Sometimes, size matters. Sometimes, we can only accurately define “size” within specific contexts. Most times, the situation is not about “size” per se but something considerably more profound. This post is a bit different from what usually appears on this blog. It is meant to be heuristic rather than specifically informative. This is to suggest, that as you work through the superficially different videos below, ideally, you will come away with an integrated idea that no one video presents on its own. Hopefully, you will develop ideas regarding large and small actions in the world, actions which uniquely apply to your own life situations. As always, as has been a major orientation of this blog, indoctrination is not the goal, but rather, expanding opportunities for personal enablement through information and imagination. So imagine this …
When Small is Big
Big tech, along with the drug, insurance, agriculture
and financial giants dominate both our economy and our politics.
It is time to revive antitrust.
~ Robert Reich
The last few posts on this blog have presented the idea of public banking as a process of reclaiming our financial lives. Such moves away from control by a small group of moneyed interests toward public ownership by the People also speaks to the larger issue of decentralization. In this regard, consider this first video by economist and political commentator Robert Reich on Monopolization – a small number of companies exercising a vast amount of power and control. Where do you buy products online? If you want to view a video, where do you go? If you want to buy a phone, get Internet service, etc., etc., what are your choices?
Economic and political power cannot be separated because dominant corporations gain political influence over how markets are organized, maintained, and enforced, which enlarges their economic power further. ~Robert Reich
Just after the turn of the century, during the 2008 financial crisis when the public finally began to realize that something was terribly amiss in the world and particularly within U.S. economic practices, we began to hear the phrase “too big to fail”. The phrase and the circumstances that surrounded it brought us face to face with the oppressive hierarchy that is big business and, especially, big banking. Banks were considered too vital to the wellbeing of the economy to be allowed to go under. Many of us felt such preferential treatment—treatment seldom if ever afford to the general public—was patently unfair. But then such unfairness is not new. Indeed, as reported here and elsewhere, unfairness is and has always been a characteristic of the United States and other “developed” countries (which is not to say that other countries are immune to such abuse). Again, as reported here and elsewhere, this unfairness has gone and continues to go hand in hand with economic inequality—unfairness grounding itself in the basic assumed premise of inequality. Ultimately, face to face with the pairing of unfairness and inequality, we arrive at what should have been an obvious understanding about the absence of freedom in our lives.
Has our freedom been taken from us? Perhaps. But perhaps we are also co-conspirators in the dissolution of at least our illusion of freedom. What can be so valuable to us that we relinquish even our own freedom or the trappings of its assumed presence? Seeking the simplicity and ease of familiarity, we routinely accept consolidation—centralization of underlying elements which alter our experience of EveryDayLife. If you doubt this idea, watch the Reich video again. From a completely different perspective, consider the general issues surrounding the “millennial whoop”.
The Whoop of Conformity
“The vast majority of chart-topping music in the past 20 years
was written by just two people.” ~Thoughty2
Just as the world marketplace has become dominated by a few powerful corporations, music has suffered the same fate. Consider this. According to the YouTuber Thoughty2, “the vast majority of chart-topping music in the past 20 years was written by just two people”, namely Max Martin and Lukasz Gottwald. If this statement is even partially true, consider the ramifications of such a monopoly. According to a 2012 study done by the Spanish National Research Council, in recent years, music has dramatically decreased in complexity and relative “value”—it is not as “good” as it used to be. Over 500,000 recordings of various styles, produced between 1955 and 2010 were analyzed (see the study for methodological details). Using three criteria (harmonic complexity, timbral diversity, and loudness), the study concluded that music is much simpler (which accommodates our ever diminishing attention spans), much louder (which more easily captures our attention) and, perhaps the most dramatic result of all, music in recent years was found to be much less “rich”, which is to say the timbral diversity has significantly diminished (see the T2 video for more details).
Regarding timbre—texture, color and quality of the sound of music—research has found that timbral variety peaked in the 1960’s and has since been steadily declining. “The timbral palette has been homogenized, meaning songs increasingly have less diversity with their instruments and recording techniques.” This impoverished timbral aspect of more recent music accounts for why some of us have come to believe that much of today’s music sounds the same. Perhaps one of the most well-known (famous or infamous) examples of this trend is the “millennial whoop”, discovered and popularized by Patrick Metzger. Consider his explanation in this video.
Years ago, the public used to decide what music was and was not “good”. “…the public were voting with their ears…we, the People were the final judge and jury, the ultimate arbiter (T2).” However, given the considerably higher cost of producing music these days, record companies have begun to violate the “free market” by placing a huge thumb on the evaluative scale. Why?
