One can put it in so many ways

I don’t know.

I don’t understand.

As of now, I can’t tell.

It isn’t really that obvious to me.

This isn’t exactly my specialty.

To be frank, that part has eluded my understanding.

I haven’t really had the time nor the energy to delve into that particular question.

I must admit that I do not possess such faculties of cognitive organization with which I would be able to formulate more elaborate thoughts on the matter at hand.

Obviously the question is complicated; and taking apart such complex matters requires not only the will for deep analysis, but also the spare time and good fortune to invest into exploring its details further.

There isn’t only one answer, and perhaps no answer is better than any other; what lies ahead of us is a mystery, and it is very likely that it cannot be put into any words without destructively interfering with its meaning and twisting its truth into something else altogether.

I have many thoughts on the subject, yet it troubles me to admit that time and again I’ve affirmed that no matter how much effort I put into examining and studying it, there seem to be certain limits I have yet to overcome in relation to perhaps not merely prioritizing the subject but also to my general aptitude for processing information relevant to it.

This is a matter which I would love to explore further, as it has always aroused my curiosity and natural will to learn more; however, the sheer amount of information understanding it requires sets limits on my ability to effectively process the subject, as I also must direct my more dedicated efforts to other areas of inquiry.

Whether or not we will get to the bottom of the matter at and and learn the ultimate truth of it will remain a question to be solved, and further research is very much required. I do not believe half-hearted efforts will do, as the matter hides such caveats and complexities that no straightforward explanation will avoid them all while presenting a thorough and comprehensive answer to the actual question.

And, of course, my favorite: people think this is complicated, but it’s actually very simple; A leads to B.

These I can come up off the top of my head in under ten minutes; how much more could be done if I were out to actually impress people without saying anything worthwhile at all? Moral of the story: try to understand what they’re really saying instead of being fooled by a flashy presentation.

Or: always remain vigilant, never falling victim to the lure of well-crafted, elaborate constructs of aesthetically pleasurable facades which, however, end up offering little substance when dissected with a more rigorous attitude.

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Thinking

Think of it as walking into a room with doors in it. You have a line of thought you’re interested in – that might be a red line on the floor telling you which door you should take. You open up a door, follow the line, you open another door, keep on going, and finally, maybe after a few more doors, there you are at your destination: a red beacon, the source of knowledge feeding your curiosity.

However, what you just missed was that the same red line also lead to three other doors. Perhaps you walk back and notice this, and take another door, where the red line again splits into more doors. You might feel a bit frustrated at this point, but you keep on going. Then a door leads you to the very same destination you arrived at earlier and you feel happy about it. You might contend that’s enough, but you keep following the red lines.

Then it happens that having followed the other branches of your red tree, you realize you’re no longer walking towards the original destination you thought final. You’re too far away from it and the red lines keep on branching. Worse still, you’re lost. You have a way to get back to where you began from, but you’re not sure you can find your way back here. You resolve to get to the bottom of this and you keep going, opening another red door and for a moment you’re dumbfounded: there’s another final stop. It’s a destination not completely unlike the first one you found, but it’s definitely not the same, either.

Having pondered about it for a while you contend that if there are two destination-spots, you might be able to find more of them. And so it happens that you do. Having gone about it through several more rooms you find a third one – then a fourth, then a fifth, and then you stop counting. You notice there’s a pattern to the beacons; some of them seem fragmented, others whole. Some of the fragmented beacons seem to fit together well, others not so much.

You keep on opening the doors with the red lines, and then something funny happens. Another destination opens, but this time it’s a blue beacon. You’ve only been paying attention to the red line, but now you notice that for a while, red and blue lines seem to have converged. You get excited and start looking for the blue lines too, and the next beacon you find is a blue beacon with a red part. You realize this fits into one of the earlier beacons you found, and more so, a beacon you thought complete! However, now that you combine the beacons in your mind, you realize you were only looking at a partial solution – and the missing part was something different altogether from what you first thought important.

You keep on going and you realize more and more lines converge. You find more red beacons, blue beacons, red-blue, blue-red, red-green beacons, partial beacons with only a hint of red, some beacons completely black and mute… Some red lines diverge so far from your original path that you realize you don’t have the time to look into them, although you’d like.

