Immoral Mission Creep

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

First expressed in 1953, “mission creep” is the “expansion of a mission beyond its initial goals, even after its initial success”. Though often used to refer to military campaigns, it also provides an agile perspective to assess all social movements. Sensing success and popular acceptance, a group proceeds onward with another set of goals. In business the endless “pushing forward” is the name of the game: new products are the life line of a company and successful companies are known for multiple types of products.

Unlike businesses, where a concrete “product” is created, groups dedicated to the promotion of abstract concepts also suffer mission creep. Advocates can never solve a problem: there will always be persistent crumbs of the initial target problem. For a group determined to eliminate discrimination success can only breed new missions: “We are successful, so let’s move this campaign forward.”

Unfortunately the attributes of these movements is not always associated with goals that benefit society. For every group determined to eliminate discrimination another stands determined to continue or expand the status quo abuse. Progress is an endless battle, a constant give and take between perspectives of the greater good. For the individuals working to achieve a goal there remains only constant, infinite levels of challenge.

Certainly Uncertain

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

In the chaos of existence comes a desperate search for certainty. From vast unknowns we find discomfort and anxiety. We fear to be mistaken and the pain of our confusion births a desperate need to know.

In The Wisdom of Uncertainty, Alan Watts suggests a comfort in confusing times. “The future is not here”, he writes and urges us to pause and think. To exist within the moment is our only saving grace. Reflection is an act of creation: remembering our memories and drawing our conclusions.

Watts reminds us that existence is a tricky thing: we are gifted with extraordinary senses that sponge the world around us. From sights and sounds to smells and thoughts the composition of our minds are overflowing streams of data. And yet, despite such profound gifts we cannot draw conclusions from this information. In reality there is o certainty in what we experience: the random is the norm.

Watts recalls an event in his childhood where he desired to send his friend a package of water. Desiring to mail it so that his recipient would open it and sense the deluge, he ultimately realizes the impossibility of the process. “The trouble is to get the water into any manageable shape”, he writes. For Watts this moment provided a pivotal insight into what he terms the “attempted solutions” of human enterprise. To simplify complicated things in neatly organized packages is impossible.

Watts reminds us of the greatest human folly: suggesting a simplicity to the endless state of chaos. We are not in control, we cannot create sense because it is not there. To exist is to be a witness to the wonderment of nature. We are better served in simplicity: recognize our limitations in drawing conclusions and simply be within ourselves. To recognize the world is not to find some over-arching rule or divinity in control. We cannot know and some “supposed secret knowledge” is hidden or non-existent. The better way to live? Present and aware, sponging with our tools and living for the moment. “It is only through silence that one can find something new to talk about”.

Diet, Dearth and Future

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

For those in search of “purity”, the contents of one’s diet are often prime for scrutiny. Beyond components of our careful, cooked creations come powerful revelations on our character. In diet is our character.

For many, a diet is a text wherein one’s feeding is a gateway to the soul. Who is a person? Consider what he eats.

Religion and medical terminology permeate our food labels with terms like “prescribe” and “heal” suggesting deeper, hidden powers. Does  consumption of a brownie mean a crime against the heavens? Our labels might suggest we have as words like “sinful”, “treat”  and “guilty” fill the labels on our food. “Indulge” we read because our item is “guilt free”.

The items that we feed ourselves are symbols for our soul and history is rife with heightened dietary focus. In The Nazi War on Cancer, Robert Proctor writes on Nazi dietary guidelines. Included in his text are dietary notes from Hitler’s second-in-command Heinrich Himmler.  Reading of Himmler’s fear of “artificial food”, we read statements that seem snipped from contemporary diet concerns. Terms like “natural” and “cleanliness” permeate the text. Himmler writes of a concern for a “natural” diet free from “bad foods” like “refined flour, sugar, and white bread.” Just like so many in contemporary society the backwards move to a “natural” diet of the past was essential to existence.

Himmler writes of “food companies” who “prescribe” the German diet and mask an unassuming public. He bemoans the consumption of “refined flour, sugar, and white bread” as invisible hazards to the public. Casting these statements in connections between eater and food, Himmler demonstrates the profound connection that can be drawn from food to personal character. For Himmler and many contemporary diet experts, one’s character was revealed inside the pantry. Himmler sees a danger in our sugar bowl and lurking death in flower. For the German eater a careful consideration of food was essential for national success. Indeed he writes of patriotic duties to eat well. Procter comments that this “private life made public” was powerfully enacted in dietary policy. The public was urged to give up meat, drink alcohol and coffee in moderation and eat only until satiated for the better of their country. From the holy to the hazardous, food has long been the means to improved society. In items that we eat and the diet we subscribe our character is symbolized. In ingredients are character and in meals our greatest mirror.

