Happiness And Intelligence: Rare Combination?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernest Hemingway had an interesting statement:

Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.

This was quoted in an interesting article that described an inverse relationship between intellect and happiness. Accordingly to the article, the culprit is largely education:

Western society is not set up to nurture intelligent children and adults, the way it dotes over athletes and sports figures, especially the outstanding ones. While we have the odd notable personality such as Albert Einstein, we also have many extremely intelligent people working in occupations that are considered among the lowliest, as may be attested by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on intelligence scales).

Education systems in countries whose primary interest is in wealth accumulation encourage heroes in movies, war and sports, but not in intellectual development. Super intelligent people manage, but few reach the top of the business or social ladder.

Although it’s definitely a debatable assertion, it’s nonetheless an interesting and controversial idea. What I gather is that the “happiness” the article harps on is grounded on moral values or prioritization that is assigned by society which is implemented and disseminated by the educational system. What society “values” highly: wealth, sports, etc.–are what defines “happiness” or success.

However, is intelligence necessarily antithetical to these values? I think there’s an implicit error here in that the article seems to differentiate or dichotomize between reason (intelligence) and emotion (happiness) when there isn’t necessarily a gap between the two. This is very apparent in thus further excerpt:

Children develop along four streams: intellectual, physical, emotional (psychological) and social. In classrooms, the smartest kids tend to be left out of more activities by other children than they are included in. They are “odd,” they are the geeks, they are social outsiders. In other words, they do not develop socially as well as they may develop intellectually or even physically where opportunities may exist for more progress.

Arguably these four “streams” are really just two: mental and physical. And these two streams are really just one: since the brain is a physical organ, and the mental stream encompasses intellect, emotion, and sociology. However by dividing a person into body and mind and the mental into further compartments, on the one hand it may give insight into human motivations, but on the other hand it may also be an excellent excuse for contradictory behavior.

Consider the following statements:

  • “Follow your heart instead of your brain.”
  • “Follow society instead of yourself.”
  • “Follow the right path, regardless of how you feel.”
  • “Follow what makes you happy, instead of what makes sense.”

Although these statements imply varying motivations: all these motivations take place in the mind, and are all still the province of reason/rationality. The contradictions and conflicts implied in these statements all exist in the mind.

The heart doesn’t make decisions–it simply pumps blood. It’s the brain that chooses the emotional route instead of the logical one. And arguably, in this case, the emotional route becomes the logical one for the person who chooses it. Society doesn’t choose for an individual, it’s the individual who values society that chooses to follow soceity’s dictates. The social need is still in the mind. Right or moral path vs. emotion is another version of heart vs. brain. In this case by choosing the right path–you are in effect putting morality as part of your logic or reasoning. What was really in conflict are the choices of what morality to value, not a choice between morality and emotion.

So back to happiness–which is an emotion, which is part of the mind. A happy person isn’t happy because he values certain things (e.g. wealth or the body) above intellect. In reality it is his intellect that produces the emotion–his intelligence that values those things. A sad person isn’t unhappy because he chooses intellect above all things–but perhaps those things his intelligence values are lacking in his life.

Maybe the proper question is not a dichotomy between the mind and happiness–but what kind of happiness the mind is looking for.

Finally–this doesn’t touch yet on that other controversial dichotomy: that of the body (which includes the brain and the mind), and the spirit/soul.

https://thecriticalthinker.wordpress.com/2009/01/31/happiness-intelligence/

Water, Capitalism and Catastrophism

Living Under the Shadow of a Sixth Extinction
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by LOUIS PROYECT

Two films concerned with water and environmental activism arrive in New York this week. “Groundswell Rising”, which premieres at the Maysles Theater in Harlem today, is about the struggle to safeguard lakes and rivers from fracking while “Revolution”, which opens at the Cinema Village next Wednesday, documents the impact of global warming on the oceans. Taking the holistic view, one can understand how some of the most basic conditions of life are threatened by a basic contradiction. Civilization, the quintessential expression of Enlightenment values that relies on ever-expanding energy, threatens to reduce humanity to barbarism if not extinction through exactly such energy production.

This challenge not only faces those of us now living under capitalism but our descendants who will be living under a more rational system. No matter the way in which goods and services are produced, for profit or on the basis of human need, humanity is faced with ecological constraints that must be overcome otherwise we will be subject to a Sixth Extinction. Under capitalism, Sixth Extinction is guaranteed. Under socialism, survival is possible but only as a result of a radical transformation of how society is organized, something that Marx alluded to in the Communist Manifesto when he called for a “gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”

“Groundswell Rising” covers some of the same ground as Josh Fox’s “Gaslandia” but is more about the activism that has taken off ever since people became aware that fracking was a threat to their health and economic well-being. While most of us are probably aware that water that catches fire is probably not a good thing to drink, PBS veteran filmmakers and brothers Matt and Renard Cohen make the case that fracking’s economic benefits are dubious at best. For every farmer or rancher who has leased his land for drilling, there are many homeowners living nearby who get nothing but the shitty end of the stick: pollution, noise and a loss of property value.

One of these homeowners in rural Pennsylvania inherited his house and land from his father who taught Craig Stevens “conservative rightwing values” but it was exactly those values that turned him into an anti-fracking activist. Rooted in a space that has belonged to his family for 180 years, Stevens was shocked to discover that Chesapeake Gas owned the mineral rights underneath his land without ever having been given access to anything on the surface. His property has become collateral damage as mud spills poured across his land from nearby hills where Chesapeake cut trees in order to create a clearing for their equipment. The noise and fumes that emanate from the drilling have destroyed his way of life, so much so that Stevens is happy to speak at rallies alongside people whose views on private property are radically different than his own.

What gives the film its power is the attention paid to people like Stevens who organized petition drives and showed up at town council meetings to voice their opposition to fracking. They look like Tea Party activists or Walmart shoppers, mostly white and plain as a barn door, but they know that they do not want drilling in their townships and are willing to fight tooth and nail to prevent it. For all of the left’s dismay about its lack of power, the film’s closing credits reveal that there are 312 local anti-fracking groups in Pennsylvania made up of exactly such people who will likely be our allies as the environmental crisis deepens.

