Friday, September 13, 2013

It's All Out There ~ Storytelling

Of Doctors And Presidents

Although some conspiracy theories are true, not all are. Two of the most egregious, anti-establishment conspiracists out there, the NYT and a living U.S. President, have propounded some real whoppers, such as that the U.S. government does not represent the American people, and that a nationwide network of idiots with M.D.s has been drugging way too many people, even according to standards provided by the drug industry itself.

Stilling the sarcasm, 2013 finds America long beyond the ruse that things are somehow good or fair, or even that they're heading there. When a white, male, rich, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, long-working powerful politician, who has been privy to all of the inside, super-important top-guy knowledge, provided with lifetime income, healthcare, and bodyguards, can disavow the existence of the representative republic, it's in no conceivable way a fringe source (who knows--will 2045 see Barack's similar confession?).

The first bit of information, from the American journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (via the NYT), is more striking, in its own internal way, than Carter's statement, because the drug industry's controlled substances work has, perhaps, an even more profound, integral, worldwide effect on governments than the figureheads who actually run said governments.

(If you're inclined to foreshadowing, part of the journal's work in grudgingly discrediting fluoxetine and its brothers is in promoting later neurocidal magnetic treatments for depression that will more permanently reduce critical reason capability without need for continuous dosage.)

There's certainly a class distinction in the psychiatrists' criticisms. It requires very little--perhaps very low--critical thinking ability for a person to devote a decade to memorizing Latinate trivia, pass a battery of tests, miss a lot of sleep, and become a licensed physician. Physician specialties weed out the more competent people, leaving the rest to practice "generally" or run DMV-style emergency rooms. The whole reason the hapless general practitioners overprescribed antidepressants is because the specialists' articles told them to decades ago; now, the specialists in control of grant funds and journal consensuses are switching "the science" and blaming the GPs for doing exactly what they were not supposed to do to help people deal with the stresses of modern life.

Cycles

None of these things is a revelation, however much it's being treated as so by those few who pay attention, because this has all happened before. It's happened many, many times, but even within the American memory, it has happened. Much closer to his presidency than Carter--in his farewell address, rather than decades later--Dwight Eisenhower, who has even more claim to establishment-ness and manliness by virtue of having been a generalissimo, gave his famous "military industrial complex" speech, right? And in the general temporal vicinity of Eisenhower's warning, the American medical industry was revealed as a heartless, murderous tool of earlier pharmaceutical companies.

So, we know all this. We have no excuse for not knowing it. The veneer of modernity was enough to lull fools then into thinking it couldn't happen, just as it is always enough to lull fools into thinking that various powerful bastions are somehow good. A very few people in each cycle learn to recognize some of the patterns, and identify--at least for "this time"--some of the wrongness. The masses, as it were, don't.

The easy conclusion is that the masses are dumb. There's a lot of factual evidence to support that conclusion, and moreover, it's a satisfying one to make, particular if you've had to deal with one/all of the masses in a direct way, lately.

And yet, they're not dumb in a lot of senses. They can memorize and repeat information when they believe it comes from an important source. E.g., the clerk who can rattle off pretty detailed arguments against Stalinism, or who can recite the crimes of Saddam Hussein. Or, yes, the housewife discussing the plot nuances of some television show--it's a form of intelligence. They can become emotional, and passionately involved, in causes when they believe they are important. E.g., the day laborer who can demonstrate a deep empathy for the firemen who died in the WTC.

All of the above is not viewed in context, though, which is what makes it easy to criticize as wholly dumb. The clerk is utterly ignorant of Russian history, the 1917 American invasion that fostered the rise of the Bolsheviks, or the merely tenuous, at best, connection between Stalin's kleptocracy and anything to do with Karl Marx's writings. The housewife is unaware that her favorite show is copied from a 1970s Dutch program, and that the character nuances she so enjoys were inserted into the script by a committee of assistant producers who wanted to play off her demographic's dissatisfaction with their husbands' affection for the NFL, playing her like a violin into demonstrating independence via a new kind of phone. The day laborer is furiously, defensively ignorant of the blinders upon his emotions.

Those of us who know more of the story get justifiably mad at this, and call the clerk, housewife, and laborer idiots for their ignorance, and their willing blindness to improving themselves. The confessions of Carter, the AMA, or even Eisenhower mean nothing to them in any practical way; they continue doing what they're told. Even insiders telling them, "The entire system is a rotten fake that is ruining your family" does not make them blink. How can that be possible? If it's not just radical, "loser" extremists challenging their psychological foundations, but aspects of the system itself, how can they not "get it"? Everything is all out there, and has been out there for (-ever, but let's just say) decades, but the show keeps going on.