You’ve progressed from following a single line to following a branching tree of lines. Then you realized there was more than one solution. Now you’re beginning to understand that that multitude of solutions forms not a tree but a network of interconnected beads, linked together only by patterns of logic which you are able to follow.

The further you go, the more excited you get. However, the excitement is somewhat muddled by the more and more obvious fact that the further you diverge from your original line of thought, the harder it gets to follow the lines. You forget where you were just a moment ago, let alone where you began. The rooms become foggy and dark. Some rooms are so dark you can’t tell which line you’re following. Sometimes something seems to put the lights on, most times not. Often it happens that you fumble about in the dark only to open a door right back to where you started at. Sometimes you think you’ve been following the red lines only to notice that they were not red but brown, and that you’ve been wasting your time. And the complex keeps on expanding.

Still, even  the number of beacons you find is so overwhelming that you’re not sure what to think of it. Some of them you can put together but most of them are so far apart that you can’t tell a way they might be connected. You realize that even with the number of beacons you have you don’t have enough time to put it all together. Yet the knowledge that more exists haunts you. How much more could you just touch? How much more can you put together?

And to be honest, you can’t keep in your head all that you’ve been through – it’s just too overwhelming. Maybe you contend to be content with whatever you happen to have seen already, and use that to solve problems and form opinions. To do that, you do have to choose a ready solution from your vocabulary of beacons even if the problem was one you’ve never seen before. You might notice that a lot of times, in order to reach that conclusion from your premises, the laws of logic need to bend quite a bit, but that might not be important. Is it?

And in the process you know that although walking through the doors is a solitary process, you’re never truly alone. You have maps made for you by other people. In fact, there’s so much territory covered you’ll never have the time to even go through all that. People have drawn interpretations of these maps, each more complicated than the one before it, and you’re beginning to feel more like a tourist or a child sitting in a playground playing with some stones than a curious adventurer.

Is there any point for you to do any of this? You don’t know whether you can be useful here. Of the thousands of of the maps you have, only a handful are actually useful – most of them are just bastardized versions of the best. Were you to put one together, it’d most likely not be that good. Are you ready to put in the effort to make a better map? Perhaps if you put everything you have into it, you might be able to look into a tiny detail of a map covering a tiny territory, and while doing that you’re risking to merely point out there was nothing to be covered.

Who are you, and what is your purpose here? Are you a witness to something greater than you are? Or are you a part of that something nonetheless – building that collection of maps no matter how much you’d like not to? Or are you someone who volunteers to go further, pushing at the edges of human understanding, further into the darkness?

You do not know, and you keep on going.

Safety and security in 2019

In March 11th a law was passed which gave Finnish Security Intelligence service Supo broad rights to listen in on and spy on private communication on both Finnish and foreign civilians. In a bulletin Supo celebrates this as a historic moment. Supo chief Antti Pelttari:

“The mission of Finnish Security Intelligence service is to protect Finland and its people, and secure the realization of democracy. This day is historic for Finland’s national security, as due to new jurisdiction we will gain better tools for handling our mission.” 

The law states that in case a civilian’s private communication has been looked into by accident, Supo will have no obligation to let the civilian know in any case that they have been spied upon. That is, people will never know who is watching and when.

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Panopticon: a system of control designed to allow all inmates of an institution to be observed by a watchman without the inmates ever knowing whether they are being watched.

In case a person is a primary target of an investigation related to national security, in most cases they are allowed to know that their right to privacy has been breached. However, if a person is not officially suspected of a crime, they will never know. That places an insane responsibility on those actually committing the surveillance and assumes that those human beings are completely, incorruptibly and impossibly reliable.

Thus Finland has joined the ranks of countries which have decided that security not merely trumps citizens’ right to privacy, but also justifies an abuse of that power in order to further control society on a psychological level. As no one will ever know whether or not they are being spied upon, people will likely eventually adapt to this and change their behavior according to whatever they believe is expected of them. This will not only enable the state and authorities to control people in more subtle ways, but will also further encourage criminals and extremists to develop more sophisticated means of avoiding the surveillance.