The film benefits from a number of experts on fracking who have become increasingly politicized as the White House and its friends in the Republican Party push for fracking everywhere as part of a strategy ostensibly to make American energy-independent but more likely to increase profits for a decisive sector of the capitalist economy. Chief among them is Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department with a long career consulting for companies that would likely see eye to eye with the oil and gas industry. A Mother Jones profile pointed out:

Ingraffea isn’t the likeliest scientific foe of fracking. His past research has been funded by corporations and industry interests including Schlumberger, the Gas Research Institute, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. His original doctoral work, in the 1970s, involved the study of “rock fracture mechanics”—in other words, how cracks in rock form and propagate, a body of knowledge that is crucial to extractive industries like oil and gas. “I spent 20, 25 years working with the oil and gas industry…helping them to figure out how best to get oil and gas out of rock,” Ingraffea explains.

But it was exactly such a background that prepared him to become a whistle-blower who now warns about the dangers of earthquakes and water contamination from fracking. Like Craig Stevens, Tony Ingraffea came to realize that there were some things more important than corporate profits, namely the right of citizens not to be poisoned by polluted water.

Besides causing earthquakes and making water undrinkable, fracking has another downside that runs counter to the claims made for it. As an alternative to the coal burning that is responsible for greenhouse gases that cause global warming, fracking also imposes a severe toll. According to Ingraffea, up to 8 percent of the methane gas that is created as part of the natural gas extraction process leaks into the environment where it hastens global warming. Because it is 80 to 90 times more potent than coal in creating the greenhouse effect, its unintended consequences negate its advertised benefits.

Global warming’s impact on the oceans is what led 36-year-old Canadian filmmaker to make “Revolution”, a film that is a follow-up to the 2007 “Sharkwater”. “Sharkwater” was made to protest their slaughter for shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese restaurants that has been reduced drastically partially as a result of the campaign the film helped to inspire.

“Revolution” emerged out of concerns that had been troubling Stewart ever since a question was posed to him during the Q&A of a screening of “Sharkwater”. If all marine life is facing extinction by the end of the 21stcentury, what good does it do to protect sharks that cannot survive when fish beneath them on the food chain have disappeared?” The film shows Stewart scratching his head after hearing the question and failing to come up with an answer. It is the new film that now tries to provide one.

Before making films, Stewart was a photographer who worked for the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazines. His skills with underwater photography and an undergraduate science degree were the preparation he needed to make the two films.

The first 1/3rd of “Revolution” consists of underwater footage of some of the world’s best-known coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These reefs consist of millennia of accreted organic material that serves as a hub for all sorts of fishes. Without them, marine life will certainly disappear. But to Stewart’s consternation, it is the coral reef that is disappearing. Without them, there will be no fish, including the shark that sits on the underwater empire’s throne.

This discovery led him on a search to understand what was causing the collapse of coral reefs. It turned out that a rise in ocean temperature is to blame. While most people are familiar with the threat that carbon emissions pose to the atmosphere, it is arguably more of a threat to life underneath the water. CO2 gas leads to acidification in ocean waters and thus the bleaching of coral reefs that finally leads to their destruction.

Once this became apparent to Stewart, he embarked on a mission to hear what global warming activists were doing and to put himself at their disposal. The fruit of this is contained in the final 1/3rd of the film as he shows up at the Climate Change Conference that took place in Cancun in 2010 where he was appalled to learn from activists that his native country was the world’s leading polluter. On their behalf, he accepted the Swiftian inspired “Fossil of the Day” award for Canada, a country that is host to the Alberta Tar Sands drilling sites. Activists have fought to close it for the same reasons that activists oppose fracking in the USA: it despoils the land and water while it increases global warming. It is the source of the natural gas that would have been transported by the Keystone XL pipeline, which was overruled by Obama but remains a threat to the environment as long as big oil and gas interests continue to buy politicians. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said she was “inclined” to approve Keystone XL. Does anybody think that she will do anything differently as President?

Largely as a result of the publication of books like Elizabeth Colbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” and Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”, as well as a myriad of scientific reports warning about the collapse of human and animal life as the 21st century stumbles forward on a path of environmental degradation, a debate has opened up on the left about what our response should be.

In the collection “Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth”, Eddie Yuen takes issue with an “apocalyptic” streak in exactly such articles since they lead to fear and paralysis. A good deal of his article appears to take issue with the sort of analysis developed by Naomi Klein, a bugbear to many convinced of the need to defend “classical” Marxism against fearmongering. Klein is a convenient target but the criticisms could easily apply as well to Mike Davis whose reputation is unimpeachable.

Klein’s latest book has served to focus the debate even more sharply as her critics accuse her of letting capitalism off the hook. This is not how Swedish scholar Andreas Malm views Klein’s work. In an article on “The Anthropocene Myth” that appeared in Jacobin, Malm credits Klein with laying bare “the myriad ways in which capital accumulation, in general, and its neoliberal variant, in particular, pour fuel on the fire now consuming the earth system.”

He sees Klein as an alternative to those who believe that “humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.” Some who share this belief, according to Malm, are Marxists.

Those who adhere to the Anthropocene myth tend to elevate the use of fire as a kind of original sin. Malm quotes Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.”

This evokes the myth of Prometheus, the Greek god who was punished for bestowing fire to mankind and who was admired by Karl Marx for the words that Aeschylus attributed to him: “In simple words, I hate the pack of gods.”

While I am inclined to agree with Malm that it is the drive for profit that explains fracking and all the rest, and that the benefits of energy production are not shared equally among nations and social classes, there is still a need to examine “civilization”. If we can easily enough discard the notion of the “Anthropocene” as the cause of global warming, the task remains: how can the planet survive when the benefits of bestowing the benefits of “civilization” across the planet so that everyone can enjoy the lifestyle of a middle-class American (or German more recently) remains the goal of socialism?

