The almost total transformation of society

“As a historian, the almost total transformation of society scares me”

The Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is on the right track, although he has far too much faith in the people in charge and has failed to grasp the key point that the “current transformation” is not “meant for our good” and has nothing to do with a microbe. Nevertheless, his historical comparison is apt. Most people will find it ridiculous or even offensive, because they will take it literally and ignore the deeper point that the Rabbi is making, which involves mass psychology. The speed and scale of the societal change that has occurred worldwide is truly frightening and without precedent in all of human history. The fact that the supine people of the West have accepted it with barely a question or complaint really makes me wonder what further surprises may be in store for us over the coming weeks or months. If you are not disturbed by where this is trending, you are simply not paying attention.

The manufacture of consent

Clap Because We Care NYCWhat is the purpose of “Clap Because We Care,” the nightly ritualized clapping and cheering for medical personnel and other essential workers* in New York City?

As far as I can tell, the function of this ritual is threefold:

1) To heighten the impression of total and permanent crisis, reinforcing the need for indefinite lockdowns;

2) To evoke traditional celebrations of military personnel and first responders, creating the impression that the viral outbreak is similar to a war or terrorist attack;

3) To generate a (fake) sense of community with strangers who are similarly confined to their homes (this being the only large-scale social activity still permitted), and therefore conditioning New Yorkers to accept, embrace and even enjoy their isolation and confinement as the “new normal.”

In summary, the purpose of these orchestrated clapping sessions – like the terrifying stories being spewed by the media and social media – is to manufacture consent for ongoing, massive political and societal changes that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Creepy stuff.

*(The category of “essential workers” is quite broad; based on the city’s definition of “essential businesses or entities,” it seems to include bankers and journalists as well as healthcare workers treating WuFlu patients. By some accounts, the clapping is primarily directed at medical personnel, but other reports mention truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc. The vagueness of what categories of workers are being celebrated is another creepy aspect of the ritual. At least in Airstrip One, the clapping is specifically for the NHS.)

Compliance

So here’s the deal. Every time there is a new threat to life and limb – real, exaggerated or fictional – we are going to shut down the world.

Perhaps the next threat will be another novel virus, or a jihadist with a loose nuke, or a fake environmental emergency. Perhaps it will be Russia or China conspiring to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

Regardless of what it is, the threat will trigger the same flurry of demands and orders we are seeing now. Shut everything down. Don’t leave your house. No, you can’t get a haircut, celebrate Mass, or have a picnic in the park. These things are banned until further notice… until WE decide it’s safe.

The intensifying restrictions on life in dozens of countries are thus a kind of worldwide experiment in compliance. We (both institutions and individuals) are being tested to see how easily we will roll over in the face of official demands that we change our behavior and surrender our liberties – temporarily, of course, and for our own good.

The test has been performed and the results are in.

The Mandela effect, Star Wars edition

How much do you trust your memory?

We all know the famous line. “Luke, I am your father.” Right?

Now I have probably seen this scene a dozen times over the years, but even so, I was mildly shocked to watch this video. Listen carefully:

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That’s right… “Luke, I am your father” is not spoken in the movie. The line does not exist in the film, although it lives in our pop culture and collective memory. Your memory lied!

The confusion over this line is an example of what is sometimes called the Mandela effect. I reckon the universe is a might peculiar. Enjoy!

A glitch in the Matrix?

Berenstain Bears

Do you remember a series of children’s books about a family of anthropomorphized bears? Remember what it was called, and how the series title was spelled and pronounced?

Picture it in your mind and say it out loud before clicking this link. And this.

Yeah. Something isn’t quite right here. I think we’re being messed with. By whom and for what purpose, I’m not sure.

I haven’t exactly done a survey, but it would appear that many tens of thousands of American remember it the way I do. Many, like I do, probably remember it very vividly. The idea that we are all sharing a false memory stretches credibility, but stranger things have happened.

What I’m curious to know is, does *anyone* remember it the way it is “supposed” to be spelled? Seriously now.

UPDATE: Ok, I’ve talked to one person two people who remember the “correct” spelling.

The most relaxing song on earth, according to science

Here is “Weightless,” a song specially designed to be the most relaxing piece of music on earth:

Listen and feel your blood pressure and cortisol levels ebb.

It’s science:

According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, which conducted the research, the top song produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date.

In fact, listening to that one song — “Weightless” — resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

That is remarkable.

