soylent green and the locked-in syndrome

We need to talk. And I’m gonna do this one in English, because we all need to talk and, for now, this is the lingua franca.

It is the 10th of November, 2016. Things look grim to a whole lot of people. Our children have come home from school this year having been explained that a bomb had exploded near mom’s work, what Brexit means and, yesterday, that the smugly grinning gentleman that popped up on every screen in the house whenever one went on is the new (I swear) mayor. Talking about a global village. I have cried every time.

But then again, there really is a to-do list, and I don’t believe it’s entirely Michael Moore’s.

First of all, I do not think the solution is less democracy „ because people are stupid”, as some are starting to ventilate. We are all stupid to some degree, it’s not a +/- value. The solution is better democracy. And for better democracy, we need to fix something vital.

At all times, people have been ill-informed. Nobody knows every aspect of how government works, even while working in government, as hardly anyone even knows how their own appliances work; nobody takes perfectly rational decisions, because nobody sees every angle of a story and we all are prey to tons of reasoning fallacies. In this particular instance, half of the American planet bought into a story of fearing the corrupt left-claimed elite that only preserves privilege for itself and destroys the economy (Romanian friends, does this by any chance sound familiar and have you or have you not voted for pretty much everything except Vadim in order to keep that from happening?), while the other half bought into a story of fearing potential destruction of fundamental liberal values and democracy itself (which, you may tell me, is documented with more on-tape evidence – except it is still a story about fear). Early this summer, but actually over the years, half of Britain bought into a story of a big bad wolf out there stealing their money, telling them how to live and sending them the least desirable of people to drain their perfect system, while the other half bought into a story of becoming completely bankrupt as a result of breaking up (which, funnily, was labeled Project Fear). One could say that these deep divisions are an extreme consequence of political two-party systems. But then again, the two party-systems have existed before, the difference of opinions about how to go about doing things and the balancing of interests has worked before. Why does it seem so final now?

The thing that has grown and that we have not been able to sort out with democratic mechanisms is the toxic combination of internet and media. And the toxic element is the illusion of „ free ” (in both senses).

The things I have read during both these campaigns confirmed each other at an enormous (and, I now realise, alarming) rate. At the same time, every time I have tried to consume media that the other side was reading, it seemed impossible – the degree of disgust when I even opened a site made me shut myself off, try to protect myself. „How can people buy this crap???” was the constant reaction. But the thing is, they don’t. And yet they do. That is, we don’t pay for the information, but we do buy into the content. And while a part of us sit and ponder at the vile untruths written by Murdoch’s media empire, thinking we understand what the end political game is in shaping opinions about climate change not existing, because we can surely follow the money, we conveniently feel less critical of the mogul owning the media we ourselves consume. Or, should I say, that we are locked into.

Because the thing is, as long as we accept that we are the product of the media, as long as the business model is that we have to buy into the story so that advertisers can target us, and as long as the media are not accountable to us (as consumers, market-wise) or to any public good (as a public service, state-wise), but to the money that pays for its existence, we don’t even have the thin film of a consumers protection or of legal action to keep us from the cannibalization. And as far as self-regulation goes, journalism ethics appears to have gone out the window a while ago in much of the big business (while the nonsensical little outlets proliferate without any oversight). As long as we maintain the model of freedom of expression without modifying the financing system and we do not build enough independent outlets that can make sense of data and facts that we cannot make sense of by ourselves, the few poles of influence will continue to play one another with us as dedicated, extremely (though one-sidedly) informed, ever more hysterical and despondent pawns. Our opinion gets shaped and then just mirrored to us with the bits of reality that fit the bill for it to seem consistent with our narrative.

What is the last time you have changed your mind about something? We are increasingly incapable of seeing what others are seeing in their locked bubble, we distrust the competing message to such a degree that we shut our ears (and so do the others, if you are still wondering „how have we gotten here?”). People are not voting in spite of the facts, as it has been said a lot this year. They are voting, and making general life decisions, based on mistrust of anything presented as a fact by the other side, which should feel recognizable. It is not that a side is sane and the other isn’t, although it may feel that way wherever you are positioned. It is also not that one side is informed and the other ignorant, though both cast this accusation lightly. We have probably all consumed more media this year than in the course of entire lives (which proves that the fear and anger stories are extremely lucrative for the established outlets, and politics will surely provide all the necessary puppets for them to go on, because it’s a mutually beneficial deal  – there is little doubt that we can expect more of these rhetoric clashes, and it is probably not because of essential changes in moral standards). It’s that partisan press makes it impossible to tell the truth from the propaganda – both of those being pretty debatable as concepts to begin with, if you take into account the effects of framing, the inflation of communication, trolling as a phenomenon etc. – (EXCEPT for the things you disagree with, where you will conveniently say EVERYTHING is propaganda and your opponents are brainwashed).

