Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Problems Millennials Have In Confronting The World

            In the June 16th Agenda Weekly for the World Economic Forum, there is an article by Keith Breene titled “Millennials are rapidly losing interest in democracy.”  It delves into this proposition from a number of angles.  The number of millennials who are in favor of a leader who is free from the checks applied by a legislature and free elections has grown considerably in countries around the world including the United States and Mexico.  Millennials are also less interested in voting.  In addition, there has been an ongoing decrease in the number of people in this group who feel that living in a democracy is very important to them.  Within the last thirty years, there has also been an ongoing decline in trust in democratic institutions like legislatures and courts, and this is reflected in the fundamental attitudes of the millennials.  There is a discrepancy in attitudes towards the military taking over a democratic government, when the latter is experiencing major problems of performance.  More than twice as many older people are afraid of such an intrusion compared to younger people.  And, although interest in politics tends to increase as one gets older, young people today are beginning from a lower base of interest than previous generations of young people.

            This loss of connection with politics represents a very dangerous state of affairs for democracies around the world.  Do we really want to go back in time to an era of predominance of authoritarian governments?  Paradoxically, it would appear that there may be elements in our modern technological living environments that are predisposing younger people to want to give up the political freedom for which their forefathers fought for so long to obtain.

            Modern technological living environments are making life increasingly frictionless, increasingly easy to experience.  More and more things are done by technology, relatively free of human involvement.  Devices, machines, computers and robots are taking over the processes and ultimately the narrative of life.  There is less and less need for people to expend great effort and to experience great friction in order to get something done.  This frictionless living environment is experienced as a vacuum where people sink into numbness, feel a sense of powerlessness and withdraw into a world of dreams.  In relation to the external world, such people are seen as being passive, increasingly incapable of taking charge of tasks that require a long-term sustained effort.  Young people, in particular, today want it all and they want it now.  Technology has taught them at an early age that in so many areas of life today, things can be accomplished without friction-filled narratives.  And, of course, the implicit line of reasoning would go, if this is true for some areas of life, why can’t it be true for all areas of life?  Why do there have to be messy situations that don’t lend themselves to clear simple frictionless solutions?

            Politics in a democracy is such a messy complex situation.  One has to work hard to try to implement one’s plans both on the local level and on the national level.  What is required is meaningful participation and constant vigilance.  In a democracy one can fight for what one wants, but one usually doesn’t totally get one’s way.  One has to compromise with other people.  This leads to a frequent sense of frustration and disappointment.  For people like the millennials who want it all and want it now, such frequent frustration and disappointment can become unbearable, intolerable.

            Better not to put oneself in a situation where such unbearable intolerable frustration can take place in the first place.  Better not to get involved in the flowing blendable continual mess of politics.  Better to let one strong man or woman take over and configure a direction for the nation and make one’s decisions for oneself with regard to taking the best courses of political action.  This way a person doesn’t have to thrash about and struggle to pull oneself out of one’s numbness in order to begin to participate in a meaningful way in the complex mixed-up human interactions that are involved in democracy.  According to surveys, American millennials did not tend to be in favor of Trump.  At the same time, a large number of them didn’t bother to vote against him either.  One can only wonder if, on some unconscious level, they did want a strong man like Trump to make all the important political decisions.  In many countries, where the roots of democratic institutions are less firmly planted, the increase in open vocal support for authoritarian leaders among millennials has been much more marked.

            This passivity in politics is also manifest in other areas of the millennials’ lives.  Many millennials are having trouble finding jobs and leaving home.  It is as if the ongoing experiential vacuum in which they live is stimulating them to regress and move backward with their lives rather than grow and move forward.  It is as if the experiential vacuum that has been created by technology is infantilizing them.  Perhaps, it is as if, not finding much grounding in their modern technological living environments, millennials are dying psychologically by moving backward towards the womb in their minds.  They recreate the womb - the foundational sense of grounding - in their heads and more precisely in their dreams.  However, such a mentality leaves them susceptible to being mobilized in the external world by an authoritarian leader who can give them grounding there as well as become a source of a meaningful life narrative in the external world.

            On another level, the lack of organic friction created by modern technology results in a lack of opportunities for traction to pull oneself out of one’s numbness and to then make organic imprints to feel alive and preserve some of them for a surrogate immortality in order to prepare for death.  Many millennials live out their desired meaningful narratives for making and preserving imprints primarily in their dreams, which means they are not really making or preserving their desired individual organic imprints at all.  Of course, this is where an authoritarian leader come in. He invites people to merge their individual narratives with his narrative and thus to participate in his individual imprints by merging their imprints with his imprints to form larger collective imprints.  Millennials are susceptible to this approach in the same way they are susceptible to the ravages of the opioid epidemic.

