205. The Art of Becoming Popular

Like_1When we talk – we talk! When we feel – we just feel and when we like something – we are simply just expressing our likes. Well, if anyone thought life was that simple, well you are wrong – cause it isn´t! Behind our actions there are always some kind of purposefulness – which of course is not to say that we always are aware of or act with shrewd, cunning or hidden intentions. No, no, the games we play are much more subtle than that. And our motives are generally just as invisible to us as the air we breathe, and should probably not be too much pondered upon either – since all we might end up with are some kind of mental respiratory distress. But on the other hand, some of us we just have to push our understandings further – regardless of the outcome. And what I am saying here is only that there are always reasons for our actions. And I guess that the most trivial reason of all is that we all want to be popular. We normally don´t reject or go against the norms. We simply don’t share or like a post on e.g. Facebook that we know that the group we belong to are against. Cause we are all true followers! Facebook-like Not all of us, of course! Many of us actually do take a lead – especially if we believe there will be followers. And this longing for acceptance and popularity is also one of the main reasons why some of us so easily get involved in cruelty. Not because we are “evil”! No, we simply don’t want to be at odds with the group.* We would be outcasts if we did! But… by understanding the nature of our “strives for power” and the constant chase for popularity we are all involved in – I actually think we could come closer to an understanding of the cruelty and the wickedness behind such monstrous actions as e.g. the holocaust.** And as long as we go on thinking we are good – we will always be capable of evil!***

*This is a continuation of the argument in the previous fragment on Banksy and Hannah Arendt: 204. Exit through the thrift store. **A number of real life experiments and research has come to similar conclusions, se Alexander Haslams and Stephen D. Reichers ”Questioning the banality of evil” in The Psychologist. ***Well, as a matter of fact, I don’t actually believe that there are any such simple solutions in order to solve the problems of evil. However, that is no reason for putting down the work in order to weaken its strength and impact.

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204. Exit Through The Thrift Shop

220px-eichmann_adolf

Eichmann – an evil man? or just a petty, little narrowminded bureaucrat?

Banksy’s recent installations in New York probably raised a few eyebrows. They certainly raised mine!  And specifically, I started to puzzle about what he really meant with the piece, “The Banality of the Banality of Evil”. 

It is clear, however, that it is a commentary to the German philosopher Hannah Arendt,  who in a series of articles in The New Yorker in 1961, following the trial of the SS-Obergruppenführer Adolf Eichmann, coined the phrase “the banality of evil”. 

The reason for this was that what she saw in Eichmann, although he was one of the leading architects of the Holocaust, was in fact just a petty little bureaucratic figure.

Her interpretation has of course been questioned. And she was widely accused, although being a Jew herself, for being a traitor to the Jewish people.

But what did Banksy have in mind? Trying to figure him out is not easy, his installations typically involving layer upon layer of intricate meaning and understanding.

One possibility is that Banksy, like the name of the work implies, merely finds Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann rather banal. And that this particular illustration, a repurposed thrift store painting where Banksy has added a man in Nazi uniform who placidly sits watching the alp landscape, simply is a way of illustrating this banality.

But, it’s just that this idea of evil is not really how we usually regard evil. So based on this interpretation, Banksy would just be preaching to the choir.

NEW-NAZI-OIL-TIGHT-for-web2-private

Lonely, melancholic and perhaps not very popular! “The banality of the banality of evil”, Banksy, New York, oct 2013. The piece now sold for $615 000!

And that’s not Banksy’s style!

So, what else? what could have been his intention?

One possibility is that Banksy here wanted to add another layer to Hannah Arendt’s interpretation of evil, saying that even the banality of evil is banal.

So, in addition to Hannah Arendt’s interpretation, even the background or cause of these banal acts would now be banal – since the practitioners might not have had any higher purpose for their actions than to ensure they were doing the “right” thing and thus maintained a social or hierarchical position within a group – i.e. they just wanted to be popular.

And that, would really be banal!
What Banksy had in mind here – we will probably never know.*

*Well, I realize that there is also the possibility that Banksy did not have anything particular in mind apart from giving us another puzzle to try to solve…

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181. It takes all Kinds

winston_churchill_british_bulldog_portrait-e1368530588506

Sir Winston did not coin the expression ”It takes all Kinds”!

I once heard a story about this guy standing on a street corner, playing some kind of classical piece on his transverse flute, when a suit suddenly comes up to him and says: Why don’t you do something with your life, man! You can’t hang around here forever playing that old flute – what if we were all standing on corners playing our old instruments – what do you think the world would look like?

