And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Narcissism Rising

Today we talk about positive power, neoliberalism, narcissism as a reaction to modern life, how technology makes isolation easier, and some tactics to find peace in the digital panopticon.

An excerpt:

Everything in this world is slowly being turned into the same he (Byung-Chul Han) says "the terror of the same affects all areas of life today. One travels everywhere yet does not experience anything. One catches sight of everything yet reaches no Insight. One accumulates information and data yet does not attain knowledge. One lusts after adventures and stimulation but always Remains the Same. One accumulates online friends and followers yet never encounters another person."

Now let's break down what he means by all those, and how Tech technology makes these easier. But maybe the first thing that needs to be addressed is, I'm sure, there are some people out there who hear Han say that everybody in the world is turning into the same thing, and they're thinking "What world is this guy living in, people don't have enough of "the other" in their life? That's literally the problem with Society is that people are turning people into "the other" when it's not appropriate, to this tribalism that people cling to. You know, they see someone who politically disagrees with them and they don't see another person who, all things considered, we agree on more things than we disagree on. No, they turn this person into the enemy in their world, then these people talk past each other, and they can never really have a good conversation. The problem with this world someone could say is that we embrace the concept of "the other" too much."

But what by Byung-Chul Han would no doubt say back is, "Would you call that a genuine interaction with "the other" when a person does that? Would you call that the person really encountering ideas that they disagree with? Truly considering those ideas, and then sitting with them? Or is that whole process just a poorly hidden attempt to confirm their own bias so they don't have to really get to know the person, and how they feel? In other words is this in reality just another version of narcissistic self-affirmation? Tell me if you've ever found yourself on one side or another of a political issue and you write a comment on the internet and someone from the other side claps back at you, do you ever feel like that person truly understands where you're coming from? Does it even feel like they care about knowing where you're coming from? No, there's nothing about them that truly wants to encounter difference or "the other", what they want is for everybody to have pretty much the same thoughts that they do. Everything needs to be the same to this person because truly listening to another person, setting your ego aside, feeling another person's perspective, that can be incredibly uncomfortable. it forces you to think of them as they are, something totally different than you, not just how they benefit you in some transactional way. The people trapped in this achievement Society will often have zero deep close relationships in their entire life. And the people they do have as friends end up just being transactional. You know, they increase their market value in some sort of way. They support the image they have of themselves. Their friends are good contacts to have in a networking sense. The Narcissist loves to have friends that are all the same as them and agree with them on everything, tell them everything they're doing is just fine. And this extends to the way they act when they come across new potentially perspective shifting ideas, yes in the political sphere, but also documentaries videos, podcasts, anything. They're never looking to entertain anything that's too far outside their field of view. They just want to see new ideas that are mostly kind of already corresponding with what they think they know.

Now this is another way that the narcissist denies "the other" in their life, further isolating themselves just a little bit more. Now none of this is actually trying to engage with true difference, Just an Illusion of it. In reality, Han says, "the other" is "incomparable", meaning, even looking at "the other" and trying to understand that person or those ideas by comparing them to predefined categories, even that obscures the true difference of "the other" because it's just viewing them through your own individual set of terms that are important to you. It reduces the true beauty of "the other", he says, into mere "diversity". What this leads to is a crisis of connection and a crisis of love for people in the modern world. People want everything and everyone to be the same.

You know another example of this is when someone takes a selfie, Han says, and then puts a filter on it to smooth out all the edges and the imperfections, and this turns them into some standard of beauty that isn't them. And then, Han says, when you remove the "otherness" from somebody, you can't ever really love that person. All you can do is consume them. When you remove the "otherness" from an idea, it can't ever really affect you fully. All you can do is consume it. And think of all the ways people are turned into things to consume when it comes to romance on the internet. Anyway true interaction with, and true consideration of "the other", this is what is missing for a lot of people in today's world and it makes it even easier to fall into this place, Han says, because the technology that pretty much everybody uses enables further isolation, almost like it's an addiction. When you're on the internet, for example, if you ever encounter anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, like you truly have to put your ego aside for a second and try to understand it from the eyes of someone else, you can just click off the page, you can just swipe to the next video, and the algorithm will happily go along with it for you because its job is just to keep you on the app. It doesn't really care what kind of narcissistic game you're playing. In a sense, Han says, we propagandize ourselves. Most examples of people being dominated throughout history have had some sort of symbol that people carry around with them that represents their domination. Think of slaves being branded. Think of a Scarlet Letter. Well, to Han, the smartphone is that to us, and more than that, actually, because it strengthens our form of domination. He Compares a smartphone to a rosary and Beads, you know, something that people who are under the control of a religion carry around with them and hold up at the opportune time. It's not only a surveillance device for us, it's also a digital confessional, and Facebook is the church, he says a like is a digital amen and instead of asking for forgiveness we call out for attention.  
In fact, almost everything about the smartphone, he says, is utterly incompatible with true thinking and freedom. To understand where he's coming from with this point, we have to make a distinction between what he thinks is "true thinking", and "what often passes for thinking" for people. Consider what it's like to be on Tick Tock, or most of the internet for that matter. Tick tock's just a very obvious version of it. You're scrolling around from video to video, you're getting tons of information, but there's no contemplation that's going on about it. In fact that's the appeal of watching any of these Channel that hack your attention span, you don't have to put in any thought. Nothing you're watching has to connect to some deeper picture of the world that you have, it's all self-referential. Like when you watch one of these videos, it really is just some narcissist dancing in the mirror, you know making little cutesy faces, because that's what you do when you're dancing, right? You switch to another video," I've got to bake the world's largest coconut cream pie and then live inside of it for 40 days and that's it, that that's truly all the video is. And there's something beautiful about that, it's part of the appeal, but there's no depth to that experience. There's nothing meaningful about reality that those things are connecting to, with people. You're having a surface level interaction with reality and that some people wonder why it seems like most of the stuff they consume is meaningless. 
This is what he meant, by the way, from that quote from earlier where he talked about "the terror of the same affecting all areas of life. You travel everywhere, but don't experience anything, you see everything, but have zero Insight. You consume information, but gain zero knowledge, lust after adventures and stimulation, but stay the same, get online friends and followers, but never encounter another person, he says, because the pace of the world is speeding up in modern times. Because you can just pull up a screen and Float from video to video, that gives you a shallow experience of the world. You can bring that shallow level of understanding to every experience that you have. If you want meaning, knowledge, truth, these things only come when you contemplate how the present moment connects to the past and the future. But there's never any time to contemplate when you're just scrolling from one distraction in life to the next. It takes someone actively making the choice to slow down, and take an inventory of how this stuff actually impacts you. Think of the person that speed reads through a book, you know just consuming all that information but then never remembers any of it after they're done reading. If you don't take the time to contemplate how that information connects to the existing order of things, all that's just gonna stay raw information, nothing more. And again, to the person trapped in that shallow narcissism never really considering "the other" that shallowness becomes the depth you're capable of having in every experience you encounter. See, that's one of the costs of blindly living in this achievement Society.

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