Friday, August 24, 2007

blogging sucks

I've been watching some 'one flew over the cuckoo's nest', great flick and its on a channel that has commercial breaks in the movie. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the advertising symbolism, the sales heuristics and the plot of the movie. If you've seen the movie or read Kesey's book the part that strikes me about the asylum is of course the power relationship and the fact that the real asylum is on the outside. They keep saying 'they're not ready' to leave the hospital and the truth is nobody is ever ready to leave the hospital. None of us are ready we're all just floating through this universe trying to survive. The nurse wielding power and loving that she is overlord of these poor patients. Ratchett(rat shit) seeks this power, she gets off on it. She is a metaphor for the power everywhere, authority without legitimacy, she is ruler 'just cause' and her word is final. Outside of their world is our crazy world where things are no different. Tradition, faith, nationalism, etc. the blind leading the blind. Our world is one big insane asylum where the good guys always lose and the our prophets are killed in front of us as we cheer. Foucault and R.D. Baird talk about insanity being a social construct. The point is if you define insanity, we are really defining sanity in opposition to what we define as "insane" which is another way of saying "abnormal". It helps us to retain normalcy (a made up word, created during our depression, to "modulate distress" a powerful sales heuristic) to point out a group of "others" that are not "normal". I remember my cousin who had a large chunk of his leg burnt off in a car accident that killed his father and caused his sister to have to amputate her leg below the knee. Just in case he ever forgets that his Father is gone forever, god(I do not believe but I make mention, cause god is one sick son of a bitch to do this to anyone, let alone a child, so if by chance there is a god, he/she deserves to be chastised for what he/she did to this individual[and not just my cousin, but every child in that burn ward and every child in that hospital]) left a large burn scar on his calf that he needed to have grafts on in order to keep enough skin and muscle to avoid amputation. In summer camp I was told by my Grandmother that a boy was picking on my cousin by making fun of his scar. When my cousin informed him that that's not cool because his dad died in the accident that caused that burn, the teasing turned toward the fact his father was dead. What others thought around me when this story was relayed was how cruel the boy was and how his parents must be something like escaped nazis. What I said was this was nothing new all the people judging this boy did the same thing every day. They identified someone else as the outsider and possibly aurally decried said individual as an outsider. By doing so they artificially defined themselves as in the group that is not involed with the outsider. This individual created an "us" and "them" quickly and easily in sweeping motions. Although the us and them was completely illusory and poorly distinguished he tricked himself in to thinking that he belonged by ostracizing the kid with the scar. By defining him as the outsider he defined in opposition to that, making him if not an insider at the very least not an outsider.