Eddie Yuen was most likely alluding to this problematic by citing the 1970s Italian revolutionary graffitiL

Con la rivoluzione caviale per tutti.

(After the revolution, caviar for everyone.)

This is presented as an alternative to the call some theorists and activists for a “managed downsizing of the scale of industrial civilization.” Speaking in the name of the poor in the Global South, Yuen wonders why they should forsake automobiles, air conditioning and consumer goods in order to pay for the climate debt incurred by their former colonial masters.

Ironically, this was the same argument made in the NY Times on April 14th by Eduardo Porter in an article titled “A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development”. He refers to the West’s environmental priorities blocking the access to energy in countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia now flocking to China’s new infrastructure investment bank that will most certainly not be bothered by deforestation, river blockage by megadams, air pollution and other impediments to progress.

Porter is encouraged by the findings of the Breakthrough Institute in California that has issued an “Eco-modernist Manifesto” that, among other things, proposes the adoption of nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse emissions. Not surprisingly, the Breakthrough people urge the rapid expansion of agricultural technology in the countryside and the resettlement of displaced farmers into the city since that would reduce the environmental impact on the land by backward rural folk.

For a useful response to the Breakthrough Institute, you might read Steve Breyman’s CounterPunch article titled “Climate Change Messaging: Avoid the Truth”. Breyman is appalled by their support for nuclear energy and fracking, even if muffled.

While Eddie Yuen would certainly (I hope) not identify with such charlatans, I am afraid that there is a strain of techno-optimism that is shared by both parties. Yuen’s article is filled with allusions to Malthusianism, a tendency I have seen over the years from those who simply deny the existence of ecological limits. While there is every reason to reject Malthus’s theories, there was always the false hope offered by the Green Revolution that supposedly rendered them obsolete. In 1960 SWP leader Joseph Hansen wrote a short book titled “Too Many Babies” that looked to the Green Revolution as a solution to Malthus’s theory but it failed to account for its destructive tendencies, a necessary consequence of using chemicals and monoculture.

The real answer to Malthusianism is the reunification of city and countryside as called for by Karl Marx so as to provide crops with the natural fertilizers that were common before urban life became necessary for industrial production based on profit—in other words, capitalism. In the midst of the industrial revolution, the river Thames gave off a stench of human excrement that was unbearable for those living too close while wars were fought off the coast of Latin America to gain control of the guano necessary for crops. This contradiction persists to this day, even if it takes different forms.

Finally, on Eddie Yuen’s glib reference to caviar, there’s a need to understand that even if Malthus was wrong about food production, nature is not like the goose that laid the golden eggs. Caviar comes from sturgeons. The International for the Conservation of Nature  warns that they are more endangered than any other marine life:

Twenty seven species of sturgeon are on the IUCN Red List with 63 percent listed as Critically Endangered, the Red List’s highest category of threat. Four species are now possibly extinct.

Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea is listed as Critically Endangered for the first time along with all of the other commercially important Caspian Sea species, which are the main producers of wild caviar. Beluga sturgeon populations have been decimated in part due to unrelenting exploitation for black caviar – the sturgeon’s unfertilized eggs – considered the finest in the world. The other species, Russian, stellate, Persian and ship sturgeon have also suffered declines due to overfishing as well as habitat degradation in the Caspian Sea region.

How will a future society guarantee everyone a comfortable and secure life? This question is not exactly germane to the struggles we are engaged with today, but there will come a time when our grandchildren or great-grandchildren will be forced to contend with it. To think of a way in which homo sapiens and the rest of the animal and vegetable world can co-exist, however, will become more and more urgent as people begin to discover that the old way of doing things is impossible. Films such as those reviewed in this article and the debate opened by Naomi Klein’s book and the question of “catastrophism” make this discussion more immediate than they have ever been. I look forward to seeing how the debate unfolds.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/17/water-capitalism-and-catastrophism/

Can We Stop Pretending We Must All be Constantly Happy?

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There is plenty of unhappiness to go around. And we shouldn’t refuse to acknowledge it.

I am going to come out of the closet, and make a shocking, even shameful, admission. I am not a happy person. In fact I am the sort of chap who complete strangers come up to in the street and advise to cheer up, since it might never happen.

I am not, I should emphasise, an unhappy person either. I love to laugh, and some of my novels have been admired as pretty good comedies. I think I am pretty much like most people, with moods that shift and transform. Sometimes I am happy, sometimes sad, most of the time I am pretty much neutral, with my mind elsewhere. Disappointment, fear and loss are as much a part of my life as achievement, hope and joy. It is all of a piece.

However this indeterminate state no longer seems to be socially acceptable. It is required of me, both implicitly and explicitly, that I remain in a state of continual near-explosion – passionate about this, excited about that, looking forward to something else. If not, I am antisocial, a grumpy old man. Worst of all I am a failure, because if I was a success, I would be happy. Neither am I a good person, since happiness has come to be seen as a moral end in itself.

This kind of happiness fascism is a relatively recent import from America. The British, not so long ago, were perfectly at ease with being hacked off. Moaning was once a pleasurable and acceptable pastime. No longer. Everything, as the (ironic) theme song of the Lego Movie insists, is Awesome.

Happiness, we are confidently assured, is the objective of life and it is something we “get” by working hard, shopping, playing and exercising, giving to charitable causes and taking part in the drama of late capitalism. Because capitalism loves the goal of happiness – since it can offer endless products that will promise it. When they fail to do so, it can offer alternative products which make an identical promise. And so on. Commerce thrives on unhappiness. You’d be happy if you were thin enough/fit enough/popular enough/entertained enough. And here’s the product to help you.

I am not an advocate for misery – far from it. Happiness is good for you and for those around you – there is no greater favour you can do for loved ones than show them your happiness. But you mustn’t be ashamed if you can’t.