In recent years, the costs for recording companies to sign new artists have skyrocketed, making the acquisition of such artists financially risky. So…“instead of trying to find genuine musical talent, they [record companies] simply take a pretty young face…and then simply force the public to like them by brainwashing them.” Brainwashing? Yes, T2 sometimes seems to leans toward “hyperbole”. And yet, he is not altogether wrong in this assertion. When a given piece of music is played over and over on radio stations, in malls, and on the Internet, familiarity results—and we really like familiarity. Furthermore, when music is reduced to a few catchy hooks and well-known phrases, that music becomes infinitely more accessible and, thus, easier to “like”. The same is true for big, well-known and ubiquitous brands (did someone say “Amazon?”). When something is familiar, we tend to like it. When we like something, we most often determine that it is “good”. In such cases, who has actually decided whether or not something—in this case music—is “good”?
Where Does Choice Live?
To live automatically and uncritically is to be assured of at least a minimum share of the programmed cultural heroic. ~ Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death
“It’s not a cage if you’re feeling like a resident”
lyrics from “Cemetery Walk”
In a previous post (sG: Inside-Outside, Part II) we presented three primary ways we all approach life experience. In our pursuit of what we think is “right” (or at least desirable) we tend to strive for pleasure, power, and/or meaning. These criteria for how we define “Good” in our lives largely drive our behavior, and specifically, our choices. When we permit “outside” forces to determine our apparent preferences and subsequent selections, our sense of Good becomes subsumed within the pleasure category. The “pleasure” we seek is ease, comfort, fitting in, which, unfortunately, is accompanied by a lack of challenge and ultimately, a lack of personal responsibility. Marching in lock step with our circle of tribal contacts, we cleave to this, for the most part, narrowly defined sphere of influence—a sphere in which we tend to be influenced rather than to influence, where conformity rather than expressivity becomes the prominent force behind our so-called “freedom”.
In this final video, “The Psychology of Conformity”, consider some of the ideas Ernest Becker has presented in his book The Denial of Death.
“Very few people view themselves as capable of bringing forth something of significance in to the world and so are incapable of engaging in personal heroism. For such people, an alternative route to the denial of death is required, or else they run the risk of being overwhelmed by anxiety and nihilistic despair.” ~Ernest Becker
Where does choice live?
Certainly not in a marketplace controlled by monopolies.
And certainly not within a programmed culture.
When Big is Small
Beneath these ideas about monopolies, conformity, and acquiescence to homogenization lies the fundamental issue of freedom. Freedom, like many things (as noted in the previous posts sG: Perspective I and Perspective II), is often a matter of perspective. However, picking up on the Humphrey’s McGee lyric above, “feeling” like a resident, does not dissolve the cage around us. When we see ourselves as too small to make a difference in the world, we abdicate our responsibility to grasp and hold onto our freedom. When we manage to transcend the impulse to hitch a ride on what is trending in favor of what we have chosen as personally meaningful, we open ourselves to all kinds of possibilities compliance can never offer. Exercising this heroic brand of freedom and responsibility, even in small seemingly insignificant ways, represents a continual striving toward the expansion of the timbre of EveryDayLife. (Synchronistically, while writing this article, we received notification of a post called “How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything”. The blogger talks about intentionality and mindful interaction with daily experience. If you need a bit of encouragement to step with more purpose in your daily affairs, you might want to take a look at that post.)
Every moment presents to us opportunities to experience small un-monetized expressions of our own value—value we can, and should, unconditionally share with others. By the same token, every abdication of freedom, every instance of acquiescence to availability rather than persistence in seeking what we truly desire, and every decision to melt into tacit, knee-jerk support of partisan definitions of life experience progressively erodes our sense of individuality. Such an erosion of freedom and self sometimes comes in the form of automatic adherence to top-down hierarchical governance. Sometimes it comes through our acquiescing to the monopolistic oppression born of the so-called “free market”. Often times our freedom seeps away through our unconscious responses to media hooks—presented by Kanye West, ABC or Fox News, Katy Perry or Rachel Maddow—hooks that do little more than lull us into a false sense of security. Every choice, regardless how small is a choice. And each choice comes with consequences, especially for ourselves, but also for others. Big becomes small when our lives are measured by moment to moment choices in favor of personal heroism. Such choices, becoming habits, express the vast, rich, sumptuous timbre of EveryDayLife experience—experience channeled and shared through our individual, idiosyncratic sensibilities. In the wake of such habits, we realize that Big is us. We have become valuable offerings to the world society, to our friends and neighbors, to our apparent enemies—and to ourselves.