            All in all, this is a very dangerous state of affairs not only for millennials but also for the democracies in which they live, and strategies have to be developed to deal with it effectively or else modern democracy may be translated into something not at all recognizably democratic.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow

Beautiful Art That Is Made To Disappear

            When we think of art in the Western world, we normally think of it in terms of its aesthetic appeal to people and not in terms of any healing properties it may have. Granted that there are branches of Christianity that have visual representations of Christ or the saints to whom a believer prays for health, but there the focus seems to be more on Christ or the saints behind the visual representation and the medium of art does not in and of itself seem to contribute so much to generating healing.  Then, of course, there is art therapy in the modern world, which is a form of psychotherapy that can make a person feel better when making or appreciating art.  But this is a form of symptomatic relief that does not directly attack core mental health issues.

The Navajo Indians of the Southwestern United States have created a form of art that is exclusively constructed to be used as a part of a process that focuses on total healing of a person who is sick.  The process referred to is a religious ceremony in which a person is reset in many ways: physically, psychologically, socially and religiously.  The process is called a chant although this does not refer just to the repetitive almost unconscious songs that people sing as part of a religious ceremony.  And the art that is created for this chant is made out of sand.  Sand of different colors is used to make a painting that occupies a very important role in the healing process.

            The subject matter of the paintings is scenes from Navajo myths.  They are scenes that are meant to attract the presence of Navajo gods to the ceremony.  After a painting is completed, something very unusual happens.  The patient is called into the presence of the painting.  At one part in the ceremony, sand from the painting is strewn over the patient’s almost totally naked body. Later in the ceremony, a patient is asked to sit on the painting.  The very act of sitting on it destroys the painting.  In all cases, the remains of the painting are carried away from the site of the ceremony in a sack and gotten rid of in a ritual manner.  Several paintings are created during one days-long ceremony, and each of them is destroyed by the patient in the same way.

            With each one of these sand paintings, the patient absorbs a different deity and, in so doing, absorbs the healing power.  This is the purpose of the sand painting.  It is not meant to be in its traditional use an object of ongoing aesthetic appreciation (although there are people today who do collect sand paintings).  It is to make an imprint in the sand painting and then to preserve an imprint not in the artwork itself but through its transformative effect on a patient.  Through the sand painting, a patient becomes healed and strong, because he becomes internally empowered like a god.  The preserved imprint is intense in terms of the dramatic changes it creates in a patient’s life, even though the effect does not last, at least directly, beyond a patient’s life.  This is very different from a work of art made for aesthetic purposes.  This kind of work of art is itself a preserved imprint physically, and although it can have long-term effects in the lives of its viewers, the viewers never become anything within the subject matter of the work of art.  Although there are different degrees of impression left by an aesthetic work of art on a viewer, and some works leave an impression that is even more moving, even spiritually moving, the impression of an aesthetic work of art is more shallow than the impact of a Navajo sand painting on a patient.

            But the sand painting is certainly useful in helping us to understand not only that there are different kinds of preserved imprints, but also in helping us understand that there are different levels of the effects of imprints.  A sand painting is a preserved imprint that doesn’t have to survive indefinitely as a physical entity in order to continue to survive as an imprint.  When the patient sits on the sand painting, the imprint leaves the physical entity of the sand painting and inhabits the patient’s mind as an experience that is remembered.  It is a deep-impression imprint, because as a transformative imprint, it remains with the patient for the rest of his life.

            This is very different from most art objects that don’t attract spirits that then inhabit the viewer.  A good interesting art object can certainly move a viewer, but that emotional influence is more temporary, and more than likely, it is not going to transform a person’s life.  It will leave an impression that is more shallow on the viewer.  When all is said and done, it is not destroyed after being viewed.  It is not destroyed in a way that its very essence can enter the viewer.

            So there are different patterns for how an organic imprint is preserved.  For a sand painting, the enduring part does not reside in the material presence of the art itself, but rather in one viewer.  And in the positive healing transformation of that viewer – the patient – there are ripple effects benefitting family members, friends and community members.  To the extent that a patient is healed, it is going to lead to more healthy interactions between the patient and the people around him.  One can think of it as a ripple effect, whereby the health of the patient reverberates with the people around him, and even indirectly with future generations. This is how the imprint of the sand painting remains preserved.

            With most art, the artist creates a work of art in which he makes and preserves an imprint in the work itself and this preserved imprint makes imprints on viewers.  Sometimes these imprints are preserved in the viewer, if the work of art is truly memorable.  With a sand painting, the artist makes and preserves a very intense imprint on one viewer precisely because the work of art is created and destroyed in one sitting.  It is a work of art that is made to go on living in the form of an intense memory.

