Sunday, December 29, 2013

PR and Smartphones

What do Smartphones have to do with PR?

Every new technology is the expression of a per-existing meme --which is also true of things like Smartphones -- whose functions are just tekky-nerdy extensions of instinctual, if not animal behaviors harking back to the Paleolithic and beyond.  We cannot escape who we are -- nor who we were.   


If you have been following my blog, you will understand my somewhat peculiar – but not actually original view -- of all PR as an expression of a “Self’ – the “Face”, or at least, Mask by which we both identify ourselves and hide ourselves.

 Identification in this case has two parameters – one is identity through difference; the second is identity through what is shared.   So, let us say, John (above) considers himself a unique individual --and he is ever so eager to tell you about all the things that make him different and special. At the same time, he wants you to know he is just the same as you – not really different from everybody else, "you" also being a collective pronoun.  But all such “identification” has a function, a  purpose and an agenda.  The “Self” is a social tool, which John uses to achieve certain goals -- sex, money, support and all the rest. Of course, this means he is manipulating others perception -- and hiding as much as he reveals.   It is all part of  "personal" PR --“personal” branding.


Dualistic identification applies to groups-- as well as individuals – in fact to all organizations, institutions, and, of course, governments.  The Catholic Church is at pains to tell you how it is different, especially from Lutherans and their Protestant ilk (they'll burn in Hell) – and yet it also claims ecumenicalism and, by extension,  universality. Yup, People of Faith 'r Us. It's the 'r US meme again -- everybody wants to be "mainstream".  Whether traditional or avant garde, every individual or group thinks their worldview is...well...that of the rest of the world.  So, we all make an effort to “keep up” and look somehow trendy.As the song goes, "We are the world".


Now,  the Self you think is “You” is not “you” -- not at all .  Rather, as I have said,  it is  utilitarian tool like a shovel to handle social shit – or (just to show that I am "mainstream", too) --a Smartphone.-- a "communication device"  to manage reality, mostly social reality, which means the people around you.

You need your "Self"-- and you need to think it is the whole person -- not a thing --even though it is no more "you" than makeup is your face.     By believing this lie -- you can choose your self and “will oneself",  to do a lot of things –  often the wrong things, since your belief is a priori delusional.   Mostly we don’t get to choose anything at all. Other people chose for us. The Self is not even our puzzle to solve..  The pieces belong to others.  And people who say, "I do this because I am Me, this kind of person" commit the most egregious mistakes, if not crimes.


Delusions 'r Us.

For a lot of people, Smartphones are not just accessories to social life – they are social life.  They allow us to “fit in”, to be a member of the group – most important of all – to pretend to be a member of the group -- because their is some part of us which will never, ever fit.  We can imagine what life might have been without them. 


We can imagine what life might have been without them. 

stone_age_2But what is a Smartphone?

It is an device consisting of a GUI -- all those icons --on top of a usually hidden and proprietary OS  composed of often contradictory  modules -- which is why it sometimes doesn't work right.

 “Proprietary" means the modules don’t really belong to you – they were created by somebody else – and are hard to change because they are invisible and you don’t know their mechanism.   Providers will always tell you that a lot of really, really smart people – that is people smarter than you made the phone – and you shouldn’t fuck with it, which-- anyway-- would be a copyright violation. And, at the very least void your warranty.


Every now and then, you look at your list of apps in your Smartphone—and you think “I didn’t know I had that”. And you try to delete it – not that you really understand what it is -- but you can’t because the OS won’t let you.  Trust God. Trust Daddy. Trust your Provider.  They move in mysterious ways.


This brings us back to this whole "Self", Smartphone", PR thing.  You --as a "tool" (pun intended0  are also a kind of device – a device, with a GUI and an OS whose workings are a mystery  and largely derivative.  The "Self", that is, your Persona -- enables social communication -- which is ultimately aimed at getting something -- so, by definition, " PR"  Of course, it isn't just words, anymore than a Smartphone is just 'text"  Personal PR is also what you do and don't do.  The medium is the message

Of course, there is a meta-message, too – which may not be so pleasant.

That meta-message is the stuff inside, revealed accidentally, rather like Anthony Weiner's penis.