I wish I were happy all the time – I just don’t think it’s a very realistic possibility. The daily parade of disaster on the news is sobering enough. The fact of my own mortality is a downer. Old age and sickness frighten me. The difficulties of human communication produce as much isolation as connection. The corruption and venality of the powerful are daily reminders of the ubiquitous nature of injustice. The lot of most people in this country who simply work and work harder and harder in order to spend, or simply survive, strikes me as profoundly un-jolly.

And if you doubt any of that, just look at the faces of the people in the bus and train on their way to work – or for that matter the “depressive hedonism” of drunken kids in a kebab shop on a Saturday night. It’s no coincidence that all the greatest works of human drama – from Elektra to Hamlet to A View From the Bridge – are tragedies.

Of course, a lot of these truths should rightly be ignored – humankind, as TS Eliot observed, cannot bear too much reality. I just think that it is important to remember that we need Nick Drake as well as Pharrell Williams, and that we have Mozart’s Requiem Mass as well as Mantovani’s Moon River. Once it was respectable to listen Morrissey and Ian Curtis without being thought of as a loser. The lugubrious Tony Hancock and Leonard Rossiter were national heroes. There is no equivalent today.

We can, it is suggested, find happiness through good works. This is also an ideology. I am as likely to be disappointed by “doing the right thing” as I am elevated. That’s why it’s so hard to do. The secret truth is that being unselfish can leave you just as empty as being selfish. Not that I’m advocating selfishness – just pointing out that if “goodness” were easy, it wouldn’t be particularly admirable. It would simply be a form of hedonism.

I am sincerely glad that we have all cheered up since the 1970s and 1980s. But there’s a danger that all this positivity is becoming counterproductive. One of the main barriers to satisfaction is the demand that you be happy – for we add another layer of unhappiness to our lives if we feel we are failing in what is deemed to be its primary purpose. The UN now has an International Happiness Day during which we are all instructed to be happy on pain of being branded a sad sack or general all-purpose wet blanket. If I wasn’t grumpy before, I was after this particular injunction, a classic case of happiness bullying. There is plenty of evidence that cheerfulness is not fuelling the zeitgeist quite as much as we suppose. Depressive illness is at record levels. Children are stressed like never before, as are teachers. Suicide is the main cause of death for men under 35.

There is plenty of unhappiness to go around. Why dwell on it? There’s no need, I agree. But we shouldn’t refuse to acknowledge it. TV and the internet disseminate a form of propaganda by insisting on and showcasing shiny, creative, fulfilling lives. It makes me feel inadequate because my life, although creative, and fulfilling and quite well paid, does not send me into paroxysms of ecstasy every day. It is just life, sometimes good, sometimes bad, often a confusing mixture of both.

The ancients took a different line on happiness. As Oliver Burkeman observed in his excellent book The Antidote, the Stoics were particularly keen on being mindful about all the disastrous things that might happen to you – if only to understand that they probably wouldn’t be as bad as you thought. Now instead of Seneca, we have new age gurus who tell us if we think positive thoughts we will float around on a pink cloud and get what we always wanted.

I would not go so far as Slavoj Žižek who, asked what he found most depressing, answered “the happiness of stupid people”. But I know what he meant. Anyone intelligent and sensitive and thoughtful cannot look at the world and themselves without some inkling that everything, although strange and remarkable, is not always awesome. Anyway, the light relies on the dark to exist. If we could acknowledge it, the weight of denial could be lifted. And you know what? We’d all be a lot happier for it.

 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/please-everyone-can-we-stop-pretending-we-must-all-be-constantly-happy?akid=13012.265072.txLxJe&rd=1&src=newsletter1034908&t=17

5 Worst Things About the Techno-Libertarians in Silicon Valley

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There’s a lot wrong with the tech industry, and it’s increasingly impacting ordinary Americans.

Nowadays the Silicon Valley is either celebrated as a hotbed of creativity or condemned as a cauldron of greed and wealth inequality.

While there are certainly some talented and even idealistic people in the Valley, there’s also an excess of shallow libertarianism, from people who have enriched themselves with government-created technology who then decide they’re being held back by government. That’s shortsighted and vain. And yes, there are serious problems with sexism and age discrimination – problems which manifest themselves with some ugly behavior.

But such ethical problems aren’t solely, or even primarily, the product of individual character defects. They’re the result of self-reinforcing cultural norms at work. Anthropologists and sociologists could do worse than study the tech culture of the Silicon Valley. It would be important work, in fact, because this insular culture is having a deep and lasting impact on our economy and society.

Here, to star them off, are five socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley culture:

1. Tech products become the byproducts of a money-making scheme rather than an end unto themselves.

It’s almost inevitable when big money enters the picture: Smart or talented people are drawn to a field for the chance to get rich, not necessarily because it’s where their greatest talents or dreams lie.  The same thing has happened to fields as diverse as film, pop music, and the financial sector.  There’s nothing wrong with getting rich, but it should be the byproduct of a happy marriage between talent and  inspiration.

But here’s how it works instead: The goal of entrepreneurs and innovators was once summed up in the cliched phrase, “build a better mousetrap.” But for  many Silicon Valley products and services, including services like Uber and AirBnB, the goal now is to build a product which can be hyped into a multi-billion-dollar valuation – preferably by winning as much market share as possible, and then using that market position to engage in the kinds of practices usually reserved for monopolies and monopsonies (markets in which there is only one buyer). This process is described in more detail here.

Instead of building a better mousetrap, the new Silicon Valley business model works like this:

i. Give your “mousetrap” away for free, or as close to free as you can make it. (Since you’re working with digital signals transmitted over a government-invented network, that can usually be done at minimal cost. In other cases it pays to benefit from a government tax loophole (see Amazon) or make an end run around the regulations your competitors must follow (see Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB).

ii. Use these government-conferred advantages, along with your own aggressive market moves, to gain a large or decisive marketshare.  (See Amazon, Facebook, etc.) In exceptional cases, actually build brilliant and superior software to win your market share. (See Google.)

iii. Use your newfound market share to a) bend government to your will wherever possible, b) screw down your suppliers’ prices, c) hit your customers with increased prices and/or new ads or other profit-making devices, and d) manipulate your customers without their knowledge. (See Uber, Amazon, Google, Facebook, et al.)

