Hollywood and Cage have both reached a special milestone with the most ridiculous movie of the decade. Also a psychological history of Nicolas Cage's epic journey towards martyrdom in his previous movies.
(major spoilers ahead)
In every area of entertainment there is always a goofy but lovable character or group that keeps trying regardless of the endless failures and social ridicule. Basketball has The Knicks, music has Christian metal, and Hollywood has Nicolas Cage. This man carries the heaviest of burdens: trying to appear as a lead actor in one good movie (by his own criteria) before he dies while playing a role of somebody who dies.
You might be confused and object, "but what about Spike Jonze's Adaptation? That was great! and The Rock! That was neat too! err, Leaving Las Vegas!"
It would seem that Adaptation is the pinnacle of Cage's career and also a good movie. And it is. However what really got imbeded psychologically into Cage's brain is the Oscar that he got for playing an alcoholic on a mission to drink himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas. He was 31 years old when playing a tortured soul on a mission of self destruction provided the greatest positive reinforcement an actor can get.
Cage thus learned a valuable lesson back in 1995. "To become great I must destroy myself on film." He set out to do just that on a life project that grew beyond his control.
Obviously he didn't think he was already past his prime after getting the Academy Award. At that tender age, people are at the peak of their cognitive powers and think they'll keep improving indefinitely. What ended up happening is that no other actor has appeared in more movies where the role seems to be to either directly or indirectly commit suicide or be killed during some martyrdom operation. No, this is different than stuntmen actors or typecast Mafia wiseguys who die often by somebody else's hand. This is self inflicted.
Lets begin with a few examples to see what led to Cage's pinnacle of madness that is Knowing.
1) The Rock - Cage goes on what appears to be a suicide mission to rescue hostages. As he dies from chemical weapon, he jabs a saving andrenaline needle into his heart (which if done in a wrong way will kill). He saves many lives and appears to be killed by a fiery explosion. Yet he lives.
2) Face Off - Cage goes on what appears to be a covert suicide mission by cutting off his own face and putting on a face of a mass murderer (played by another epic tortured soul John Travolta) who killed Cage's wife. Cage is a good guy wearing the face of a bad guy. He is driven to madness but saves his son and lives.
3) City of Angels - Cage commits suicide right away for love. What? Well he is an immortal angel you see who falls in love with a human and becomes a mortal human to be with her. He doesn't even get to be with her since he dies.
4) Snake Eyes - Cage decides to risk his life for love. He helps a woman who is marked for death. He lives but goes to prison.
5) 8mm - Cage decides to risk his life to find out who killed a young woman. He continues on even after it increasingly becomes a suicide mission. He is driven to madness and slaughters the perpetrators. He lives but dies inside.
6) Bringing out the Dead - Cage saves lives while slowly dying inside. He finds salvation in a young woman but merci kills her father. He lives.
7) Windtalkers - Cage goes on repeated suicide missions during WW2. He is both a good guy and a bad guy who mercilessly slaughters Japanese. He saves the life of a comrade while getting shot and killed.
8) Adaptation - Cage plays two characters who are twin brothers. The fun loving happy and life filled brother gets killed. The loser writer brother lives. Cage manages to die and survive in one movie.
9) World Trade Center - Cage is a firefighter goes on a borderline suicide mission to save lives in a burning WTC. He gets trapped in the rubble and goes into a coma. He lives but everybody else dies.
10) Vampire's Kill - Cage thinks he died and became a vampire. He tried to kill himself (again in his mind) but doesn't have what it takes. Not to worry since somebody else kills him later.
Now things start getting strange as Nicolas Cage decides to consciously kill his own serious career by appearing in movies for children and obvious B movie horror flicks. First we see National Treasure and then the final legs of the journey are completed.
11) Ghost Rider - Cage is playing a person who goes on suicide mission stunts. He is also committing career suicide by starring in a B movie designed for the borderline retarded. Cage dies in a fire but is brought to life as an anti-hero who is on fire and in constant pain. Cage goes full circle and goes from being human to an angel of death by dying. He err, lives as an undead avenger who is always on fire.
12) The Wicker Man - Cage is a cop and fails to save a woman and a girl who dies in a fire. He drinks lots of liquor and finds out that his ex-wife is missing. Yes, out of love Cage decides to find her and goes to an island controlled by a matriarchal pagan cult. He increasingly begins to believe that the woman he's looking for was either killed by being burned at the stake or is about to. He finds out that not only is she alive but the whole thing was an elaborate set up to burn Cage alive in a ridiculous ritual. His mind snaps. Cage finds himself trapped in an unnecessarily large wicker man and dies in a fire.