Nice Guy or Good Girl -- you are many people – some of whom would horrify mom, dad, your children, and your wife or husband – not to mention your “self”, when you realize that, yes, you do have a tiny dick.

Do you enjoy Dexter?   Maybe that's because inside you is a psychopathic killer –you really would like to cut out somebody’s heart and eat it.   But across the hall , in your spiritual-emotional-mental dorm is Sweet Jesus, who is also "you". Oh, who confusing... Thank God, we have a Self to keep things straight.

In extreme situations – like war – some of these other selves come out. Heroes – or Sadistic-Rapist Murderers -- and (of course) or just Ordinary People who do the Wrong Thing because everyone is doing it -- or the Right Thing because of instinctive altruism.   War is hard on the Self-Aware -- which is a misnomer -- because awareness of  'Self' is awareness of  Non-Self  (Self) -- which inevitably means PTSD or Survivor’s Guilt or just crushing regret.

Self and Non Self.  Or, as the philosopher, Merleau Ponty put it: sense and nonsense.  Such contradiction is  true of every individual – and, as I have said, of  every group, from families to political parties.

6a00d8341c60bf53ef019aff6ae958970dYou might think the Nazis were monsters – but they thought they were the Good Guys.  Their PR was  consistent with this moral “Self”, which  drew upon the contradictions of the culture to which is represented itself and which gave it birth.   In this sense, the collective guilt of the German people was deserved, if imposed from without by the conquering Allies.   Similarly,  the collective innocence of the Japanese who General MacArthur saw as a nation of children and therefore not responsible was a false judgment. There is one abiding rule to social reality – we are responsible, not just for ourselves—but for all others.

Does this mean we are totally fucked, at both the individual and the social level?   Yes. And no.
We can change ourselves. And we can change the groups to which we belong. But first, we must be aware of our own contradictions --and social and cultural contradictions, as well. We must also accept responsibility as social animals.  Not easy – but still possible -- if we have realistic feedback to serve as a reference point for introspection.

Then arises the question:  who will remind of us what we probably already know – but choose to ignore?  Who will confront us? Who will burst our ballons? The answer is truth tellers --  people like Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden – who hack our mental Smartphone from the outside, sending messages that we cannot filter out or ignore.


Whistleblowers and truthtellers are not just party poopers-- they are  officially and evitably outside the Law --that set of proprietary commands necessary to the cultural System. 

Truthtelling, alas, is a-systematic – it transcends social morals and ethics– and inflicts the pain of cognitive dissonance on us .  Shifting back to the Smarphone analogy,  truthtelling is a system hack that gives us insight into the OS – but it usually requires some fiddling and downtime – and can be irritating. Socrates was forced to drink hemlock not so much because he forced people to consider the truth but because -- rather like Julian Assange  -- he was a pain the ass.  We are Comfort Machines and the Pleasure Principle drives us to  punish our Truth tellers.  And so it is that the  proverbial Prophets without honor in their own country become martyrs.  


Nelson Mandela, as we saw in last week’s blog was like that. A truth teller, imprisoned for 30 years, until his particular “hack” of the system was incorporated in a OS. 


Or consider Drazen Erdemovic, a Serbian-Croat who participated in a massacre of Bosnian Muslims.  He had refused to fire   – but his Serb commander told him that if he didn’t kill  he would die, too..  Erdemovic  reasonably determined that his refusal to kill would just add one more innocent casualty without affecting the outcome -- but by staying alive --he could report the massacre later .  So he killed and he reported what he did and was tried and sentenced to prison.     The law is the Law said the International Tribunal -- quite stupidly protecting the System.  Erdemovic was another truth teller—and a hero.  But an irritant -- because he brought up vexing questions.  

Most people would have retreated to their comfort zone, with convenient rationalizations.  Erdemovic could not.

….because of everything that happened, I of my own will, without being either arrested and interrogated or put under pressure, admitted even before I was arrested in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, I admitted to what I did to this journalist and I told her at that time that I wanted to go to the International Tribunal, that I wanted to help the International Tribunal understand what happened to ordinary people like myself in Yugoslavia...