The guy lowered his flute, looked at the suit and replied with a smile: I beg your pardon, sir! But what do you do? Eh… I’m a banker, the man said being a bit thrown off by the musicians politeness. Well, the street musician said, what would the world look like then if we were all bankers?

Even though it sounds like a typical cock and bull story I heard this story told straight from the horse’s mouth a long time ago. Whatever!

picassodonquixote

It actually originates from the character Don Quixote, written by Miquel de Cervantes.

The punch line is of course that the world needs all kinds of people, jobs and activities in order to function. We can’t all be painters or actors and there would probably be a catastrophe if we where all identical and only did one thing. Just imagine if we were all farmers and only grew potatoes? Or if we were all car salesmen, clerks, or masons? It just wouldn’t work out, would it?

This understanding is well put in the famous phrase, “It takes all kinds!” which I myself have quoted a number of times, believing it originates from a saying of the legendary English Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, not knowing until now that it probably had nothing to do with him.

The quote actually comes from the Spanish phrase “de todo ha de haber en el mundo” (literally, “There must be of all [types] in the world”), and can be found in Miguel de CervantesDon Quixote, Volume 2, Chapter VI which was written in 1615. And ever since it has become a well-used saying and a reflection of the overall importance and need for diversity. The world would not exist if we were all alike.

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105. A Wall Street Twist

There is a justified outrage at how the financial markets first created and then managed the financial crisis. The Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan and around the globe are just the agitated spearhead of these emotions.

But the location for their protests should perhaps have been placed somewhere else – in front of The White House in Washington and outside parliament buildings worldwide.

It is not greeds fault that it takes what is being served. It is, rather, the legislators inability to set boundaries for events that are not allowed to take place.

International capitalism and the financial markets can not be expected to be acting morally. It is simply naive to see it this way. They do not exist as a physical person – even though they are often represented by a number of well-dressed men in suits and ties – but rather the result of a variety of individuals’ dreams of a better future.

And this future is always spelled “economy”. We all want food on the table, be adequately paid, have health insurances, benefits, and preferably a secured old age. There are really no limits how much better we would like it to bee! It is here everything begins.

The financial mentality on Wall Street is not much more than the result of the world’s collective desires to have a little bit more, a little bit better. They invest our dreams, and then the economic flows always reaches the lowest levels – just like water!

Which of course makes the most skilled among them able to skim off a lot of cream on all of these streams.

Production are always located where it is less expensive as the price is the main competitive element. Our investments and pensions are placed where they are expected to provide the most – all a fairly simple equation.

Wall Street is simply the brain of the financial system, and the heart of its circulating flows.

The great liberal fallacy is to expect that the capital markets in themselves are to be moral and self-regulating. But they do not exist on these grounds. They exist only as an abstract movement and as a result of all our dreams of a better future. And the framework for all these movements must be regulated by legislation.

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103. Whose story are we living?

Whose story are you living?

Whose story are you living?

Good storytelling have always bound us together, led us to perceive things alike, thus giving a sense of togetherness, sharing and reality. Our stories and by extension our language contains thus our respective worlds.

Through language one can capture the magic of storytelling and take possession of someones reality – this is to influence the lives of others.

Those who do not have anything to say can never occur in someone else’s thinking or dreams.

In the case of successful storytelling, it is not just chatting about whatever. Just talking will not create great stories. Wont have any followers or listeners.

A political party, a creed or a brand that loses touch with its original idea is then doomed – the ideas are a movement’s ultimate ground.

But it is not possible just to  hold on to the old stories as they must constantly be retold in a new way.

In the narrative, the main challenges is to be consistent (follow a clear line), to be directed (to know what and who it is aimed at), emotional (what is said must touch), pragmatic (the ability to ongoing adjust the story), multi-layered (be able to be given to a great number) and have credibility (must be related and consequently told).

In the United States the Tea Party movement (what has nowadays become synonymous with the republicans) is desperately spreading its reinvented version of the American dream. This while the Italians now brutally have awakened from its peculiar “schlaraffenland” when the area of “berlusconiism” now hopefully is over. The lies are just so much more appealing.

Apple founder Steve Jobs was a master of linking just a brand with an existential feeling through a consistent narrative – but the trick can hardly be repeated. Good rhetoric is driven by a very special kind of logic which is very difficult to pin down.