Move aside The Passion of the Christ. Knowing has Nicolas Cage as both Noah, a willing martyr dying a horrible death, and the father of the only male chosen to be in the new garden of Eden.
What? Yes, we've come to the most ridiculous movie of the decade and one that Cage will not be able to top. This movie also combines an incredible number of genres. It is a horror movie, an action movie, an apocalyptic movie, a movie catering to Christians, a mystery movie, a sci fi movie, a B movie, as well as a Blockbuster summer movie. It is a movie to end all movies. The equivalent of a deep fried Big Mac broken up onto a deep crust pizza. An epic movie that will liquefy your mind and spirit into goo. This movie represents a dimensional flux where Cage and Hollywood merge together in an attempt to make the audience surrender and join them in a self destructive behavior of watching and enjoying movie trainwrecks (in turn, becoming part of the wreckage themselves).
13) Knowing - Cage's wife died (not in a fire) and he has a son that he looks out for. Cage is a meteorology professor who drinks a lot. His son gets a letter from a 1959 time capsule. The letter lists all the dates of major disasters and numbers of people killed by them. Yes, some disasters didn't happen yet. Cage risks his life trying to save people but they all die anyway and he is almost killed. A jetplane for example almost smashes into Cage's car as he is waiting in traffic. He runs to rescue survivors who are burning alive. Total insanity.
He then meets a woman whose mother wrote the letter all those years ago. She has a daughter. It appears that Cage found a love interest but all is in vain. He finds out that the final disaster will kill everybody on the planet by burning them alive. It will be caused by a solar flare that he cant do anything about.
Yes, Cage comes to a realization that he cannot save anybody this time and also has knowledge that he and his son will die. This is it. Also, Cage's apparent potential love interest dies before he can even die with her a little later. He is stuck with her daughter.
Ah, but wait a second audience. In the final minutes of the movie, an alien mothership descends and tells Cage's son telepathically that he is chosen to go with them along with the little girl (they are all special and connected of course).
Cage logically wants to go on the mothership with his son and a young girl. The aliens say that he can't go since only the two children were chosen. Cage insists that he go with them and aliens appear to be fine with that. Then Cage changes his mind at the last moment and decides to stay behind and burn alive with everybody else. His son could care less and the children go into the mothership that leaves Cage whimpering on the ground in madness and horror. Then he goes back to his city. The solar flare comes and all of humanity burns alive.
Cage's son and the young girl find themselves in Eden by a tree of knowledge.
It is the end of the line for an actor who is used to playing characters at the end of the line. Knowing has increased chances of Nicolas Cage committing suicide in real life 10 fold. Hopefully that doesn't happen and Cage is reborn to save us all another day.
THE FUTURE IS RUSHING UPON US
Monday, July 27, 2009
Structurally, a politician in his 40s will always have difficulty working with important congressmen in their 70s who matured in a radically different country
Many congressmen today were born before television was a commonplace household item. These entrenched dinosaurs are making decisions on topics ranging from net neutrality to regulation of the financial sector. We have the spectacle of people like the corrupt 86 year old Ted Stevens, mentally reckless 72 year old Jon McCain (with choice of Palin being most telling about deterioration of cognitive faculties), and 92 year old Robert Byrd (who had the rank of Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan).
The average age of a member of the House is 56 years and 62 years for a Senator . Improving medicine and incumbent friendly tools have driven up the average congressional age in the last few decades. The stranglehold on major important congressional committees by the oldest legislators is resulting in a gerontocracy to rival that of China and Soviet Union in the 1980s.
People who are well past the legal age of retirement (already way too high in the workaholic United States) are simply not cognitively fit for a number of key governmental functions in the 21st century. Things such as modernizing the country, managing cutting edge technological developments to maximum material advantage, conducting high stakes geopolitics, being on the same cultural page as an average elite (the playboy Ivy League lawyers are definitely incapable of being on same page as an average American), or futuristic interdisciplinary national/global strategy.
Interestingly enough, the average age of the executive seems to be falling due to the extra special cultural attention placed on this spot as well as the viciousness of competition. The fall in age (of those occupying the powerful political position in society) appears to be not just an American phenomenon but one observed internationally from China to France to England and to Russia. The internet and new rapidly evolving forms of technological mobilization mean that cut throat political competition increasingly favors technologically savvy (who tend to be in their 40s) and not the entrenched senior citizens. For most of national existence of United States that has not been the case as informal patronage proved more key than clever technological marketing.
The falling age of the executive branch and the rising age of the legislative branch will amount to increasing friction in American style political systems in the years ahead. Proportional representation systems are more immune to this since they are less susceptible to legislative gerontocracy formation in the first place. They have greater political contestation (because of presence of multiple strong parties instead of two) and their executive leadership rises from the legislative.