“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Technology can be categorized into two distinct categories: “cognitive” and “non-cognitive”. In the “cognitive” camp I place items like Facebook and Twitter, which prompt the user to interact with its features. A user of these sites is asked to share their thoughts. One is capable of sharing every thought, desire and idea on the site and it works to encourage the user to do so. The user must choose the level of interaction and one could very easily (and many often do) over-share or over-interact with the site. One could very easily destroy a reputation by publishing every thought on Facebook. To fully interact with the site means to respond to its prompting to share fully. Every half-thought idea, emotional impulse and desire becomes fodder for its prompting and if shared material for public consumption.

In the other category, which I call “non-cognitive”, I group items like cars, cooking equipment and material we often see as tools. These items do not prompt us for their use. The microwave does not display a text encouraging you to use it and the car doesn’t honk to encourage you to travel. Among these devices is an in-built limitation that leaves the user to determine interaction. Though one can very easily do damage to a reputation with these tools (for example a car driven dangerously) the level of hazard is lower than the items in the “cognitive” tools category because the user is less influenced by the actual technology.

My suggestion is that the “cognitive” tools are dangerous because their development outpaces our psychological ability to understand the correct way to use them. One must learn to use Facebook correctly. This learning includes an increased awareness of the material suitable for public consumption and the boundaries therein. One should not share secrets or security information like passwords, bank codes, etc.. on these mediums. We learn just what to share.

Such learning though is not automatic and many do not develop these skills or choose not to use them. Commenters make rash and vile commentaries on the internet but in public maintain a calm, cool demeanor. Would these commenters act the same if viewing the video in a public theater? The user chooses the level of interaction. Wisdom comes in learning how to use the technology and gaining the skills for correct use. Many will not gain this info or will choose to disregard these skills.

This disregard for proper use is common with all technology. An ancient technology like alcohol or sugar continues to be misused despite centuries of use and consideration. One can incorrectly drive and destroy a home with the technology of fire. This challenge of learning proper use is common to all technologies. The distinction remains; however, with the “cognitive” versus “non-cognitive” technology: prompted by “cognitive” technology we are forced to develop skills in spite of its asking. This technology form doesn’t want us to filter our interactions. Perhaps the evidence of our struggles with this form are in the constant slew of comment boards and “over-sharing” where a user misuses the technology. Cognitive technology is dangerous because it battles our development of skills.

Experiential Cash

December 28, 2014 Leave a comment

What justifies a great expense? Might we appreciate a single bar of chocolate more than a thousand? The issue is appreciation and the amount of mental energy we choose to invest in the item. Though capable of appreciating things with all of our mental energy, to do so would be exhausting. We choose what to invest our minds and how much these items deserve. Whether chocolate, a vacation or just simple conversation, our investment is the factor that determines what we feel.

To cruise through the day is easier than actually pausing to fully consider it. Investment means energy and an engagement with the daily grueling chores of existence. We don’t want to be aware. Our distance is our shield against the day.

The challenge is to know the time to focus. To recognize the need to fully invest in the moment is essential for our happiness. To vacation without regard for our experience is to waste the opportunity. The glossy eyed conversant reveals her distance and eliminates the moment. Engagement is an active state and one we must pursue. To be distracted and distanced is our natural state. Do we want to fully appreciate something? We must pause and gather focus. To work away from our distraction is a change of daily pace.

Veruca writ large

December 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Conservative talk-show host Jim Bohannon often jokes that Americans “are the only society in history that can stand in front of a microwave oven yelling ‘hurry up’.” We’re an impatient bunch, it seems, but regardless of our tiny skills at patience we’re doomed in our developments.

With each technological development we’re quick to move the goal posts back. The car has GPS, but what about satellite radio? So the seats have warmers but what about the steering wheel? “Blessed” by a constancy of technological development we’re never satisfied and ever-wondering on the next greatest feature.

And yet perhaps this is less a detriment and more an engine of development. Is our impatience actually a virtue? Necessity, says the English proverb, is the mother of invention but how many of our inventions come directly from our needs? Viagra and artificial sweeteners are just two examples of items found on accident. One’s desires for solution often leads one to another perk for profit.

Often we admonish lack of patience as a sign of being spoiled. Always wanting more or being disappointed smacks quite often as a denial of the benefits at work. The tablet’s running slowly but just months ago its benefits were desires. How quickly we can move from wanting something to receiving it and wanting more. The goal is ever-moving and perhaps will never rest. Impatient as we are one wonders whether virtue hides inside this trait. Veruca wants it all and so do we. Are we better in our wanting? Do desires spur development? Spoiled on and on.

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