Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ontological Incompleteness of the ‘Inward Immigrant’ or Why Nothing in Today’s Media-Saturated Overconnected World Makes Any Sense

Let me begin by using myself as an example.  I was born and raised in the Czech Republic.  My mother remarried when I was 11 and when I turned 12, she and I moved to the United States as a result of this marriage. I’ve lived in the US ever since.  I will spare the reader the nitty gritty details of the actual move, the integration, and so on, mostly to say that my experience and the experience of the thousands of others that emigrated to the US that year alone are on the surface typical. Cut to today and I can with a lot of confidence say that, as a first generation immigrant, having emigrated at the age I did, my experience of the world and of American culture can only be described as incomplete.  The same can be said of my experience of the Czech culture.  What would seem as an upper hand, being bilingual, having roots in both cultures (muliticultural), etc, to me seems, while not a handicap, as a void that can never be filled.  True, Walter Benjamin’s experiences as an exile illustrate this point nicely. My point is that today the exile and the immigrant experience are metaphorical models on which the on which the very existence of the split individual is based and by split individual I mean all of us that inhabit the dual worlds of cyberspace and the real world. By moving into cyberspace we have become ‘inward’ immigrants and as a result, experience ourselves as incomplete because we cannot fully realize or exist in both worlds at the same time, while each world acts as a supplement to the other and vice versa. While this may or may not be true of the experience of those of us who were born with or rather into the mediated world of the internet, in which screen time is just a normal part of one’s growing up, I believe that those of us who came onto the scene, or rather, whose lives were forever impacted and disrupted by the mediated world of the internet, can only be described as experiencing within themselves an abyss that is at once ontological and subjectively undefinable.  This does not mean however that this abyss or void does not exist, only that it is structured so as to be always just out of reach.  One can never fall into it or experience it directly.  Rather one experiences their void as peripheral. 

What do I mean by this? Slavoj Zizek has a few examples of this phenomenon.  During his debate ‘Duel-Duet’ with Graham Harman, Zizek points out the example of God as a lazy video game designer.  Imagine yourself playing a video game.  You walk around in some large landscape with some trees and buildings in the background.  You have a task to do, but you may never enter any of the buildings.  When you try, you will usually bump up against a mess of pixels that look like a door, but this door or whatever it is you are trying to get to, will never open or reveal itself. Within the scope of the game, it was unnecessary to provide or design the interiors or other side of those areas. The player was never meant to enter these in the first place.  The trees and buildings in the background are only that, a background.  

In another example, Zizek gives the experience of the self as also incomplete.  I can look at myself and see my legs, hands, feet, clothes I’m wearing and everything around me.  What I cannot see is my head, or rather, where my head/face are, is experienced as a void.  Zizek never mentions what happens when I see myself in a mirror, but one can extrapolate that even when I see my reflection in a mirror, this is in itself an experience of the abyss.  I see myself, but I see myself reversed.  I am therefore myself and also not myself at the same time.  I will never be able to see myself the way that others see me. Therefore, my experience of myself is as having a void where my head ought to be. 
In yet another example by Zizek, in his EGS video titled ‘Ontological Incompleteness in Painting,’ I title I shamelessly pilfered for my essay, he gives the example of the painting ‘The Death of Marat’ by Jacques-Luis David.  In this painting we see Marat dying in a bathtub with paper and quill presumably stabbed to death in mid-sentence. Above Marat is an abstract void, what was possibly meant to be a wall.  The background encroaches onto Marat, in effect squashing him into the spatial foreground that he occupies.  The Death of Marat can be effectively called an abstract painting, despite the obvious representation of Marat in the bottom of the frame.  To further this claim, Zizek points to an analysis of the painting by T J Clark, an art historian, who called Death of Marat the first modernist painting.  Isn’t the background of the painting a forerunner of the first Malevich paintings? Anything other than the wall-as-abyss, say a window, or other figures in the background, or as would’ve been the case,  wallpaper,  would destroy the effectiveness of this image.  I agree with this position.  In another famous painting, this time by Caspar David Friedrich ‘The Monk by the Sea,’ a similar effect is achieved.  Friedrich painted the entire sky, about 80% of the painting, in a murky, dark and disgusting grey, opaque and absolutely foregrounded, rather than receding, the sky is oppressive and encroaching on the figure of the monk in exactly the same way as the wall does onto Marat.  

