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
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
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.
Men, therefore, may prefer to use money as a yardstick even in efforts which do not have the aim of making additions to a society’s stock of utility. Even where the aim is to add to solidarity, collective effectiveness, or societal authenticity, men, once committed to rationalization, deployed a variety of cost-benefit analysis to measure their performance … A whole host of social problems from urban renewal to delinquency-prevention projects remain a mess in part because of the use of money for ends that money alone cannot serve.R.C. Baum, ‘On Social Media Dynamics’ quoted by Jürgen Habermas, Theory of Communicative Action, Cambridge 1987, vol. 2, p. 293
From the point of view of the social system, maternity is also a ‘function’ which women absolutely must perform if society is to perpetuate itself. The conflict between these two things is, therefore, radical. The mother’s body initially shields the baby from the clutches of society … indeed, from the point of view of the social system, mothers possess an exorbitant power which challenges society’s rights over its (future) citizens. Society therefore does everything it can to limit and restrain women’s power over their children, and also to appropriate and subjugate women themselves by depriving them of rights over their own bodies, their lives, their very selves. This is the fundamental cause of women’s oppression.Gorz, André (1988) Critique of Economic Reason, VersoBooks, London, p.151
The real reason why human life can be so utterly exasperating and frustrating is not because there are facts called death, pain, fear or hunger. The madness of the thing is that when such facts are present, we circle, buss, writhe, and whirl, trying to get the ‘I’ out of the experience … Sanity, wholeness and integration lie in the realisation that we are not divided, that man and his present experience are one, and that no separate ‘I’ or mind can be found … [Life] is a dance, and when you are dancing you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.Alan Watts (1951) The Wisdom of Insecurity
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung, and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no-one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with your hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.C.S. Lewis (1960) The Four Loves
The truth is, that all genuine appreciation rests on a certain mystery of humility and almost of darkness. The man who said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.” The man who expects nothing sees redder roses than common men see, and greener grass, and a more startling sun. Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall possess the cities and the mountains; blessed is the meek, for he shall inherit the earth. Until we realise that things might not be, we cannot realize that things are. Until we see the background of darkness we cannot admire the light as a single and created thing. As soon as we have seen that darkness, all light is lightening, sudden, blinding, and divine. G.K. Chesterton (1905) Heretics