Every week, one of our writers will be given a selection of tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars. Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words. This week, Craig Forshaw takes his turn. If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scream’ by BIM
‘Scream’ most sounds like the future of end credit tracks for Japanese anime series about the inevitable fusion between man and machine. When this singularity approaches, we will ascend from the Earth as machine gods, colonising other worlds and converting them into boring grey nano-goo. Within the goo, our minds will become as one, and we will truly know each other. This is probably why BIM, “Scream”: when our minds are joined, we will truly know the depths to which the human mind can plummet. Every dark, dirty secret. Even yours. Yes. That one. (It’s also enjoyable and dancey.)
‘4 – 7 – 0’ by One Shot Progress
There are many words that can be used to describe ‘4 – 7 – 0’, but sometimes we need to be a bit more creative to fully express ourselves in the most succinct manner possible. The word that best describes my reaction is, therefore, “Pleasitating”. This portmanteau sums up the constant straddling of the fence, between enjoyable and tedious, before eventually veering away from been-there-done-that rock towards something a little more varied and enjoyable. Recommended, with reservations.
‘Pravada Scrolls’ by Modern Faces
‘Pravada Scrolls’ is quite good, make no mistake, but the one part of this rock track that stuck with me the most was the phrase, “jaded complexion”. It struck me as odd. What is a jaded complexion? Jaded, of course, means, “to lack enthusiasm”. Meanwhile, complexion means, “the colour, texture or appearance of skin”. That made me wonder… how can colour lack enthusiasm? Perhaps an image search on google would be enough to explain what they meant… However, the search just produced pictures of make-up containers and women of Asian heritage. Colour me confused.
‘Screwface City Dub’ by Screaming Soul
Imagine a disused, London Underground station, with shafts of light cutting through the persistent murk from somewhere above, when a carnival, all steel drums, colourful dancers with silk handkerchiefs, stomping Morlocks dressed in rags, and a floating cherub choir with beehive-haircuts, triumphantly and ecstatically prances out of one tunnel. If you can imagine how that looks, that is how this track sounds: a wonderful, multicultural, swooping and looping mixture of various underground samples and sounds over a well-paced, seductive beat. Lovely stuff.
‘Lie to me Darling’ by Kings and Aces
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ has always been a favourite show of mine, and one episode that stands out from the early seasons is, ‘Lie to Me’, in which a bunch of Gothic posers learn that vampires are less, “lonely wanderers”, and more vicious pricks. You may wonder why this review has wasted half its word-count on a topic mostly unrelated to the track or the band, but one of my failings is that lies do not easily trip off my tongue, darling. Instead, it is better to say as little as possible, especially of this dull, guitar-based indie-pap… oops.
“So, that’s what this book is. Miscellaneous facts and ideas, interconnected visually. A visual miscellaneum. A series of experiments in making information beautiful. See what you think.” From the author’s Introduction to ‘Information is Beautiful’.
Come the end of each calendar year, as religious types prepare festivals in celebration of the birth of a child actually born around April, and the press dust off stories about Muslims hating Christmas trees, and fat men are jolly as they know, with utter certainty, that they will get back in shape starting January 1st, your local book store also goes through a time-honoured tradition by stocking a number of tomes that review the events of the previous year, or express them in dull statistical lists.
The most recently famous of these, because of its proximity to Waterstones till (and yes, Waterstones should have an apostrophe traditionally, but they changed the name at the start of this year, which makes a kind of sense – it could refer to “Waterstone’s shop” and be a possessive, but now there is more than a single branch it makes a kind of sense to use the plural) is ‘Schott’s Almanac’, a discount collection of information and statistics relevant to the year in which the book was produced. They often collect dry statistics from throughout the year, and present them in a list format for people to briefly glance at then leave on a shelf until their grandchildren pick them up decades later and marvel at the strange days when they still allowed Dutch people into the country and let one of them play, and score, for Arsenal.