The arms race keeps on going. I wonder not so much who will win, but instead who (or which idea) is going to lose and is maybe losing out at the moment. At least words like liberty, trust and privacy aren’t faring well. Time will tell.

System nonconformity as an accepted part of society does not equal abolishing the system

An article I was reading on gender nonconformity reminded me of a non sequitur I’ve run into before. The text tries to be as clear as possible on gender, binary and nonbinary gender as systems of thinking and the way to deal with these.

A (relatively common) point is made that seeing as biological sex is a messy concept and that gender identity does not necessarily equal that of one’s biological sex, it is worth asking why we insist on traditional gender categories at all (emphasis not mine). The writer emphasizes the problems with a gendering social order by pointing out, for instance, that a range of slurs exist to denigrate gender nonconforming people, “gender trash”.

The answer to the question is, of course, very obvious. Many people insist on gendering, because most people, for now, seem to naturally fall into traditional gender categories and roles – that is, most people don’t experience gender dysphoria or have a DSD (disorder of sex development). Those genders and the behaviors associated with them serve as common knowledge upon which people are able to rely on in order to form expectations and plan their actions in regard to how to approach a potential friend, rival or a prospective partner. Patterns exist, so putting those patterns to use is handy.

It is worth noting that other species engage in this sort of behavior, too, for that same reason. I’m simplifying things here, but the fact stands on its own.

The non sequitur I mentioned is that in order to avoid hurting nonconformers systematically and oppressing them, we should abolish gender institutions and norms entirely. It’s possible, yes, but the conclusion does not logically flow from these premises alone.

A first thing I’d like to suggest is that people develop tolerance both in their personal lives and in society towards nonconformers. In my experience this is not actually a small thing to ask, because people seem to naturally be wary of nonconformers. I know this, because I’ve been nonconforming myself. The process most likely is related to what I pointed out above; that conforming to expectations increases the ease of planning and therefore a form of trust. It is still a whole lot less to ask – and by far easier to achieve – than abolishing entire social institutions whose relation to biologically necessary attitudes and behaviors we can’t claim to understand but superficially.

That is, gender abolitionists don’t really know what they’re dealing with. I’m sorry to say that, but that’s how it is. The same thing goes for those who claim that gender abolitionism is unnatural and morally wrong, of course. We just don’t know too much yet; there’s a great deal of knowledge to be achieved as to how people come to view themselves and others in relation to sex and gender, and not all of that knowledge is to be found in social constructionism – even if it eventually turned out to be that it was, we would need to understand the biological necessities relating to these phenomena to make sure.

Yes; however patchy a concept even the idea of biological sex may turn out to be, we’re still only getting started. Sex and gender norms seem to have carried much significance through history, which gives reason to doubt that we should immediately abandon and abolish all binary definitions and concepts of sex and gender altogether. Transforming society is not the same thing as trying to understand it, and the dynamics governing social behavior – a key issue when discussing norms – do not exactly conform to whatever happens to be the current fashion in our understanding of sex and gender.

That, however, is beside the point I’m trying to make here. All I really aimed at when starting this post was to point out that even though experienced gender does not necessarily relate to one’s genitals, and even though we have a history and norms of being very nasty towards nonconformers, it does not follow that gender as an institution needs to be abolished entirely.

It is, of course, exhausting, for nonconformers to have those expectations placed on them time and again. It’s the price individuals pay for systems that make groups effective. I’ve also felt exhausted plenty of times. One common norm and thereby an expectation is that when somebody says something about a political or an otherwise arousing issue, they are supposed to defend or attack a view consistently; that is, discussions are naturally polarized (also in the academy, by the way). I, however, rarely do that.

That is to say, it would be exhausting for me to be blamed for being transphobic or whatever just because I wrote this text. I’m not, and I really do not have a consistent opinion on how to think of sex and gender. I can’t really blame people for thinking that I do, because that’s how those norms are, and all I can do is suck it up and try to explain why that was not the case.

Kim Kardashian’s butt and consumerism as an attitude

From Wikipedia:

“A Time magazine writer commented that, unlike previous celebrities’ nudes that represented the women’s rebellion against repressed society and “trying to tear down” barriers, Kardashian’s exhibition was “just provocation and bluster, repeated images that seem to offer us some sort of truth or insight but are really just self serving. We want there to be something more, some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age, but there is not. Kim Kardashian’s ass is nothing but an empty promise.””