Senior citizens in power have turned the former superpower into a giant retirement home (not mentioning the near future political implications of falling birthrates leading to young versus old demographic disparity). Things have been getting gradually worse for so long (going back to early 1970s) that everybody is used to it. People cannot conceptualize things getting really bad since things are expected to get worse already. The rotting crusty brains of American rulers require implementation of term limits so there is a chance jump start the rotting crusty socioeconomic system.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Education is mostly looked at for its empirically proven ability to raise socioeconomic standards but not in terms of public mental health improvement.
Inequality of conscious mental states is often overlooked when discussing social discrimination
We're well familiar how inequalities of power cause discrimination on international, societal, and individual level. We've also endlessly heard how education sets free and empowers.
What has been missing from the discourse concerning prejudice is the effects from inequality of consciousness. Sure, there were massive amounts of writings analyzing empirical socioeconomic results from inequality of education (that most certainly contributes the most to consciousness augmentation) but the research barely touched on analogies that can illuminate interpersonal perceptions. It's one thing to say that education differences cause Group A to have lower infant mortality, longer life span, and high GDP per capita while Group B trails. It's another thing to say that Group A views Group B (and thus interacts with accordingly) as one would small children, the retarded, and/or the elderly with dementia (or worse as history teaches us).
Whether it is Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama, or George Bush preaching to third world peasants, the sheer inescapable condescension (that greater consciousness brings) is undeniable. It is inevitable in that somebody who has more access to information and more effective techniques to influence reality will either use them in a zero sum game or share them. "Knowing what's best" can of course be a means towards horrid exploitation but also amazing improvement. Thus it was always a prudent idea to keep people who tell you they know what's best for you at arms length. More often then not the helping hand partially or fully enslaved. We can imagine the public reaction if some Chinese or Russian oligarch went to poor American neighborhoods and lectured American officials on improving standards and such.
1) An illiterate 30 year old peasant in Sri Lanka who engaged in daily hard labor of subsistence farming for most of his life. This man is more than capable of communicating and interacting with the people in his isolated village and excels in many simple tasks compared to his neighbors. He doesn't know how to write and only knows how to read a few words here and there. He is content as his labor allows him to feed himself and his family even without education.
2) A man in United States with mild mental retardation ( IQ range of 50-69 but below the 80 level needed to be considered "fully capable of mental function". Although perhaps coherent enough to be executed in Texas) from a poor background. This man had the luck to be in a special school program that taught him to read and write to a degree that he is capable of. The man lives in a community with other people who have poor cognitive learning and application ability. He is content as he is among the most functioning in the institution and feels a sense of power through comparison. He engages in helpful duties assigned to him and is very efficient. The man is more than capable of living and functioning by himself in the simplicity of a third world level village.
3) An elderly rural man in United States who never finished high school and was engaged in farming for most of his life. He has ability to read NY Post level tabloids and fill out forms. He is deeply convinced that magical beings are real and play a part in the lives of humans. The man even talks to the magical creatures and organizes his life as if they were real and watching him. He is not troubled at all by his life as he is able to communicate and function perfectly in his village and is mostly surrounded by other Christians. His neuroplasticity (and thus mental functioning) have been hampered by almost third world level investment in education early in life (by 2009 standards), poor fatty diet, ceaseless propaganda from the clergy and the state (through television media), and additional creeping neural infirmities of old age.
Obama's "clinging to guns" statement). They are meant to bring to attention the not so obvious fact that diverse individuals can 1) have roughly similar conscious mental mechanisms and 2) be empowered or disempowered through perception of others due to the fluid nature of their social/geographic location
However, perhaps the most important aspect of rise in consciousness is rise in self respect.
A man with slightly above average level of consciousness ( it's assumed that within a population, consciousness is spread on a bell curve just like personal power is) can then look at a politician or a businessman and say, "hey! the people ruling me are a minority and are maybe 100% more conscious than me on average. Why do they have 100-10,000 times the power and wealth instead of twice as much?" That is why revolt or social reform often starts on campuses and among the middle class who got an empowering taste for self respect. At that point they are beginning to get a good idea of what's best for them rather than passively listening to higher ups for guidance (the way a peasant would due to lack of information and/or personal inability).
It stands to reason that if a middle class white person may view a Sri Lankan peasant or a mildly retarded American in one of the ways above (while being viewed himself like that by those on top), those on top may view Sri Lankan peasants as one does cattle or dogs. Considering the eagerness with which the national elites sent their own countrymen to meatgrinder wars in the 20th century, a lot of Americans and Europeans were viewed as cattle as well ( and may very well still be). One pre-revolution curse word in the Russian language is skotina. It means cattle and the roots of its application to human beings stem from mass plantation type system that existed before 1917. We've seen analogies of this in the American south and elsewhere in the developed world.