However, the great problem with most books that collect lists and graphs of statistics is that they are dull. Ask any pupil asked to create one for their subject in school, and they will agree. Informative they may be, but the information is presented in such a way as to make it inaccessible to anyone born after the coming of MTV supposedly ruined our attention spans.
‘Schott’s Almanac’ was an interesting curiosity, an archaic product released into a market-place already rampaging far off into the distance, which could provide far greater statistical information at a greater pace. It was already more up-to-date, too.
It too shared Ben Schott’s vision: to supply some fascinating data in as boring and cluttered a way as possible. Most of us have been there, on a lazy afternoon, feet up on the sofa, netbook/laptop/iSomething on our laps, possibly overheating a bit and burning the hair, skin and denim from our thighs (note to self: get laptop fan fixed), when we come across a list of the top ten greatest LOLcat videos. Overjoyed, we click the link to find…
On successive pages.
Early in the last decade a comic book writer named Scott McCloud wrote an instructional manifesto on the future of comics called ‘Reinventing Comics’, and McCloud suggested that the Internet was a fantastic tool because it gave a new generation of writers and artists the opportunity to express themselves in ways that they couldn’t previously due to the limitations of illustrating on the page. This idea excited me, because it meant that virtually any idea that could be imagined appearing on the screen could potentially be used to tell that story. Mainstream comics, that had wanted to be films for so long, could appear as large 4:3 ratio images, one panel per page. Independent titles could go more experimental routes. Then there was the notion of sequential artwork itself possibly being subverted by a much more interactive medium, perhaps in the style of a choose-your-own-adventure narrative.
Instead, showing the staggeringly unimaginative obsession with the status quo that has been the hallmark of the age of innovation we are presently living in, comics eventually came to our computers looking exactly like they had always done, and ignoring the limitless possibilities of a new medium in favour of dull standardisation.
But whilst comic books have floundered and failed, in much the same way as mainstream producers and distributors of cinema, television, music and literature, the basic delivery of information in the form of an almanac, for an age of extremely up-to-date information, has seen at least one great revolutionary: David McCandless. His fascinating book looks at subjects that interest him, and, as a consequence could be seen as almost being an autobiography in a time when people are defined more by the products they buy and media they consume than by who they are inside. However, the book also looks at what is inside David McCandless in more detail than perhaps any autobiography in history (considering that he reprints the entire map of his chromosome sequence from page 52).
The chromosome sequence looks like a multicoloured swarm of bugs, gathering on a badly tuned television screen, but it includes labels pointing out important facts, such as indicators for the likelihood of prostate cancer, lactose intolerance, and sensitivity to pleasure. Most importantly, it is colourful, interesting, and fascinating. In other words, everything a list of 2 million letter combinations would not be.
These infographics are a stunning way to render information, and whilst McCandless may fall back on so old standards, such as graphs and pie-charts, they are presented in such a way as to make the discovery and understanding of the information as fascinating as what it means. Graphs can represent multiple things at once, such as films for a certain year by box-office takings, whether they were a financial success or failure based on their original budget, and the level of critical acclaim but together in one graph that can be understood easily at a glance.
Other infographics look at diverse topics such as the most deadly facial hair on the planet, based on the amount of death caused by the famous people wearing it at the time (such as Genghis Khan) presented as a graph which handily features the facial hair; or the colour-coded list of hangover-cures and their ingredients by country, represented as the amounts within the cups that appear on the page, with cocktails on the other page to help get you into a state where you might need one; similarly, there is a double-page on calorie intake, and how to burn them off with simple graphics showing the food, a description and the number, whilst exercises and daily activities gets the same attention, with stark white-on-black silhouettes, description and numbers underneath (hopscotch burns off 185 calories, a visit to the toilet 44); there is a map of popular Internet search terms by country, colourful Venn-diagrams on the lack of rape convictions in England and Wales, and a lovely graph entitled, “What’s Better Than Sex?” based around Google Insights search results (the answer? Since 2007: youtube.com).