With these examples in mind I want to be careful in my description of abstraction.  I am not suggesting that all abstraction illustrates the abyss or void or incompleteness.  To be clear, the kind of abstraction that I describe here are different from the total abstractions of painters like Rothko, Newman, Still, or De Stilj, Kandisky, or the Cubists.  In my opinion, true abstraction is an attempt to reconstitute or fill in, rather than to illustrate the void.  Abstraction in the hands of the Cubists, De Stilj, or Abstract Expressionist painters, was always a method for elucidating that which is already missing as a kind of substitute, a supplement.  Abstraction is an ontological method by which what one sees and experiences is hashed out paint.  These are colors, shapes, moods, and so on.  The gamut of human experience and interaction with the real world and with what can only be called as spiritual or ethereal world is attempted to be transcribed through abstraction.  My claim is that, unlike the examples above, where incompleteness is part of the method, true abstraction leaves nothing out, and is therefore not illustrative of the void or the experience of it.  Abstraction may leave out representation and depiction, but that is the point from the outset.  Total abstraction gave itself the task of reproducing the things themselves, rather than imitating them, as in objective/representational art.  A line is a line, a color is a color, a shape is a shape, and so on.  The world is made up of color, it is made up of shapes, it is made up of various lines, and so on.  Abstraction is therefore by many understood as a better representation of the real world, without its inherent incompleteness, than representational art.  I must agree with this assumption.  Modernism was a concerted effort to show through art not just what is, but also to show the whole of human interaction with its environment, in abstract forms, because by the time of early modernism it was apparent that much of what constituted human experience was becoming increasingly abstract.  But modernism was also an attempt to erase the void from the human experience.

Let’s continue with the idea of the video game.  Say a video game designer creates a perfectly abstract video game, shapes, colors, sounds, etc.  Unlike in the representational game with background buildings we cannot enter, the abstract video game, could be designed in such a way that one could enter through anywhere and into anywhere. The background is the foreground and vice versa.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the abstract world of fractals that continue to move inward and outward indefinitely.  

To go back to my original anecdote about my experience as an immigrant to the US, I believe that today, for the first time in history perhaps, we experience ourselves as totally connected while at the same time, totally unmoored from reality.  When I came to the US, I was 12.  One could effectively say that my life as a Czech ended at that time.  My experience of the place, of the environment, of school, friends, family, culture, ended and was replaced by a new place, new environment, schools, friends, family, culture, and so on. But in this new culture, I was a stranger, having to learn the signs and ways in which everything and everyone operated.  Until I was 12, I had all the references from my culture: lullabies, TV shows, music, food, etc.  Once in the US, I found out that these were in some ways necessary references for understanding and connecting to the new culture.  But because I did not, and still do not have these references, they act as a void. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the experience of adolescence and adulthood in the US. Because I experienced these in the US, that incompleteness is now palpable on the other side, my Czech side.  This process can be repeated indefinitely throughout the entire experience in which one culture predominates and is supplemented by the other, while never fulfilling the gap that is created through absence. 