The commercials though are like the power that Ratchett seeks. They sell products, but what they're really selling is emotions or even states of mind. The late night commercials are so overt in this it is incredible, if one were an extra- terrestrial observer one would conclude that 99% of our population were mentally retarded. Doing whatever we are told, staring at the flashing lights, and never using reason. A commercial for a penis enlarger showing a woman explaining how the medication works. You are buying confidence, you are buying sexual prowess, and you are paying for love in the end. I like Mazlowe's hierarchy, very poignant, and so easy to exploit now that its out there. So many genies out of so many bottles, we as consumers are always one step behind. Now another commercial telling me that I can talk to beautiful women who are tanning poolside over a telephone. She will be impressed and interested in everything I say, and sexually aroused at the sound of my voice. I am a stallion, an Adonis...oh it was all a dream...worse it was all a lie and now I've got buyers remorse. Five bucks down the drain half an hour of work, and that's because I'm lucky, that would be a full hour of work for most people, you know the ones on minimum wage that run just about fucking everything. But the only people on the phone conference were guys, and the penis enlarger was a sugar pill! Not to fear there is an aerosol can full of 5 cents of actual garbage culled from various sources. Well now its a body spray and its 8 bucks and unless you hose yourself down in the plastic scent of consumerism women will not fuck you. Did people want body spray 6 years ago? No, but they held a few focus groups and they realized (just as our alien observer would rightfully conclude) holy shit this place is filled with stupid people that do whatever you tell them to do. They believe you every time you make them a promise. Another commercial for a weight loss drug actually stating verbatim "we couldn't say it on tv if it wasn't true" the sheer audacity of this statement made me laugh out loud at first. I realized though that they are making this statement, because they're playing(as any salesperson will tell you) the 'law of averages'. If they show the commercial to 2 million people roughly 1.999 million of them are dumb enough to believe it, see? So it works perfectly, the law of averages. Now this chubby lady is saying she was even fatter before she had a plastic ring placed around the top of her stomach, it can be adjusted for tightness. It lost her weight, it made me think about getting some kind of surgery to open up my stomach so I could be the bane of all you can eat food deals everywhere, but I digress I was rambling about something wasn't I? Oh yah, the jist of ALL these fucking commercials is what mazlowe was talking about. People may not believe they are unattractive, obese, or posses diminutive genitalia. This is why you have to tell them that they lack any of many positive characteristics. Then make it apparent that if they can just purchase your product they can alleviate, if only temporarily, their disability.
They sell us what we want and never what we need. Television doesn't even write stories anymore its all half improv-half scripted and called "reality". I wish that Guy DeBord could have witnessed the phenomenon that is "reality television". We have made a spectacle of our spectacle, and now we love the cameras we are all voyeurs and exhibitionists. We want "fame", for some reason all or most of us are willing to go out on a limb so that people you've never met will know who you are.
The beer commercial shows a famous sculpture of a man with his fist on his head, in deep thought. One of the most simple and simultaneously amazing pieces of art. Its nothing more than a thinking monkey, but that's the point. He is just thinking and he can because he is human it is cartesian before Decartes. Well in this commercial the sculpture comes to life and goes to get beer. Now I have seen this sculpture in pictures before it is famous, but how many times have I possibly seen it in my life? 10..20? at the most, well by the time I've seen this commercial for the 30th time, I will associate this famous sculpture with a certain brand of beer. Or how about that beatles song, the led zeppelin song, or the rolling stones song? They are all associated with different models of cars and now when you flip on the radio cadillac or pontiac or whatever the fuck it is just got free time in your brain. Adbusters states it most concisely: "Advertising is imperialism of your brain". Vast sums of money are being tossed around and they are fighting over your mind...well not really...but they're definitely at war for all the stupid people's minds.

This scientologist was explaining why his religion was good he used the same words as a mormon television commercial, and as it turns out the same words as a pharmaceutical commercial. "Have you ever been depressed?" "Have you ever felt sad?" "Have you ever felt alienated?". Well let me tell you something folks: If you haven't felt sad, alienated, or depressed a few times in your life, guess what? It turns out you're an android, go get your voigt-kampff. Religion may be the most dangerous of all, because it does not promise you temporary pleasure, reprieve, release. Religion actually promises eternal happiness, paradise, whatever you wanna call it. This is what I used to think religion was a poison above all others, but it is apparent that the allure of pseudo-science, the use of scientific terms sways individuals as well. Ritalin and SSRI anti-depressants are 2 of the most over prescribed drugs on the market. Ritalin is pushed in to kids at a young age, teachers play a part in picking out the "disruptive" ones. And what a surprise in our patriarchal world the teachers would give it to females more than males, because women who speak when not spoken to are quite undesirable and they'll never make a good housewife. So dope 'em up and sit 'em back in class, It wasn't because you've been talking about some random stupid fucking lesson for an entire week that they were bored, its because they're all ADHD. Every commercial break there is an effort to get you to want some kind of medication. Allergies, sleep, depression, anxiety, weight loss, impotence...

It seems that much like the cruel child we have told ourselves that we cured unhappiness, and believed our lie in order to alleviate some fleeting feeling. We reach for our mood organ, but we entertain no thoughts of self-reflection. "Great happiness begets tragedy" is the Eastern saying. The time we live in..."the present" is no different than it ever has been. One cannot control their emotions, which is why it is unfair for these commercials to manipulate us, tell us to buy things we don't need and can't afford. But we can put our ability as the hard thinking monkey in to use, we can understand that if we feel dark, morose, or depressed it is only one more emotion on the path of life one of millions we will experience and most importantly it will fade in to the next emotion.
The only thing constant is change, Buddhists got that one right, impermanence is everything. It will not help us to pretend we are a mental construct like "normal" or a fleeting emotion like "happy".
Socrates said call no man happy until he is dead, because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. It is one of the more existential things Socrates said and it is a good reminder that no matter what chemical is ruling your brain at the present moment the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

School vs. Prison

So why not write about what I see as two similar institutions in United Statesian life. The first being the School and the second being prison. In order to proceed first we must provide an operant definition of both institutions.

