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The Twenty-Third Alternative

Somewhen ago, I wrote a line to the effect that liberals reaching out to rightwing ideologies endanger more lives than do conservatives who reach out to leftwing ideologies. In my 40 years I have come to the conclusion that every human action on this planet, no matter how insignificant it might seem, is either helping people or hurting people, especially ourselves. If age is a state of mind then so too are all the rest of the examples of gray we jointly manifest. The only real complications in any life come from the rationalizing of hurtful actions (or inactions). One of the email threads my last essay initiated led me to expand on this, with the realization that, for all intents and purposes, pragmatism is the opposite of futurism. And, as with the left/right bit, a pragmatist meeting a futurist halfway will sacrifice more of their principles in the doing than does a futurist meeting a pragmatist halfway. There is no getting around that, even though, judging from my inbox, it places everyone who mistakes grasping at straws for thinking outside of boxes on the defensive. Which is everyone. I broke the picket line which draws humanity together.

I’ve been obsessing, the past few days, over a set of social sins first enumerated by an incidentally heretical Anglican priest at Westminster Abbey in 1925 and later adopted and expanded upon by none other than Gandhi himself, who believed they are the roots of all violence we may ever experience no matter the culture and with not one hair’s breadth of wiggle room. All of which define self-obliteration, in a best case scenario, with the worst case being the end of the world. Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Religion without sacrifice. Politics without principle. And rights without responsibilities. I am floored by how distinctively and effectively they completely shortcut pretty much every orthodoxy of beliefs out there, where all varieties of Church, State and Industry fall short to give skeleton keys to their own self-serving prejudices. I mean, there’s just no exceptions where such epic dosage of common sense as this listing is allowed to be the foundation for all to abide by, passionately as though lives depended on it, or not. When every last one of us irrevocably does, minus the hermits enduring life-long solitude in caves on otherwise uninhabited islands.

A few years back, Spanish film-maker Nicolas Alcala gave the definitive anti-TEDx talk. I had actually conducted an earlier interview with him a full week before the global release of his crowd-sourced film, el Cosmonauta; an article unwisely rejected by the BoD at DeviantART because they are evidently one and all the kind of malevolent fakes who purposefully call out the wrong name during their sex. Nic’s anti-TEDx talk was an expansion of our interview, largely consisting of his firsthand experiences being a thoughtless troll online and the obvious ramifications from that which prompted severely candid soul-searching on his part. The talk was filmed in his native tongue, but I grooved his syntax so much that I put together an English translation myself, transcribing it for my old 23zillion webzine. A key talking point referenced fairly recent studies that proved that online communications cannot exist without abuses, because the parties involved are not exchanging physical pheromones. No matter how rich these technological pathways may present themselves, they are unable to compensate for either the strengths or weaknesses of what makes us animals.

But there appears to be a new dimension to the unfortunate equation, with researchers Adam D. I. Kramer, Jamie E. Guillory and Jeffrey T. Hancock publishing their amazing experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.

The abstract description for their study:

Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, with people transferring positive and negative emotions to others. Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks, although the results are controversial. In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.

It’s a rather safe gamble that the developers of these networks already knew all of this, with the whole idea underpinning their lot’s business model being the purposeful exploitation of these transferences. What else could better perform the function of cornerstone in the weaponization of digital data? Still, this research coming to light right now is very interesting, what with mainstream news outlets ranging from the New York Times in the USA to the Sun in the UK suddenly fretting these levels of loneliness before us grown explicitly from trading the real world, for the virtual. And I think the most obvious way of recognizing and conveying this lies in the lingering mythology that is self-determination. Collectively, as always, although in today’s world individually all the more, as the connotation has been quietly replaced by all with self-assertion in the most vulgar manners yet to be conceived.