The book is a fascinating mixture of things you might want to know, things you didn’t know you wanted to know, things that look pretty that you don’t care about except when you are looking at the fascinating presentation, an insight into one man’s interests, and two ironic pages of text on postmodernism. It is a brilliant and imaginative way of taking interesting facts and turning them into something clever and pretty. The hope is that one day, McCandless’s efforts will inspire a new generation to present many of their own work in a similar fashion. The worry is that we have been here before, as Scott McCloud may testify, and it is so much easier to just go with the industry, social, or cultural standard.
But it is so much more enriching when the information really is beautiful.
On the television show, ’30 Rock’, Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan), a controversial, African-American actor who stars in the kind of films that would make Martin Lawrence think twice, is persuaded by high-flying uber-executive Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin) to become a member of the right-wing, anti-taxation-of-the-rich party, the Republicans. However, now that the Republicans, a party dominated by old, white Christians, have a black star to represent them, Jack tries to persuade Tracy to do a series of political adverts in an attempt to woo the African-American voting block which tends to elude them come election time.
The attempt is disastrous. At one point, Tracy goes as far as to comment that black voters will never support the Republican party. The joke is intended to point out the voting trends of the American public, whilst poking the finger of fun at political attempts to seduce those who have nothing in common with the aims and goals of that political organisation. But whilst Tracy is a dim-witted madman, high on his own sense of entitlement, Jack Donaghy is a shrewd mover, who made his name by being ruthless, efficient, and pretty darn perceptive, when it comes to business and politics. Jack has a plan that will work in the Republicans favour, but would not need to rely on the African-American demographic voting for his party.
Jack has Tracy tell African-American voters to stay home and not vote. The reasoning behind this is that every vote by a member of that community would simply be a vote against the Republicans, and therefore, if each of them stayed home rather than voting, then it would be either a widening of the margin of victory, or a closing of the margin of defeat. Either way, it would make the Republicans seem more popular than they actually are, and would swing elections in their favour.
This brings us to the 50 Cent Club. Whilst they sound like a fan-club for a bling-dripping rap-star who makes wish-fulfilment computer games about being the most bad-ass mo’fo’ in the entire world, the truth is both more boring, and a little bit more terrifying.
The 50 Cent Club is a group of astroturfers, paid for by the Chinese government. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “astroturfing”, it relates to the practice of having individuals, groups or organisations posting positive comments about themselves, their groups, or organisations, anonymously, on message boards. This gives an inflated sense that the public is in favour of, or against, whatever they represent. The role of the 50 Cent Club is to spend their days posting articles and messages in favour of their government, with a grand fee of 50 cents paid each time they post. This then, in theory, will convince anyone on the Internet that everything in China is just hunky dory.
Of course, the Chinese are not the only ones that do this. The American military have been using a variety of seemingly innocent social networking sites to bomb private individuals with propaganda, hidden not by clever wording to appeal to the person, but by the original source of the message being obscured due to an assumed online identity.
Neither is it just the politicians that use this practice. Both ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ were promoted heavily through astroturfing. The Bleeding Cool website ran an article looking at an example of similar messages used by a lazy astroturfer to promote both films. In the case of ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1’ the practice becomes quite scary because of just how unnecessary it is: by now there cannot be anyone on the planet who doesn’t at least know who Team Edward and Team Jacob are, and constantly wonder why people like reading about the bland, death-fixated life of the dull, dull, dull Bella Swan. The only possible explanation can be that is has become expected for a marketing campaign to warp reality in this way.
The concern with this is that it begins to call into question everything you read on the Internet, including this article right here. How do you know that the author of this article isn’t secretly working pro-Chinese messages into this work, perhaps as a weird acrostic down the side of each piece of work, slowly permeating your subconscious until you want to work for $14 a month in a Beijing sweat-shop owned by Walmart?
This becomes increasingly problematic when you try and “think for yourself and question authority”. How can you effectively question authority when, like the protagonists of ‘1984’, you find out that even your allies are secretly agents of the authority you are railing against. Increasingly, we find that Orwell was not warning us as much as he was explaining the world we are slowly descending towards, a special tenth circle here on Earth.