            The sand painting is a unique kind of art, and its presence forces us to think through what it means for a work of art to leave an imprint on a viewer.  And, in effect, there are actually two preserved imprints involved on the path from artist to viewer.  There is the imprint that the artist makes and preserves in a material work of art for his own sense of accomplishment.  And there is the imprint that the work of art emits to be received by the outside viewer.  And if the imprint emitted by the work of art is transformational enough in its effect on the viewer’s mind, it becomes preserved there.  Most artists in Western culture focus on both imprints.  They want to create something of enduring artistic value of which they can be proud.  And they want to have a meaningful impact on viewers.  Now there are also some people who focus on the first preserved imprint and make works of art just for themselves.  Navajo sand painters are much more focused on the second preserved imprint.  The viewer knows that the imprint is made for him, to help heal him, and that makes the impact of the sand painting imprint so much more powerful.

            There is nothing like the sand painting in modern technological society.  Particularly in modern technological society, the notion of purposely destroying a beautiful organic imprint rather than preserving it is alien to the notion of the creation and preservation of art as a vehicle to add to one’s surrogate immortality in order to prepare for death.  But through the Navajo, we see that non-physical preserved organic imprints such as memories can also be an appropriate means for creating a surrogate immortality.

(c) 2017 Laurence Mesirow

Sucking The Life Out Of Shopping

            As many of you know from your own personal experience, more and more purchases of everything from clothing to electronics to books to food are being made from the comfort of one’s home.  There is a flavor in this modern purchasing experience that is almost like making wishes to a genie.  Make your wish on a website on your computer and, presto magic, in a relatively short period of time, what one has wished for appears at one’s door or in one’s mail box.  Of course, distinct from the experience with a genie, one does have to pay for that which one wishes, but nevertheless, because the whole narrative journey between desire for something and actual acquisition of it has been reduced to a few manoeuvers and clicks on a computer mouse and keyboard, there is definitely something that seems ethereally magical about the whole process.

             A very different situation has resulted in the acquisition of products in many preliterate societies, both past and present.  There people within a tribe or in groups from different tribes would meet up in the flesh, and there would be an exchange of products through barter.  Each individual, group or tribe would bring the product or products that they could easily acquire, cultivate or make and exchange them for products they wouldn’t normally have access to.  This exchange experience represents a situation of pure flowing blendable continual stimuli – flowing economic exchange without the defined figures of formal places for economic transaction.  Also there aren’t formal fixed defined discrete values for products, and people would bargain to create temporary blurry contingent values.

            Eventually, the somewhat defined figures of formal market places have developed, and the use of formalized vehicles for exchange in the form of currency have developed.  In these situations, there was still bargaining done, but now it was done more through a standardized vehicle of exchange.  Initially, that would have been things like cowrie shells and beads.  And in the marketplace, people who bought and sold from each other developed social relationships and passed gossip back and forth about the people they knew.  The marketplace became a place of making, receiving and preserving organic imprints in different ways through the buying and selling process, and led to the development of meaningful life narratives.

            As some people start living in villages, towns, and cities, even more defined figures of indoor markets and of stores developed, and the buyers and sellers became truly distinct from one another.  Currencies become more standardized in the defined discrete forms first of metal coins and then of paper money.  Prices for different items started to become more fixed, and many diverse products and services could frequently be acquired in one place.  Rather than selling primarily just what they produced, shopkeepers acquired products from different producers and sold them to customers.  In these shops, there was less opportunity to make an organic imprint through bargaining for a good price, as prices began to represent standardized preserved imprints, more fixed values.  Particularly in villages and small towns, there were still social relationships between shopkeeper and some customers, and gossip about what was happening in the town was still passed back and forth between the two.  As a physical space, each store represented a defined figure, but it was placed within the common grounded space of the village, town or city, which had public areas like streets and town squares and public buildings that belonged to all.

            As urban areas became more prevalent, shopkeepers dealt more and more with customers they didn’t know.  The transactions between buyer and seller became more focused on the economic aspects and less on the social aspects.  Nevertheless, however attenuated the social relationship between buyer and seller became, there was still the expectation that the seller would demonstrate his expertise in the merchandise by guiding his customer to the right purchase.  This was where the focus of the human shopping narrative began increasingly to reside.

            And then along came shopping centers and suburban malls.  The spaces in which the shops were housed were no longer part of a larger public domain that included government offices, government services and libraries as well as parks and community centers, although governments do sometimes rent out an occasional space in centers and malls for specific purposes.  Shopping centers and malls belonged to one or more private owners.  They were separated from everything around them by the vacuum space of parking lots.  The point of these stores was just to make money.  The centers were not a part of a larger public community.  There was no sense of grounding to be obtained from them.  And because the emphasis was on making money to the exclusion of any social narrative goals, sales people were not hired on their knowledge of the area or areas of merchandise they were assigned to sell. The idea was to get as many entry-level workers as possible to keep wages low.  They were people who could sell the merchandise, but not necessarily answer many questions about it.  Of course, this has particularly been carried to an extreme with the salespeople at big box stores, people who are frequently responsible for many different kinds of merchandise.