Equally remarkable is the fact the song was actually constructed to do so. The group that created “Weightless”, Marconi Union, did so in collaboration with sound therapists. Its carefully arranged harmonies, rhythms, and bass lines help slow a listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Shiri’s Scissor

Grinning woman with shears

Fun story, presumably fictional, about an online advertising startup that uses a “deep learning” network to generate maximally controversial statements – assertions precisely calibrated to split people into opposing groups separated by a wide gulf of incomprehension and hatred.

The program is first used to spit out a divisive statement about the company’s product design, provoking an immediate civil war within the coding team. As the company dissolves into chaos, the program – dubbed “Shiri’s Scissor” – is applied to the Reddit forum dedicated to Mozambique, where it generates an explosively controversial headline regarding the African nation. A mysterious insurgency rocks Mozambique soon thereafter (this is actually real). The narrator even begins to suspect that a Scissor-like program has been set loose in American politics.

The story made me think of this very divisive auditory illusion. I am still convinced that people who heard something other than what I heard are literally insane.

Age of cults

Keith Raniere NXIVM

Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM

It seems that cults are all over the news these days. What gives? Here is a partial roundup of top cult stories from just the past week:

“How an Irish mother saved her child from the “sex cult” NXIVM” (Sept 21)

“Nicole Kidman: Why She’s Giving Son, 23, His ‘Freedom’ & Not Pressuring Him To Leave Scientology” (Sept 20)

“Trial starts for militant religious sect leader over abuse” (Sept 20) — Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps

“Alleged Sex Cult Mastermind Keith Raniere To Rot In Jail For Months Until Trial” (Sept 19) — NXIVM

“Heaven’s Gate Cult Threatens Legal Action Over Lil Uzi Vert’s “New Patek” Cover” (Sept 19)

“‘I lost my entire family to a cult’: How one woman escaped Grace Road” (Sept 19) — “A South Korean church which believes global famine is imminent has set up base in Fiji, where it’s gained considerable influence but faced growing allegations of abuse.”

“15-Month-Old Girl Was Starved to Death by Dad Connected to Black Supremacist Cult” (Sept 18) — United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors

(I’ll take this opportunity to mention that back in July, Japan executed the former leader and six other members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which carried out the infamous 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. Police were on alert for shenanigans by Aum followers, who remain active.)

We certainly appear to be living through a time of mass hysteria and apocalyptic thinking, at least in the US, which may explain the plethora of cult-related headlines. As social mood continues to darken, the prevalence and popularity of cults may well increase.

“These people are complete narcissists”

Google leadership seminar

Google leadership seminar (source)

I enjoyed this rant against Big Tech, which besides being funny, also contains the kernel of a very interesting idea for how to address the growing crisis around data privacy and ownership:

Bannon also added this gem about Tesla:

I do not have a dog in this fight, but Musk seems increasingly unhinged to me, and the little stunt he pulled with his abandoned buyout plan was undeniably shady. But… are you not entertained?

Peter Thiel interview

Interesting interview with Peter Thiel in a Swiss magazine:

At the moment, Silicon Valley still looks all-powerful.

The big question is: Will the future of the computer age be decentralized or centralized? Back in the 60s, you had this Star Trek idea of an IBM computer running a planet for thousands of years, where people were happy but unfree. Today, again we are thinking that it is going to be centralized: Big companies, big governments, surveillance states like China. When we started Paypal in 1999, it was exactly the opposite: This vision of a libertarian, anarchistic internet. History tells me that the pendulum has swung back and forth. So, today I would bet on decentralization and on more privacy. I don’t think we are at the end of history and it’s just going to end in the world surveillance state. […]

You label yourself a “contrarian”. How did you become one? How does one become a contrarian?

It is a label that has been given to me, not one that I give normally to myself. I don’t think a contrarian per se is the right thing to be. A pure contrarian just attaches a minus sign to whatever the crowd thinks. I don’t think it should be as simple as that. What I think is important for people is to try to think very hard for oneself. But yes, I do deeply mistrust all these kinds of almost hypnotic mass and crowd phenomena and I think they happen to a disturbing degree.

Why do they happen in a supposedly enlightened society?

The advanced technological civilization of the early 21st century is a complicated world where it is not possible for anybody to think through everything for themselves. You cannot be a polymath in quite the way people were in the 18th century enlightenments. You cannot be like Goethe. So there is some need to listen to experts, to defer to other people. And then, there is always the danger of that going too far and people not thinking critically. This happens in spades in Silicon Valley. There is certainly something about it that made it very prone to the dotcom bubble in the nineties or to the cleantech bubble in the last decade.