More often than not, instead of having different opinions about the same issues – based on different values, for instance – we have gotten to the point where we do not even see the same issues as being issues. And we all solve it in our heads in the same way: if only more people saw that the main issue is the one I see, it would be so simple! But, as is the case with talking to one another in different languages, shouting harder doesn’t help. Bombs have never changed opinions towards that of the bomber, and yelling at anyone that they are a racist (or a communist, if you will) will never make them question their position or change their mind – if anything, it will make them dig themselves in. More than that, the things we all consider important will become increasingly invisible, because the divisive model pays better. Basically, it’s as if we all got our information about the world, our future and about our spouses from our respective divorce lawyers who get paid by the hour. As far as the lawyers are concerned, the angrier we are, the more we panic about our potential losses, the better off they are. Screw the kids!

We need to find a way to tell stories we can trust because they come from sources we do not see as intrinsically corrupt, stories that can help with the translation. We need to fix the story-telling, globally.


third in a row

(meaning third post in English in the last few days, mostly in order not to dissapoint my first other-than-my-mom subscriber – who so pleasantly surprised me this morning – with random musings in Romanian.)

The thing circling about in the bucket of my mind and trying to get a formulation, stimulated by more or less debate-ey comments on the mummyblogs that I’ve been reading with unembarrassed thirst for the last weeks, is the extent to which exposure to gender identity stimuli in the world around us makes us comply and be what we are told we are. Or rebel. Or – ideally – shun labels.
Because I used to think I would die if anyone ever called any thought in my head a feminist thought. I also used to think my children, if female, will own no pink piece of clothing – in apparently no connection at all with the first thought. I used to think I could be absolutely anything I wanted AND that the thing I absolutely wanted to be was a mum (to be honest, this is the one piece of reasoning that never substantially changed and I’m happy with that, in spite of the fact that I never got round to actually resigning my lucrative activities and probably never will). And I hated the feminist movement because of growing up in a country where the movement had done nothing but defeat its purpose: where I come from, women were and are supposed to work full-time, more often than not keep households in which their men don’t lift a finger (rumour has it it’s been changing lately, I’m not there enough to check), raise children more or less on their own – with the occasional male input of ball-throwing at little boys at the weekend side-of-the-pond-barbecue and of belittling them if ever they manifest any non-masculine interests. I am quite aware of the extent to which this sounds like a rant – I used to see the issue rather black and white and be angry at the wrong… ah, but no, I still think, to a degree, I was angry at the right people. Because the generation of our mums, while being quite driven in their carreers and telling us sky was the limit, also taught our brothers to be exactly as helpless as their dads, whose mothers they used to curse, in turn, in their youth. Chores in houses were seldom split evenly, the roles of boys and girls were distributed before we even knew it and by the time I went to the seaside on holidays on my own with a group, when we were about 15, the girls were cooking every single day for everybody – never grudgingly, mind you, we were playing at being grown-ups, and that was what grown-up women did. (I also impressed a very temporary love interest to tears in my second year of university by washing his t-shirts – apparently it was endearing that there were still old-school women who took care of their men in that way, and amusingly, I was proud to be one.)
In time, a lot more nuance has come into the way I tell these stories or see `societies`. Having lived in three countries by now, I have been able to see that people get exposed to things to which their particular society attributes values and most of the time the `irrefutable truths` about `how things are` are integrated unquestioningly in one’s system of beliefs. (The temptation here is to illustrate with examples of `universal` trains of thought per nation, but I’m not going to fall for it, of course, this already being a rambling post with too many branches). What I wanted to say is that, with globalisation, quite a mass of the thought that is acceptable and accepted, mainstream, not consistently questioned, might just be the same for many of us. This being how come we can wonder on different meridians about the effect of sexualising pictures on children growing up and on their image of themselves. This is how come anorexia and bulimia are spreading at much the same pace in different places. This is how unfiltered feelings of being unsafe or of making too much effort in comparison to others (ow, how well this ties in with my rant, although it comes from somewhere completely different!) create rejections of otherness of the least politically correct kind.

And this is where I begin to wonder about the sense of this post and get all solipsistic on my own ass – to what degree am I capable to think independently about these things when, in truth, I wanted to have girls because my own brain was washed enough (and it’s difficult to say by whom) to believe that girls were the part of humanity that I had a more decent chance to reason with? How can I stand straight in any debate on society shaping uneven roles when I have been glueing all-hated labels on human behaviours on both sides of the gender rift for years? But also, going back, are the unquestioned things which have been settling peacefully in my brain really disqualifying me from formulating any informed opinion? And if so, is there no informed opinion possible on gender identity issues (or any issues, in fact)? Or is there a way of securing one’s attempt at `objectivity` (lovely construct, can’t help labelling it `scientifically male` though 🙂 ) by critically questioning all assumptions one makes when trying to make up one’s mind? In other words, if I assess myself, for instance, as touched by an improperly/insufficiently questioned tinge of misandria, will that disqualify my view on how my world typecasts children in little princesses and little dinosaur lovers or will it just give it more strength because I am dealing with my own potential bias by admitting it?

Whoa, I definitely have too many questions for one single post and too many modifiers for every single sentence. Oh well…