This business model has directed much of the Valley’s efforts away from inventing genuinely creative new products – and toward the kinds of aggressive tactics that, as we’ve written before, would be very familiar to the Robber Barons of the 19th century.

2. Even inspired leaders internalize a worldview which places profits over humane behavior.

Steve Jobs is a prime example of this phenomenon. As an early innovator in the tech field, Jobs – however interested he was in making money – was not drawn to the field for the sake of money alone. Nor was he following in the footsteps of others, seeking to replicate the successes of a Zuckerberg or a Sergey Brin, as newcomers to the field are now. Jobs possessed a genuinely inspired design vision, from the earliest days of his career to his last.

And yet, for all his gifts, the pursuit of wealth led Jobs to commit some morally reprehensible deeds. As “white collar criminologist” William K. Black Jr. told me in a 2012 radio interview, Jobs’ drive to maximize profits – and his craving to get new products to market as quickly as possible – almost certainly led him to knowingly ignore abuses and safety threats to the Chinese workers who built his products.  That, in turn, led to dormitory-based workers being forced to work under extreme conditions. These unheeded warnings also led to the horrific burning deaths of several workers.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is also unquestionably an innovator. But the working conditions which Amazon’s warehouse workers endure would seem familiar to their Apple counterparts in China. As documented by Simon Head in his book “Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans” (excerpthere), Amazon’s American warehouse workers are subjected to ever-harsher production expectations and invasive measurement techniques. Head documents the case of a Pennsylvania employee who worked 11-hour shifts and was ultimately fired for “unproductive periods” which lasted only minutes. GPS devices in an England warehouse tell workers which routes they must travel – inside the warehouse – and their expected travel time.

Amazon’s German operations employed “a security firm with alleged neo-Nazi connections that … intimidated temporary workers lodged in a company dormitory … with guards entering their rooms without permission at all times of the day and night.” An Allentown facility which lacked air conditioning repeatedly reached temperatures of more than 100 degrees one summer. More than fifteen workers collapsed, but supervisors refused to open garage doors. Reports Head: “Calls to the local ambulance service became so frequent that for five hot days in June and July, ambulances and paramedics were stationed all day at the depot.”

A number of Silicon Valley CEOs were also implicated in a widespread conspiracy to illegally suppress wages and prevent job-seeking from engineers and other key employees. Mark Ames, who has reported extensively on the conspiracy, wrote that “confidential internal Google and Apple memos … clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP.”

These incidents are by no means exceptions in the Silicon Valley culture. The most generous way to interpret behavior like this is to assume that Steve Jobs and operated in a culture whose worldview downplayed the human impact of business practices. That, in fact, is reinforced by other aspects of Silicon Valley’s leadership society.

3. The culture encourages a solipsistic detachment from reality, even as its brute economic strength colonizes everything it touches.

A dispassionate observer might be tempted to wonder how a culture filled with so many smart people can remain so unaware of, and/or disinterested in, their effect on other people’s lives?

For many of them, the evidence is literally right before their eyes: San Francisco’s richness and diversity is being drained away, as the city becomes unaffordable for more and more of its citizens.  They are all good with numbers, so the statistics on growing wealth inequality should not be hard for them to understand. And their arguments – e.g., that the “sharing economy” will benefit struggling Americans – are easily punctured by even a superficial look at US demographics. (Are struggling Milwaukee residents going to get rich driving tourists around their battered town, or renting out their inner-city apartments on AirBnB?)

Most of the tech executives I’ve known aren’t bad guys. (To be clear, I haven’t met Uber’s leadership – with the exception of a brief encounter with former Obama advisor David Plouffe – and they certainly appear to be an exception.)   But even many of the “good” ones seem oblivious to the effect of their own behavior.

To a certain extent that’s an occupational hazard. I’ve spent just enough time hammering out software in the glow of a computer screen to see how easily a synthetic world can replace the one inhabited by other human beings.

But there are correctives for that: reading, contemplation, speaking with human beings from different walks of life. The Valley’s tech culture doesn’t seem to encourage that – to its detriment, and that of society as a whole.

4. The Valley gets fixated on lame (and sometimes antisocial) buzzwords.

“Move fast and break things,” said Mark Zuckerberg in a much-repeated quotation. Other tech types prattle on about “the next Big Idea.” And almost everyone wants to “disrupt” an existing industry.

Why is it good to “move fast and break things”? Isn’t it usually wiser to move carefully and build things? There may be times when it’s wise to act rapidly, or break with conventional ways of doing things. But there are also times when a hastily-executed rollout dooms a product. Sometimes it makes sense to improve the established ways of doing things, rather than upend them altogether.

When you think about it, what does this expression even mean? It’s only repeated because a) it sounds smart, and b) it was spoken by someone who is extremely wealthy, and such people are to be imitated whenever possible in the hope that some of their magic will rub off.

As for “Big Ideas”: do they really correlate with tech success? Google was a smarter search engine, but search engines were no longer a new or “big” idea by the time it came along. Craigslist? It’s online classified ads.  Facebook was originally conceived as the online version of the printed “facebooks” traditionally given to incoming freshmen so they could get to know their classmates. Neither Zuckerberg nor those Harvard twins knew what it would someday become.   There is surprisingly little correlation between tech success and actual “Big Ideas.”

Disruption’s overrated, too. Sure, it can work. Instagram disrupted home photography, for example. But Twitter, one of the smarter ideas to come from the Valley in recent years, didn’t disrupt anything. Instead it created a new market and a new medium. Sometimes “disruption” is a euphemism, whose real meaning is “use tax loopholes to undercut law-abiding vendors” or “employ Robber Baron business practices to cut suppliers prices.”

Sometimes it means nothing at all.