            This certainly is a long way economically from the barter that too place in some preliterate societies and from the sales in outdoor marketplaces, where there was bargaining and bonding and the exchange of gossip.  But the distance both physical and psychological  between buyer and seller grows even more when we get to e-commerce.  Here not only is there no bargaining on most sites, no bonding, no exchange of gossip, and no demonstration of expertise by the seller, but there is also no physical journey to a store in external world reality and no physical encounter with a sales person.  Without the journey and the encounter, there is no making, receiving and preserving organic imprints.  The sales process does not become a part of a meaningful life narrative for either buyer or seller.  A vacuum experience connects the buyer to the product.  So many ancillary benefits are lost when a person buys something online.  There is no journey in the external world to the place of purchase.  There is no social bonding with the seller.  There is no exchange of gossip about the community with the seller.  There is no fine-tuned matching of the buyer’s desires with a product that truly fits his needs and is appropriate. 

            A product or a service is not simply an isolated figure that is useful in and of itself.  A product or service is a vehicle for connecting a person with the whole physical and social world in which he lives.  A product or service is a vehicle for having a rich vibrant experience in the art of purchasing something from a traditional flesh-and –blood seller in the external world.  A product or service is a vehicle for making, receiving and preserving the organic imprints that come with the encounter with a more traditional salesperson.  A product is a vehicle for creating memories that, as preserved organic imprints, help to build a more meaningful surrogate immortality for both buyer and seller in their preparations for death.

            Purchasing products online means purchasing figures bereft of their grounding and of their possibilities for grounding for humans.  What is left is figures floating in the vacuum of the screen reality of a computer or a smartphone.  These are figures that no longer have the spatial grounding that comes from being bought in the external world reality of a marketplace or a store.  They also no longer have the temporal grounding that comes from being the endpoint of a narrative process that involves a person going from his home or place of work to a place where the product is displayed and sold as a result of an interaction with one or more live humans.

            But nowadays, the vacuum is increasingly no longer the backdrop that surrounds the product.  Instead the vacuum is increasingly the product.  Books for kindle, MP3’s, Spotify and Pandora for music, Netflix for movies and television.  And a myriad of different apps, many of which have to be purchased for your smartphone.  People are increasingly involved with all these vacuum products which contribute to the vacuumization of their living environment.  In some cases, even the currency has been vacuumized in the form of mobile payments and virtual currencies like bitcoin.

            The history of humanity started with people evolving out of enveloping nature, living a very guarded existence to protect against organic perishability.  Then as people’s reflexive awareness grew and their desire to avoid organic perishability and develop meaningful surrogate immortalities grew, people focused on surrounding themselves with hardened defined discrete figure products and becoming hardened defined discrete figures themselves.  But figures could break apart into their component parts.  Machines can rust and shatter into pieces.  What is left is the vacuum of pure consciousness.  From living in grounded nature to being surrounded by manufactured products to being surrounded by vacuum services and processes and consciousness in screen and virtual reality.  This seems to be the course of human history.

            Just as the figures of manufactured products and buildings grew out of the grounding of natural resources, so the vacuumized phenomena of images and data are growing out of the movie, television, computer, smartphone and tablet figure screens. With advances in modern technology, more and more the focus on phenomena in the external world is shifting from the solid masses of figure products to the emptiness of vacuum services.  The archetypal figure today, a complex behavioral entity, is a machine or robot.  Is there a vacuum complex behavioral entity?  Traditional societies dealt with angels, ghosts, spirits, and, of course, gods or God.  Today it is the images of screen reality, the phenomena produced in virtual reality and the disconnected human consciousness proposed by the Transhumanists – the consciousness that is kept alive somehow apart from its perishable organic human body. But how does one leave organic imprints with only consciousness, how does one have a meaningful human sensory encounter with sentient beings?  What does it mean to live forever without a sensory human narrative?  Does it become a kind of living death?

(c) 2017 Laurence Mesirow

Learning The Way That Machines Do

            This article focuses on a series of areas in modern technology that are very complex, very sophisticated and very nuanced particularly for a non-technology person like myself.  It is in dealing with an area like this that I sometimes have wondered what a non-technology person like myself is doing writing a column on the effects of modern technology on living environments and human behavior.  But after having given some thought to this question, I have realized that the key word for our purposes here is effects.  I am not so interested in the operations of modern technology, but rather in their impact on human experience and their capacity to transform human behavior and the very nature of the human sense of self.  I don’t have to be an expert on modern technology in order to perceive and understand its effects on me or on others when we are around it.

            And certainly one area of modern technology where its impact is going to be increasingly felt on humans is artificial intelligence.  This is an area of modern technology which literally tries to recreate human intelligence and even improve on it with machines.  Initially, human intelligence techniques were created directly by programmers through a process called hand coding.  In other words, a human or humans were involved all through the development of a process that imitated human intelligence.  Then along came a new subset of artificial intelligence called machine learning where a human, like the grand clockmaker in the deist concept of God, creates an algorithm and generates the data that then allows the machine itself to create the process that imitates human intelligence.  Finally, there is a subset of machine learning called deep learning wherein layers of artificial neural networks are created that imitate the neocortex of the brain and that imitate human intelligence on a higher more complicated level than was possible with previous machine learning.

