  They need to be careful and ethical in how they use it.  Mind how you go.

 

 

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