Monday, July 20, 2009
The 40th anniversary of the moon landing brings to attention the general macro level technological stagnation that occurred in the West since the 1970s. Lack of further human expansion in deep space corresponds neatly to the lack of new mega projects in United States as well as other economically powerful nations. American government didn't just give up on building lunar bases and ISS type docking platforms in the 70s and 80s when technology more than allowed for it. It also gave up on attempts at provision of mass affordable housing (through utilization of best conceptual design research and recommendations), further exploration of increasingly cheap and speedy transcontinental travel, new mega canal/highway/rail/tunnel/bridge systems as well as concentrated effort to make use of the earth's oceans for national and global betterment. The national GDP since the 1950s ( when United States emulated the autobahn with the Interstate highway Act of 1956) has risen exponentially whereas the will to engage in grand projects increasingly stagnated.
Media outlets like to say that continued space expansion became too expensive and superfluous since Soviet Union's abandonment of its lunar program. How would they explain abandonment of major efforts to make supersonic travel safe and widely used or to link up NATO space with high speed rail networks? Of course there are ready explanations from structural economic perspectives. Soviets passed their industrial economic peak in the 60s while the American civilizational peak (with similar subsequent decline) was in the early 1970s. That explanation would also explain the physical inability to construct impressively at home towards the end of the 20th century. Medium Western powers such as England, Germany, and France all saw stagnation in the 1970s after the heady days of postwar consumer driven booms.
that China so readily demonstrates these days) has left the West along with ambitions of lunar settlements. Western oligarchs and adventurous playboys did not adequately follow their nationalist predecessors in quests for glory. It was enough for them to do money speculation in a personal playground that is the globalizing world.
Sure, they emulated the previous tycoons in terms of support of militarism and financially parasitic existence (from 1870s to 1950s) but not as much in terms of daring stunts. The decades since the 1970s did not really see the equivalents of Howard Hughes ( basis for Scorsese's The Aviator), Thomas Edison, or Andrew Carnegie. Only militarism and mass financial manipulation on a global scale remained after some cosmetic modification.
We didn't see Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or George Soros trying to develop affordable flying transport, trying to get support to turn world's deserts into new farmland, or similar efforts towards awe inspiring historical milestones. Such construction was delegated to the needs of corporate shareholders and governments under ceaseless ideologically free market pressure. The trend continued even after the maximum income tax on the rich went from 70-80% in the 1950s-1960s to 35% today. American government had less resources to spend by not taxing the rich sufficiently and the rich themselves became less willing to engage in tangible glory seeking construction and development.
Ansari X Prize (and even then from private pockets) to stimulate development of cheap private vehicles capable of reaching the orbit. The tax payer funded awards mostly went towards less inspiring new weapon systems. The sheer material benefits that space exploration spin off technology gives to humanity are undeniable. Thus, lack of sufficiently concentrated state effort to develop new ways for humans to get around and live (or actively encourage private development) is an irresponsible betrayal of national interest.
It will take major competition from non-western nations and public national humiliations to get political elites to exert themselves again. The days of economic tycoons are not over and as long as capitalism remains there will be cowboy trailblazers in various parts of the world. We've seen the recent rapid construction of artificial resort islands in Dubai, the scores of skyscrapers in Asia that overshadow the Sears Towers, and some Russian oligarchs actively thinking of space tourism to compliment their industrial empires. Besides billing American astronauts over 50 million dollars per ticket to space when the shuttle is retired, the Russian Space Agency is actively thinking of salvaging its parts of the International Space Station to make a new space platform as well as actively collaborating with Europe and China. The technologically advanced South Korea has recently completed their first spaceport. Beijing for it's part, besides having the national excitement and pride in its space program, also has followed George Bush in terms of stating desire to mine the lunar surface for valuable Helium 3 (which is much more plentiful on the moon than earth). Perhaps a profit motive (or an illusion of one) is just what is needed. The looming prospect of not having access to space for years without Russian support doesn't seem to be nudging United States any.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Exploring the world where the primary motivation is desire to modify one's environment rather than the motivation to pursue pleasure.
Part 1: An attempt to finally make practical use of Nietzsche in day to day life
Imagine if the greatest human motivation was not to move towards the ambiguous elusive goal of greater happiness, pleasure, physiological equilibrium, or contentness. How would the way we look at the world and ourselves change?
