A room full of mirrors

Blanket advertising - the idea that a hundred million people receive the same piece of direct mail, the same television advert, the same digital advert - is dead. My children will certainly never understand this concept of mass communication.

Today communication is becoming ever increasingly targeted; its being individualised for every single person […]

So you will no longer be receiving adverts on products and services that you don’t care about, rather you’ll only receive adverts that not only are on the products and services - or in the case of elections, issues - that you care about most, but that have been nuanced in order to reflect the way that you see the world.

[Alexander Nix]
The Power of Big Data and Psychographics

From one extreme to another?

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Liquid                      -                    Solid
Progressive              -                    Conservative
Chaos                       -                    Order
Surface                     -                    Depth
Unlimited                 -                    Limited
Sky                           -                    Ground


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In 1958 I wrote the following:

'There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.'

I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. 

As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

[Harold Pinter]
Nobel Lecture, 'Art, Truth & Politics'


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In this post I talked about the idea of exclusion, and made the case that exclusion is inherent in creation. In other words, whenever a thing comes into being (be it an physical object, or a mental construct), it does so by not being all of the other things it could have been. From a chaotic multitude, certain characteristics are selected and this collection of elements constitutes the thing in question. An order, or direction, is imposed.

You are tall and not short; you like quiet places rather than busy ones; you are Left and not Right: creation is a process of narrowing down; from all possibilities, to these ones.

All structures are made from constituent parts; including and bonding separate elements into something greater (if it is a healthy structure it will be coherent, i.e. its parts will follow a common set of instructions; if it is unhealthy, it will be incoherent). In this sense, structure is also synonymous with ‘story,’ ‘category,’ ‘group,’ ‘identity,’ and so on. Any ‘thing’ that you can think of will be composed of other ‘things’. Any ‘thing’ has borders, and defends its borders. A borderless ‘thing’ is no ‘thing’ at all.

From this it follows that any structure, by its nature, is exclusive; that exclusion is a vital element in how we build structures. A thing is this thing because it is not every other thing. You are who you are because of your preferences, the things that you say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to; that you include and exclude.

However, exclusion is not a fashionable word these days, which is one of the reasons why I feel it important to assert its value. It is a vital part of a balance, and as such has a crucial role to play in how we apprehend the world.

Postmodern culture - that is, the culture that more or less predominates at the minute - arose in part as a reaction to too much structure. It is accordingly characterised by the urge to break structure down, and was crystallised in the philosophy known as post-structuralism, espoused by the likes of Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (if you look at the binary at the top of this page, then postmodernism is characterised by those words on the left hand side).

At its heart, postmodernism is opposed to any form of categorization (i.e. structure-building) because categorizing excludes, limits, and separates. Its god is Hermes, the shapeshifter; he who dances from here to there but never stays put; never puts down roots. Like quicksilver, he refuses form, and eludes all categories.

Postmodernism started life as a reactionary movement; a tugging on the pendulum of culture, a pendulum that had swung, in the eyes of many, too far in one direction. But like any reactionary movement, it was inherently imbalanced. In order to counteract the prevailing trends of the day it took an oppositional stance: inasmuch as white was the shade of the establishment, it clothed itself entirely in black.

And this is the crucial point. By defining itself in opposition to what had gone before it threw the baby out with the bathwater. A balanced approach would have been to combine the best of black, and the best of white; to have recognised that to deny either is pathological; and to have made gray the shade-de-jour. Yes, the pendulum must always swing, but it needn’t go to  extremes. Swinging from one extreme to another is the characteristic pattern of the manic-depressive; and as most manic-depressives would attest, it may be fun from time to time (jet-black and snow-white are much sexier than shades of gray), but it is also unsustainable and destructive. If a healthy society is truly what we desire then we must seek homeostasis, the temperate middle path.

The postmodernist mindset fell in love with one side of the opposition - became enamoured with black - and pushed the other side into the darkness. It placed emphasis on those concepts that were associated with a lack of structure - ‘fluidity,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘relativism’ - whilst devaluing those associated with structure - ‘solidity,’ ‘exclusion,’ ‘absolutism.’ In other words, it repressed a whole section of human experience.

Its an irony of postmodernism that in consciously denying these elements it condemned itself to unconsciously enact them: witness, for instance, its moral absolutism, or its exclusion in the name of inclusion ('no-platforming,' 'safe-spaces'). Repressed elements will always find a way to the surface, generally emerging as symptoms, or pathology; as blind spots, or sore spots. Accordingly, our cultural landscape is becoming increasingly pathologized. Disturbing data points are cropping up all over the place; chattering, doubting voices assail the postmodern psyche. A split is occurring.