How can you trust your own mind when you learn that the moderate person speaking sense is, in fact, just another Tracy Jordan trying to twist your perception into doing something that seems to match your own beliefs, but is really benefiting those that only want to create a world opposed to them?
The reason for this article is because of the comments section on The Guardian website this past few months. As the rage from the end of the last Labour government subsides, people are now starting to realise that they have elected a regressive, elitist coalition who will dish out hard medicine like they are American doctors handing pharmaceutical company pills to children they claim are hyperactive: they will give you it whether you need it or not, because it makes their lives easier. But the rage hasn’t fully subsided, instead it is being pulled in two directions, and this makes those on the left-side of the political spectrum very vulnerable to astroturfing.
You see, the average comment on CiF (Comment is Free) tends to follow these simple lines: “They’re all the same. What’s the point of voting? Meet the old boss, same as the new boss.” It is very easy to give in to the apathy surrounding these issues, especially with the opportunity to effect real political change still so many years away.
The problem with those types of comments is that they tend to short-circuit the democratic process. Whilst the left suffers from general apathy as the Labour party tries to establish a new identity following the perceived failure of Gordon Brown’s economic plans (and it was only perceived, the economy was turning around in the months leading to the election, but the results weren’t known until afterwards and so have been suppressed by a media desperate to cosy up to the Condems), the right is rallying, and is even trying to turn the idea of being on the left-wing as something naïve and reckless. But for those feeling apathetic, it isn’t helpful to be told that the only party political alternative that could win the next election will do exactly the same as those in power. There is no evidence for this at all. Further, it suggests that to those moderates who swing elections that you would be better off with the devil you know, or not voting at all.
The role astroturfing could very well play in this instance is the exact same role Tracy Jordan was hired to play, and that is to further encourage those who are gravitating towards the left as a viable alternative to instead choose a cool, misanthropic distancing of themselves from the political process. The comments on CiF have already started to do this (though it needs to be stated that there is no evidence they are participating in a program of astroturfing). We need, therefore, to be more vigilant than ever when it comes to assessing what we read. After all, if someone like me thought of it, who’s betting Oliver Letwin hasn’t?
Leary had been described as, “the most dangerous man in America,” by Richard Nixon. Leary, then a prominent psychologist, had never murdered a single person, nor had he directly incited any violence. He had just really loved LSD, and had been devoted to researching ways in which it could be used in therapy to treat long-term psychological problems. One of the areas they looked at was anti-social behaviour in criminals. At the same time, similar testing was being done by Elliott Barker. Leary and Barker had initial successes, but the long-term results suggested that some criminals, particularly those with psychopathic traits, were merely taught how to conceal the coldness within them whilst acting out human emotions for the benefit of those around them.
However, Leary lived at a time before these long-term results became obvious, and he genuinely believed in the therapeutic uses of hallucinogens. When the US government outlawed them, Leary became an advocate for their decriminalisation, and their use in treating patients with mental, and sometimes physical, disorders. Indeed, tests on various banned substances are today showing potentially positive results: LSD treatment in therapy has resumed in Switzerland, and MDMA has shown positive results when used on suffers of Parkinson’s disease.
However, at a time when Charles Manson had his family murdering people, Ted Bundy was responsible for the deaths of college age girls, and the Zodiac Killer was most active, it was Leary that right-wing politician Richard Nixon described as the “most dangerous man in America”.
Why? There were three reasons.
Firstly, Leary popularised the saying, “think for yourself and question authority.” That same ideology was the one that eventually led to the Watergate Scandal, and the end of Nixon’s presidency, so he would be right to fear it.
Second of all, it was the beginning of the Establishment’s long running failure to fight a war against drugs. The real reason those in power so feared the drugs of that age was because what represented a quiet revolution of bands and free-love and daisies-in-your-hair, also represented a shedding of the kind of proper, mannered restraint that the right-wing saw as a moral obligation. To them, it was every Freudian-nightmare about the dark-undercurrent that dominates the subconscious mind of the masses – it was the mob breaking free of their shackles. In much the same way that Julian Assange is the current face of an information revolution, Leary was the face of a psychological revolution. “Think for yourself and question authority.”