5. Silicon Valley’s culture is hurting our economy.

Politicians like to celebrate the tech industry as a boon to the economy, but for most Americans the opposite is true. As economist Joseph Stiglitz and others have documented, monopoly practices exert a significant drag on the economy. The economy becomes increasingly capital-driven, rather than labor-driven. Monopolies suppress wages, overcharge consumers, mistreat suppliers, and drive the economy increasingly off-course.

There’s also a price to be paid for product inefficiency. Monopolies can sometimes squander human capital – that is, waste people’s time – by forcing them to struggle with inefficient products like Microsoft’s operating system or Facebook’s user interfaces. (More on this topic here.) Multiply every minute wasted on a Windows inefficiency or Facebook’s privacy settings by millions of users, and the cost begins to add up.

The Valley’s hurting our economy in another way, too. Somehow, some of the titans of tech have gotten the misguided idea that they are exemplars of libertarian self-created success. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Silicon Valley runs on government-subsidized technology, from microchips to the Internet itself. Corporations like Amazon used government-created tax breaks to build near-monopoly leverage and turn it against their suppliers.

And now, having enriched themselves through government generosity, some of the Valley’s billionaires are using their publicly-assisted wealth to back political candidates and organizations under a “libertarian” label that is better described, at least economically, as a far-right agenda. These candidates and organizations push our political dialogue in a more conservative direction – which in turn creates a political climate which tends to permit more of the things that have already wounded our economy, like deregulation and lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

All of the Valley’s cultural traits, from the profound to the trivial, reflect a culture that is urgently in need of maturation and change. One thing’s for sure: If I hear another tech titan say he plans to “disrupt” an industry, I’m going to move fast and break something.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, a consultant, and a former musician.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/5-worst-things-about-techno-libertarians-solidifying-their-grasp-our-economy-and-culture?akid=12994.265072.5R9qHL&rd=1&src=newsletter1034621&t=1

Politics, Money And Religion: 5 Things We Learned From Indiana’s RFRA Debate

The uproar caused this past week by Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act proved one thing about America. Nothing stirs up conversation more than the intersection of religion, money and politics.

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On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a “fix” for the RFRA, stating explicitly that the law cannot be used to discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

That isn’t good enough for some opponents of the law, such as Angie’s ListAngie’s List, which wants to see the RFRA appealed completely. And, it may take quite a while for Indiana’s image to recover from the national battering that it received.

I spoke about the business reaction to RFRA on PBS NewsHour on Thursday night, and it struck me that the situation was something of a milestone in changing perceptions about the business community.

Here are five things we learned this past week during the RFRA debate.

1) Customers trump conservatism. Dozens of corporations, from Eli LillyLilly to Angie’s List to Apple Apple, spoke out against RFRA this past week. To be sure, Apple’s opposition might be a given, since its CEO, Tim Cook, is openly gay.

But other firms on the list can hardly be considered bastions of liberal attitudes. In the case of RFRA, however, the law threatened to discriminate against, employees, customers, and their friends.

When it comes down to it, companies want to do business in places where they are welcome. RFRA put lie to “Hoosier hospitality” in a big way.


2) All local is politics. In the 20th century, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill contended all politics are local. Now, all things local are political. You can thank the internet and social media for creating a sense of community across the country.

When something happens in one state, we now hear about it in rapid fashion. And, while it is still possible for political moves to take place under cover of darkness, there is a lot more light when the sun rises than there ever has been before.

The vehement reaction to Indiana’s law is why Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson insisted on a revision before he would sign an RFRA there, and why Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told his legislature to not even bother sending him one.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

3) America is in a protesting mood. Why was there uproar over Indiana when there are at least 20 other RFRAs across the country? The answer is timing. The Indiana debate took place in an atmosphere when people are willing to protest.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the Occupy movements. We’ve seen the marches in Ferguson, and the reverence paid to the commemorations in Selma. It’s been a long time coming, but Americans are once again ready to collectively protest when they see something that they feel is unjust.

That also goes the other way, in the case of Indiana. The pizza parlor owners who said they wouldn’t serve a gay wedding have actually received $500,000 in donations from supporters.

4) Fixes have to come fast. The lightning fast speed of the modern world means that there’s no time to dawdle, because your state’s image can be blotted in the blink of an eye.


Last Sunday, I predicted that Pence would ask the legislature to repeal or fix RFRA by the end of the week. It seemed clear there was no other choice, to quiet the upset. And, Indiana responded with alacrity.

In February, 2014, the same thing happened in Arizona, whose legislature passed an RFRA bill. Within days, it became clear that the NFL might pull the 2015 Super Bowl from Phoenix should the bill take effect. Rather than risk losing a prestige event, former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

5) Gays have a lot of friends. As I reported earlier this week, Indiana only ranks No. 19 in the U.S. in terms of its LGBT population. Despite seeing its population diversify as it has embraced the tech sector, Indianapolis is hardly San Francisco or New York.

But as I said on NewsHour, the actual number of gays and lesbians in a city or state doesn’t matter much any more. Their friends will come to their assistance. As I said on the NewsHour, we all know someone who is LGBT, and the community enjoys a circle of support.

In Indiana, that circle of support demanded action, and got it. And, we all learned a lot from that.

_________________________________________

Originally published at www.forbes.com on April 3, 2015.

https://medium.com/@mickimaynard/politics-money-and-religion-5-things-we-learned-from-indiana-s-rfra-debate-de710a8300d8

Alec Empire’s latest statement on electronic music

A New Kind of Brutality

Alec Empire’s latest statement regarding the direction electronic music has taken, published in French in this month’s Trax Magazine.

It is 2015, and I feel like God’s hand has wiped us all off the continent, right into the icy water of the Antarctic. It was easy, even smooth, but with a new kind of brutality.

He is laughing at us, we can hear his deep, low voice in the winds, coming from all sides. A storm is coming. The earth is opening underneath our feet.