How the prevailing order deals with these symptoms is of crucial importance to us all. We are facing another pendulum shift, and the critical question is whether we will once again swing into another imbalance; whether we will heed the lessons of our time, or whether we will again, in our disgust at the current way of things, attempt to repress one side of the balance in favour of the other.

I'm writing this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else, because at times like this it is always tempting to vilify the old and make heroes of the new; to raise the qualities of the incoming order whilst denouncing those of the outgoing. But in vilifying one side of the balance we also make a villain of the corresponding aspect of ourselves. Collective repression goes hand in hand with individual repression. As a result we're unable to see that the villain isn't really a villain at all; that, as unfashionable as he may now be, he still has many positive qualities, and many important things to share.

It is vital that we retain the positive aspects of postmodernism, and do not, in our haste to distance ourselves from it, reject it outright. 

This would be an immature reaction, a knee-jerk venting of pent-up emotion. Whilst it may have gone too far, it was not all in vain. Nor is it now irrelevant. And its proponents are not, for the most part, villains.

It has been said that evolution works by transcending and including. If we are to evolve then we must find a way to include what came before and to integrate it into something greater, rather than seeking to erase it from our memory.

It is becoming ever more clear that we must begin to allow to the surface those things that postmodernism has held under for so long. We must begin to accept the importance of structure, and all of its analogs (limits, exclusion, solidity, fixity). But in doing so we must resist the temptation to make virtues of these elements at the expense of their counterparts.

After an excess of one thing, its opposite will always seem disproportionately appealing; but we must keep our heads; and keep our eyes on both sides of the balance.

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Related posts:-
Land and Sea
Exclusion
Life Amongst the Rubble
The Perils of Radical Subjectivity 
Forever Becoming
The Real Thing
Walk a Straight Line 

The Dance of Hermes

Heigardt

Thank you for your podcast. I enjoyed listening to you describe your processes, even though they were just small snapshots. I think the ways by which artists arrive at their art is as interesting as the art itself.

Your thoughts represent for me a way of thinking, indicative of the intellectual Left that confuses me to no end. They embrace Continental philosophy and all its post-modern approaches to epistemology; they'll argue that the almost impenetrable obfuscation and equivocation inherent to the ideas of Derrida, Lacan, et al. are in actuality where its complexity of thought and meaning reside, for truth only exists as a reflection of the context of the time and space (and the culture therein) of its conception...

... but where politics is concerned, Rationalism and Empiricism are suddenly redeemed. Out goes the post-modern ambiguity of truth and meaning, out goes Relativism. In comes the arguments that there is most definitely a proper and scientific way of structuring society, and people would realise this universal objectivity if they were just educated enough [...]

Getting somewhat back to the idea of themes for this album rather than discussing politics in general - I'm a fan of your techniques and you incorporation of stylistically Japanese elements to your music, but I'm disappointed that as a resident of Japan you've restricted your perspective to the west and its politics. Shinzo Abe, having just won the upper house elections, is pushing to rewrite Japan's pacifist constitution. What's happening in Japan?

And even if you're too disconnected from Japanese society, because of the language barrier, to have a proper perspective, I'd expect Japan to be a richer source of thematic inspiration for you. You seem to utterly loath England's (as you see it) insular, xenophobic, inward looking spirit. But you've moved to a country arguably even more insular, xenophobic and inward looking, and which was made (arguably) culturally richer for it through the retention of its traditions and unique character -- from the geographical separation being an island provides, to Sakoku of the medieval period, to modern Japan that has fewer foreigners than any other developed country in the globalised first world. How do you reconcile that and explain it to yourself? Do you not see the cognitive dissonance? Do you not see maybe the benefits of being Sakoku?

I might be wasting my time with this line of enquiry because I'm half expecting a thoroughly glib retort of "Whites doing it = bad, foreigners doing it = good". Either way, I'm enjoying your album, despite (and maybe because of) my finding its themes somewhat depressing and ugly at times.


Momus > Heigardt

It's interesting to have some critical points raised, reminds me of the old blogging days. I'll try not to be glib, but I'm sure I'll inevitably leave you dissatisfied.

Basically, opinions (including my own) interest me a lot less these days, particularly when they're supposed to be rational and consistent, part of a large logical worldview which all ties up and is all moral and neat and good. The game of saying that someone is "hypocritical" seems a particularly sterile one: people are living paradoxes, they express vacillating and contradictory points of view, or emotions, or ideas; they're dialectical, the way I describe my songwriting as being (one day's work correcting the perceived flaws of the previous day's work).