School for the purpose of this essay is to include public and private schooling from preschool to at least the end of secondary education. I shall elaborate on the reasoning behind this definition as we proceed.
Prison for the purpose of this essay is the entirety of Corrections or Incarcerations, whether public or private.

Schools are similar to Prisons in many ways the first of which being they are both compulsory. It is illegal for an individual to not attend school until they are 16, which is the age they are given the choice to discontinue schooling. Incarceration is punishment by a court of law for a violation of the codified universal moral code, or temporary imprisonment before trial for infractions. If one chooses to discontinue their education prior to 16 they can be incarcerated for choosing to do so.

Before Columbine, schools were mainly afraid of one thing: black kids. I mention this merely to point out that one focal point of the wholesale of fear leads to another. I have not been to secondary school in some years so I do not know if today it is not Columbine, but Islamic militants which are the focal point of paranoia transforming the public school in to a panopticon. When I first started attending Secondary School the news would let us know that gang members(Politically Correct speak for “black male youth”) were shooting people in schools. Spawning films about the heroism of Kipling’s “white man’s burden”, white woman or white man saves the savages from cannibalism, just without evangelism(i.e. "Dangerous Minds", I don't feel like dedicating the percentage of my brain it would take to remember the names of the other ones which were basically all the same plot). Then, an event: two angry youth decided to use their freedom which granted them easy access to a large amount of power(i.e. firearms) to hurt others. The ability has always been there and it always will, as we move forward in time weapons will become more powerful and it will become even easier for one person to gain life taking powers of greater magnitude.

This is one cost of freedom, but after it happened black youth were no longer the boogeyman, instead the kids who others picked on, they were dangerous. The kid that just wanted to be left alone, cause people talked so much shit to him was the boogeyman. So cameras had to be put up, to use the language of our contemporaries each and every school in North America had been infiltrated by splinter cells of murder-suicide militant activists. Willing to use violence to push their agenda of murder-suicide, so cameras needed to be put everywhere. In ETHS on the very sign there are more than 3 cameras. Wait I want to write this again so you can read it twice: This high school had 3 cameras on their front yard sign, you know the ones with all the landscaping around them? Well if you look on either side of the name just above the flowers you’ll see the dead eye of hal-9000 staring right back at you. Just as Bentham said and Foucault expounded upon the panopticon coerces by means of the illusion of omniscience. As long as there is an electric eye somewhere the individual assumes they’re being watched whether or not someone is manning the control room. So they act as the individual possessing power on the other side of that eye wants them to act.

Now one of my favorite similarities is of course the objective of prisons and secondary schools: getting their visitors a GED! Many prisons claim they don’t let a prisoner go until they have taken the required classes to get their GED. At the very least most prisons have literacy programs, sorry most PUBLIC prisons.

Which brings us to our next similarity they are both just SO damn marketable! With Wackenhut and Corrections Corporation of America making a set contracted amount, then making money off each bed it fills, and even beyond that money they are publicly traded on wall street! I know, I know you’re thinking “Shit! I’m quitting my job and selling my possessions to get in on that business!”
Well hold on there may be a more lucrative opportunity in a different private sector job: schools are also marketed, in most cities around the country private schooling is the only decent education there is. Which means its great business and people gotta get educated so who cares how high tuition is, they’ll always pay it, classes will always be filled, and hell they’ll even thank you for allowing them to pay the king’s ransom. They'll love you forever for allowing you to pay them 20thousand a year, because their child was "admitted". Not only that but if you are a religious school you don’t even have to pay taxes! Oh wait it gets better, just like government efforts to encourage more private prison, many plans circulate (some have been passed at city and statewide levels) for “vouchers” or government subsidies. These “vouchers” are a pittance when compared with a single semester’s tuition, but its free money from the government…Even if you’re a religious school, Establishment clause be damned!

The best critique on compulsory schooling out there is Ivan Illich who wrote “Deschooling Society” and pointed out the inherent power relationship between student and pedagogue in the classroom environment of compulsory schooling. Foucault also expounded upon the relationship between truth and power which grants credence to Illich’s conclusions. The student believes the teacher, the teacher could say anything and because the teacher is not only in a position of power and is therefore correct and should be obeyed (A la Stanley Milgram), but also the teacher actually has the power to punish for not believing their truth. I mean i'm not talking go sit in the corner or go to the principal's office, corporal punishment is still legal in most places.