Human experience is somewhat limited.  We cannot experience ourselves in more than one place at a time.  If we did, perhaps the abyss would not exist.  The modern world, with its electronic prosthetic supplement, continues to create a void out of the very experience it claims will make one whole.  In other words, because one cannot occupy more than one place at the same time, whether physically, mentally, or psychically, or any combination of these, and because experience itself is limited, ontologically a void is created precisely when an attempt at a multiple position is made.  To extrapolate this point is to imagine oneself as both in the online world and in the real world.  One must necessarily inhabit one or the other. While it seems as though one may be able to be in both palces at the same time, what actually happens is that in both the real world and the online world, we have fragmentary selves, a mixture of screen names, profiles and curated pages supplementing the real world we occupy.  While in the real world we live without those very things we’ve created in the online world.  There are innumerable ways in which we appear in databases, databanks, on websites, forums, browsing cookies, and many of them, especially those being kept secret from us by the NSA, we will never know.  These are bits and pieces of information about ourselves, that constitute ourselves, but are not of ourselves. The being thus created is incomplete, like the immigrant, whose cultures overlap, but do not fulfill one another. Another point to be made here is that our awareness of this incompleteness, the very fact that I know that the NSA, or the government, or Facebook or some other faceless corporation has much of my online self at their disposal, is part of what produces the experience of the abyss.  I know very well that a part of me is missing, but that does not fill in that part of me with that very knowledge.  I am, and always will feel myself as incomplete.  And the same can be said for the real world.  In the real world I also experience myself as incomplete because while I occupy the real world, I do not at the same time see and experience all the little bits of myself that exist in cyberspace.  While I do things in the real world, hiking, sleeping or eating ice cream, my online self is effectively living its own life.  It provides Facebook information about my myself, it provides Google information about my browsing habits, real people can ping my credit report, see how much money I have in the bank, algorithms run diagnostics on my likes and dislikes to promote products to me and play matchmakers with other online selves, etc.  My fragmented online self exists independently of me and it is interacting with other real and online selves.  Presumably even after I am long dead, my online self will exist as a de facto supplement of myself.  It is this knowledge that one part of me is always acting while I myself do not, that creates this mysterious abyss between myself and my supplement.  When in the early decades of computerization ideas about AI and the internet were being developed, nobody suspected what form these would actually take and how they would act on the real world.  My online self is in some sense dead and not dead.  It acts as I act, and it is acted upon, but it is inert.  The data to feed it comes from me, but in and of itself, when I relinquish myself from it, though inert, it seems to take on a life of its own.  So oddly enough, our online selves are something more like the undead.  I think that AI, if there is such a thing, comes to us as a byproduct that takes on the appearance of what it is trying to supplement, namely us.  We may have created AI, but not as an end product, but through an accident as an unintended consequence of globalization and overconnectedness to everyone and everything.  It is too soon to tell, but this type of AI is definitely not what the early online social engineers had in mind. As Adam Curtis would put it, we retreated into cyberspace because we could no longer control a runaway world, with all its wars, pollution, and environmental degradation, and because cyberspace offered a chance for a new beginning. We emigrated inward and left the real world behind.  But when this happened, we left a part of ourselves in the real world and conversely, placed a new part of ourselves into cyberspace, while neither part effectively spoke to the other or fulfilled that which the other one lacked.  By opening up cyberspace, we opened up a space within ourselves that could in fact never be filled, because just like the immigrant from another country, we cannot be in both places at once, and thus must recon with the loss of one culture and be prepared to never gain what is effectively lost at the beginning when adopting a new one.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Alex Jones Effect

(This is a hastily written analysis of the somewhat recent banning and deplatforming of Alex Jones.  Please excuse possible grammatical and spelling errors. Thank you!)
Over the past few days I have listened to literally hours upon hours of commentary about the deplatrofming of Alex Jones, from the kneejerk reactions of the alt-right, to the occasionally lucid accounts by the old left all the way to the ridiculous overcompensating reactionaries of the supposed radical left.  As the technosphere was busy puking over itself as a result of the Jones affair, there was very little in terms of real analysis of what transpired.  Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone came closest, but he somewhat conspicuously left out his analysis of the system that allows for the type of action taken by media conglomerates, Ben Shapiro had some interesting points, though he himself fell into the trap of self-preservation as the rest of the vlogo-bloggosphere, ‘if they came for Jones now, tomorrow they may come for me, then they’ll come for you.’  It’s as if the entire technobabble was oriented around the conspiratorial alt-right narrative popularized by Jones.  If the idea that the conspiracy of mass media is to shut down individual voices then this is the conspiracy par excellence.  In it, literally no one is safe, from a blogging grandmother to cute cat videos.  They all too could be taken down for having content that is ‘low quality’ or misconstrued as ‘hate speech’. The mental gymnastics and somewhat faulty or vague reasoning behind this IS the reason that we have vague language dominating public discourse.  When all critique and commentary around Jones’ takedown centers around setting up straw men to know them down via a series of entrenched beliefs, it is no wonder that the opposition counters with similar technique.  

