The scale at which we are able to operate today is sometimes too big for us to wrap our heads around. By its very nature, scale creates distance, and at distance human concepts start losing their meaning. A consumer is just that: an abstraction of a person who we hope will consume whatever we have to offer. We try to guess what this ‘consumer’ wants so that they will consume more of what we have. And if they do, we will keep track of lots of metrics so that we may better manage the process. And as our processes, metrics and scale continue to grow, we employ technology to help us operate at greater speed and scale. In other words, human beings, the end users of all this, become so far removed from the people who mean to serve them that they simply become just another metric to be managed. The more distance there is between or the more things we do that amplify the abstraction, the harder it becomes to see each other as human. It is not the abundance we need to manage or restrict, it is the abstraction.
We no longer see each other as people; we are now customers, shareholders, employees, avatars, online profiles, screen names, e-mail addresses and expenses to be tracked. Now more than ever, we are trying to work and live, be productive and happy, in a world in which we are strangers to those around us.Sinek, Simon (2014) Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t
Morality is not properly the doctrine how we should make ourselves happy, but how we should become worthy of happiness. A man is worthy to possess a thing or state when his possession of it is in harmony with the summum bonum [the highest good].Kant, Immanuel (1909) Critique of Pure Practical Reason
What a strange idea, inspired by the wash-pot, that a jug of water washes away all crimes! Now that all children are baptized because a no less absurd idea assumes them all to be criminals, they are all saved until they reach the age of reason and can become guilty. So butcher them as quickly as possible to assure them paradise. This conclusion is so logical that there existed a devout sect who went about poisoning or killing all newly baptized infants.These devotees reasoned perfectly. They said: ‘We are doing these little innocents the greatest possible kindness; we are preventing them from being wicked and unhappy in this life, and we are giving them eternal life.’Voltaire (1778) Baptism
If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.
Bradbury, Ray (1953) Fahrenheit 451
Opposing all forms of violence, from direct, physical violence (mass murder, terror) to ideological violence (racism, incitement, sexual discrimination), seems to be the main pre-occupation of the tolerant liberal attitude that predominates today. An SOS call sustains such talk, drowning out all other approaches: everything else can and has to wait … Is there not something suspicious, indeed symptomatic, about this focus on subjective violence – that violence which is enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds? Doesn’t it desperately try to distract our attention from the true focus of trouble, by obliterating from view other forms of violence and thus actively participating in them? According to a well-known anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist ‘chaos’ of the painting, asked Picasso: ‘Did you do this?’ Picasso calmly replied: ‘No, you did this!’ Today, many a liberal when faced with violent outbursts such as the recent looting in the suburbs of Paris , asks the few remaining leftists who still count on a radical social transformation: ‘Isn’t it you who did this? Is this what you want?’ And we should reply, like Picasso: ‘No, you did this! This is a true result of your politics!’
There is an old joke about a husband who returns home earlier than usual from work and finds his wife in bed with another man. The surprised wife exclaims: ‘Why have you come back early?’ The husband furiously snaps back: ‘What are you doing in bed with another man?’ The wife calmly replies: ‘I asked you first – don’t try to squeeze out of it by changing the topic!’ The same goes for violence: the task is precisely to change the topic, to move from the desperate humanitarian SOS call to stop violence to the analysis of that other SOS, the complex interaction of the three modes of violence: subjective, objective and symbolic. The lesson is thus that one should resist the fascination of subjective violence, of violence enacted by social agents, evil individuals, disciplined repressive apparatuses, fanatical crowds: subjective violence is just the most visible of the three.Zizek, Slavoj (2008) Violence, pg 9-10.
Knowing that there exists in the minds of men a tone of feeling towards women as towards slaves, such as is expressed in the common phrase, “Tell that to women and children,” that the infinite soul can only work through them in already ascertained limits; that the gift of reason, man’s highest prerogative, is allotted to them in much lower degree; that they must be kept form mischief and melancholy by being constantly engaged in labor, which is to be furnished and directed by those better able to thinkFuller, Margaret (1845) Woman in the Nineteenth Century
‘I am certainly tough and I am ready to help solve the Jewish question,’ (Wilhelm) Kube wrote to his superior in December, 1941, ‘but people who come from our own cultural milieu are certainly something else than the native animalized hordes.’ This sort of conscience, which, if rebelled at all, rebelled the murder of people ‘from our own milieu’ has survived the Hitler regime; among Germans today, there exists a stubborn ‘misinformation’ to the effect that ‘only’ Ostjuden, Eastern European Jews, were massacred.
Nor is this way of thinking that distinguishes between the murder of ‘primitive’ and of ‘cultural’ people a monopoly of German people. Harry Mulisch relates how, in connection with the testimony given by Professor Salo Baron about the cultural and spiritual achievements of the Jewish people, the following question suddenly occurred to him: ‘Would the death of the Jews have been less of an evil if they were a people without culture, such as the Gypsies who were also exterminated? is Eichmann on trial as a destroyer of human beings or as an annihilator of culture? Is a murderer of human beings more guilty when a culture is also destroyed in the process?’ And when he put these questions to the Attorney General, it turned out – ‘He [Gideon Hausner] thinks yes, I think no.,’Arendt, Johanna (1963) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
What happens when a person thinks that he has done something unjust? Isn’t it true that the nobler he is, the less he resents it if he suffers hunger, cold, or the like at the hands of someone whom he believes to be inflicting this on him justly, and won’t his spirit, as I say, refuse to be aroused?
But what happens if, instead, he believes that someone has been unjust to him? Isn’t the spirit within him boiling and angry, fighting for what he believes to be just? Won’t it endure hunger, cold, and the like and keep on till it is victorious, not ceasing from noble actions until it either wins, dies, or calms down, called to heel by the reason within him, like a dog by a shepherd?Plato, The Republic
From the great 2006 movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, the writer and team behind the scenes of this moment capture the essence of the value in suffering, the power in leading your own life and not letting anyone get in the way of your dreams.
Dwayne: I wish I could just sleep until I was eighteen and skip all this crap-high school and everything-just skip it.
Frank: You know Marcel Proust?
Dwayne: He’s the guy you teach.
Frank: Yeah. French writer. Total loser. Never had a real job. Unrequited love affairs. Gay. Spent 20 years writing a book almost no one reads. But he’s also probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing. So, if you sleep until you’re 18… Ah, think of the suffering you’re gonna miss. I mean high school? High school-those are your prime suffering years. You don’t get better suffering than that.
Dwayne: You know what? Fuck beauty contests. Life is one fucking beauty contest after another. You know, school, then college, then work, fuck that. And fuck the air force academy. If I wanna fly, I’ll find a way to fly. You do what you love, and fuck the rest.
Frank: I’m glad you’re talking again, Dwayne. You’re not nearly as stupid as you look.
Current training methods are often inappropriate and not particularly stimulating. There is an urgent need at all levels of the education system for a reform which will focus on the individual’s ability to learn by him or herself, on the acquisition of a range of related skills which will enable individuals to become polyvalent and develop their capacity to carry out a range of occupations. School will need to reverse their priorities: instead of giving priority to training ‘human computers’ whose memory capacity, abilities of analysis and calculation and so on, are surpassed and largely redundant by electronic computers, they need to give priority to developing irreplaceable human capabilities such as manual, artistic, emotional, relational and moral capabilities, and the ability to ask unforeseen questions, to search for meaning, to reject non-sense even when it is logically coherent.Gorz, André (1988) Critique of Economic Reason, VersoBooks, London, p. 240