This is what interests me these days. I would feel silly singing about the pacifist constitution in Japan. I feel it's not my job, as a precarian "permanent tourist" here, to do that. I do appreciate the ironies (my preferred term) of the lack of immigration here. And actually, when I do encounter enclaves of immigrants in Japan, I like and am drawn to them (except, yes, you guessed it, enclaves of white Westerners here), the same way I am in Europe. But there's certainly something to be said for Sakoku also, in preserving a system of cultural differences.

You seem to expect me to be logical: I would rather say I'm psychoanalytical. Psychoanalysis is good at seeing contradictions as something we live through and live out, something foundational and inherent in us, something basic to our humanity. I find that a lot more interesting than taking the line that it's hypocrisy or a logical flaw in one's worldview. To be human is to play out a series of paradoxes and contradictions (desire, sublimation, guilt, anger, frustration, desire again), and to make art is to turn that into a theatre of personae. You cannot make art with a neat, consistent, watertight worldview. Well, you can, but it's going to be bloody boring art.


Leigh > Momus

Here’s a story:
I’ve found you tremendously frustrating over the years, and yet, in spite of myself, tremendously interesting. I think of you as Peter Pan; your eyes are unusually youthful; as if you’ve studiously avoided something your whole life, something that, to most people, is important. These other people get lines and wrinkles from this thing that they think is important; it ties them to the earth and they get bogged down, become like trees, all weathered and worn and static.

The spirit of Hermes is in you Momus; you’re quicksilver, dancing from here to there and never staying put. You seem to refuse form, and all of its analogs: commitment, devotion, and so on. And yet, you are devoted, or so it seems, to art. A paradox.

People think they have you pinned down, they call you a hypocrite, but you slip out from under, greased and nimble. You thought I was that, but I never was; never am; never will be. As soon as you pin me down I will shape shift, become something else. Even age can’t catch you.

Cognitive dissonance is no problem, because it assumes consistency, shape, form. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t trouble old Hermes, his merry dance leaves it standing. Hypocrisy likewise. Sterility is what happens when things stand still, when the sediments gather. Yours never do.

People are living paradoxes; people are everything and nothing. But some, in becoming a ‘person,’ feel it important to dig a flagpole into the ground and say ‘here,’ ‘this,’ ‘now.’ They repress, ignore, cut-off and pare-down; and this is part of the sacrifice they make. Some go too far, and believe in the fiction that they’e created. Some are able to see through it; I’ve built this castle, but its made of sand. And some never build a structure at all; they dance around other people’s … oh, but what a lovely dance it is … ; )


Momus > Leigh

Thank you, that was delightful! So much more substantive than a social media "like".

I do appreciate people who can think and write and know their psychoanalysis and their Greek myths, especially when they're defending my cognitive dissonance with such admirable... cognitive consonance!

(By the way, I posted this having checked the box that says "I'd rather post as a guest". On my own blog! I think that rather confirms what you're saying.


Comments from this blogpost on MrsTsk
 

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Related posts:-
Shades of gray

Order and Chaos


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Order                         -                      Chaos
Life                           -                      Death
Known                      -                      Unknown
Permanence              -                      Change
Masculine                 -                      Feminine
Collective                  -                      Individual
Authoritarian             -                      Libertarian 


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Within any structure there must be those elements that are mainly interested in order, those elements that are mainly interested in chaos, and those elements that are in-between; that are at times interested in order and at other times interested in chaos.

This arrangement represents a universal balance of opposites. Both order and chaos are vital for the health of any structure, and an imbalance in favour of either can be classed as unhealthy and potentially life-threatening.

Order is characterised by the coming-together of separate elements. We order the world by conceptualising what we experience, which is another way of saying that we take separate and unrelated experiences and create connections between them, creating a new unit from those formerly separate elements.

Chaos is characterised by a flow in the opposite direction, by the separation of enjoined elements. Whenever we break something apart we are moving towards chaos.

We can see an example of this arrangement in the structure of the atom: the electrons are interested in chaos, the protons in order, and the neutrons mediate between the two.

In this sense, those within a society who push towards individualism are swinging the pendulum towards chaos; and those who push towards collectivism are swinging it towards order.

Neither direction is inherently better than the other, rather they form a dialectic; which is another way of saying that they are always in conversation with one another. The health of the structure depends on this conversation, upon each side having a say.

When it comes to a society we call those who are mainly interested in order 'authoritarians' (amongst other things) and those who are mainly interested in chaos 'libertarians' (amongst other things). The authoritarian impulse is to move towards a single point of power. If we picture a pyramid, then the authoritarian favours the top, the capstone, and favours a movement up towards it. The libertarian impulse, on the other hand, is to move towards multiple points of power, which is a move down the pyramid towards the many blocks that form its lower layers.