But let’s be clear about one thing.  The Jones Effect is multifaceted.  Jones was in essence right when he claimed there was a conspiracy against him.  Where he was wrong, was where he claimed this conspiracy came from.  To Jones the conspiracy is ever-present, something that is a constant background of every interaction he has with everyone around him.  The conspiracy is always plotting to take him down.  My belief is that Jones’ paranoia in a way created the very conspiracy that took him down.  It is an old adage, but it is worthy of exploring.  It goes something like this, ‘when you notice the demons, they notice that you noticed, and they notice you.’  This is exactly how Ruby Ridge happened.  For those how don’t know the story of Ruby Ridge, it is a highly recommended read because it, along with Waco and Bohemian Grove among other 1990s events, is what got Alex Jones started in the conspiracy circles.  Ruby Ridge and Waco went down as carbon copies of Alex Jones.  The main actors believed in a conspiracy against them and took decisive action out of which the real conspiracy got created. The Jones Effect is therefore partly a simple self-fulfilling prophecy.  
Yet oddly enough, the Alex Jones Effect has a very real world consequence.  Apart from self-fulfilling prophecy, which mostly results in isolated and unconnected events, the Jones Effect has downright sinister implications, because it was through his deplatforming that we for the first time actually saw the conspiracy of media conglomerates and government colluding to silence individual voices.  What we got to see was a de facto transfer of power from governmental regulator bodies like the FCC to the uber-governmental monopolistic social media platforms Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, etc.   This collusion is very real and took literally decades to grow.  

Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s in the Silicon Valley, the tech giants of today were small fledgling groups of people who believed in the philosophy of virtuous selfishness courtesy of Ayn Rand. They wanted to create a new better world run by computers, backed by money from the banks and legitimized by the government that would write the laws to protect them.  Technology, they said, was a way to free the minds of the people and bring about real democracy, in which everyone who is connected to the network has equal say and participation rights, and it is above all a place in which individuals can fully realize themselves and pursue their God-given selfish desires.  This idea tied in very nicely with the dying American Dream, freedom and self-determination.  Technology gave the world an American ideology and made it into a home-spun common sense that was easy for everyone to follow. One could participate in it by shopping online, reading the newspaper or playing video games.  Over 30 years, the Silicon Valley technocrats set out to create a separate world in which they could play out their half-baked ideas about freedom and made it ubiquitous.  John Barlow’s  ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ put it this way, ‘Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather’ Today, cyberspace and the networks reach out to every corner of human interaction.  What was meant to be a free society, instead became a battlefield of competing financial and ideological forces that carved out cyberspace into jurisdictions and geopolitical entities.  Cyberspace became as complex and opaque as the real world that the technocrats wanted to avoid and/or destroy. As time dragged on online, the mergers and acquisitions and hostile takeovers of various corporations, banks and NGOs, resulted in a few but powerful monopolies.  Early social media platforms like MySpace got eaten up by Facebook as more and more people gathered in larger and larger numbers on single sites.  Amazon ate up all competition beginning with book sellers like Borders and Books-a-Million down to mom and pop used book stores.  Eventually Amazon set its sights on the entire retail market and the results are in, empty shelves at local shops and downright closings of entire shops, the shuttering of once ubiquitous department stores like Kmart, and Macy’s, half empty Wallgreens, CVS, even WalMart is today a husk, drained of all but the most popular merchandise they know will sell off the floor. Jeff Bezos is now the richest man in the world, for the first time in what seems like eternity, surpassing the downright incoherent wealth of Bill Gates.
When Mark Zuckerberg went in front of congress to answer questions about selling user data to election campaigns and the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, he made it abundantly clear to us that it was he who was in fact in charge.  Later on Zuckerberg was heard to say that it was he who was now responsible for the content on his site, Facebook.  This did not relinquish his power, by doing so, he firmly grasped it in his hands.  He told every one of us that it was in fact he that could do whatever he wanted with whatever went through Facebook.  It was a clever move and Zuckerberg is anything if not clever.  