…. My lawyer, …he told me, "Dra┼żen, can you change your mind, your decision? I do not know what can happen. I do not know what will happen." I told him because of those victims, because of my consciousness, because of my life, because of my child and my wife, I cannot change what I said to this journalist and what I said in Novi Sad, because of the peace of my mind, my soul, my honesty, because of the victims and war and because of everything. Although I knew that my family, my parents, my brother, my sister, would have problems because of that, I did not want to change it. Because of everything that happened I feel terribly sorry, but I could not do anything. When I could do something, I did it. 

The irony is that the inflexible social code that the Tribunal followed was no less cruel and inflexible than the code that made monsters of the Serbs --  a locked code.


Erdemovic, by contrast, had unlocked his mind and made an ethical decision based on self-awareness.

Which brings us back (once again)  to Smartphones are devices.  The Law is a Device.  Neither smartphones or the Law are “smarter” than their users --in particular, Law, which without justice, as Gandhi, says is, a species of violence.   

All devices – including social systems – are unintelligent -- to the extent that they are static (more about that in another post).  It is up to us to endow them with consciousness – and conscience-- and force them to adapt and change and evolve.  
There are many ironies here.  For example, if the System were truly “smart” – then,  it would grant Manning, Assange and Snowden not only immunity but medals and glory. Of course, under present circumstances, that would mean they would be co-opted and their message lost.  Fortunately, the Idiots-at-the-Helm who pretend to be managing things are too stupid to give any Truth teller his or her due. Christ was a Truth teller, too – a prophet—or, as Islam would have it – a “messenger” (although not the last one).

Imagine if Christ had not been crucified.  Christianity  would be an obscure, Middle Eastern offshoot of Judaism still, if it existed at all.   But his martyrdom made possible a a whole family of Smartphone apps.

Next on the agenda…family newsletters as PR…..

Saturday, December 7, 2013

PR as a Selfie

Nelson Mandela is dead.   And in remembering him, a lot of people choose to forget.


They forget the real person, what he stood for and what happened in the end when released from prison, he became president of South Africa and oversaw the transition of a divided nation of   -- rich and poor,   separate from birth by law and race-- to a supposedly freer nation --rich and poor still separate from birth --not by law or race --just by the cruelty of economic circumstance. Now, black and white can mix freely -- if they have the money. 

Post image for South Africa’s untold tragedy of neoliberal apartheid
The world sheds its tears -- all kinds of tears -- as people compete to show fashionable grief--  that they are relevant and informed and open-minded and tolerant, in all the usual ways. The tears are virtual-- rather than real. 

To go with our designer T shirts, we must have designer emotions.

Most of the world does not lament passing of the man all. After all, it was quite happy to let him rot in a prison cell for thirty years --he, who could have been Assange, Manning, Snowden of his day,  --except for his maintaining steadfastly the option of armed insurrection  Mandela is largely mourned as an icon --created by culture and the media. Just click on the icon and watch alternative history play.

Yes, Mandela as just an opportunity for a Selfie. His eulogists -- David Cameron and Obama, for example, don't give a shit.  If Mandela had remained a Freedom Fighter, he probably would have been droned or assassinated by a Seal Team.

Fortunately for Mandela he be became a Facebook Hero.  And his death, an opportunity for self-congratulation.  There is nothing too sad, even the death of a man, that it cannot be commodified.

So the outpouring we see has nothing to do with Mandela -- certainly nothing at all to do with his principles and values -- certainly nothing to do with what he suffered for. It has everything to do with us --and our need to look good. As I said, it is a giganormous Selfie.

facebook fakebook Our Sad Future Online: Fake Likes, Fake Friends, Fake Fans
Oh, how terrible,  you say and  you post your feelings to the 2,345 people who have “friended you”, of which you have actually met 14 -- along with a  photo of this morning’s eggs and bacon and the new brown shoes you bought yesterday.  I am so sad-- and shall I wear blue or brown?

Mandela?  Who was he?  Yesterday’s terrorist, friend of Fidel and Gaddafi and Arafat?

,,,we would countenance no loss of life. But if sabotage did not produce the results we wanted, we were prepared to move on to the next stage: guerrilla war and terrorism.

