An oft-quoted but poorly associated phrase urges us to “measure society by how it treats its weakest members.” And yet how to consider this term “weakest”? Do we speak of the mentally weak? The physically weak or those unable to conceptualize a concept of “weakness”? Perhaps in our own inability to define “weakness” we expose the very weakness we detest. Too often we frame existence in binary terms: good v. bad, happy v. sad, normal v. abnormal.
Ironically this need to frame things in clearly polar terms exposes our weakness of understanding. Too limited to understand the relativity of situations we narrow thinking to categorization. Groupings aid understanding by providing justifications of discrimination. Item A belongs in Box A. Item B remains a part of B because of feature X, Y, and Z. Making sense out of nonsense is a necessity of existence and yet what of the dangers of such actions? How might such simplification sacrifice progress or worse yet damage progress made?
In working to establish categories for life we extoll a certain clout. We are rulers of domain, framers of our world view and some abstract form of carpenter from which we nail firm a hobby-horse of life. We call this work “perspective”, the uber-personal sense of what is and what will be. Despite our limitations we make a world from what we sense. Didion wrote of stories as necessities from which we frame our existence. “We make sense” from these behaviors and though feel powerful suggest less a greater strength and more an enthusiastic embrace of ignorant indifference.
Influence comes in many forms. In its most basic (and likely historical) form, influence by bulk allows direction and control. The bigger body holds command because its simply bigger. The bigger body is a threat, a potential hazard threatening life. “I’m bigger and can hurt you”, though unspoken, hovers over interactions.
In our need to avoid pain and continue our existence we self-preserve in consolation. Roll over, weak man, the bigger one is near and knows just what he wants. Dare the smaller body refuse to concede, he must utilize a different form of influence.
Where physical power is defeated a power of cognition fogs the interaction. Tasked with challenging a stronger figure, the weaker body’s strength of mind becomes the crucial tool. The weaker one can gain power by manipulating interpretation. Reality is understood by interpretation and any technique that can muddle this procedure gives way to endless forms of control.
To control what one perceives is far simpler than it seems. Can one decide what another sees? Can sound be manipulated or the very tools from which one frames the sense of life? Herein lies the greatest form of influence: the controlling of the mind.
For the skilled operator of rhetoric and reason it is the ability to control interpretation that has greatest power. Well deployed by leaders of all areas of life, this skill provides the user with immense strength. Millions have given their lives for causes and figures whose existence they were unaware of until some introduction. No one is born with a call to action or need to fulfill a destiny. All must be indoctrinated and convinced to act.
The control of the mind is the greatest power. For some, the ability to manipulate the intellect is an in-born skill. Discovered with age, the master manipulators in society spill forth with perhaps the most profound decision granted to an individual: to manipulate or not to manipulate? For those gifted with the ability to influence it is simply a question of application. While some will recognize their gifts and skills as devices from which to create a better good, others will see powers for abuse. How might one utilize the ultimate gift? If power corrupts it does so while providing the simple question of “How?” If you choose to use these skills, it asks, how will you do so? In the end there is no greater strength than this ability to use communication to manipulate. Is our entire history a series of responses by figures given these skills? History is a narrative of these answers.
Three women held captive for a decade finally escape their captor. Is this a story c0ncept beyond the wildest Hollywood thriller? Too daring for even a tabloid’s pulpy content? Perhaps in previous months such a story would be too extraordinary to invent for readers but just last week the story was reality. Deployed to the scene the media was fast to seek, create and curate all forms of content related to the story. Neighbors became speakers, streets became patchworks of evidence and an entire region a cinematic scene for narration.
Media functions most efficiently when a story needs curation. Well equipped to create content it is no wonder that many media stories become the most popular narratives for contemporary culture. A weekend box office pales in comparison with the time invested by the general public. Few spend as many hours reading fiction as they do watching a court room drama on cable TV. Contemporary culture is one obsessed with curated reality- a format less tied to the banal and mundane and more with tragedy and trauma. Among the great quandaries on every contemporary brain, namely “What if” and “Who did” the media provides endless examples and responses to suggestion.
Perhaps most ironic is media coverage surrounding stories of individuals held against their will. Instantly deployed to sites of grand escapes the media becomes the next captor as their excitement and need for coverage converge onto a site as a focused train of content creation. Within seconds of being released from their captor the kidnapped become recaptured by the media.
For the three females whose escape from a decade of imprisonment came just a week ago a new form of kidnapping must be navigated. Now hiding in a secret location, the three females are prisoners in a new jail. Though far less violent and exponentially more comfortable (one hopes), this new jail retains a level of abuse. Until the media decides to move on to the next story these victims remain victims. Protected now behind a cadre of lawyers forced to advocate for the suffering, these females remain under attack.
Contemporary existence is one of constant content creation. Recording capabilities of modern technology create a world where every moment is recorded. Unintended stars of videos become viral memes if fate decides to strike. Though often cast without intention, desire or even awareness many become figures in the videos and images of others.
When I attend an event I do not desire to be photographed. My neighbor does not desire to take my photo, but in snapping an image of home plate my figure is included. What right do I have to decide the status of this image? Can I ask it be deleted? Modern technology creates a conundrum of possession. Though often unaware, we are victims of constant surveillance. From the cell phones, tablets and cameras our every movement could be tracked. Visit a particularly photogenic location and the chances of being recorded increase significantly. Indeed one who visits any site where phones are in use and the chances of being recorded are present. One cannot escape the potential of being recorded.
We often resolve this issue by considering possession. The individual who owns the device that capture the image holds the power to decide what happens to the material it creates. Is this correct? Does the content created by a device automatically possess these rights?
In some cases we extend the rights and responsibilities of the creator to the creator. The food which poisons belongs to the chef. The bullets which kill belong to the gun owner. Links bind material with material. May we extend these same ideas to recorded content?
The internet presents a new challenge to this issue. An image exists in multiple domains online- ever living and spreading, one cannot know where or who is viewing or manipulating the image. A bad plate of food remains on the table and the bullet must eventually fall.
The internet and contemporary technology demand a new set of rights for human beings. If recorded, the individual must be given the opportunity to decide the fate of the recording. To provide the recorded with this ability to suggest is the ethical responsibility of the recorder. If I catch you with my camera I should let you know and offer you an option. If present and easily identifiable you have the right to decide.