In a series of moves, the technocrats solidified their hold on power, monopolizing the markets in a way that can today be finally called totalitarian.  I cringe at the prospect of using the word ‘totalitarian’ as a description for what happened this year, but the Alex Jones affair points clearly in that direction.  The public discussion over ‘free speech’, ’hate speech’, the public utilities argument, all point out that Facebook is clearly more than a corporation.  It, like YouTube and Apple, effectively run public discourse.  They have set up the rules and the framework within which that same public discourse is held, we use their platforms to discuss the very idea of what ought to be done about these same platforms and if that is not totalitarian, I don’t know what is.
Let me give you an example.  In 1991, the computer engineer Loren Carpenter made a dramatic demonstration of the power of computer technology.  He invited hundreds of people to a large shed.  In their seats were small green and red paddles and in front a large screen.  As people picked up their paddles, they appeared as small dots on the screen.  Soon everybody realized what was going on.  Each person was being projected onto the large screen and was able to move independently.  Carpenter then projected the game Pong.  The room was split in two halves, where one half collectively controlled on paddle and the other half the second paddle.  After a few minutes of trial and error, the room was able to control each paddle and thus play the game effectively.  Years later, Carpenter commented on this demonstration claiming that it gave the players total freedom to do whatever they wanted while at the same time there arose an order to what was happening on screen.  He wanted to see what would happen if there was no inherent hierarchy within a system and to show it experimentally.  When pressed for an answer to what happened that day, he called it a ‘subconscious consensus.’  But here we come to a terrifying conclusion.  What Carpenter claimed was a system that allowed for total freedom, individual self-determination without hierarchy was in fact the opposite, because it was he who set up the game, the framework and the method within which each individual acted, producing instead a dramatic, visual representation of modern totality in which individuals play the game within an externally controlled matrix.  What makes this example even more sinister is that it was indeed a game, a form of entertainment, the players enjoyed themselves into believing they were free, while the real power was somewhere else.  

The question to be asked now is of course, is there a way out of this predicament? It’s hard to say, but his brings me to the final facet of the Alex Jones Effect.  It is maybe for the first time since 9/11 that the right and the left are in a way united, or at least agree on something.  Many commentators agree that Jones was entertaining, that he was a bully and generally a shitty person, but they also agree that the deplatforming of Jones was a bad idea.  It was bad because it sets a dangerous precedent for further censorship.  With vague wording that defined ‘fake news’ as ‘..blatantly misleading, low quality offensive or downright false information,’ it is no wonder that the left and the right are questioning who or what will come next.  I don’t believe that this is the right direction we ought to be heading however.  What the two sides are arguing about right now is the symptom of the Alex Jones affair and this is mostly due to the self-preservation theory I mentioned earlier.  Most right and left commentators want to stay on these platforms, because, you guessed it, that is where their money is coming from.  Do not look for deep analysis on any of those channels.  Instead think about the larger political implications of large monopolistic social media platforms setting up the framework and methods of our discourse on these very topics.  If that doesn’t scare you, then no Alex Jones conspiracy theory ever will.

Update: 6:26 pm

I realize that if we are to have something like an Alex Jones Effect, we should at least try to define it.  Here is my attempt.  