            There are a lot of people who are really obsessed with playing God and creating their own complex behavior entities just like God supposedly created them, the human creators, as humans.  But will people today truly create machines and robots that are mentally like people? This is an important question because the identity of humans as unique complex behavioral entities is being chipped away at by all the scientists and engineers that are working constantly to improve the performance of machines and robots.  My thought is that as long as these people continue work on stimulating these entities with the defined discrete stimuli of digital signaling, they will never recreate humans.  And this is because science has made the assumption that all stimuli can be successfully converted into controllable measurable defined discrete stimuli for purposes of scientific investigation, the manipulation of humans and for engineering inventions.  As was discussed in many previous articles, there are lots of stimuli in nature with blurry boundaries that flow across parts of our fields of experience.  We don’t experience our primary contacts with the world as filled with the pixilation of defined discrete points.  If anything, when we are relaxed and not focusing, we experience much of our visual field as filled with entities and patches of substance that flow together.  In other words, individual flowing blendable continual stimuli can agglomerate and form larger stimuli.

            It was also discussed previously that, although there is an infinity of defined discrete stimuli, there is a larger infinity of flowing blendable continual stimuli, stimuli that can be vaguely described, but not in a way that easily distinguishes them from one another.  The infinity of defined discrete stimuli is what one would call a kind of delimited infinity, and the infinity of flowing blendable continual stimuli is what would be called a non-delimited infinity.  I am using delimited and non-delimited in a way analogous to the way they are used in math.  In math, an example of the delimited entities discussed in infinity theory is all the discrete numbers and an example of all the non-delimited entities is all the points on a line let’s say going from 0 to 1.  It can be shown through a mathematical proof that there are a greater infinity of points on a line than discrete numbers.  I make the analogy between the mathematical proof on the one hand, and the comparison between defined discrete stimuli and flowing blendable continual stimuli on the other, because both deal both with entities with defined boundaries and entities with blurry boundaries.  It just makes intuitive sense to me that what is true with different kinds of mathematical infinities can shed some light on the spatial categories of human sensory experience.

            In order for humans to create, control and manipulate their own complex behavioral entities, they have to reconfigure their field of experience to highlight data-defined discrete stimuli, which are more controllable because they represent reduced infinities of possible stimuli.  However, at the same time, humans are very limited in their capacity to instill into these entities more nebulous states of mind: creativity, emotions, religiosity, a coherent sense of self.  None of these things can be implanted in complex behavioral entities on the basis of defined discrete stimuli alone.

            Anyway, digital technology, the foundation of artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning is built on defined discrete stimuli.  As the digital technology involved in these machine activities becomes more complex, the behavior manifested in these machine activities becomes more and more complex.  Particularly deep learning, which is meant to operate to some extent like the neocortex in the brain, seems to imitate human cerebral activity.  But however complex it becomes, the activity is still going to consist of a series of defined discrete steps similar to the way a machine operates.  It will not be derived from the flowing blendable continual stimuli that are the foundation of a coherent human sense of self.  The activity will never be based on an irreducible organic agency, will never be guided by an irreducible cerebral consciousness, will never be guided towards making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, will never be accompanied by an irreducible experiencing of what is happening and what the machine is participating in, and will never have a coherent reflexive awareness of mortality and a desire to prepare for death through a surrogate immortality based on preserved organic imprints.

            But as particularly deep learning increasingly approximates human activity, people are going to increasingly blur machines and humans in their minds which is going to lead to a diminishing of the appreciation of the uniqueness of humans.  But humans should never be reduced to machines, because, however skilled machines become, even in some cases improving on human skill, there are certain ways that humans will always be so much more than machines, and that is something of which we should never lose sight.

(c) 2017 Laurence Mesirow                      

Better Functioning Of The Brain With Electricity

Up until recently, hacking was a term used for the invasion of the internal working space of a computer or some other modern device by certain humans for purposes of control and manipulation. It was done to go against the interests of the owner of the computer.  But now there is a new series of meanings to the word hacking, and it is a series of meanings that has supposedly positive connotations. I’m talking about brain hacking which is used in different ways.  In one sense, it simply refers to the ongoing habit-forming connection that is formed between humans and their smartphones and computers.  This broad connection allows smartphones and computers to impact the very way that people think.  Another meaning refers to a more focused connection between people and a particular device that sends stimuli to the brain to help people learn faster.  Still another device gives people feedback about their brain activity to help people meditate better.