The third reason was much, much more insidious, and seems like it comes from the realms of conspiracy theory, but was actually the subject of a public apology from Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford. The MK-Ultra project was designed to test the use of hallucinogens (specifically the same Lysergic-Acid Diethalymide-25 created by Albert Hoffman and used by Timothy Leary) in an attempt to manipulate the brain for the benefit of the CIA. It resulted in at least one death.
However, at the same time that the CIA wanted to exploit this drug, the Establishment was doing its best to slander Timothy Leary, and then lock him away using a sentence far beyond the maximum permitted sentence for the crime he had committed.
And they would have succeeded, too, had it not been for the fact that the Establishment of that time was as stupid as it was brutally criminal. The tests administered to Leary to rate his psychological condition, and determine whether he would spend the next twenty years in a minimum- or maximum-security prison, had been written by Leary himself. Leary decided that, not being The A-Team, he would go the maximum-security route. He promptly escaped, and was smuggled out of the country, eventually ending up in Switzerland.
Leary was eventually returned to America, where a judge commented that, “If he is allowed to travel freely, he will speak publicly and spread his ideas.” In 1976, three years after his recapture, he was released. Whilst in prison, he told notoriously-hard-to-define writer Robert Anton Wilson that he believed he had more freedom whilst imprisoned than most people had on the outside. To Leary, the idea of freedom was not physical, but mental.
Wilson had his own revelation about freedom during a sit-in at a segregated barber-shop. The shop’s owner refused to serve black customers, and so those in the local community who were aware of the importance in fighting racial segregation decided to sit-in his shop. Eventually, the police were called, and the protesters, rather than the racist barber, were arrested. Wilson later commented that it showed him that to the Establishment, even your own body is not yours, but theirs, to do with what they want.
These topics rest forefront in my mind at the moment not because of Julian Assange, who was mentioned earlier, or because of the economic hardships robbing so many people of their own freedoms, or because of the reaction to the strikes by public sector workers (told that they should feel grateful to receive less for more, in a staggering reversal of the very nature of capitalism). No, the events described above are at the forefront of my mind because of the Establishment reaction to the Occupy movement, especially in America.
Occupy is said to have started on Wall Street, and in San Francisco this past September, but the date the movement began on, and its original location, are less important than the ideas it claims to represent. These ideas are varied, but the are predominantly about a form of responsible capitalism. Not anti-capitalism, as if so often claimed, but responsible capitalism. Responsible capitalism is, of course, about as anti-capitalist as you can get to the current Establishment.
The current Establishment is against any form of regulation, or protection for the general public, from the forces of the market. As was mentioned earlier, one of the great fears of the Establishment for most of the last century and the start of this one has been the dark subconscious desires of the masses, so often referred to in the common lexicon as “the mob mentality”. The war to control this, to manage by consent, has been at the centre of modern political thinking. However, when the masses seem to turn on the Establishment, or any part of their dominant ideology, management by consent becomes management by terror. (Of course, the exception to this is when the dominant ideology is challenged by the market, such as the events of Black Wednesday here in the UK, and the politicians learn who really has their hand on the whip.)
It is tragic, rather than ironic, that those in positions of power cannot see the direct correlation between the gunning-down of protesters during the Arab Spring, and the brutal evictions across America. Those who believed, like Leary, that you should, “think for yourself and question authority” are now finding themselves, like Wilson, learning that even their own freedoms will be denied them should they act out in a way considered to be against the beliefs of the Establishment.
In this sense, it makes a mockery of democracy, but to understand democracy you have to understand the simplistic ideas of democracy which a government will allow, verses the reality of democracy that we have been denied all our lives.
The simplistic form of democracy is as follows: each person, regardless of their ignorance, is invited to vote after a period in which they are bombarded by propaganda controlled by the dominant political classes and those who own the media.