The Alex Jones Effect can be defined as type of conspiratorial, circular, and logical argument or enclosed system of logical outcomes in which an action or set of actions undertaken by an individual or a collective of individuals, result in a type of self-fulfilling prophecy that nonetheless point to a justification for those actions.

In other words, Alex Jones railed against a conspiracy of enemies bent on taking him down, which may have at the outset been fictional and non-existent, until through his continuous action he created those enemies who, via conspiracy, ended up taking him off their platforms.  Waco, Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City Bombing, the death of Bill Cooper, all of these can be considered a type of the Alex Jones Effect.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Navigating Zizek: Uncanny Happiness

Navigating Zizek

Intro: Slavoj Zizek seems to be everywhere, all over YouTube, presenting papers, and teaching at three different schools at least, while at the same time still managing to publish 2-3 new books per year.  Granted, much of what Zizek puts out is rehashed or recycled ideas and anecdotes from previous books and essays, it is nonetheless mystifying how much this guy’s engaged.  To say that he’s prolific is an understatement.  I’ve already read a lot of Zizek, but I doubt that I’ve read even half of what he’s written so far, and the dude keeps on writing.  So it’s a bit of a catch up game for me.  

Now, I understand there’s a lot of criticism out there of Zizek already and there is a question whether my voice will add anything at all to the conversation, already in progress.  If anything, my voice will most likely get drowned out in the sea of critique of Zizek’s ideas, this I understand.  The reason I’m doing this is personal. There are lots of other writers I’d like to take a stab at in the near future, Angela Nagle comes to mind, or Mark Fisher, but Zizek is something different.  

First, he’s Slavic, born in Slovenia, I’m Slavic, born in Czech Republic.  This may seem at first like nothing important, but to me it’s absolutely essential.  It means that his world-view and mine are in some sense conditioned by similar forces. Continental philosophy is dominated by western thought, mostly coming from France and Germany, with a smattering from the British Isles and the US, but Chomsky, Foucault, or Heidegger share an entirely different world-view, one that is based on expansive thought and ideas, progress and even optimism.  Zizek, it seems, deals more with pessimism and the burden of a small nation.  It’s not always there in his writing, but if you’re not from that world, it’s easy to miss.  For someone from that world to be this big is doubly an achievement.  

Second, he fights his own demons.  This I appreciate very much in Zizek’s writings on psychoanalysis and film.  It is as if this particular mode of writing is a way for Zizek to self-diagnose.  It is this that attracted me to psychoanalysis first and philosophy later.  Zizek combines both to a great effect, which is largely absent from a lot of other writing on similar subjects, peppering his word smithing with a particular Eastern European flavor.  Zizek wrestles with, as do other writers from Eastern Europe, his own shadow. 

This is the motivation for me to write these posts and the blog in general.  It is a way for me to investigate a bit of my own shadow side, via the thought of Zizek.

Part 1: Uncanny Happiness

In the most famous American dictum ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ which attempts to describe the unalienable rights of, well, everyone, it is the last third that is possibly the most ambiguous and for a good reason.   There is a different version of the above phrase that serves as the header to the 5th Amendment and it reads ‘Protection of rights to Life, Liberty and Property.’  It is obvious that the authors of the Amendment were trying to insert objectivity into the phrase and simply substituted ‘pursuit of happiness’ with ‘property’ which could have easily also read ‘pursuit of property.’  Property is tangible, it can be measured and has a certain value, whereas happiness does not. But this is why the first phrase is so much more interesting.  In some way it gives us a glimpse into the uncertain future of those that wrote it, namely Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston.  But it also sheds light on the present situation in the United States, which doubled down on its ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a vehicle for the ‘pursuit of prosperity, pleasure and wealth,’ a perversion of the original meaning behind the phrase. 