The building assumption in this series is that the most important motivation for a human being is to endlessly expand personal influence over conscious reality. This simple concept, most elegantly defended and argued by Nietzsche, has a surprisingly large ripple effect on day to day matters if it is taken seriously and if pursuit of happiness is subordinated to it. This is because most of the world's cultures have succumbed to the idea that all our resources and values should be geared towards reducing the frequency of unpleasant events happening to us on social and individual level. This notion is so ingrained in us that it almost seems absurd that something other than pain avoidance principle drives our bodies subconsciously. Many of popular economic and political systems are designed with the notion that human beings are but utility calculators that need a proper utility distribution arrangement. Pleasure and pain are just too obvious and immediate and have been so for thousands of years. However, pain avoidance does not sufficiently explain a large part of human social behavior as well as weakness avoidance does.
This is not some masochistic attempt to argue for embracing suffering but about re-prioritizing pleasure to secondary supporting role in pursuit of power so as to explore the world that results in a practical way. Nietzsche trailblazed in terms of revealing that historical events, notable celebrities, and social movements all thrive for power in creative ways such as sublimation. He never left any practical suggestions on how to live in a world where people just differ in their particular means of increasing strength. Recently, there has been some major understanding among researchers (such as those driving the field of positive psychology) that feeling of powerlessness is a major social as well as an individual trouble that needs to be addressed.
The moment of happiness, once had, can't really be increased but only repeated whereas influence can be increased practically infinitely. Power builds on itself and a self reinforcing motivating loop is created pushing a person toward greater heights. Unlike pleasure, there isn't a relative ceiling (a meth addict can only experience so much in a moment of a high and an orgasm cannot be exponentially intensified). Once a person accumulates more influence, it doesn't paralyze but instinctively encourages the use of said influence for gain of more. Influence is thus constructive, creative, and the feel for it is internalized within a person long enough to lead to constant augmentation of the self.
A ready objection may await a reader's lips, "obviously some power is important to function but isn't it just one of the means towards happiness and its repetition?"
This question makes power just a tool towards some end which does not maintain primacy over the end regardless of the tool's importance. The objection has more weight than possible others in that it tries to eliminate debate on power being an alternate destination by making it one of the roads towards the only destination that matters (happiness). One motivation becomes consumed and absorbed by another. The ground is also set to prepare a counter-objection (in defense of power) for a tug of war.
The counter objection goes as follows: just like the joy of eating compels human bodies to survive and just like the joy of sex compels them to reproduce, the happiness achieved from power compels us to seek more power. The happiness we think we seek is just a possible side effect reaffirming our quest for influence. Just like survival and reproduction are more important physiologically than any fleeting joy, power is equally necessary especially considering it increases the chances of the two.
The tug of war of motivations created here is of course the chicken or the egg problem. We could argue endlessly which came first or if the feel of having power is pleasurable (making the two motivations one and the same or making power the subcategory of happiness).
Ultimately, the practical guide using the more correct motivational system would better predict, break down, and explain human interaction while taking into account the other motivation popping its head here and there.
Unlike other serious motivations such as pursuit of wealth (which is culturally agreed to aid in acquisition of happiness rather than being an end in itself), the feeling of influence over the world is internalized by a person a lot more than the feeling of being wealthy. Another lesser difference is that power is a lot more contextual than pleasure and thus can be more readily passed between individuals, lost, and gained. One needs others a lot more to create an interplay of resistance and competing influences.
|Click to enlarge one mating aiding scheme|
There is also the consideration to tackle the culturally ingrained negative perception of such a quest. Too much mud has been thrown on the notion of raising an individual's influence by institutions that rely on different motivational notions to maintain their own influence (such as organized clergy). Pursuit of shaping the world based on one's thoughts is natural, healthy, and personally inescapable and shared by all the people in the world regardless of their sociopolitical structures. Majority of the time desire for influence results in net benefit for society and contributes to its growth rather than resulting in use of force (robbery or violence on micro or marco scale). On the whole, individuals channel their power expanding energies safely into wealth generation, physiological improvement, the arts, etc.
In the modern world, acquisition of money is a much quicker and most socially acceptable way towards achievement of power and ways have been developed to accommodate it (ideological notions of enlightened self interest, free market economics, etc.). Although monetary practices, (especially as practiced by United States and England) have caused enormous amount of suffering internationally, the value of power on an individual level is not an automatic door to anarchy, fascism, or license to rudeness and cruelty. It is rather acceptance of ourselves and our motivations so we become more informed about how power flows in the world, become more efficient as people, and cut flows of power to those aspects of the world that unnecessarily weaken us in day to day life. The more influence an organism gets, the more alive and healthy it is.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Exponential technological progress and corresponding leaps in efficiency can only create rising unemployment under the current economic system. The problem remains even if every citizen is provided a graduate school education.