The fact that the quoted remark answers and points out how to deal with with the very problem it poses left an impression on me.

The context is something like this: Kim Kardashian got published with her buttocks and the slogan “Break the Internet”, and above we have one way to react to it. I’m not sure it is the worst way, but it surely is not the best. Why? Because “we want there to be something more, some reason or context…”

I’ll try to be as clear as possible. There is no point in expecting there to be something more in Kim Kardashian’s butt than there is. Expecting some sort of reason or context in a celebrity’s nude photos is futile. They are photos of her naked skin and shapes; there is nothing more to them. We may add some slogans or perhaps an inspirational quote, but in the end that is all there will ever be; text and nudes. There is no substance or a deeper reality to it: it really is just Kim Kardashian’s butt.

What fascinates me here is the fact that anyone in their right mind would ever expect anything else out of it.

The problem isn’t that Kim Kardashian gives us an empty promise, a vague hint towards a meaning of some kind. I would never expect anything else out of her. She’s a celebrity and a fashion model, not some well-educated, deeply troubled, artistic genius who shows us pathways towards an ever more intricate culture helping us solve our social and psychological issues. Butt pictures are not meant to inspire revolutions: they’re meant to inspire sexual feelings – yes, they’re about sex, and aesthetics. I’m sorry to say, but no matter how much participatory co-creative cultural revolutionary transformations we intend to witness, expecting Kim Kardashian’s butt to signify some deeper truth is just silly.

I have a guess as to why someone might, though. It is because we are a generation of humans raised and educated to be consumers. The key idea and phenomenon of today is consumption; and what the Time magazine writer was trying to do was consume an idea of something revolutionary and rebellious, but it turned out that there was nothing to consume. Or perhaps there was nothing left to consume.

We can think of it like this. A consumer does exactly that: consume stuff. You put something in, but you don’t get anything out. You put in things like TV:s, cars, videos, computers, porn and smart phones – but also things like culture, art, music, videos, ideas, zeitgeist, revolutions – and all these things get consumed in the process. A consumer doesn’t mind what they consume – they just consume.

This isn’t a completely conscious process, really. It’s more like a subliminal attitude towards whatever we are conscious of; something educated to us and formulated in between the lines of our everyday interactions. Make no mistake; it is a destructive attitude, but what makes it possible is the ever more increasing influx of information, novelty and material, which feed straight into some of the most primitive precognitive circuitry in our brains which are supposed to keep us motivated.

What keeps us consuming is the fact that novelty is addictive: that is, we’re junkies.

Meaning can be thought of as something that is created in our minds, when we more or less intuitively combine whatever information and experiences we happen to have at hand. I dare say that nearly all experiences and ideas of any lasting value have in common the fact that they are not brought on by instant gratification and novelty, but instead demand that we actually engage with whatever is going on in our head; that we solve real problems in our real lives and grow wiser and stronger because of that. This is not something that can be done by watching TV – or reading a book, for that matter. What needs to be done is to actually think and live out the ideas in order for them to have any substance.

It isn’t exactly obvious on plain sight, however, that this is the case. It’s a tempting thought: why shouldn’t I read a bit more news? I need to know what’s going on, alright? I can’t form an opinion of what’s happening unless I know more, right? Why shouldn’t I watch inspiring, thought-provoking movies? Each of them has an unique message, which helps me from more complicated opinions on a variety of matters. It’s not merely that I can engage with all this fascinating culture – it’s almost a moral obligation that I do, in order to further our common goals and expand my own understanding!

Yeah, kind of. Except that you’re not engaging at all. You’re consuming. Why do I think so?

I think that way because of the attitude so many people have towards anything that repeats something they’ve already seen. “Oh yeah, but there’s nothing new about virtual reality, Neuromancer did it already.” “Why would you listen to Nickelback; they’re not unique at all! All that’s been done already.” “Why do people still listen to that pop music they play on the radio? It’s all repeating the same pattern over and over again!”