I have actually never believed in God or the concept of it. I always believed that we self determine our lives. I still believe this very strongly. We don’t have to believe blindly everything that other men have written down in religious books in some ancient time, when life was completely different. Believing something is one thing, but to let that drive our actions is another. The same goes for all these rules and unwritten laws in what we call “DJ culture”.

The second half of each decade is always completely different than the first half.

A new phase has begun. The first half was dominated by the euphoria we all felt about the free internet, social media and all hopes that came with it… The hope that we will be truly free. But instead, we seem to be riding on this train through a tunnel into darkness, the black hole that sucks us further into something we’ve lost control over.

Everyone can be creative, everyone can be a producer, everyone is equal.
But only if we buy certain technology that enables us to do so. This was the mantra for decades, Silicon Valley built its wealth on selling us this idea.

We witness that this hasn’t worked. We could even argue that creativity never worked this way. Now whenever creatives meet an audience online, they face a new kind of hostility. Frustration and aggressive behavior have increased a lot, I hear this from many creative people. The mob is winning. And most people choose apathy, so they don’t get noticed by the mob.

I grew up with the original ideals of the Techno movement. People should listen to the music they themselves have selected and not because context, location or their peers have pressured them to do so. Staying anonymous helps you to become who you want to be. The best DJs and producers in the history of electronic music will stay unknown, don’t win awards and don’t get a mention in history books or appear in exhibitions in museums.

Decentralization. We should set this as our highest goal again because creativity flourishes in a decentralized system. Decentralization does not happen when everyone acts like rivals on the same social media platforms, trying to become the most popular. Decentralization also means that we abandon and ignore stats systems like YouTube, Facebook or Instagram.

Our blind naive faith in technology has led us into a dead end. Many will understand what I mean in the coming years. Some are already feeling the consequences. Pay close attention, then ask yourself which headline DJ is absorbing the energy of the crowd, transforms it into creativity and then feeds it back into the crowd? We get this uneasy feeling in our stomachs, that in reality this has become a rare moment, it feels almost surreal when it does happen, it’s like a distant dream that we can’t recall after we’ve woken up.

What I am saying here is that if we give up that dialogue between crowd and DJ and the philosophy behind it, then we give up the very essence of what Electronic Music is about. A mass of people should never be brought in line by a DJ. But I see that since the explosion of American EDM, that this is exactly what everyone aspires to do. Are we witnessing how our generation is giving birth to a new kind of cultural fascism to that was unthinkable before? We can measure those changes, we can “see” them. We can see events like the destruction of Charlie Hebdo, the rise of Anti-Semitism all over Europe and the PEGIDA protests in Germany in which Neo-Nazis proudly participate without shame. These are just examples. We can try to create a parallel world in our clubs and festivals, even for a short moment. For a few hours we can agree on our core values, defend them, celebrate them. We won’t feel isolated or alone anymore. But this means that we must define those values from new, or remind ourselves of those we want to bring with us from the past into the future. I am totally aware of all those cynics out there who giggle in embarrassment right now, because this is is an inconvenient truth for them. I can only say to them, we don’t live in an ivory tower…sooner or later this will concern all of us. The music scene is always a reflection of the society it exists in.

The Electronic Music scene can continue to twiddle knobs, press buttons, like those gambling addicts in Las Vegas, who keep trying and trying to take their chance… Or we decide how the future will look like for us. I choose the second.

Stay strong, my friends and allies!

Alec Empire
Berlin , Friday, February 13, 2015

https://medium.com/atari-teenage-riot/a-new-kind-of-brutality-6b9199ccb67b

DIGITAL MUSIC NEWS

Jay Z Formally Launches New Tidal

Streaming Service At NYC Event

 

     Music artist Jay Z formally announced the launch of his new digital streaming platform Tidal earlier this week at a New York event featuring his wife Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Chris Martin (Coldplay), Usher, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Kanye West, and Madonna. Jay Z – also known as Shawn Carter – acquired Sweden-based Aspiro for $56 million, and the artists featured onstage were introduced as co-owners of the company. According to Variety, this represents the first artist-owned digital-music service, although the extent of their actual financial participation is not known. Other artists reportedly involved in the service include Arcade Fire, Calvin Harris, Daft Punk, Jack White (formerly of the White Stripes), and Deadmau5.

“Our goal is to create a better service and a better experience for both fans and artitsts,” Alicia Keys said at the event. “We believe that it is in everyone’s interests – fans, artists, and the industry as a whole – to preserve the value of music, and to ensure a healthy and robust industry for years to come.”

Tidal is designed to compete with Spotify and Apple’s highly anticipated streaming service, expected to launch in June. The service is available across all iOS and Android devices, as well as in web browsers and desktop players, and offers a library of more than 25 million tracks, 75,000 music videos, and curated editorial articles. The standard audio version (Tidal Premium) will cost $9.99 per month and the high-def audio version (Tidal HiFi) will be $19.99 per month. Both tiers are free to try out for 30 days, according to the company.

 

Investor Group Says Vivendi

Undervalues UMG, Should Spin It Off

 

     P. Schoenfeld Asset Management (PSAM) is calling for changes at French media conglomerate Vivendi, insisting – among other things – that the company spin off Universal Music, which controls more than 30% of the global recording industry. While PSAM owns less than 1% of Vivendi, it maintains that Universal’s underlying value – tied to an expected bump in streaming revenues and Apple’s pending entry into the business – is obscured by the parent company’s conglomerate structure, and therefore is not a good fit. PSAM repeatedly has accused Vivendi and its chairman, Vincent Bolloré, of trying to keep the company’s market value (and shareholder returns) artificially low.

“By not distributing adequate cash to shareholders and providing vague guidance about Vivendi’s acquisition plans, Mr. Bolloré and Vivendi’s management board are asking investors to have blind faith in their plan for the company’s future,” the hedge fund said in advance of an April 17 shareholders meeting.