Deep Reading

What we're lacking here is a form of critical thinking we might liken to the deep reading of a text. The dummies are presented with information--say, an election pamphlet--and when they analyze it, they conclude, "It's about voting for President." Being thoroughly unpracticed in using their more critical faculties, they are generally unable to discern that they're looking at a trinket that is part of a ruse that is part of a ruse that is part of yet another, grander, illusion. Their spirits ("consciences" or "instincts") may whisper to them that something is wrong, leading them to conclude, "This is bullshit." That's essentially accurate, but they're unable to fully reason out why, they are unable to trust themselves, and remain easy pickings for the rhetoricians and storytellers who have created the illusion.

Militaries, academia, police forces, nations, politics, judicia, and all the other character-organizations within the illusion play powerful roles. They directly act out aspects of the story: reciting lines, holding celebrations, and hitting people. They are all, of course, so thoroughly connected that they aren't even really distinguishable except by allowing them the politically-correct courtesy of self-identifying themselves as representing this or that branch of power. For all that power, though, they are mere actors, playing their roles in conformity with the ongoing tale. The narrative in which we participate defines what even the most powerful among them are able and willing to do. Since most of the powerful are as stupid as most of the non-powerful, this leaves them equally trapped by the illusion, if more enjoyably so.

"The entertainment industry," and to a lesser extent "the marketing industry," provide more direct windows into the structure of things, because they are the facets of the illusion modeled more closely after its authors. More clearly, when we consider the openly-acknowledged stories the powerful tell, we can see them following the same patterns they use in larger-scale storytelling. Nations, and history, are shaped much like bad screenwriting, and the inability of most people to understand narrative manipulation--to read and understand complex stories--is the same handicap that prevents them from figuring out what's really going on around Earth. Understanding how stories are discovered, transmitted, and experienced ("written/created, read, and analyzed") helps us figure out what most people are missing, and why they're so easily manipulated--and gives us insight into how they might learn to demand better stories, both in their personal entertainment and in their outer world.

The connection between "bad entertainment" and "bad society" should be obvious. Rome, right? Empire, torture, slaves; centralized finance, government, and religion; abject drunken delight in watching old-tyme WWF. America, right? Empire, torture, slaves; centralized finance, government, and religion; Breaking Fifty Shades of Intergalactic Robot War. Our banal, uninspired entertainment teaches us how to hope for not-so-much, and how to frame our plans and expectations for ourselves and our world. Its lack of depth encourages in us the inability to perceive depth elsewhere, leaving most of us easy prey for those who tell slightly-more-nuanced stories. Ergo, when Carter admits the U.S. has no democracy, or the AMA admits it's been profitably dulling generations of people with unnecessary designer drugs, no one blinks. Facts being "out there" are irrelevant, because the storyteller has deemed them so. Our narrative structure, not our rational interpretation of different sets of facts, governs what we believe and how we rebel.

Continued in Part 2.

11 comments:

  1. Even in academia, there have been some occasional (very rare indeed) writers to bluntly dispel the quaint notion that the US is a democratic and a pluralist society. Students nod, but do not emotionally connect the dots, i.e. "it can't be that bad". You can only go so far before getting dismissed as a crank.

    I would cheer for destruction, if it was not so slow - a rapid calamity could inspire leadership and charisma somewhere, while the slow grind simply suffocates humanity and soon we will all be "the last man". Self-satisfied, even without the happiness.

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    1. I'd rather blame the teachers than the students; somehow, all the academic Democrats who loved mentioning Smedley Butler during Bush's terms have switched over to early-only MLK for Obama's terms. The dot-connecting failure seems to occur on both sides of the switch.

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  2. People are a lot like sheep, and I don't say that disparagingly. Each individual has his/her own concerns, so each would rather leave the more community-wide concerns to the alphas. It's just easier.

    It's so much easier for me to text someone than it is to send a handwritten note, for example. And along with sending the text message comes the dull knowledge that I'm being had by a telecommunications corporation whose objectives are likely opposed to my own - yet I send my text message anyway. I've just become part of the corporation's paradigm, however grudgingly.

    Worse, I send this corporation too much money every month, which not only enriches the corporate alphas, it also stands in obvious and palpable opposition to my own interests.

    So here's the bottom line - I, who consider myself to be at least somewhere on the "intelligent person" spectrum, blithely send text message after text message, spending my money on a marketing scheme about which I have little doubt that stands against what I consider my true interests to be.

    And in so doing, I'm essentially participating in a great power shift wherein lateral power gets transferred to the more malignant hierarchical form.

    Really then, I'm no wiser than tv junkies gorging themselves on NFL and Kardashian social engineering.

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  3. But framing the issue as a problem of "wisdom" - or even of "narrative" underestimates the depersonalized power of bureaucratic organizing.