College graduates working as waitresses, jugglers, baristas, and improvising craftsmen are not signs of an economic downturn the way we tend to think of it. It is just an inevitable symptom of mechanization and rising efficiencies due to technological improvements. Mechanization is not just the biggest cause of unemployment domestically (compared to usual scapegoats like outsourcing) but internationally as well if you look at all of human population as a whole.
Research and development of more efficient machinery to replace human workers has not stopped with Henry Ford's death. The subsequent results do not just affect blue collar workers of course. The Internet and constant breakneck improvements in communication technology systems are constantly eroding white collar sector and driving down consumer prices.
Although economic/political system of United States is very inefficient at providing higher education infrastructure at an increasingly affordable price ( one of the more visible signs of supply not fulfilling demand as intended), mechanization makes itself felt nevertheless. The quarter of Americans who somehow acquire the resources to get a Bachelor's degree are increasingly finding themselves doing "service sector" jobs that don't need even a high school diploma. There is the fact of cut throat competition that human replacement brings (with the corresponding rise in power of the capitalist class that buys the labor).
European oligarchs have long decided that keeping their poor citizens uneducated is too blunt in terms of spitting in the face of the general public. Considering that even the relatively technologically backward Russians were able to provide education for most of their society within 2 generations, German and French authorities could not deny their people the same without facing revolt. Considering it is also a spit in the face to ask a chemist or a media major graduate to serve food and booze, the elites in Berlin and France also provided welfare provisions and emulated United States with plugging menial labor gaps with immigrants. These measures have worked for a few decades and now are also breaking down as technology makes most people and their labor unnecessary. Obviously most people in the world (or France for that matter) can't be neuroscientists, investment bankers, software database experts, or consultants even if they were certified for that. American elites are facing an even greater crisis since the economic system of United States was only sustained by class/race inequalities and decades of ideological state propaganda.
At the beginning of 20th century, many workers decided that although they could work 15 hours a day, they didn't want to. They wanted to work just 8 hours a day by virtue of being alive in a resource rich sovereign state. The economic system of the time of course easily fired those who wanted some time during the day to themselves. The result was that thousands of workers engaged in years and years of strikes, skull crushing violence in the streets, and appeals to reason ("this is horrible human condition, I don't like this, change it since technology allows more time during the day"). The oligarchic reforms, such as creation of 8 hour workweek and some safety nets, are well known. The efforts to prevent social instability and violence are repackaged as saving capitalism (and demonstrating capitalism's adaptive qualities) in today's history books. They also show that society did not collapse when the shift to an 8 hour workday occurred. Technology made it more than possible. When less than 1% of the population are needed to grow food and ( less than 30% of population needed to make knives, cars, computers, plates, jeans, and umbrellas) humanity can finally engage in mass reduction of daily energy expenditure.
Although one of the world's dominant economic experiments (free market capitalism as nicknamed by its ideologues) stagnated a lot of technological progress through inefficient distribution of education and key infrastructure, technology kept advancing exponentially nevertheless at least on micro consumer level. Mass unemployment is coming regardless of shifts to and from center-left or center-right socioeconomic structures. Even if the state started to aggressively employ millions of people, it would just delay the inevitable effects from mechanization. Although many of the rich and economic experts expect everybody to be content with doing service jobs for one another ( with the Marxist mantra of "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" repackaged as "I'm a biology major but I can cook let me bake you a pie. I've studied computer repair but can cut hair let me be your barber") the authorities know this is not sustainable in a profit driven system. The current slide into an international economic depression will reshape the world even more so than the depression of 1930s. Oligarchs will try once again to preserve capitalist structures by reducing unemployment through provision of new welfare safety nets, reducing competition between workers through idling them in universities or sending them to war, and shifting political support towards more state capitalism.
to provide a livable stipend and thus try to preserve personal power and some profit.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The recent Honduran coup allowed the Obama administration to send an incredibly clear message to American ideological colonies in the Western hemisphere (and beyond).
The message is simple:
"we will allow you to develop organically and gradually towards oligarchic capitalism where the state plays a much larger role in economic/social management. If you choose to follow the gradual legalistic path of Hugo Chavez, then we will not side with reactionary oligarchic forces within your borders nor internationally isolate you nor try to economically destabilize your country. This is of course because we are also now forced by economic necessity and strategy to use the powers of the state for economic and societal growth. Siding with like minded reformist leadership in Latin America allows us to co-opt Chavez's allies and preserve American leadership in the region. We hope to once again become the model society for South America. Only now we encourage a system where the state is at least co-equal to the power of the rich. If you want to develop in that direction, it's now alright without fearing violence and mass suffering."
