24 December 2014

Russell Brand and the Messiah Simplex

Russell Brand is a comedian and actor who is better known for his drug abuse and his famous relationships than for his acting or for his comedy. Not content with being a dandy, Russell Brand decided to personify the commodification of activism right down to the misinformation, petulance and ignorance.

For someone who describes fame as ashes in his mouth, he's certainly pulling plenty of publicity stunts and getting some well-deserved verbal bitch slaps in return (of which this Open Letter to Russell Brand is the most entertaining).

Talking about a Revolution

But what is this sudden impulse to take up thy hammer and sickle and walk all about? From what I can gather, it's not much more than a publicity stunt that's a combination of self-aggrandising, self-promotion and seeking sympathy for drug abusers. The most intelligible summary I could find is the Trews page on Wikipedia. This lists his prevailing themes as follows:

  1. a concern with widening income inequality
  2. the two-party system of mature democracies doesn't offer true opposition, so voting is futile
  3. the combination of democracy and the consumer economy support each other in a corrupt flamboyant bohemian fashion
  4. the media works for Big Capital so the news of Big Media should be treated with scepticism
  5. a focus on economic growth has lead to the neglect of spiritual and environmental concerns
  6. if you don't give us what we want we might have to stage a revolution
I'm assuming that the bloke has something meaningful to say on behalf of the Illiterati that's going to decrease the signal to noise ratio, so I'll merely address these points.

The Ginidiocy is strong with this one

Income gaps - like minimum wage disputes - are red herrings. These herrings are so red that the definition of poverty has had to change to relative poverty and there's all kinds of astrology involved in determining who earns what exactly. Suffice to say that a poverty index that lists first world nations at the top is cooking the books to try and make practice conform to theory instead of the other way around.

More could be said about absolute poverty that is in decline or about living standards that are improving all over the world, but this has been dealt with several times before so just have a look at the Ginidiocy. By contrast, there are those who do believe that income gaps matter. I think class mobility matters more, but only when it is achieved on your own steam.

I don't think that a system whereby someone keeps up with the Joneses on your behalf is a sustainable one. It's definitely not one that could occur without mechanisms like, say, economic growth or consumer spending.

A tale of two parties

It is unfortunate that as democracies mature, they tend to resemble a two party see-saw. This is an embodiment of Arrow's Theorem.

Does this imply that voting is ultimately futile? It is perhaps true that voting is futile, but not voting achieves even less than voting does and leads to the tacit acceptance of the status quo. At least when one votes and the two parties, as indiscernible as they may be, change every few terms, different issues enjoy attention and there is some compromise on the balance of power. 

Brand is yet to show how it follows from having a two-party system that voting is futile. John Lydon certainly doesn't think so and he's as anti-establishment as they come. It would appear that there's a distinct correlation between groups that do vote like the elderly, and groups that have their concerns taken seriously. Coincidence? I think not.

Chimerica and portmanteaus superior to Trews

Democracy is tied to the hip with consumer spending. This is because in order to decrease wealth inequality, one has to rob from the rich and give to the poor. What do the poor do when their basic living requirements have been met? They spend a little. On what do they spend? On goods and services, mostly beer, football matches and track suits it seems. 

Someone has to manufacture those track suits. I wouldn't get out of bed and sew track suits if I could sit on the dole, drink beer and take home a similar amount each month. But that's because I'd be earning pound sterling, baby. If I were from a country where the exchange rate takes one pound sterling and turns it into many pennies of my own currency, the situation would be different. 

This chicken and egg situation is what has been termed Chimerica. People who buy the track suits need the means to do so. In order to give them these means, you need to stimulate consumer spending. In order to stimulate consumer spending, you need economic growth. And on the other side of the equation, you need someone who sews track suits. 

Fortunately, the Chinese have started to smell the coffee and they are trying to decouple their economy from foreign consumers. But this doesn't put Chav culture in a much better position, it just suggests that one needs to come up with an alternative to consumer spending that somehow doesn't involve economic growth and wealth inequality.

Big Media conspiracy theories

Brand is correct but not about Big Media, he's correct in general. One should practice general agnosticism about any claims. But how does one know how to separate the agitprop in Big Media from the agitprop in the Trews, as it were?

Fortunately, there are those amongst us who are concerned with the fact that we don't do much better than chimps on a good day. They've compiled this helpful guide on how not to be ignorant of the world.

Neglecting spiritual concerns

Neglecting spiritual concerns is what lead to modern science in the first place. I don't think that leaving a demon-haunted world behind is bad at all, but if we are to abandon economic growth then at the very least I'd expect a hypothetical replacement. Even if it is fundamentally flawed like the Resource Based Economy of the Zeitgeist evangelists. 