Was Mandela instead a  peacemaker who forgave murderers and torturers to buy the friendship of conglomerates that rapping not just Africa but the rest of the world?     No matter -- the man's's dead.  So it's time for a happy outpouring of sorrow. We live in an Age of Irony, in which Morality is confused with banal Normality.

Cartoon: potential terrorist! (medium) by ademmm tagged terror,america,iraq,war,usa,soldier

Implicit in this outpouring of fake emotion is a denial of collective shame – that so many people are too stupid and lazy to turn off the TV and do something – like thinking.

Of course, you cannot think when you are asleep.

Some people go through their entire lives asleep. It has been that way for some time.

Until recently people went to school, studied, dated married, worked, had kids, too vacations, grew old and died, completely asleep  --clutching their remotes desperately  so they can reach out to the TV, as once people reached out a friend or lover.

But we have evolved. .  While we still spend our lives in dreamland, our cellphones have become our technological umbilicals to virtuality, a wider virtuality, true -- and one with the potential to be something else -- but mostly a way to forget the sometimes jarring reality of things and people.

Banality, said Hannah Arendt, echoing her lover Heidegger, is the source of evil.   Banality is  , somnolence, sloth,  uncritical belief -- forgetfulness.  We open our eyes --only when our immediate survival is threatened – and then it is usually too late.

There are two groups of people, lost to this kind of normapathy. .

There are those who just don't give a fuck.  As in:  apartheid?  WTF?  That was in Africa, dude. We were AOK where we are, and like apartheid  was before anyway. Before?

Before what? What has changed?  Things like racism and apartheid and the like do not die -- they reincarnate in different forms, with different names, which is why we have had so many genocides, why the fascism that epitomized by Nazism appears also in colonialism, corporatism, Zionism, Americanism and endless list of 'isms".

The WTF group don't see this endless struggle.  Or maybe they -- but WTF.

In contrast, however, there is another group of normapaths.   These are those, mostly centrists, wo give lip service to all the progressive ideas -- in polls  -- because they want to look good, which means keeping up with traffic on the ideological Mainstreet.   .  It's that Selfie thing again.

These are the  people  are in favor of compromise -- decriminalizing marijuana but not legalizing it  --educational reform and charter schools, too -- equality without redistribution of wealth -- a two-state solution in Palestine -- with Gaza and the WestBank as bantustans.

In polls, these people support the labeling of GMO foods but vote against it in referendums -- if they vote at all.  These are the people that gave us George Bush instead of Nader, Obama instead of Kucinich.

The "center" is banal.  It wants to look 'progressive' because it wants to be 'in', not 'out', like people who don't own smartphones.  If Tea Party and their like are crazy, the Center through sins of omission are subtly evil.

 Looking back over time. Mandela stayed in prison a long, long time because so many people simply didn't care, really.    

 No guilt

Yes, but we have a life, you say.  We have to care about that, too.   A good point, yes.

Because in a few years, that life of yours will be threatened.

 The world’s population is increasing beyond its limits -- and with it inequality and the abuses of power. On the horizon is total destruction of the environment, presaged by war, famine, and disease, endangering humankind as a species. The more comfortable you are now – the more risk you face later. And when you die -- in the Great Dying sure to come --  who will shed tears for you – there will be no one left to cry -- not even to affect the kind of faux grief so many express for Mandela.

 If you truly mourn Mandela,   mourn the revolutionary -- and mourn yourself and your children and their children, too. .

Mourn your comfy couch, our TV,  time at the mall, TV and cheap gasoline, Desperate Housewives, the Superbowl-- and all the things you use to remain oblivious.

If  we truly mourn Mandela, we should feel mourn the children killed in Yemen and Pakistan by American bombs. We should mourn the innocents killed by Israeli bullets.  We should mourn the innocents killed by police on our own streets. We should mourn the death of democratic process.    The sadness we feel should fuel anger.

Mandela stayed in jail a long time.  Likewise, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.   Snowden will stay in exile.   Our society loathes men and women of principle.  .


So if you are one of those who see the death of Mandela as an opportunity for a Selfie -- please un-friend me.  And I don't want to see photos of your breakfast either.