It was telling that Manuel Zelaya waited barely a week since Obama's election to begin to push the process of constitutional modification of term limits. Zelaya, a playboy oligarch overseeing the third poorest country in the Western hemisphere, couldn't count on John McCain to side with him in case of a coup. If anything, the replay of the attempted coup on Chavez (that we're seeing now in Honduras) might have happened even sooner had McCain gotten into office. It would have been unimaginable for McCain to publicly side with Hugo Chavez in international condemnation of oligarchic use of force against Zelaya. Obama on the other hand, does not need to pander as much to the nationalist, poorly educated, and militarist Palin block during his first term. He can thus support Zelaya (like most of the world does), be on the side of international opinion, and present himself at home as being on the side of rule of law.
What we see happening now is the confusing situation of a lapdog's master sending it mixed messages. As we've seen with international ripple effects from Gorbachev's reforms (from the imperial center outwards to the governments of rabid lapdogs like East Germany), it is enormously destabilizing to satellite nations to have such mixed signals. Whether the coup fails or succeeds, it'll embolden social movements that want to mimic Chavez or derive economic advantage from his economic block.
The only hope of the anti-Zelaya interim government is to convince high ranking generals in US defense department to put pressure on Obama so he doesn't economically penalize the coup plotters. They likely have plenty of high level supporters within American establishment. If the political crisis in Honduras drags on, we should see plenty of conflicting disinformation thrown at the American public by government elites. We already see that happening with some media using data from Mitofsky International (same organization that drew suspicion from John Kerry exit polls and its blatant bias towards Yeltsin in his close victory over communist Zyuganov in 1996) showing that Manuel Zeyala had pre-coup approval of 25%.
Of course ideally, Obama would want the South American reformers to join up with him rather than Chavez to create a more people friendly oligarchic Latin capitalism under American supervision. Obama cannot afford to wait too long in starting the process. Dollar slipping as a reverse currency and threat of regional currencies presses for urgent changes in America's backyard. It's a dangerous business than McCain/Brezhnev style preservation of regional status quo. Gorbachev has shown that such efforts (by an ideological empire with many dependencies and protectorates) are inherently risky and potentially very destabilizing.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
There are so many coercive influences acting upon the individual's quest for personal sovereignty that it's very easy to slip into fatalism and emotional surrender. After all, some of these influences stem from massive structural arrangements on the national and global level. It seems passivity is logical given the other options of masochistic self sacrificial activism and total embrace and support of the coercive structures.
There is a fourth option however. That option is to enable yourself to better resist external influences on a day to day basis with simple preventive/proactive measures. Prevention, as we all know, is the most energy efficient way of minimizing damage from random unforeseen disasters as well as from known threats. Helping to build a strong immune system is a good illustration. To decide what type of preventive action or inaction (distinction is a false one in terms of opportunity costs) to pursue, one needs to see how it will impact personal resources/space, level of respect from strong social forces, and autonomous decision making. All of these, as discussed in part 1, are necessary components of a quest for real freedom.
After listing what needs to be done preventively, it makes sense to organize the list based on ease of accomplishment. Two things readily stand out:
1) not burdening oneself with children
2) not trapping oneself in marriage
It is much more comfortable to act locally selfishly instead of engaging in draining foot soldier activism for elite bourgeois do gooders. What many don't realize is that helping yourself also helps those around you as well as weakens tyrannical structures higher in the social food chain. Power is a zero sum game when it comes to individual human beings. If hundreds of millions of people do what is necessary to achieve greater influence over their surroundings, they will gently reduce ability of stronger exploitative individuals to do that in their name.
1) childless existence - This is the easiest step to take in terms of inaction. Vasectomy and tubal ligation procedures are relatively cheap and accessible throughout the Western world. They help reduce expense and risk of non-sterilizing contraception. We all know about the rather unpleasant potential side effects (for individuals and relationships) from hormonal modification, pregnancy termination, and/or legalistic child support payment avoidance. The only reason to hesitate in becoming biologically incapable of being burdened (by self sacrificial genetic and artificial traditionalist imperatives) is concern about the safety and expense of the procedures. That is legitimate although we can see how it can be far more unsafe and pricey to risk becoming a breeder.
financially, psychologically, physiologically, and morally drained over the years by raising human brood is the best personal investment one can think of. The butterfly effect from not spending years of resources on a parenting project of choice is far more empowering than the one from the investment of higher education. A person who never went to college can easily achieve higher levels of tangible freedom, greater psychological empowerment, and even more material power than a person who went to college but decided to saddle up with raising a human or two for 18 years. It is widely recognized that high fertility disproportionately burdens the poorest people. The constant drain on personal energies makes them sink deeper into poverty while the richer less fertile classes gain and leapfrog ahead.