Fritjof Capra has a few ideas regarding a more holistic viewpoint that incorporates system science and hippie derp into our socio-political arrangements. But science are teh hard, even if you can study it for free. It's far easier to shop for berets and threaten a DIY roll-your-own revolution in the manner of simplex communication. A direct line to the divine is a poor substitute for spiritual growth, and so is trying to become a self-styled Messiah on a soap box.

In case you were just here for the verbal bitch slaps

30 August 2014

The Commodification of Activism

The commodification of activism is a term I've coined to describe the popular culture phenomenon whereby everyone who creates awareness for their personal bugbears considers themselves an activist.

 Commodification as she is commodified

Commodification is a term I've borrowed from Karl Marx.  I'd be sure to pay him his royalties for all his hard work, but fortunately he frowns upon these notions of property and ownership.  We're all standing on the shoulders of giants, or even on the shoulders of midgets since everyone is equal in Marx's Utopia.  Much obliged, Comrade.  I took according to your borrowed ability to satisfy my needs.

The way I understand Marx is that he fell victim to Hume's guillotine by implying that things like love and labour really should not become commodities.  They're too valuable to put a price on them.  The phenomenon whereby these invaluable things become saleable commodities is what caused Marx to turn up his nose.  Those heartless capitalists know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

For our purpose, commodification refers to social status credits being accumulated by cheerleading for the socially acceptable causes.  Conversely, not cheerleading for the socially accepted causes or even rallying against them may result in the accumulation of social status debits. 

The commodification of activism is therefore not commodification in Marx's sense, whereby invaluable properties become saleable goods and services.  It's more of a conceited metaphor for activism itself becoming a commodity in the social status sense.  What have you done for the cause, Comrade? Oh, liked and shared? Very well.

Simple social commodity production in theory and practice

Let's start with the practice first, then see if we can formulate a hypothesis from that:

The most obvious example of the commodification of activism is sharing pictures of neglected animals on social media.  Pass that buck to everyone who becomes a potential scapegoat if they dare question the holy cow cause or object to your noble intentions of aiding it with sensationalist sensitive material spam.  We're all primates here.  I groom you and you groom me.  I groom you by placating you with the values we all should share, and you groom me back or I question what kind of monkey's uncle you truly are.  Not grooming back doesn't make the circle bigger and results in a vicious cycle!

Another example is the mass hysteria surrounding animal testing and hunting.  On one hand, this would satisfy Marx since is-ought problems abound when we ought not conduct testing on animals even if we're not turning a profit or if we are helping to progress towards a cure for regressive diseases.

If these facts conflict with the neatly packaged, bite size version of reality where testing on animals is just wrong wrong wrong, we simply play Procrustes until it fits.  No direct cures are obtained via animal testing, you see.  Despite the purpose of animal testing being pre-clinical trials to ensure safe testing on humans, or determining the causes of diseases in addition to finding cures, when only 8 out of 100 treatments even make it beyond animal testing, what's the point?  When 92 of those 100 treatments are potentially harmful and they don't get tested on humans, what's the point? 

How about veterinary treatments? Shall we test them on animals?

A few more esoteric examples:  The barbarians at the gate rallying against a fractional reserve banking system, whatever that may be in their minds; those tiresome ribbons that we're not quite sure which one is for which noble cause any more but it's very important to support it because we all make a difference; the movement to label GMO food because we can't really tell the difference between organically grown, free range products and their inorganic, God-playing scientist spawn but we're convinced that it's bad for you; stop bombing the children in Gaza you heartless Jews; the ice bucket challenge for those who can't feel the shivers down their spines; and socially responsible investing because if we're going to be egalitarian we may as well get rich from it.

In theory:  Take up thy soapbox and megaphone.

 What are some of the characteristics of these examples of slacktivism?
  1. Misinformation.  Those who partake in these sacraments just point and click.  It appears that not much effort is expended on informing oneself on the topic at hand in order to present a balanced view, nor is there much thought given to the quality of the sources.
  2. HypocrisyL'Oreal fired a teenage model because  of their official stance on animal testing in an effort to create a charade of wholesome family friendly goodness, yet they're quite happy to comply with mandatory animal testing for their Chinese market.  Slacktivists view it as a victory that cosmetics animal testing is outlawed in the EU, but they don't consider the consequences and implications beyond a mere Pyrrhic victory.
  3. Petulance.  Thou shalt not second guess someone with good intentions, less so when it's for a good cause.
  4. Ignorance.  Do I need to remind anyone of the dihydrogen monoxide scandal?
  5. Bigotry. This is mostly experienced by hunters from what I can make out.
I could go on but that is sufficient to comply with the Law of Fives.

Private property is theft, personal property is fine

That awkward moment when reality meets your ideology. Some anarcho-communist is having a fanny wobble because informal settlers got evicted ...