Yes, that’s correct. A great part of the culture provided for us by the music, literature, gaming and movie industries has no function besides selling; they are all about finding a pattern that works and then reworking things around that pattern so that consumers stay happy and keep consuming. However, you’re not any better. What you’re doing is saying that now the pattern is getting old and you’re getting bored; they’re no longer doing a good job at entertaining you, and you need a new batch to keep your attention at it. You’ve already consumed this, you know how it works, and now you need something more to keep you going. This won’t cut it. You need more.

Be it a pop song meant to inspire emotion. Be it a story meant to inspire rebellion. Be it a tragedy meant to inspire suffering and catharsis. What people do is that they consume all these and then complain how vanilla and naive all the movies, stories and songs used to be back in the 80’s. However, what’s changed is not the culture. It’s the people whose addiction towards novelty and highs has built tolerance so that the old doses of feeling won’t cut it anymore.

Consistently complaining about the way others produce entertainment or culture is a sure way to tell that one has, in one way or another, become a junkie towards culture, and is now experiencing withdrawal from all the motivation, emotions and highs they once got from experiencing it all – now they’ve consumed it and are feeling empty.

There’s nothing wrong with timeless stories. There’s nothing wrong with listening to the same song over and over again. We’ve merely become so accustomed to consistently being brought something interesting and new on a silver plate that we no longer understand that meaning is not novelty. And that’s what’s wrong with the Time writer’s reaction towards Kim Kardashian’s ass. They’re so used to everything being another revolution, everything being all about some new battle to fight that they mistake a fashion model’s more or less well marketed butt photos for something that gives their lives meaning. They’re so desperate to experience that vigor of rebelling against the authorities again that they pattern-match a human bottom to a revolution – and then get all disappointed and confused when that doesn’t make any sense.

What I’d like to offer as a solution is authenticity.

The point is very simple. Stop caring so much about whether or not someone has something new to offer. Instead ask yourself: is if effective? Does it work? What is it trying to do, and more importantly: what are you trying to do with it? If it doesn’t suit your purposes, why are you still paying attention? Why are you critiquing it online or in a magazine? Why aren’t you creating something better or helping someone create? What exactly are you hoping to accomplish by pointing out that this or that no longer gives you kicks? Is it really necessary?

Be authentic. If you want to be authentic about watching a movie, then watch a movie you wouldn’t maybe normally watch, and actually try to engage with it. If the movie sucks, is it the movie’s fault for not pushing your buttons the right way, or does it have to do with your expectations? Why does someone else enjoy it, then? And if you can’t make it work with whatever you’re trying to accomplish, why are you still talking about it? Life’s too short to waste time on things that aren’t worth your time – by definition.

Be authentic. If you want to be authentic about an inspired rebellion and a cultural transformation, ask yourself: how are you going to help bring that change? If all you’re doing is commenting on someone else’s lack of effort, are you actually being serious about it? Or are you more about getting kicks out of simulated inspiration? Or are you maybe more about forming a clique of followers around you, which helps you use and abuse the power of your opinion over people trying to actually create something?

Be authentic. Live your damn life and experience real things – and that doesn’t mean “go on an awesome vacation and post it all over Instagram to show people how much fun you’re having”. It means “do something that matters to you and try to maybe grow as a person while at it“. It means “how about you actually put yourself into creating a more healthy and functioning community and helping other people”. If posting hot photos on Instagram is what blows your hair back, then by all means, go do it. But if you’re going to complain over someone else doing that (too), then it might be that you could use some more authenticity. Give it a rest and let other people do what they do. Influence them however you can if that’s what matters to you, but don’t expect them to bend to your whims just because that’s what you get a kick out of.

There’s really nobody else who can make you grow and become a better human being than you, yourself. No amount of novel social, technological, cultural or entertaining transformations will do, if all you’re going to do is suck it all up and demand that others produce more. Get out there and do it yourself – and if you end up failing, that’s at least real.

And if you feel like I’m just repeating something some other person has written or said out loud before me and that I’m not really contributing to your development as a human being here: by all means, do it better or shut up. Not because I’d care – most probably I won’t – but because of yourself. And that’s what matters.

Changes

One need not even look closely to see that society is – societies are changing. Some things are happening fast, others slowly; some things are glaringly obvious, whereas others are subtle.

