Many people digest the news via late night or comedy (panel) shows. For many this seems to be the sole source of information. John Oliver and Trevor Noah spend a lot of time explaining news context.

Now, laughing about the mistakes and hypocrisies of the powerful can be a good thing. However, there is a risk that by merely laughing about it we confirm the status quo, because if it’s funny it cannot be that bad. Maybe a reason, why people like Jon Stewart and Bremner are not around anymore. Comedy soothes us in and gives us a sense of meaning where anger would be required.

Putting Trump on comedy makes him more human.

The number of comedy panel shows in the UK is really overwhelming. This might be because they are actually easy to produce and the format doesn’t seem to wear out. It’s like having a chat for lonely people.

Comedians tend to be working or middle class and left leaning. However, social critique features very little. In the drive to capitalise on being part of the media machine/business they forget the role they could have. Many of them become celebrities, the same type they ridicule.

Standup comedians seem to rely on certain effects nowadays: swearing, description of slapstick moments (eg drunkenness), repetitiveness, dropping of random facts which are then picked up later in a close (to give the feel of some sophistication). Vulgarity has really increased in TV comedy, it seems to be the way to connect with a larger working class audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like comedy but I think we attach too much power to its creators. They cannot fulfil the social change that we desire.

I was reading Albin Aberg’s paper ‘The Reflexive Self and Social Media’ (Amsterdam 2016), it seems to be his MA thesis. He tries to explain how social media labour can be seen through the Marxist lense. How can we explain that people work for free on social media and create content and user data?

Aberg contrasts the view of Andrejevic, Fisher and Rey with that of Giddens. As a social media user the individual is always answerable to their audience; the timeline is forever available. We are dealing with spatiotemporal ‘displacement’. Control is possible without spatial presence. The timeline narrative has become a separate object.

Users need to construct a narrative which they share with the world. Facebook is obviously a panopticon – everyone can see and control others. Identity work limits us, we are now less experimental with our identity. Users produce content and a ‘servable audience’ via data.

Giddens sees (late modern) life as a project. Reflexivity is a constant mirror stage where the individual needs to create his ‘identity’ via self-interrogation. The individual needs to be seen to be in control by others. Because Facebook answers our call for reflexivity, we keep on expanding and using it.

Aberg summarises nicely: ‘It is in this relationship between exchange-value that is extracted through the commodified dataset in order to be resold to the user as targeted ads that the alienating aspect, and also the reflexive moment (for the individual in a vacuum) of Facebook is located.’

As a new form of exploitation we have the interweaving of brands and branded content into the identity of users (prosumption). This then leads the next user to continue the brand labour.

I always wondered about the message in ‘Charlie in the Chocolate Factory’ (‘Charlie’ from here). The story is too popular to be meaningless. Dahl seems to idolize poverty. But we have two versions of the rich capitalist, the profit seeking father of Veruca and the factory owner Wonka himself. Wonka employs unpaid drones: Oompa Loompas. Wonka satisfies and creates our desire for chocolate. Yet too much consumption (fat) is not good. We see the four sins of gluttony, spoiledness/overindulgence, gum and fame addiction, TV addiction (over stimulation).

Dahl’s vision is a very religious one, being poor is a virtue. But good things (factory ownership) come to those that are virtuous.

I think there are two ways it can be interpreted: One, Wonka is a good capitalist who wants to stress the good things about the system. He creates fairness (chance to win) for everyone who can afford chocolate. He is not profit but quality driven. Second, Wonka is neither good nor bad, he is eccentric, he is part of the system but he lacks empathy for (spoiled) children – he doesn’t see that it’s the parents’ fault. Maybe it is important for children to understand this ambiguity of life. We can hope but not expect goodness.

If Wonka was a real socialist (or prophet), why would he not give away chocolates to the poor?

You can read a few more views on Reddit, OfWealth, Vice, and LiteraryRamblings.

Marco Wehr wrote an article in the German FAZ about the secrets of genius – the main message stayed with me. Einstein claimed that you need nose and forehead to be successful (a genius) – symbolising curiosity and persistence. Scientific success (uniqueness) doesn’t require a very high IQ or very early triumph. But hard word will get you further. Breakthrough comes after long periods of dryness – drilling of thick timber.

[I started this article some time ago and in its current form it’s more like a fragment (mind stream), it has a lot of ideas but doesn’t connect them well]

In this article I want to understand what critique (critical theory) can tell us about the influence of neoliberalism on our self – this image of us that we show to the world. I think that neoliberalism has managed to infiltrate our self. We have become marketeers of ourselves. Does technology alienate us from ourselves?

I want to understand whether there is an alternative, a Marxian nirvana where

[...] nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.#1

I will quite heavily rely on the Korean philosopher BH Han, because his view is very striking.

I think our increasing individualism is not real, it is only a new form of conformism via repeated individualisms. While neoliberalism seemingly propagates individualism, it does lead to coerced conformism (bubbles). True individualism lets us change roles and not define us via the desirability of the market.

We are ruled by the 3 big Cs: absolute Consumption, Commodification and Consumerism.

Technology creates media which enable the neoliberal transformation of our self. Creativity has been commercialised. Many artists end up as ‘creatives’ in the advertising sector. Technology has widened the realm of consumption. Content has become a product and needs to be consumed, so that the advertising can pay for the content creation.

The market has managed to answer all our needs, even our efforts to escape the commodification are answered by market solutions – usually in the form of technology which will be later monetised. This is how capitalism survives every crisis. It is the ‘murketing’ that uses the satire, irony or criticism of products and incorporates it in their marketing. Freemium is the capitalist model where a ‘good idea’ is adopted by many, then grown exponentially and then monetised in the future. If you pay nothing, you are the product.

Han says: “Today we live in a dictatorship of neoliberalism. In neoliberalism everyone is an entrepreneur of himself.” (Zeit 2014)

Han argues that we move from exploitation of the other to self-exploitation, because it produces more efficiency and productivity.

Han: “there is absolute consumption, which is removed [alienated] from the use of things. The business has delegated advertising to the consumer.” I think Han means the production of branded content on social media sites.

Han: “the crisis of freedom is that we perceive compulsion [coercion, un-freedom] as freedom”

Han: “The digital feudal lords like Facebook give us land and say: Plough the land, it is for free. And so we plough (like mad). At the end the lords come and get the harvest. This is exploitation of communication. We communicate and feel free. The feudal lords capitalise our communication.”

We feel the urge to better ourselves, to optimise. As we measure more (fitbit etc) we also need to improve. We have become like businesses that need to grow. Success is measured in calories burned and Twitter followers. Orthorexia – the obsession of eating right – is the ultimate dominance of betterment of our self and our body. Even initiatives like bringing mindfulness training to work (while maybe well intended), only acerbates the problem by letting our employer influence our mind. We pendulate between privilege and guilt: wealth increase and charity donations. Gyms and health stores are the new temples, where we bring our sacrifices in form of money and sweat.

Lemke (2002) references Cruikshank’s work, she talks about the self esteem movement:

“Self Esteem” thus has much more to do with self assessment than with self respect, as the self continuously has to be measured, judged, and disciplined in order to gear personal “empowerment” to collective yardsticks.#2

Curtis in his 2002 documentary on the Self, argues that psychoanalysis entered into the manipulation of the masses via Public Relations very early on. Every attempt by consumers to individuate themselves was met with attempts by the psychological researchers to reign back control.

Curtis in his other 2016 documentary called Hypernormalisation states that politicians invent a simplified fake world (eg changing definition of who is a terrorist) which is the opposite of our complex world. People have turned away from society and have found the Internet as a way to permanently reflect their own self – this assures them and calms them.

How can we escape the neoliberal colonization of the self? We need to understand that constant consumption makes us slaves to a system where we have to perpetually create better versions of ourselves.

PS: I am also currently reading Kluge and Negt’s History and Obstinacy and will follow up on this theme.

Footnote
1. Marx, German Ideology Chapter 1
2. Lemke 2002. Foucault, Governmentality, and Critique. Rethinking Marxism

The Milos Foreman movie ‘Amadeus’ is a brilliant movie. While Salieri (teacher of Beethoven and Schubert) might not have been a true adversary of Mozart, seeing the world through his eyes is astounding. The detail that went into the movie is great. While rewatching it, I noticed how religious a movie it actually is. Salieri is obsessed with the fact that Ama-deus (love of God) is God’s son (incarnation) but he is shocked at the infantility of the person. At best we are destined (by God) to be mediocre beings in a world that is like a lunatic asylum.

Mozart was very vulgar, he seemed to be obsessed with the ‘ass’ and faeces. Some speculate that he had Tourette’s syndrome. Oliver Sacks even debated the idea.

I think it should not surprise us that ‘genius’ sometimes comes in very simple and blunt forms. Genius is a product of talent/genes and education. Devoting your life to one activity only will lead to underdevelopment of other faculties. WA Mozart’s father Leopold was one of the best violin teachers in Europe at the time. Wolfgang was not allowed to live his childhood, that’s why he had to carry it with him through his life.

Genius can be like an overtrained muscle, if you only lift heavy things with your right arm you will look very disproportional.

Genius requires simplicity.

We need to differentiate between a simple genius and a universal one like Goethe. Maybe Einstein who was a musician and physicist was the last one alive.

Imagine what music Mozart could have written if he lived a more stable and longer life and would have put more mature thought into it.

Nowadays supermarket customers can check out themselves and scan products themselves. Many obviously pay by card but I was interested to see how a cash dispensing till would work.

I have written some Python code to simulate the whole setup. We start with a till that has a distibution of coins (1000 1p etc). The key function is change(), which given a price and total paid (difference rem) has to issue the right coin change. It finds the largest coin below the rem and then works from largest to smallest to issue correct change. This way we try to avoid running out of small coins. This large-to-small algorithm is very simple and probably close how humans would do it. One improvement could be to under-sample coins that we have few off in the till.

The trickiest bit (draw()) is simulating what a customer would give in change. I had to add some randomness to it to stock up small coins (10% of time customer gives exact change in 1, 2 or 5p coins). Without this part the till will run out of change very quickly.

I work a lot with global variables in this example as I don’t have to handle function IO so much.