In this sense the authoritarian impulse is synonymous with idealism, or abstraction. The idealist is also interested in the upward movement towards something singular and all-encompassing, and the ultimate aim of idealism is a concept that can encapsulate everything. Again, abstraction can be visualised as the journey up a pyramid, from the multiple concepts that form its bottom layers, to the all-seeing totality of the capstone. One of the drawbacks of idealism is that its process takes us further and further from 'reality,' from the raw data of the ground-level. The idealist is always in danger of losing touch with 'the real world,' in floating off into abstractions.

The libertarian impulse is synonymous with realism, a move towards raw non-conceptualised experience. The realist is interested in the move down the pyramid, preferring the specifics of parts to the generality of wholes. One of the drawbacks of realism is that as it moves ever closer to reality it loses the ability to make sense of that reality. The realist is always in danger of drowning in the chaos of experience.

The libertarian is, in theory, less interested in ideology, inasmuch as ideology is a normative influence that aims to bond people together and get them all moving in the same direction (although the notion of libertarianism itself could be considered an ideology, albeit an anti-ideology ideology). The libertarian impulse has as its goal a state of anarchy in which there are no social norms, and is in this sense a hetrogenising influence, preferring diversity over similarity.

The authoritiarian likes ideology, and the more rigid the better. The authoritarian impulse has as its goal a strict all-inclusive ideology to which all must conform, and is in this sense a homogenising influence, preferring similarity over diversity.


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I remember a long while back I read a paper on why human beings have two hemispheres […] roughly speaking, the left/linguistic hemisphere attempts to impose predictable structure on the world, simplifying it.

Its not exactly an ideological simplification, its more like a practical simplification, because the world is so complex that unless you chunk it into categories it overwhelms you. So you have to chunk it into categories. And those categories aren’t exactly descriptions of things or objects, they’re more like tools for operating in the world.

And then the right hemisphere keeps track of anomalies and exceptions, and tries to build those slowly into the category system so that it doesn’t blow the category system […]

There was an example of this that a researcher named Goldberg offered. He’d trained a neural network to recognise images of fish, and the same […] network to recognise images of birds. But when he showed it a Penguin it blew the category structure, so that all fish became birds and all birds became fish.

Now, the postmodernists like Derrida claim that category structures were primarily tools of power and oppression - which to me is an absurd claim, because that’s not their primary use, even though that may be one of their consequences, and one of their occasional uses. And he became very very concerned about who the category systems marginalised, and what the consequence was of that for them.

[…] Its a really fundamental problem, that categories exclude; but then of you include the excluded in the category then you blow the category structure […] this is partly why right-wing Christians were so opposed to homosexual marriage.

What’s happening very rapidly is, because the binary category has been violated you get an explosion of chaotic identities. So its gone from two, to […] three, to […] thirty one in New York, and seventy online; and then there’s this additional explosion which is being promoted by people, who aren’t concerned with the category of gender identity but with other categories like human vs non-human identity.

[…] its a really interesting example of how binary categories maintain order, and if you violate them to include those who are excluded what you produce is an up-swelling of unmanageable chaos.

[Jordan B. Peterson ]
'I discuss chaos and order with Theryn Meyer, reasonable transperson'


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[...] authoritarianism is not a stable personality trait. It is rather a psychological predisposition to become intolerant when the person perceives a certain kind of threat.

It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group, kicking out foreigners and non-conformists, and stamping out dissent within the group. At those times they are more attracted to strongmen and the use of force.

What pushes that button is a] “normative threat,” which basically means a threat to the integrity of the moral order (as they perceive it). It is the perception that “we” are coming apart [...]

"The experience or perception of disobedience to group authorities or authorities unworthy of respect, nonconformity to group norms or norms proving questionable, lack of consensus in group values and beliefs and, in general, diversity and freedom ‘run amok’ should activate the predisposition and increase the manifestation of these characteristic attitudes and behaviors."

[...] authoritarians are not being selfish [...] They are trying to protect their group or society.

"[T]he increasing license allowed by [...] evolving cultures generates the very conditions guaranteed to goad latent authoritarians to sudden and intense, perhaps violent, and almost certainly unexpected, expressions of intolerance."

[...] whenever a country has historically high levels of immigration, from countries with very different moralities, and without a strong and successful assimilationist program, it is virtually certain that there will be an authoritarian counter-reaction, and you can expect many status quo conservatives to support it.

"Ultimately, nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions, and processes. And regrettably, nothing is more certain to provoke increased expression of their latent predispositions than the likes of “multicultural education,” bilingual policies, and nonassimilation."

[Jonathan Haidt, and Karen Stenner (in quotations)]
'When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism'


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26/11/16

Related posts:-
The Pyramid 
The Colour Wheel
Life and Death (and everything in between)
Exclusion 
Shades of Gray