As reported by Quartz, PSAM says there will be more than 250 million streaming music subscribers globally by 2020 (that number is about 5% of the predicted global smartphone customer base in 2020, which PSAM thinks will be 5.03 billion). These subscribers alone, the firm believes, will generate $16.42 billion in revenue – more than the entire global recorded music industry (including physical sales and downloads) is expected to generate this year ($14 billion). Interestingly, that $16.42 billion works out to just $5.45 per month per subscriber – less than the $10 a month most streaming services currently charge – which would suggest that different pricing models may take hold.

Streaming platforms (e.g., Spotify) typically return about 70% of their revenues to record labels and publishers in royalties and, since Universal is both the world’s largest record company and one of its largest publishers, it would presumably receive a significant chunk of that money. PSAM says Bolloré’s investor group recently doubled its stake in Vivendi to approximately 10%, thus benefiting from Vivendi’s undervaluation and the absence of a detailed capital allocation plan. As a result, PSAM said it was “concerned about the investors’ opportunistic purchases.” [Read more: Wall Street Journal

Apple’s Anticipated Digital Streaming

Service Is No Slam-Dunk Against Pandora

 

     Despite the media hyperbole surrounding the anticipated launch of Apple’s music service, some analysts remain skeptical that the company’s established position as a music store (with its legions of customers) will instantly propel it to the front of the digital streaming line. “Whenever Apple does anything you have to take notice,” said Paul Verna, a senior analyst with research firm eMarketer. “[But] Pandora has established leadership in this space and Apple will have a hard time threatening that position…so it is not a slam dunk for them.”

In the past when Apple entered a new category, it usually counted on its current customer base to quickly make whatever new product it was offering a top-seller, but the company would be ill-advised to make the same assumption in the streaming music sector. As Michael Inouye, a senior analyst at ABI Research, says, “With a device, it’s an image thing. People want to be seen with it. With a service, it is a behind the scenes thing and not as apparent to everyone else.”

Pandora understandably is putting a positive spin on its own dominance in digital streaming, even though the platform’s new user numbers appear to have stalled. “We believe we’ve cracked the code on providing the best lean-back listening experience ever created, and the loyalty of our listeners is unmatched and only continues to grow,” Pandora CEO Brian McAndrews told attendees at a recent investors meeting. “We’ve done this by assembling the greatest combination of music, people, and technology ever.”

As TheStreet noted in a recent analysis, Apple will have to launch something either radically different, or at a much lower price, in order to encourage people to make the switch. Plus, the acquisition of Beats and its executive team is hardly a guarantee of success for Apple: “Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are smart and know the music business, but you can’t just take your expertise in music marketing and move it over,” eMarketer’s Verna said.

 

Sony Launches PlayStation

Music “Powered By” Spotify

 

     Sony and Spotify this week launched their PlayStation Music streaming service in 41 countries, making it available for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 games consoles as well as Sony’s smartphones and tablets. The new system is a replacement for Music Unlimited, the Sony-branded streaming music service that launched in 2010, and is billed as a third-party service given first-party priority on the Sony platform. PlayStation Music essentially is Spotify, adapted for TV screens and PlayStation controller devices. It will be available as a free, advertising-supported service or a premium subscription, with users able to sign up from their consoles, including a 30-day trial of the premium tier.

“We’ve optimized the experience for the big screen,” Tim Grimsditch, Spotify’s head of global product marketing, told The Guardian. “We’ve been looking at how to make Spotify available on smart TVs and other non-mobile devices, and for us this is the pinnacle experience in terms of big screens. We’ve learned over the years to try to really simplify for a big-screen leaning back experience. We’re making the most out of the artwork and creating a very visual navigation, completely in line with how PS4 users would expect to use the platform.”

The partnership between Spotify and Sony is exclusive, but neither company will confirm how long that exclusivity lasts. This means Xbox One console owners won’t know when (or whether) Spotify will be available for their device, while subscribers to other streaming music services, such as Deezer, Rdio, Napster, and Google Play All Access, will be equally unsure whether they’ll be available on PS3 and PS4. 

BMG Signs Music Distribution Deal

With China eCommerce Firm Alibaba

 

     As Alibaba continues its quest to become the world’s largest eCommerce firm, Germany’s BMG music rights company this week signed a digital distribution deal that gives the China-based company more than 2.5 million copyrights. The $250 billion company has set its eyes on becoming an online media powerhouse, touting its potential for selling digital products as well as physical products in China, despite the country’s record of intellectual piracy. BMG sees the partnership as a chance to boost earnings by its artists in China and grow the legitimate music market in that country.

As part of the deal, Alibaba’s digital entertainment  division will “promote BMG writers and artists through channels such as its streaming apps Xiami and TTPod” and “monitor – and take action against – digital and mobile services who may infringe the rights of BMG clients,” the subsidiary of Bertelsmann AG, Europe’s largest media company, said in a statement.

“The internet and mobile media are quickly providing an answer to the music industry’s long-time challenge of how to monetize the vast untapped potential of the Chinese market,” BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch said in a company statement. [Read more here

Study: YouTube Is Emerging As #1

Streaming Platform…At Least In Finland

 

     Evidence is mounting that mp3s, CDs, and even digital music files are becoming increasingly outdated as young listeners now are finding their favorite music on YouTube and Spotify. A new research study from Aalto University in Finland found that 76% of young adults listen to YouTube music every day, and the music video channel has become the most frequently used service for music listening and new music discovery. Even active Spotify users visited YouTube often to complement Spotify’s incomplete music selection. YouTube also was perceived by the Finnish respondents as the most shareable music source available.

“The popularity of YouTube is overwhelming….nearly everyone uses it for listening to music,” lead researcher Lassi A Liikkanen said in a statement. “YouTube has transformed the digital media world and the practices of music listening. For the first time, we now have a scientific record of the big change that has taken place.”

The study also suggests that, at least in a solitary YouTube music listening context, the video is secondary to audio. “We ran an experiment to evaluate this and found that our participants evaluated their musical experience similarly, regardless of the presence of accompanying picture,” Liikkanen added. “This provokes many questions for future research.” [Read more here]

A publication of Bunzel Media Resources © 2015