            Depending on where the brain is stimulated by these new devices, one can influence many different mental functions and can even influence emotional states like depression.  I imagine that, if it isn’t already being done, inhibiting stimulation may be used to control manic states in people.  In addition, the effect of this electric brain stimulation can be magnified if we implant receptor chips in the brain.  For sure, people will never ever be the same again, if and when such stimulation becomes commonplace, with or without chips.  Getting ongoing fixes of electrical stimulation to their brains, people should be able to maintain a high level of cognitive performance indefinitely as well as maintain a certain amount of emotional balance.

            Now this stimulation is certainly not experienced as the kind of abrasive jolt that is found in people who undergo electric shock therapy for severe mental illness.  But neither is it a flowing blendable continual stimulus with a gradual cumulative effect that is going to leave the integrity of a person’s sense of self totally intact.  There is something very troubling about such an aggressive focused intervention in the human brain.  Whatever such an intervention might do for specific sectors of the brain and for specific aspects of human thought and emotions, one can definitely be concerned about whether such tinkering will damage the natural coherence of the human sense of self.  It seems to me that there is a parallel between this kind of intervention in human functioning and the effects of the intervention of cosmetic surgery on human physical structure.  Most of the time the effects of cosmetic surgery seem to damage the natural flowing coherence of a person’s physical presentation.  The breasts come out too large; the skin comes out too taut.  The intervention creates a result that seems to be a little out of balance.  In the same way, augmenting cognition or diminishing depression through defined discrete focused streams of electrical stimulation will create an off-balance personality composition or configuration,  where the changed parts of a person’s thinking will no longer exactly fit with the unaffected parts.  This stands in contrast to less interventional approaches like stimulation from enriching life situations in the external world for greater cognitive and emotional awareness as well as healing life situations like good psychotherapy and building healthy support systems for an effective approach to dealing with emotional problems.

And what will prevent such sessions with electric stimulation from becoming habit forming – even an addiction.  “Oh, I need to write a term paper tonight for my class in Shakespeare.  I think I’ll go down to the school laboratory to get some electric stimulation for the part of my brain that deals with analysis and conceptual thinking.  Then my brain will become super-charged, I’ll write a terrific term paper, and I’ll get an A for the course.”  The real question is whether a person receiving this electric stimulation is the same person before and after the stimulation.  We know that the person is going to be significantly affected by the electric stimulation, or else he wouldn’t use it.  But is he also somehow fundamentally changed by allowing such a strong intervention in the very core of who he is?   Will he begin to need it to function properly?  Will he become an electric stimulus addict?  And will the electric stimulation change him in other ways distinct from being addicted.

Will the person become so changed at the core of who he is that his organic imprints are no longer the imprints of who he was before the electric stimulation.  So the original core of who he is will no longer be able to make and preserve his imprints and create a surrogate immortality to prepare for death.

Using another metaphor, becoming super-charged for cognitive activity will give a person a super strong external mental definition, much like steroids build a person up with muscle and give him a strong external physical definition.  But steroids lead to a long-term deterioration of physical health, a loss of physical coherence.  The short term road to body development – steroids – becomes the agent that destroys the long-term state of a person’s physical health.  And what if electrical stimulation leads to a short-term sharpened mental definition from cognitive activity, but leads to a long-term fragmentation of a person’s sense of self.

A dependency on a non-organic source for a person to function well but also a fragmentation of the sense of self.  Is this a trade-off worth having in order to get a mental fix and a heightened mental awareness?  And does one want to depend on electric stimuli to have a sensation of emotional well-being?  Of course, many people already depend on anti-depressant pills to deal with the external symptoms of depression.  But somehow the electric stimuli seem to be even more intensely invasive.  And just as anti-depressants give a person an artificial overly-defined overly-together personality, what will happen with an ongoing use of electric stimulation for this purpose?

The most common usage of hacking has been associated with the unwanted aggressive penetration of our computers by an unfriendly source for purposes related to anything from mischief to crime.  In the most recent usages of hacking, we are penetrating our brain supposedly for friendly supportive purposes.  But what if some of the effects of this penetration are even more destructive to human life than those connected to computer hacking?  What if our human hacking has uncontrollable unforeseeable results that damage our brains, an even more serious concern for humans than the other kind of hacking that damages computers?  This is what we have to concern ourselves with in connection to this latest assault on the coherence of the human sense of self.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow


When Recreation Is No Longer Much Fun

            Modern technology has had a tremendous influence on the world of human recreation, partly as a result of the development of totally new forms of competition, both with others as well as with oneself, in the form of video games.  In addition, modern technology has created electronic versions of games that have existed in some form for centuries.  A good example of the latter is bingo.  Modern technology has created a version where players hold electronic devices that can carry dozens of bingo cards and that automatically mark the appropriate spaces in all the appropriate cards when a bingo number is called.  No need to worry about having gotten distracted and having missed a box on one’s bingo card when a number is called.  The electronic device never gets distracted when the bingo numbers are being called.  And I guess that because bingo is frequently couched as a form of gambling, eliminating as many of the risk factors as is possible may be a relevant factor for people who have what is for them serious money on the line.