Happiness is in itself a simple thing, but to achieve it one has to learn it.  At least this seems to be the case in much of western culture that practices postmodern neo-liberal capitalism.  In South Korea suicide rates are at an all-time high, despite the country’s economic prosperity and the use of anti-depressants in the US is so prevalent nobody seems to question them.  The happiness presented to us, through ‘happiness quotients’ and ‘happiness studies’ of cities masks a harder truth, that happiness isn’t solely dependent on wealth, prosperity or relative comfort of living.  It would appear that life and liberty have and their pursuit, have a negative effect on the achievement of happiness, and the ownership of property isn’t and end in itself that can arrest the individual in a state of happiness. 

In some way we may continue discussing happiness apropos of Zizek who writes

‘Happiness was never important. The problem is that we don’t know what we really want. What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it. Happiness is for opportunists. So I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves.’

It is interesting to note that the qualifier ‘pursuit of’ is found in front of the word happiness in the Declaration of Independence, as if the authors realized that happiness is not a category in itself.  According to this wording, pursuing happiness is elevated above happiness on the grounds that, as Zizek mentions, eternal struggle or pursuit is the only thing worth doing. This wording is grounded in the Enlightenment’s emphasis on knowledge and the intellect, both directly opposed to the sterile and hypocritical happiness through redemption promised by Christianity. 

But apart from happiness being a category of human emotion, it is also a commodity.  In the study of the evolution of faces in photos over 110 years done at UC Berkeley smiles predominate in photos since the 1950s with the grinning smile taking hold in the 1980s, while in the years pre-1950 faces appear more stoic. On Instagram pictures of users with big smiles or laughing typically get more likes per image than sober, stoic ones.  The injunction seems to be ‘enjoy’ because this way one fulfills their duty in producing the commodity of happiness.  The endless reproduction of happiness and smiles is predicated on a type of late capitalist anti-intellectualism.  The stern faces of academics and the sober manners of the old guard literary figures are a sure-fire way to alienate a majority of those under 30 and those who click.  Even the worst of news, is today carried with a kind of detached whimsy, because news after all still has to appeal to the masses and sell air time.  From ads and magazines, to TV presenters, celebrities and athletes, the injunction to enjoy and appear happy is tactically opposed to the burden of appearing ‘intelligent’ and therefore smarter than their audience, a toxic condition to the corporations whose profits rest on appearances that everything is in its proper place. This was the driving force behind Google in its early days, making the work place into a quasi-playground for the young adults employed in their offices and a standard tactic behind much of contemporary intra-office public relations between the bosses and the workers.  By making the workplace ‘fun’ there is a greater pressure exerted on the employees in the form of guilt but also in deferred rise in compensation, something that trickles down to the economy at large.  Today if one truly enjoys their work there appears the idea that this same person may not need to be compensated for their work, given that they would probably be ok doing the work for less or for free. Working for less that one’s labor is worth is so commonplace in the 21st century workplace that it’s been given a name, self-exploitation, and it, among the other evils of modern labor, is discussed in detail in Peter Fleming’s Resisting Work.  The ‘you’re having a good time, so why should I pay you’ is a duplicitous tactic, deployed by corporations and institutions, small and large, and it bleeds into the lives of individuals in such a way that working for less or for free with the vision of higher future income or profits becomes a natural state of things. 

It would be easy to blame corporations for their influence over the masses. In a way the masses have to be willing to be controlled.  In the 21st century we have arrived at a juncture in which state, institutional and corporate control becomes omnipresent through their infiltration into the public sphere via mass communications and social media.  The corporate logic of enjoyment in the workplace led directly into the corporatization of personal lives in the form of the ‘entrepreneur-of-the-self,’ the indefatigable self-promoter and self-commodifier.  In order to be viable in the 21st century marketplace one has to be continually marketing and branding oneself. Happiness, enjoyment and staying positive are crucial qualities for potential ‘consumers’ of ‘products’ and ‘content.’  The logic of ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ applies to happiness more than ever, when even within internet social relations, one’s ‘market value’ rises and falls based on the perceptions of a potential audience.  Put on a fake smile and get 100 more likes per image is the credo of the new ‘entrepreneur-of-the-self.’