In Leary’s instance, the dominant voices were the likes of Richard Nixon and his then media consultant, now Fox News President, Roger Ailes.
Now-a-days, it is the likes of Ailes (still), Rupert Murdoch and Goldman Sachs.
In this model, you have only as much power as the amount of information they allow you to have. This is why the likes of Occupy, Anonymous and Wikileaks terrify the current Establishment, as they are weakening the level of information control they have over the public, and ruining the illusion of a society that is “in this together”.
The other model of democracy is one we will likely never see, but is the one that most of the counter-culture has tried to popularise in one way or another since the term was first coined, and perhaps back to Adam Weishaupt and the Bavarian Illuminati, and perhaps even back to Jesus (if you believe in him or not, the important thing here is the message, not whether or not he existed).
It goes as follows: each person is expected to learn as much as they can about what they are required to vote on, and is relied upon to make an informed choice about what they have learned through both mainstream and more marginalised means of delivering information. Or, arming yourself with information, if you will.
In this way, the truth about Occupy is that it is an idealised form of democracy taking on a corrupt, manipulative form of democracy. And, just as Leary was punished because they couldn’t allow him to spread his message, so the evictions and the restriction of media coverage were set up to muddy the true message of the protest: a need for economic openness.
There have been many commentators that have disputed this message. One of the most spurious arguments came from Louise Mensch, MP, who, on Have I Got News For You, commented that they can’t have an i-Phone and a Starbucks coffee and be against capitalism. This was later followed up by comic book writer Frank Miller, who, like Nixon perverting Leary’s advocacy of LSD-use, sought to write off the Occupy movement as a group of “liars, thieves and rapists.” This is to be expected. After all, when someone comes into contact with something they can’t comprehend or understand, they often say something stupid. (Another example would be David Cameron’s attempts, today, to turn the word, “leftist”, into an insult.) If a UFO made out of liquid that bent at angles our eyes were not able to fully see landed outside your house, you would either misunderstand what you had seen, or you would act in fear.
The lesson to be taken from all this is a simple one, though: the Establishment has always acted in the same way towards ideas it considers dangerous, regardless of how dangerous those ideas are. The true heroes of recent memory are not usually those who agreed to go and be shot at in a war, in exchange for financial remuneration, but those who gave up their time to be beaten, maced, shot at, killed, and abused in public because they stood up for their beliefs against an Establishment that neither cares to listen, nor cares for the numerous bones that are cracked under their oppressive heal. There is no guarantee that you will be proven right, and there is no guarantee that you will be remembered as a hero. But, when the Establishment send in hired goon squads, or hand down sentences far exceeding what is required by law, it is time to admit that something has gone wrong with our democracy.
The popularity of this ideology has its origins in the Cold War. John Williams, founder of the RAND Corporation, began using game theory in order to predict what the Russians would do during a nuclear conflict. It wasn’t long, though, before they began applying game theory to every facet of society. Soon, the RAND Corporation began to hire mathematicians and game theorists such as John von Neumann and John Nash to work for their policy think tank.
Our approach to think tanks is especially important to understanding how this ideology became popular. Generally speaking, it is assumed that think tanks are bodies created to perform research that will inform policy decisions. Although this may be the case in some instances, a typical think tank will often be a lobbying group set up to promote special interests. They start with an answer, and then find people to tell them that answer, thus lending it greater validity.
The RAND Corporation had a serious problem. They were using game theory to reduce individuals to a numerical value. People were expected to behave in a dispassionate, rational way because the numbers said that it was the only logical way to reach a beneficial outcome. In reality, people did not behave the way that the numbers dictated.
For example, in one of Nash’s experiments, “So Long Sucker” (also known as, “Fuck You, Buddy”), the only way to win is to betray your partner. In another, two criminals are being interviewed by the police about where they stashed their loot. If they confess, they will get a reduced sentence. However, if they don’t confess, there isn’t enough evidence to convict them. The only way to win is for neither to confess.