            But what does this do to bingo as a game, as a life activity?  Now playing bingo is certainly not one of the most significant ways of making organic imprints on one’s field of experience.  As a form of competition, it is certainly not what would be called a highly skilled game compared to chess, bridge, checkers, backgammon, dominoes, poker, or scrabble.  But it does require a certain skill in being vigilant about the numbers being called and being able to scan one’s card or cards as each number is called, and this tends to bring all the players together emotionally, as they share the surprise and excitement created by the situation.  So traditional bingo can be not only fun but it can be a rich vibrant experience and a contribution to the memories that are formed of a meaningful life narrative, memories that can play a small but useful part in developing a person’s surrogate immortality.

            But with electronic bingo, the major components of human agency being exercised in traditional bingo, those of vigilantly listening for the number called and scanning the bingo cards for a match, are eliminated.  The electronic devices retrieve the numbers being called and automatically match them on the person’s cards.  The gambling aspect is still there.  The suspense and excitement are still present, if only in a more attenuated way.  But in the larger scheme of things, in the larger field of experience of life, one more piece of personal agency in the larger world of human narrative is lost.  And one more small source of organic friction, as an opportunity to test ourselves for being aware and quick, disappears.  And one more source of interactive life is vacuumized and turned into a screen reality activity.

            Supposedly, the reason that so much work activity has been vacuumized by modern technology has been so that we could have the time, energy, and state of mind to immerse ourselves in recreation: a sphere of human activity in which we could focus on having rich vibrant life experiences.  But now, not just bingo, but so many different areas of recreation have been and are being vacuumized.  Many of us spend more time watching life on a screen than we do living life directly under the propulsion of our own volition.  Young kids spend less and less time playing outside and more and more time watching television, playing video games, and interacting with each other on their smartphones.

            Real life is physical movement through time and space with a purpose.  This is what makes for a meaningful human narrative.  To fully be able to experience this movement, there has to be human agency and there has to be friction.  But modern technology is chipping away at both of these.  In the case of electronic bingo, there is a loss of human agency, because it is the electronic device that makes the match between the called number and the bingo cards.  There is a loss of friction, because the person no longer is moving the markers onto his cards and no longer feels anxiety over his responsibility for watching and controlling his cards.  There is still anxiety over the risk involved, if he is gambling on the bingo cards, but the risk is based on forces that are now completely beyond his control.  They are abstract forces.  If he loses, he no longer has to beat himself over the head about what he could have done better.  He can be fatalistic.  It is no longer his personal loss.  Such a loss is not evidence of a deficient organic imprint.  Of course, the loss still creates pain and anguish, because the player is still being hurt.  Only this time it is because of random activities with which he is not directly involved.

            So soon we will get to the point where we have sucked all the personal agency and all the personal organic friction not only out of practically all work activities, but out of all recreational activities as well.  The world will move along around us, and we will just sit there in our numb state watching everything going by.

            To the extent that we go through life stages, this growth can be considered a kind of movement in place.  But if everything becomes free of organic friction, what do we actually experience.  Life becomes a voyage analogous to sliding down a chute.  When you slide down a chute, there is no opportunity to make or receive meaningful organic imprints in connection to the surfaces around you.  And there is no opportunity of, course, to preserve organic imprints, to recreate a surrogate immortality, and to prepare for death.

            In most of my articles, I have balanced my discussions of the understimulation of the vacuum, with explorations of the overstimulation of the abrasive friction caused by the waste products of tension pockets.  I have ignored the influence of these tension pockets in this article, because I wanted to focus on the primary influence of the diminution of organic friction by the electrification of bingo, and the growing appearance of a sensory vacuum for the players, as they have nothing significant to do during the game.

            Playing electronic bingo is just one small piece in the ongoing attempt by creators and promoters of modern technology to chip away at the organic friction that has traditionally been an integrated part of the life narratives of human beings.  Furthermore, this modern version of an old game shows that the proponents of modern technology are out to make not only work more and more frictionless, but recreation as well.  And as all of life increasingly turns into a frictionless vacuum, people in their growing numbness become increasingly like robots, in order to survive the sensory distortion created by a vacuum and the forces of entropy that underlie it.  This is why even a little game like electronic bingo has a significant influence as one small part of an increasingly pernicious technological transformation of our human living environment.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow

Trump And Evil

            In previous writings, this column has concerned itself with the relationship between evil and the human living environment in which it is found.  It is one of the fundamental ideas of this column that the transformation of living environments by modern technology has led to a transformation in the very nature of human evil.  And it is important to understand this transformation if we are to understand the nature of Donald Trump’s behavior.