Non, Je ne regret rien!

Non, Je ne regret rien!

Tomorrow also calls for new storytellers who can inoculate new dreams, self-image and confidence to an increasingly deaf and critical audience that no longer blindly will absorb other people’s grandiose visions. But that is surely a truth with some modification.

It is said that we today want to create our own dreams, to realize our own lives, define ourselves and get control over our own destinies – because we are condemned to freedom. The only question is whose story we are living then?

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58. Post-partisan-ship-ness

Pragmatic & Pragmatist

Much is different in comparison to 1997 or 1984. Today most of us know that we are living in a pluralistic and changing world in which it becomes increasingly difficult to find some really great and compelling truths. And many of us see life’s ongoing interaction and the transience of all things without even having to be dedicated Buddhists.

Most of the modern sciences are now full aware of that their study indeed are contextual. In economics, sociology, psychology or communication (yes, even within some of the natural sciences) the relational context is at the very heart of their knowledge. The world has simply become more and more relative in its essence.

In the U.S. a pronounced pragmatist* has been taken to the highest office and logically being accused from both left and right to have no defined or outspoken ideology.

There has been some talk in American media about the new American and political trend (the post-partisanship) who seek answers and collaborations beyond old ideological polarizations. This is a trend that is also growing stronger, especially with the generation that grew up with the Internet. The old and rigid fundamentalism with only one answer to all possible questions has simply no future.

That is true, but not quite as simple.

On the contrary, if we take a real look at the world today we will find that the majority of us are against the democratic and pluralistic description of the world. Many are still holding on to a vast ocean of great truths about the world and are able in their self-righteousness to judge those who do not share their particular views.

Fundamentalism, ideological conservatism and anti-democratic tendencies are still at the heart of Europe, the US and around the world. These fixed beliefs may not always be expressed in the same way but are based fundamentally alike from the same structural approach. Common to them all is that they all uncritically believes themselves to be right – while everyone else then must necessarily be wrong.

But if we should be able to build a common future that is something to build upon, we can no longer indulge in what divides us, to paraphrase Barack Obama.

* “Pragmatist” is someone who assumes a pragmatic world view – and should not be confused with just being “pragmatic”.

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36. Things Held Too Tightly

Stoning...

The idea of democracy was born in Athens in the 460s B.C. It then had approximately half a century in which to develop. Thereafter the democratic experiment was set aside for a few thousand years. So although the idea is old, it is still a fairly young and inexperienced political movement.

The western world has had about 2500 years to let its ideas sink in and shape our language, laws and cultural superstructure. And so, our culture has had certain advantages with regard being able to understand and apply these principles.

This is something “we” must consider when “we” in “our” zeal for dominion are trying to export the democratic system to other regions of the world.

I think  we are unfortunately still relatively naïve when it comes to understanding the complexity of foreign nation’s cultural specificity – which of course is a trivial understatement.

Sometimes certain mental bolts are simply held too tight. Something that could have dire consequences in “our” attempts to democratize e.g. Iraq. Afghanistan? And Iran! And a difficulty that also comes into play in our growing relationships with “The New China”!

An anonymous Greek author wrote about 400 BC, that ‘Europeans’ as opposed to ‘Asians’ where more independent (autonomoi) because they had not in the same way been ruled by despots. The term “Asians” were used at the time for people from southeast of Greece and Athens.

We are now talking about words that were spoken over 2000 years ago. And still (see graph) one can not but state the fact that the same observation applies today. Asia is still dominated, far more than the western hemisphere, of violence, oppression and lack of personal autonomy.

Democracy Index as published in January, 2007. The palest blue countries get a score above 9.5 out of 10 (with Sweden being the most democratic country at 9.88), while the black countries score below 2 (with North Korea being the least democratic at 0.86).

Democracy Index as published in January, 2007. The palest blue countries get a score above 9.5 out of 10 (with Sweden being the most democratic country at 9.88), while the black countries score below 2.

Execution of homosexuals in Iran

Why is that? Some claim that Christianity and especially the Reformation and its more progressive approach to family formation of capital were factors contributing in creating stability and development in our part of the world (e.g. Max Weber).

Another view is that it was the original humanist idea of enlightenment that arose in Greece together with the democracy, which later had its revival with the Renaissance and the new Enlightenment, that made it possible to establish the idea of personal freedom in the West.

Whatever it was – one can not but conclude that it always requires a huge breeding ground to get something new to grow well.

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