    Even in the example you give, what ultimately takes over is not even the CEOs of the corporation you give money to, but simply the bureaucratic machine, finely tuned to suck out money and life both from the population and those working for it (although they are at least comfortable).

    This is where I am beginning to strongly disagree with HA. In her interpretation, a lot of what is going on is the result of elite scheming, and it is true to an extent that they have the resources and the motivation to 'scheme', but even without it, bureaucratic organization of society inevitably takes a life of its own, and its logic ultimately subordinates both peons and elites alike.
    Then the power struggle boils down to simply who derives power from attaching themselves to the control of bureaucracies.

    A new narrative would have to go way beyond elites, and vind a way to provide goals and values strong enough to enable breaking and redirecting bureaucratic logic somewhat.

    Intellectually, this seems impossible - Weber, for example, was never able to resolve this conundrum, and pretty much had to throw his hands in the air and pin his hopes on charismatic individuals who would jolt society towards something else.

    But when bureaucratization is total, charisma necessarily becomes meaningless - hey, everything is in the rules. What do you want us to do, mess up with the food supply?

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    1. I don't think the two, i.e., elites and bureaucracies, are mutually exclusive. For example, Jamie Dimon profits very handily from the J.P. Morgan bureaucracy yet he remains an elite, able to wield exponentially more power than some faceless clerk - both inside and outside of his bureaucratic domain.

      True, elites need to yield to bureaucratic norms to a certain extent in order to function. The point is that, however, to the elite the bureaucracy is a cost of doing business; it is a means by which elite power expands. To the rank and file, however, the bureaucracy is a perpetuating agent of the status quo, which, at best, provides middle management employment for those willing to adhere to its strictures, and at worst provides a means of institutional oppression for the lowest rungs of the social ladder - be it through police, correctional, and judicial bureaucracies, or through "social welfare" institutions.

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    2. In this case, we can have our cake and eat it too, because the number of "elites" cognizant of the actual purpose of the bureaucracy is relatively small, even set against only the population of other elites. Or, they sort of understand it, but that "understanding" is not enough to change personal behavior; they don't connect their own cancer with their own stock portfolio's success, even if they're literally screaming whenever the morphine is turned down enough to let them recognize their grandchildren.

      In that way, it's much the same as academics who know they're tacitly lying to students by pretending there are teaching jobs available, but who teach anyway.

      We're all playing our roles in larger systems, elites no less. What this one is doing here is not suggesting that a small cabal has constructed, or is wholly responsible for, everything, but that we can find as much fault in them for their part in it as we can in ourselves for our own contributions.

      A danger in the bureaucratic model is implying its inevitability, or in our lack of control over it. To say that we can't control bureaucracies once they are created is to imply that the world will necessarily become like 2013 in the absence of anarchy. Rather, we could fix bureaucracies, and use nice versions of them to manage resources well, without either size or coordination (or inherently sinful humanity) leading to an inevitable despair.

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    3. Daedric Prince PeryiteSeptember 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      Meliorism = valhalla.

      All glory to the progressive!

      Change from within always delivers meaningful change! (just don't ask from whose perspective the meaning is taken)

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    4. <3

      Oh, not "fix" from within. After the current models' elimination, though, we could form a group of people that resembles a "bureaucracy" and is charged with certain tasks--and that could happen without the said organization necessarily taking on the toxic qualities of today's bureaucracies. Humans organizing themselves to achieve a goal is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.

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  4. Another quip, by I don't remember who, I like as an explanation of the stability of the system is

    "if you play long enough by their rules, it becomes your game".

    It is especially tragic to see in cases of well off, intelligent, corporate tools who have 'big plans' for their lives after corporate toolhood, and in the meantime flood their Facebook timelines with trite inspirational shit from the days of dale carnegie.

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  5. Daedric Prince PeryiteSeptember 19, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    This is where I am beginning to strongly disagree with HA. In her interpretation, a lot of what is going on is the result of elite scheming, and it is true to an extent that they have the resources and the motivation to 'scheme', but even without it, bureaucratic organization of society inevitably takes a life of its own, and its logic ultimately subordinates both peons and elites alike.

    Dog chases tail, with vigor. Go dog go.

    "Elites" do not have to orchestrate elaborate conspiracies involving millions of people. Tribalism and personal existential insecurity takes care of the rest. Remember how, in K-12, people worried endlessly over being "popular"? It doesn't end after grade 12 is completed. See, e.g., fraternities, sororities, and "dining clubs" in college. See also, "country clubs" and the like. All of politics is about manipulation of the insecure masses so that the privileged elites may continue dominating.

    That takes care of everything that happens below the so-called "elite" levels. It also explains why people want badly to enter the "elite" class.

    The sane response for most people who can't see this is "I can't change it, so I give up, and I join the progressives because they seem to care, at least a little."

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