            Basically, what is being postulated here is that the presentation of evil in the form of human behavior is intimately connected to the nature of the living environment in which the evil behavior is being presented.  The one commonality between evil in more traditional organic living environments and evil in modern technological living environments is that, in both cases, the person manifesting evil behavior is unable to create enough of a psychological barrier separating him from the basic configuration of stimuli in his living environment in the external world.  As a result, he is overwhelmed by this configuration of stimuli and has to develop strategies of behavior in order to effectively combat it.  This is where the evil behavior comes in.  It allows him to protect his sense of self from the spillover external world stimuli.  It allows him to expel the unwanted stimuli.

            I think this model can be useful, because it takes into consideration both the excessive stressors created by a particular destabilizing configuration of stimuli in the external world as well as the excessive stressors created by structural problems in the minds of certain individuals who are predisposed to mental imbalance, particularly in certain kinds of living environments.

            In most cases, evil in more traditional organic living environments has been caused by an overload of organic flowing blendable continual stimuli in a person’s mind which has, in turn, been generated by a spillover of overwhelming organic flowing blendable continual stimuli from the more natural environment in which the person is living. It is as if the person is trying to defend himself against being swallowed up by an external world of organic stimuli that have been internalized.  To prevent himself from being swallowed up by these organic flowing blendable continual stimuli and losing his sense of self, the person tries to compress them, focus them, and expel them by committing defined discrete crimes full of passion on people outside of himself.  By focusing the emotion on specific objects of hatred, aggression, even revenge, a person can expel the overwhelming emotion without exploding apart.

            Traditional evil allows a person to stand apart from the world he experiences as swallowing him up through his mind.  Everything in this traditional more natural world is experienced as threatening to swallow him up, swallow up his sense of self, flooding him with emotions and impulses and making him like an animal.  In other words, the environment in which he lives undifferentiates him: his physical living environment, his community, his family.  He acts out in a destructive way against even the people closest to him.  He turns on them when he senses their encroaching on his mental space.

            All this is very different from modern technological evil.  In the experiential void of modern life, the sensory vacuum, people use evil to connect to other people to feel alive, not to separate themselves from people as in traditional evil.  To overcome numbness, evil people today connect with the people around them in an aggressive hurtful way.  Modern evil people have no personal barriers against the vacuum that surrounds them.  They become number than more normal people and only by generating hurtful abrasive friction, hurtful tension pocket events, can they feel alive.  Modern evil people commit crimes of numbness which have a very different flavor from the evil acts committed in more natural, more traditional environments.  Previously, I have called crimes committed in more traditional organic environments crimes of passion.  I use the term of crime of passion very differently from the way it has been used in traditional Mediterranean societies.  In the latter, a crime of passion occurs when a person discovers that his lover or spouse is cheating on him, and so the aggrieved person takes revenge on his lover or spouse, or on the secret rival or on both.  I use the term to cover when a person commits any aggressive action against another person that allows him to expel the enveloping explosive organic stimuli that threaten to swallow him up.

            So how does Trump fit into this classification.  At first glance, Trump does seem to be a traditionally evil man with a lot of strong surface emotion, a lot of strong surface passion.  But the fact is that Trump seems to have difficulty focusing on any one object of anger very long.  He just flip-flops all over the place, constantly shifting his focus, trying to shock himself as well as all his followers - the Trumporgs – to life.  He has had so many different public objects of wrath on his Twitter account.  Instead of a mass shooting by a numb lone gunman, Trump commits ongoing mass character assassinations,

            And Trump wants to shake things up in order to feel alive.  In order to leave his own imprints, Trump wants to decrease the cost of health care, even if it means getting rid of benefits for the middle class and the poor.  He wants to get rid of environmental regulation, wants to change the tax code to make things better for the wealthy, wants to shake up trade agreements.  The turmoil created by all his shake-ups creates abrasive friction, situational tension pockets, in the reactions of his fellow Americans which in turn helps him to feel alive.  Those who are for his proposals and those who are against are in constant conflict and are incapable of collaborating or compromising, and he loves it.  And it doesn’t always matter if Trump succeeds in achieving his obvious goals, because just as important, if not more important than achieving the goals, is achieving the process that moves towards those goals.  The turbulent process becomes the solution to his numbness.

            Trump is pathologically numb.  So are his followers, the Trumporgs.  Such people, in order to feel alive, have to tear apart social structure, social institutions, protections and relationships, so that they can feel the rush of ongoing social disorder and even anarchy that result.  And as the social disorder and anarchy are created, Trump can rush in saying he is the only one who can create order, even as he continues to create disorder and anarchy.  So that the need for his authoritarian style of leadership can be ongoing.

            And the disorder and anarchy create suffering, misery and pain.  They are evidence of modern evil as manifested by Trump and the Trumporgs.  And as long as our modern technological living environment continues to create extreme sensory numbness, people like Trump and the Trumporgs will continue to make their appearance.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow