MENU

THOUGHTS IN PROGRESS

I recently watched a YouTube video about Tristan da Cunha, a tiny island in the middle of the south Atlantic Ocean with the population of 265. They live a simple life and are somehow managing to be self-sufficient. Watching the video, I felt I would go insane if I were born there, just farming all day and all year long with no intellectual stimulation. But then I thought, it’s probably because of people like me that this world has become pointlessly complex. Observing the people of this island, it’s pretty obvious that none of the modern complexity and technological advancement is necessary to live a happy life. It also reminded me of the TED talk by Jon Jandai whose presentation was titled “Life is easy. Why do we make it so hard?”

The problem is that there are no longer real problems that the human race needs to solve. At this point, whatever solutions we come up with are just creating more problems. But we have this massive brain power that we need to do something with. This is the real problem. So we keep creating all these complexities just to give our brains something to do, to fool us into thinking that we are doing something meaningful. But in doing so, we are just making other people’s lives harder. The people like Jon Jandai and the islanders of Tristan da Cunha, as well as the majority of the rural Americans don’t feel the need to keep making technological “progress.”

But the problem with technological progress is that once some people start using it to increase efficiency, the others have no choice but to use it in order to maintain the same quality of life. We do not get paid for the absolute amount of goods we produce. (If that were true, all farmers would be billionaires with today’s technological tools of farming. Each farmer produces far more than a single farmer produced a few hundred years ago.) We get paid relatively to others.

Suppose every farmer produces 100 apples and makes $100 every year. If one farmer gets a new technology that allows him to produce 120 apples every year, he would make $120 a year. But if everyone gets hold of this technology, everyone will start making 120 apples every year. The price of each apple will then start dropping, and soon enough everyone is back making $100 a year even though they are all producing 20 more apples every year.

This also means that, if you are the only person NOT using this technology, you would be the only one still producing only 100 apples. Since the price of each apple has fallen, you would be making only $83.33. You haven’t changed at all but the world did. It’s the invention of this technology that lowered the price of each of your apple. This is why you have no choice but to keep up with the latest technologies just to maintain the same quality of life. The technological advancement did not solve any problems for you; it just made your life more complex.

You might argue that, from the point of view of consumers, lowering the cost of goods would increase the quality of life because we can buy other things with the money we save. But a free market economy doesn’t work that way. If the lowest wage you can survive on becomes lower (because of the lower cost of goods), then it means there will be people who are willing to work for less. The employers would be able to get away with paying less, because they can find cheaper employees.

In order to stop this rat race, everyone will have to stop making technological progress at the same time. If some people keep making progress, the others will have no choice but to compete with them.

The problem is not the pointlessness of technological advancement; it’s the inevitability that, sooner or later, we will lose control over the complexity. It almost happened in 2008 when we lost control over our financial markets because of the complexity of credit default swaps and other derivatives.

I’m not sure how this problem will ever be solved. The billions of people from around the world will have to be enlightened at the same time.

Against Branding — Design and Conflict on Design Observer raises an interesting question but is not argued well. With his critique of Amnesty International posters, his issue appears to be consistency or homogeneity of the looks. He says, “While I’m not claiming that there’s no room for consistency in visual identity design, isn’t the uncritical application of any communications methodology asking for trouble?”

If consistency per se is not the problem, he needs to explain why the rebranded versions are “uncritical.” He fails to explain the relationship between consistency and lack of critical analysis. They are not necessarily related. As a branding strategy, it’s possible to deliberately employ inconsistency while being uncritical, and it’s also possible to be consistent while being critical.

His bigger issue appears to be the socio-economic class. Unfortunately here too, he doesn’t explain how exactly branding contributes or perpetuates the problem. The mechanism is not at all clear in his arguments.

For instance, he uses São Paulo as proof that “removing these signs helped reveal the stark poverty of the favelas (urban slums).” But how? He doesn’t explain. In fact, his claim goes counter to his quoting of Barthes. Barthes’ point isn’t that “myths” veil or hide “class division”, but that they normalize it. That is, manipulative branding or advertising can turn a problem into an identity to be embraced. It does not veil or hide “the stark poverty”; it presents the poverty ubiquitously in order to normalize it. It does the opposite of veiling.

In this sense, the aspect of Donald Trump’s branding that needs a critical analysis is not his vodka but his use of baseball caps during the presidential campaign. Baseball cap is a symbol of the rural working class. The 1-percenters like Trump do not wear baseball caps. It was part of the effort to turn the socio-economic plight into an identity, to normalize the income inequality. This is where Barthes’ analysis of myth becomes relevant.

Between the branding strategies used by Trump and Clinton, the latter was decidedly more “corporate.” Take a look at Trump’s baseball cap; it’s decidedly un-corporate. It’s set in a generic serif font and is barely designed. But I would bet that it was a strategic decision NOT to design it well, to keep it looking lowbrow. Clinton’s branding, designed by Pentagram’s Michael Bierut, was much more corporate, but its sophistication is also a signifier for the urban elitism that the rural working class detests. Trump’s campaign understood this, and Clinton’s didn’t. In one interview I saw, Michael Moore said he suggested making baseball caps to Clinton’s campaign early on but they ridiculed his idea. He said he realized how out of touch they were with the rural working class then.

What this tells us is that whether your branding campaign looks consistent and corporate has nothing to do with whether you are being critical. Clinton’s campaign was out of touch with the people they claim to fight for. If they are not even aware of their plights, how could they be critical in the first place? Trump’s campaign was at least in touch with their people, and knew how to exploit it using deliberately unsophisticated, un-corporate branding strategies.

For most people, “Daily Affirmation with Stuart Smalley” is what Facebook is. It’s a system to receive daily affirmations, to confirm their own biases, to congratulate one another. It’s not a platform where you challenge the ideas of others and others challenge yours. It’s not a peer review system.

It’s uncanny how Richard Rorty predicted this election, but he didn’t just predict it; he saw the process that was happening even in the 90s. We just reached the breaking point now.

Given what we have learned since the election, I’m now willing to say that Trump is preferable to Clinton (as Zizek declared before the election). It’s a high cost but it’s better than eight more years of oppressing the rural working class and suppressing their anger and despair. The outcome of that after eight more years would have been a lot worse.

I saw the problem before the election but had no clue how bad it was. When I wrote the articles explaining why the rural working class would vote for Trump, I was shocked by the reactions I received from my friends. They did not see it at all. Not only that; they became angry at me for writing them. In other words, the Left’s unawareness of the problem was not just lack of curiosity or a result of living in a bubble; it was ideological ignorance. That is, they felt they SHOULD ignore the plight of the rural working class. It was an ideological war against the rural values. Clinton’s use of the word “deplorables” is reflective of this. Had Clinton been elected, this war, which the Left was dominating, would have continued for another eight years. The problem Richard Rorty saw in the 90s would have devasted the entire middle class by then, both rural and urban. It would have been everyone’s problem, except for the top 0.1%.

The key contributing factor, which was not often talked about in this election cycle, is the speed of the technological evolution. The reason why startups are so popular is because technology is super-effective and efficient in amassing the wealth for the very few. Its ability to “scale” the profit without raising the cost is almost infinite. The first group of people to see the consequences of this scary efficiency was the rural whites. Those in the lower class, I don’t think, saw the decline because they were already at the bottom, as low as anyone could go without dying.

The income disparity is the biggest problem we are seeing globally. All the other problems we are seeing, like racism and xenophobia, are merely the symptoms of this main problem. Fighting racism is like taking an aspirin to remove the symptoms of the illness without attending to the cause.

According to this study, corporate programs designed to reduce managerial bias through education like diversity training had an overall negative impact: a 7 percent decline in the odds for black women to get managerial positions and an 8 percent decline in the odds for black men. 

If a well-meaning effort to combat racism can have a negative impact, what do you think verbally attacking your political opponents of being racists would do? Let’s think about this before we further contribute to racism.

The fact that virtually all entertainers of all colors and creeds support the Democrats tells us how in touch they are with the American ideals. The fact that they lost the election despite all their emotional power tells us how out of touch they are with the American reality.

If you are going to criticize someone, don’t just vent your anger from the safety of your own home to some abstract enemy hundreds of miles away. Have the courage to face a real human being.

Democrats: “OK, I listened to the grievances of the rural working class for a day, so I’m gonna go back to attacking the Republicans as racists.”

Republicans: “OK, I listened to the fears of the minority groups for a day, so I’m gonna go back to attacking the Democrats as elitist snobs.”

The is how the great American divide turned into Civil War II.

The End.

This election inspired me to reach out to people with a greater diversity of values; religious, political, national, regional, educational, socio-economic, professional, etc.. Our culture has been too focused on diversity in terms of how we look and has neglected our inner differences. We let “diversity” become a mere buzzword. Because we cannot see our values, we’ve conveniently excused our prejudices.

Through the Internet, we are able to create highly customized bubbles of our own. Our Facebook timelines are great representations of them. Each of our timelines is a unique bubble that caters to our needs and desires. We can judge the people outside of our bubbles all we want without the risk of being judged by them. This isolation, comfort, and safety magnify our fears about the world outside of our bubbles. Our tolerance for different values has weakened to an alarming level.

In our modern societies, the fear and anger towards the other will likely grow over time because of these technologies.

The best way to overcome our fear is to know more about it. “Ignorance” is not lack of knowledge—we cannot know everything—but judging without the willingness to know.

Ignorance permeated both sides of the political spectrum in this election. Both sides feared one another, yet made little to no effort to know one another. They let themselves be so overwhelmed with the fear of the other that they just shut down, and made no effort to reach out to the other side.

The political scientist interviewed in this article did the right thing. For about a decade, she traveled back and forth to rural towns in order to understand “why they feel the way they feel, why they vote the way they vote.” This article was published on Election Day before the result came out, but I think Trump’s victory lends further credibility to her theory.

There is a vast divide between the rural USA and the urban USA. We no longer understand one another. Ugly bigotry actually exists on both sides. The liberals are lucky because there is no shameful term like “racism” to label their own version. The closest word is perhaps “elitism.”

« previous   1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9