So being a successful student or prisoner means training in one or both of two things:

1. Evasion, pretending to agree in appearance, but disagreeing and keeping your mouth shut. This quality is key for any population that will accept a totalitarian state, knowing things you see are wrong yet still keeping your mouth shut and shuffling onward is needed to get through school or prison with less punishment.

2. Blind acceptance more easily understood as “faith”. My dad always said his dad always used to say “never trust a person that says ‘trust me’”. To me this meant that one should not just believe blindly, instead one should think critically and evaluate the credibility of anything for yourself. Instead to get through schooling, one memorizes the “facts” declared as truth by the teacher. This student will fail if they spend time questioning instead of memorizing and answering, because there is only so much time for research in a day. Not only that but it becomes a social acceptance issue and a competition issue among your peers. One is stupid or smart in these worlds, very black and white. Tests are administered to gauge the extremity of the students' intelligence or stupidity, in direct relation to the other students.

In conclusion prison and schools are so similar, because their money making potential was recognized years ago by the same individuals who sit on top of the largest companies profiting from them. Prisons suck money out of our pockets when all we have to do is end prohibition. Schools are a place to learn, you should not forfeit your constitutional rights at the door to quote Tinker. Leave the kids alone and let them do their thing.

Don’t get me wrong I am not for dismantling the education system entirely at this point, I’d say it needs dramatic reform. Fortunately the means are already available its called the fourteenth amendment. If the system cannot be reformed then yes it is true that the internet provides an alternative to schooling through its’ vast forums which can be used as “learning networks” as Ivan Illich describes them. All their needs to be is a site that allows the free expression of ideas without any form of censorship.
Now after wading through my bullshit here is your reward: Some of you will say this represents an extreme example, but this is the norm of modern schooling especially in the ‘inner-city’ a.k.a. minority districts. It seems this school took its preparation for acceptance of a police state to a higher level. We can only say this because this is the only example we have footage of. The reason we have the footage is someone with access to it actually had a conscience, and probably lost his or her job, because of their morality.

There are simple ways to reform both the education and justice systems. First is the justice system the first step that must be taken is to end prohibition and record racial information of individuals searched, arrested, or pulled over. As the very specific evidence regarding how disproportionally the law is enforced come to light policy reformation will logically follow. Although simple steps towards prohibition would be nice, the end result is to decriminalize victimless crime. Abolition of Mandatory minimums sentencing, legalization of medicinal marijuana, or spending more money on treatment and education than incarceration for drugs. To accomplish the positive effects of all these one would only need to abolish prohibition. End the drug war and positive effects would be forthcoming, such as the crippling of all street gangs and the entropy of many militant groups across the globe.

The other element schooling can be reformed through a case that already exists called Rodriguez vs. San Antonio Independent School District. In which, under a 14th amendment argument, the district court decided that in order to receive equal protection under the law(equal public education) funding had to be comparable. The case was overturned on appeal, but the logic, morality, and overall legality of the original decision still holds water in my opinion. As I argued in the last essay unless the funding is comparable the education won't be. Instead of local property taxes being the funding for local schools creating little suburban bastions of gated communities and public schools that can actually afford decent teachers, there should be a state fund that is divided proportionally. Per capita, or per school, or per teacher needed; if funding is made somewhat comparable then we would see a rebirth of intelligence in our country. The Ingenuity gap that Thomas Homer-Dixon talks about would be hurdled in a single generation.

Although these 2 simple, morally sound, and easy to implement plans will have the positive effects I listed and have almost no negative effect, the odds of them ever being adopted are minute. These reforms are deemed radical, most likely by the individual even reading this. The first one is "radical" because "drugs are bad" just like "ford is in his flivver". Just another post-hypnotic suggestion, a "normal" ideal, a "tradition", or just another way to say faith.
The second would be seen as "communist". Our culture is still recovering from the cold war, which was nothing but a propaganda war. The Governments bullshitted both their enemies and their own people. They had to make their own people believe that a massive theft of wealth from the entire spectrum of people to the individuals who own the defense contracting corporations which have the best relations with the ruling faction was necessitated. So now any attempts at social justice, welfare, or just to alleviate the suffering of those who are not from the middle or upper class are seen as "Communist" or "Socialist". Truth is, social justice has more than altruistic consequences it has utilitarian and social consequences that effect everyone,