What is power?

Power is the sublime. We perceive power when we understand that something is beyond boundaries. That boundary can be the law, social codes or the conceptual categories you use to file something in your mind. Boundary crossing is increasingly frightening in that order because the further you go the more difficult it is to make sense of.

Somebody who breaks the law is a criminal. They have disrupted order and are potentially a threat to physical safety but their motives are clear and they have a motivation for doing so. Their motivation neuters fear because it makes them rational and if somebody is rational they can be defeated using logic or what they want can be taken away from them. A remorseless killer who murders for no other reason than because they wanted to is far more frightening than a gangster who shoots a rival over money.

Breaches of social codes are more disturbing because they challenge unconscious mental structures. If a man wears a dress it forces you to consider the insecurity of your own gender construct. You’re compelled to understand that there is not such a clear divide between men and women as you thought thus your understanding is reduced. Imagine you walk into a shop and the man behind the till does not respond and just turns in circles silently with his eyes fixed on the middle distance. This is even more frightening because the functioning of his mind cannot be determined. There is no ability to reason about his thoughts or actions.

The most terrifying of all are those things that we cannot put any boundaries around at all. Caves, the deepness of the ocean and the vastness of the ocean all allow us to project our worst fears into them. Worse than that, the projected idea is entirely conceptual. We generate in our minds the essence of the thing, which would not appear to us in real life even if exactly reconstructed. A ghost is entirely unbounded. We cannot understand where they are, how they move from place to place or what the limits of their capabilities are.

God and the devil fit into this final category. Or rather we put the parts of our mind that we cannot make sense of into these categories. Forces that are not understandable but are good are god and forces that are inexplicable and sinister we call the devil. If you cannot simulate a person’s thoughts and life in your mind then they take on an air of power. For the same reason people have bought into the concept of a darknet because they do not fully understand the internet. In spite of its actual benignness, people have assigned it a tremendous power because of its mystery.

Philosophy and suicide

Suicide is an interesting topic. Aside from the sticky subject of euthanasia, it has many meanings which are rarely discussed due to its sensitivity and the desire to maintain the dignity of the dead. While suicide has not been a crime for many years, people still use the word ‘commit’, suggesting an offence against society. It’s not uncommon to hear people describe suicide as a selfish act, due to those it hurts around the deceased, while the person in question takes an eternal rest.

Contradictorily, it can also be an act with great meaning. Gilles Deleuze killed himself in 1995 by jumping out of the window of his apartment. Some critics propose that Michel Foucault deliberately killed himself by having promiscuous gay sex. In the cases of these philosophers, something profound is often presumed. The reams written about their deaths discuss the philosophical basis of their decisions, portraying them as a knowing statement and a carefully considered and justified choice. I believe this is a mistake. Suicide is always a confused act of last resort and does not emerge from a position of strength and comfort. Even when these decisions are retrospectively justified in suicide notes, the attempt is often to hide the truth of overwhelming fear and desire to escape.

Jacintha Saldhana hanged herself after being on the fooled end of a prank phone call. There was a lot of press covering the issue at the time, mostly focusing on the tearful and sufficiently remorseful faces of the Australian perpetrators. The sensitivity of her death compels people to avoid any meaningful discussion other than castigation of those perceived to be at fault, doing her an injustice in the process. For most people, being made a fool of of is not sufficient humiliation to want to die. For Jacintha it was, and this points to the other factors like depression in her life that caused her to kill herself.

The media is compelled to spin a narrative of tragedy around the affair. Because of this, her actions become a symbol of strength, a righteous action against an oppressor that we should stand behind. In this narrative our only choice is to support her death as a rightful action. With Jacintha and the philosophers by seeing their acts as symbols we fail to see them as humans. Something else the narrative does is to paint suicide as an inevitable consequence, rather than something we had a hand in and could have prevented. They are all actions spurred by confusion, irrational thoughts and emotions that spiral out of proportion. Preventing someone jumping from a bridge is not a futile act leaving the person to subsequently gas themselves in their cars, it’s been shown to prevent them from trying again. It’s only with this view that we can help those with similar troubles who are not masters of the universe but temporarily crushed by it.

I don't read the news

I don’t read the news. I haven’t read a word for about six months and my life is much better for it. I have three reasons spanning the personal, the political and the philosophical.

For me the amount of content is just overwhelming. I’m addicted to lists. I’ll consume anything numbered from one to infinity. There’s something about the need for completion that drives me to look at more and more news. I feel compelled as a good citizen to know about ‘the state of the world’, an oft used phrase. The proliferation of content and inherently continuous nature of the news meant that I was trapped in a never ending cycle of checking and rechecking, desperate for more new content. Since I gave up the news I don’t have to do this anymore, I don’t have the option to swing over the guardian, the bbc and see if there’s anything new up there. I now have to consider what to do when I have a free moment which tends to lead to doing something more productive.

There are some downsides. Someone mentioned Syria and I panicked and responded with something along the lines of, “oh yes it’s absolutely terrible isn’t it”. It seemed to satisfy my conversation partner. I’ve realised that mostly when people bring up the news, it’s in order to tell you at length about their opinions on something. It’s rare that people will spontaneously dig into your thoughts on the matter. Even rarer is a challenging pop quiz on this week’s headlines.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as the state of the world. It’s easy to imagine as a concept - a sense that you understand the shape of events. That you can structure and perceive it in your mind. In some ways it’s a way of getting a grip on things that are out of our reach. But having this image in your mind doesn’t mean all that much except for a feeling of security. The media taps into this very human desire to get one’s hands around the world by feeding us narratives about the way the world is. These narratives lead us down a particular path of understanding, pushing out others. I’ve written more about narratives in life.

To read the news is to soar like a bird, seeing the world from that 10,000ft drop and being able to encapsulate it all within your perspective. As I’ve said this perspective is comfortable but delusory. You’re really only looking at the map that’s been drawn out for you, a simplified system. What we really need in the news is not narratives and top down views, but a proliferation of metaphors. The many-to-many communication of twitter exhibits this perfectly. There is no overall story.

Following a live stream of news on twitter means seeing a number of different perspectives all at once with no attempt of coherence. There isn’t any definition of what the news is or should be, a ‘story’ about a mass murder is as contained within 140 characters as is someone’s breakfast. Certainly, there are events that happen in physical locations that affect more people more significantly, but what’s important to us isn’t necessarily defined by that. Because of this, Twitter is a more honest medium which more accurately reflects our limited ability to report from a limited view, the validity of anyone’s perspective as reporter, and our ability as news understanders to assemble a coherent picture of the world out of many metaphors. Ultimately, this will serve us better as it continues to develop.

I also resent someone taking control of the narrative. Even to look at a headline is to have the order of the day imposed - a statement that declares that this is the most important thing that has happened for everybody. We can have many different viewpoints and fragments of experience. We can’t have this single, linear top down perspective. It doesn’t make sense to view the entire world in chunks of specific navigable narratives that have starts and ends. It’s a form of self reinforcing social control - the yarn spun by the masters of narrative who dominate the chain of distribution - whether that’s digital or paper. Many to many is just an infrastructure. Lets make the story itself purposefully schizophrenic.

24 hour news is the worst manifestation of all of these issues. It’s an unpleasantly persistent stream of sex crimes and murder. The problem is rather than being a dip in service which adjusts itself to the amount of things available to be reported on it’s become a distinct product itself. Because of the vastness of the programming it has to be filled arbitarily with compelling narratives.

However, for the first reason of the addiction to permanent instant gratification I don’t check twitter either. For all this, it just makes me happier not to know some events have happened.