Some changes I’ve noticed over the past few years, in no specific order, include

  • Adverts being placed in the middle of actual news headlines, masked as news articles. There is a slight change in background color and a small text saying “advert” on top of the piece of marketing that is otherwise designed to look like a piece of news. These things are supposedly meant to help people distinguish them from actual news. However, if the point is to distinguish ads from news, why are these (probably more expensive) ads otherwise masked as news?
  • The thought of being automatically surveilled over the Net has become normal. Most people take it for granted that their every action on the Internet is being recorded in order for marketing firms to help sell them more things. This is viewed as normal.
    • For instance, Facebook has proven time and again that it does not respect its users’ privacy at all. This used to be a matter of debate, but it hasn’t been in a long time. During a particularly expensive scandal the company released a heartwarming public apology, saying, quote “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.” Soon after other similar scandals followed. This has no significance to most of Facebook’s users.
  • Employees’ rights and power to influence working conditions are in decline. Part-time jobs are becoming more common, and Finnish politicians (and news) are increasingly telling people to move in order to get a job – that people can no longer expect to get stable employment in their home town. This means they are either telling families to split if they have to, or that half of families (wives, I suppose) should remain unemployed. Employers are not held responsible; they only do what is necessary.
  • Donald Trump happened.
  • Global tax evasion has been brought to light, and much nothing is being done about it. Governments are hesitant to push aggressive laws against tax evasion planning as they are frightened of the power large companies hold over their economies. This, of course, gives such companies more actual political power.
  • Public discussion on immigration and illegal immigration in Finland has begun to lean more towards restricting immigration. More news articles about problems related to immigration, such as an increase in sexual crimes, are being published. Finland’s Iraqi ambassador said that Europe did a great mistake leaving its borders open in 2015. This is in stark contrast to news articles during that time and the years before that. The public atmosphere and news sources had a more welcoming tone and the problems were mostly for nationalists to discuss.
  • Nuclear missiles are no longer being restricted.
  • News articles about the rise of China appear at an increasing pace. News about China’s rising economy, China’s swift technological improvement, China’s developing AI technology, China’s political, industrial and military maneuvers and China’s espionage have become nearly as commonplace as news about Trump’s latest shenanigans.
  • Smart phones happened. Information is being exchanged over wireless nets more and more. Children have grown to use these technologies. Digital dementia and attention deficit issues due to smart phones have appeared. Children use social media in ways we didn’t imagine they would; ten-year-olds post videos of their and their friends’ drug and alcohol use online, and children found large WhatsApp groups devoted to sharing extremely violent videos and child pornography. This has surprised people.
  • There was a brief period a few years back when people talked openly about the possibility of a third world war. This had not happened since Cold War. Several mentions of another Cold War keep on coming.
  • Brexit happened. People were surprised.
  • Not everyone seems to expect to live longer  or accrue more wealth than their parents anymore. Stock markets have taken some hits after decades of insane growth.
  • Global poverty has declined.

These, and other changes are not happening in a vacuum. Most of them are interrelated and have to do with one another. However, what is common to most of them is that they are not independent of people’s everyday decisions, actions and the values they express. These transformations of our societies are not – at least not all of them are – unstoppable forces of Nature, plunging us headfirst towards the unknown. We can and should discuss these things and endeavor to affect those that seem worthwhile. Most of these developments are novel and sort of treat the whole world as a test lab – and humans as guinea pigs. Everybody can form their own opinions on how they feel about it.

Once a pun a time

On a side note, making good puns is a remark-able ability. I remember a day when I came a pun so many – I haven’t had so much pun ever since. For a moment I even considered becoming a pundit, but my more talented friends beat me to the punch. I got demorealized and couldn’t come up with them anymore. I asked my puncle for advice, but he didn’t punderstand. I pundered it over and over; why did I lose the knack for it? I tried to let it go, but the thought kept knacking in my brain.

And then it hit me; I was doing it all the time, punintentionally. I had more puns in the oven than a hedgehog has spikes; and all I needled to two was let them come out, in order to plunder this endless treasure. I’ve dumb to real ice bacon bee reel stooped two. All that you need to do is be sin seer.

And if you can’t bare to listen, try to act as if it’s just ridden, without hearing. It makes it easier to pun away from all the chokes.