The mindset that these experiments promote has more in common with Factor 1 of Hare’s psychopath checklist than with the way that most people behave. This includes, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning or manipulative behaviour, lack of remorse or guilt, lack of empathy, and a failure to accept responsibility for your own actions.
In fact, when Nash ran his experiment, they found that people did not behave in the way that the numbers said that they would. This should be a relief as it suggests that most people are not psychopaths. Yet, what was cause for celebration then, may now be cause for concern.
As mentioned earlier, think tanks tend to promote their ideas, rather than researching a concept and then publishing the findings. This meant that those who bought into the RAND Corporation’s intoxicating beliefs saw flaws not in the pure mathematics or game theory, but in the imperfect world around them, and sought to change it.
It is no coincidence that most people refer to the decade that followed as the era of “greed is good.” Like the theoretical people in the games mentioned above, normal people were led to believe that the social conscience of post-war Britain should be relegated to the past in favour of rampant, grab-what-you-can individualism.
The media popularised these attitudes through television shows like ‘Dallas’, and catchphrases like, “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.” The obsession with numbers and being the alpha male of the pack had found its natural play-mate at this point in the world of finance. After all, if you become obsessed with numbers, the numbers most people deal with every day are the numbers on coins and paper-money. It wasn’t much of an extension for game theory to find its way into the world of business.
We’ll jump ahead, now, to recent history, and the story of David Li. David Li was a mathematician hired to come up with an equation that would reduce the risk for investment bankers. The formula he came up with, the Gaussian copula function, essentially allowed you to make a profit on every investment. As a result, everyone started using it.
As anyone with a bit of sense would be able to tell you, you cannot have everyone profiting every time. Eventually, someone is going to realise that there is a finite amount of wealth in the world, and it is going to be revealed that the equation doesn’t work.
Which is what happened when they put their money into the American housing market, and then they found out that people couldn’t afford to pay back the loans which would have guaranteed them massive profits.
However, so limiting is the ideological belief in the purity of numbers that those in power, seduced to this way of thinking, have next to no idea how to rectify the situation aside from doing the exact same thing all over again.
The best way in which this can be highlighted is by the term, “jobless recovery.” In terms of the ideology we are looking at here, a recovery is when the numbers are balanced. The numbers being balanced does not mean that anyone will have a job, just that the numbers say what they need to say. In the real world, however, a jobless recovery would be devastating because it wouldn’t solve any of the multitude of social problems that have been caused by the recession.
The most worrying trend, though, lies with the effect that this ideology has had on society. The recent riots caused by the shooting of an unarmed man have been written off as the opportunistic looting by a criminal underclass in a staggering example of connective bias carried out by a government that coined the term, “broken Britain.”
Indeed, this political narrative makes sense when you consider that politicians have reduced the rioters to crude numbers of youths behaving in much the way that the RAND Corporation claimed that rational people should behave if given the opportunity.
There were two other worrying trends at work during the riots which really show the problems with this dominant ideology. Firstly, the coverage was quick to acquiesce to the official political line that this was an inevitable bubbling over of the darker forces of our nature, given expression by those in our society who cannot control themselves because they lack a proper upbringing. Meanwhile, in order to put this across, those people rioting and looting were reduced to a “number of masked youths”, and given no real voice to actually explain the reason for what they were doing. There was, of course, no need for an explanation. The ideology explained it for us: people should be expected to behave in this way.
Secondly, amongst this dehumanised number of youths there was enough behaviour to justify reporting the story in this way. But what is most interesting is not that they were stealing, but that the same ideology that damned them is also what seems to have motivated them. After all, what was this but rampant, grab-what-you-can individualism?
When we reduce people, groups or institutions to numbers we do so by removing everything that makes them who they are and turning them into a parody of themselves. The only thing worse than this is when we reduce them to numbers so often they begin to think of themselves as being nothing more than a parody of the person they are. In dealing with this ideology, we need to learn to treat it with the contempt it deserves. We should not look to the politicians and businessmen for an answer, but instead we should start with Patrick McGoohan: “I am not a number! I am a free man!”