If all the poorest people in the world reduced their fertility by even 30%, their economic and political power would dramatically rise. They would have augmented mobility, purchasing power, time for reflection, and physiological energies to grow and exert themselves further in society. It would be a welcome break from just surviving to old age. Overburdened people are the ones who accept structural coercion most readily (no matter how impudent and blatant it is).
Such simple dynamics push oligarchs to promote family and children throughout the world. It creates a larger pool of poor workers that drives their wages down and makes large majority of the population too exhausted to resist divide and conquer tactics from above. We have seen American republican party fight tooth and nail against abortion and proven effective contraception education for this particular reason.
Part 2 described how most elites no longer need excessive fertility for cannon fodder. Some politicians, such as the ones in China, even publicly admitted that great fertility stifles economic progress. In the Western world and especially in United States, promotion of fertility still serves as a way of keeping domestic wages down and keeping the third world in dependent poverty. When there is insufficient childbirth among the poor, Western power brokers have to either cut a bigger slice of the economic pie from the rich, import more immigrants, or develop high end robotics (as in the case of the xenophobic Japan).
It is also very clear how the Catholic church blatantly discourages contraception (while dooming millions to contract HIV) to keep its organizational influence and donations flowing in South America and Africa. This is even after new studies are emerging that abortion reduces crime long term, that overpopulation will be the biggest contributor to world conflict in the 21st century, and that higher fertility directly contributes to a crushing cycle of global poverty. Western governments have not forcefully spoken out against the incredible damage that the Vatican is causing.
childlike reasoning for engaging in masochistic behavior that is parenting. There's also those who are already too far on the road of no return and want others to be in the same boat for psychological camaraderie. Finally, we can't discount the minority of people whose neurochemistry makes them incredibly empathic and emotional. Such individuals will truly be suffering if they don't take care of weak little humans. Although they'd make ideal medical providers, we must respect the absolutely biologically controlled humans who need to spawn. In his novel, The Island, Aldous Huxley envisioned parenting being done by multiple individuals so the kid is raised with a well rounded perspective and is protected from potentiality of 1-2 of the parents being neurotic. Hopefully in the future, those (who absolutely cannot override being slaves to their genes) will share in raising each others children. Everybody else should be left alone by their "community leaders" when it comes to not taking on economic and political burdens of parenting.
The family of a poor man helped him pay for the enormous dowry so he can buy an unmarketable girl from an upper class family. Marriage was a matter of life and death and one of the most serious things you can think of. The roots of this union stem from thousands of years of vicious clan warfare, blatant power intrigues, and dire necessity. There has been so much negative and positive cultural reinforcement that the powerful inertia of marriage continues long after it stopped being necessary for survival. Today, marriage as a term is as empty and anachronistic as slavery because it no longer performs its original basic function.
Obviously such a function continues in many parts of the underdeveloped world, but in the Western world, marriage has been slowly transforming from basic physical survival of both partners, to economic survival of the wife. Around the middle of the 20th century, being married became a socially accepted way for most women to get constant income and shelter. Poor women, of course, always toiled in the fields and even in the factory regardless of the married status. However, mid 20th century gains in productivity and real incomes have allowed Western men to provide for the whole family. Many women from proletariat/peasant backgrounds began to imitate the upper class women and became sit at home housewives. We saw how blatantly the advertising in 1950s paraded technological advances in making housework easier.
Since marriage in the Western world is an arrangement cut off from its original intention, its decline in a secular world is irreversible. Although modern oligarchical capitalism is making marriage appealing again as a form of female economic welfare, that blatantly flies in the face of socially promoted individualism and economic gender equality. This friction and loss of original function has already pushed divorce rate in America to over 50% and will soon raise a generation of people who laugh at the concept.
Besides being a tool for paying lower income taxes and a way for a woman to legally extract greater post-divorce income, marriage doesn't serve any empowering purpose. Even the tax benefits are counterbalanced by the stuffy culturally constructed pressure for the couple to live together. Perhaps a social protest movement can be created for the sole purpose of mocking the authorities by marrying for tax breaks. Couples can live separately but do a quick marriage with a prenuptial agreement in a government building. That will put a final nail in the coffin of a bankrupt ceremony. The government will get out of marriage business altogether and have its hands off religious ceremonies like in the 19th century.
Thinking globally and acting globally can begin with something as easy as simple prevention of self enslavement. Doing something simple to make yourself stronger, freer, and healthier goes much further than running around and getting people to recycle or signing petitions. Acting with your body in your own benefit leads others by example and creates ripple effect within society. Each person deciding to not put on traditional chains is a step closer to rising from his or her knees and pushing for greater personal sovereignty. Global freedom begins with personal freedom.