Standardized Thought

“From this [advertising] expert he learned that the key tool of the ad trade was to “standard[ize] thought by supplying the spectator with a ready-made visual image before he has time to conjure up an interpretation of his own.3 In that instant before the process of making sense was completed, a presupplied image and, subsequently, a thought (not quite your own) could take hold. Thought was being standardized.”

—Rebecca Lemov, “Into the Whirlpool.” The Hedgehog Review. Summer 2020.

A discussion of legibility and mass manipulation from print media through YouTube and Facebook algorithms. Nothing new here for people familiar with James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State or Edward S. Herman’s Manufacturing Consent. However, I did like this idea of standardizing thought, which is clearly what the 24 hour news networks, YouTube, Twitter, etc. are doing.

Shut Out or Shut In

“Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.”

—C.G. Jung

People like to tell the same stories, over and over again. The truth of those stories is changed, imperceptibly, in each telling. Our identities are a lacquer, painted on by the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Identity accrual and world building are our principal occupations. I’m this and that, signaling to society my tribe and allegiances. One thing that seems less common is people capable of admitting that they were wrong or made a mistake. It’s partly because doing so means we are open to change. Or, our connections with the rest of the world are open to reconfiguration. And people really don’t want that from themselves, or from others.

People want consistency. They want to be right. It’s difficult to be these things in a world that is always changing and where we make decisions with imperfect information.

Easier to misremember that we were right all the time, adding on another layer of our identity. Brittle, but bright.

…forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again.

“In any bond of depth and significance, forgive, forgive, forgive. And then forgive again. The richest relationships are lifeboats, but they are also submarines that descend to the darkest and most disquieting places, to the unfathomed trenches of the soul where our deepest shames and foibles and vulnerabilities live, where we are less than we would like to be. Forgiveness is the alchemy by which the shame transforms into the honor and privilege of being invited into another’s darkness and having them witness your own with the undimmed light of love, of sympathy, of nonjudgmental understanding. Forgiveness is the engine of buoyancy that keeps the submarine rising again and again toward the light, so that it may become a lifeboat once more.”

-Maria Popova, “13 Life-Learnings from 13 Years of Brain Pickings.” brainpickings.org. October 23, 2019.

It’s a beautiful sentiment. Before you go plumbing the depths of others and having them do the same in return, make sure it is done under the aegis of earned trust. Earned trust is a necessary precondition for any bond of depth and significance.

Power of the Powerless, Vaclav Havel (1978)

“Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo.”

—Vaclav Havel, “Power of the Powerless.”

The Great Lost John Malkovich Interview

“I remember once doing some auditions with an actress, and I remember her telling me, sort of during the audition, when the director had stepped out for a minute, her reaction to having watched a film I was in [Dangerous Liaisons], which she passed in the ladies’ room three times during the film, and I thought, ‘Wait, what?’ She had gone to masturbate. All I could think was, ‘Thanks for sharing.'”

—John Malkovich in on interview with Erik Hedegaard, “The Great Lost John Malkovich Interview.” Rolling Stone. April 2, 2019.

Why do people want to be famous? Although, I guess this kind of situation could happen to anyone.

Also, try imagining this scenario from different identities. How does the dynamic change if the woman is a gay man? Or the genders switch?

Or what about slightly different situations, like a wife sharing a fantasy with her spouse? Is it only weird because she’s saying it to John Malkovich?

Such a weird little detail.

Children are the Permanent Social Media Underclass

“As Facebook turns fourteen, with Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat following closely behind, it’s a pivotal time to be thinking about children’s rights online. Over the years, parents around the world have shared posts about their children, from first steps to tantrums to hilarious moments (“Charlie bit my finger!”). Kids who are now old enough to have their own social-media accounts—the minimum age for a Facebook is thirteen—have likely had most of their lives documented and curated online, largely without their permission or input…

Becoming social-media savvy—and developing their own set of rules that help them control their online identity—is par for the course for many teenagers today.”

—Alex Mlynek. “Stop Mom, You’re Embarrassing Me.” TheWalrus.com. May 13, 2018.

Open, Closed, and Privacy – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

“That gets at the more important way that the relationship between open/closed and encryption is relevant to data and privacy: just as encryption at scale is only possible with a closed service, so it is with privacy. That is, to the extent we as a society demand privacy, the more we are by implication demanding ever more closed gardens, with ever higher walls. Just as a closed garden makes the user experience challenge of encryption manageable, so does the centralization of data make privacy — of a certain sort — a viable business model.”

—Ben Thompson. “Open, Closed, and Privacy.” Statechery.com. April 25, 2018.

It’s an interesting comment. However, there are a number of technologies being developed that solve the problem of identity and seamless public key transfer in different ways, e.g., Autocrypt (email), Conversations with OMEMO (chat), Keybase (chat), etc. It is possible to have user-friendly, decentralized and private communications. But, it’s hard to do without state or corporate funding, and increased privacy doesn’t serve those interests. Still, it’s possible. We just might have to wait for it.

Secondhand Lonely

“‘Show? To who? Girl, I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me.’

‘Lonely, ain’t it?’ Nel’s question sticks out in my mind like the point of an index finger toward a shameful secret unfurled before a judgmental public. Lonely, ain’t it.

‘Yes. But my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.'”

—Toni Morrison, Sula. New York: Knopf, 1976, parts quoted in Zoë Gadegbeku, “My Secondhand Lonely,” Slice. Spring/Summer 2017. Reprinted on Longreads.com.

Much worth thinking about in Zoë Gadegbeku’s piece. For me, the deeply personal account obscures some points that could be made about the presentation of self, moving beyond romantic love and including alienation within larger communities, and so forth. But, I empathized with much that was said here even though I have a much different background.