Tag: society (page 1 of 4)

The Puritan Class

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reflects on sanctimonious social media:

In certain young people today… I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.

There are many social-media-savvy people who are choking on sanctimony and lacking in compassion, who can fluidly pontificate on Twitter about kindness but are unable to actually show kindness. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship, and its expectations of loyalty and compassion and support, no longer matter. People who claim to love literature – the messy stories of our humanity – but are also monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. People who demand that you denounce your friends for flimsy reasons in order to remain a member of the chosen puritan class.

Source: IT IS OBSCENE: A TRUE REFLECTION IN THREE PARTS | Chimamanda.com

Dunbar’s friendship circles

This is interesting: the number of people say they have in different friendship ‘circles’. Extroverts tend to have more than introverts.

Those numbers are aspirational, right? 😅

Dunbar’s number really isn’t a single number. It should be a series of numbers. When collecting data on personal friendships, we asked everybody to list out everybody in their friendship circles, when they last saw them, and how emotionally close they felt to them on a simple numerical scale. Relationships turned out to be highly structured in the sense that people didn’t see or contact everybody in their social network equally. The network was very clumpy.

The distribution of the data formed a series of layers, with each outer layer including everybody in the inner layer. Each layer is three times the size of the layer directly preceding it: 5; 15; 50; 150; 500; 1,500; 5,000.

The innermost layer of 1.5 is [the most intimate]; clearly that has to do with your romantic relationships. The next layer of five is your shoulders-to-cry-on friendships. They are the ones who will drop everything to support us when our world falls apart. The 15 layer includes the previous five, and your core social partners. They are our main social companions, so they provide the context for having fun times. They also provide the main circle for exchange of child care. We trust them enough to leave our children with them. The next layer up, at 50, is your big-weekend-barbecue people. And the 150 layer is your weddings and funerals group who would come to your once-in-a-lifetime event.

The layers come about primarily because the time we have for social interaction is not infinite. You have to decide how to invest that time, bearing in mind that the strength of relationships is directly correlated with how much time and effort we give them.

Source: Robin Dunbar Explains Humans’ Circles of Friendship | The Atlantic

Anti-social media

As I mentioned on my blog recently, I sometimes feel a strong pull to ‘nuke’ everything and start over again. With Twitter, I actually did this back in 2017, deleting 77.5k spanning 10 years. They now auto-delete every three months.

This article is based on a survey that BuzzFeed News carried out which revealed a shift in attitude, especially among younger people, to social media. (I think we need a different name for social media that any member of the public can see and those that are private to your followers by default?)

Trying to live in the moment isn’t just difficult because so many of us are prone to documenting our days, our phones and social media apps are also intent on continually resurfacing aspects of our past. While some respondents said they were happy to have the reminders (one mentioned loving comments popping up from her late grandmother — “she was hilarious!”), others had more mixed or flat-out negative feelings.

Seeing versions of ourselves from 5 or 10 years ago can be cringey, which is why a lot of respondents have purged old posts altogether. Ashlee Burke from Boston, who’s in her late 20s, said she made her old Facebook photo albums private because they’re embarrassing, not because they showed any illegal activity or anything — “unless it’s illegal to be the most embarrassing teenager on the face of the Earth.”

Source: COVID Made People Delete Facebook And Instagram | BuzzFeed News

When we ask for advice we are usually looking for an accomplice

Changing the Letter, 1908, by Joseph Edward Southall. The subject is taken from the poem 'The Man Born to be King' from William Morris's 'The Earthly Paradise'. The sealed letter is addressed 'To The Governor'

🏡 What can we learn from the great working-from-home experiment? — “A few knowledge jobs, such as IT support, are properly systematised to allow focused work without endless ad hoc emails. [Cal] Newport believes that others will follow once we all wise up. Or we may find that certain kinds of knowledge work are too unruly to systematise. Improvisation will remain the only mode of working — and, for that, face-to-face contact seems essential.”

I disagree with this, having spent almost a decade doing creative, improvisational work, mostly from my home office.


They left Mozilla to make the internet better. Now they’re spreading its gospel for a new generation. — “Plenty of older tech companies spawned networks of industry leaders. Mozilla has, too, only it’s a different kind of group: a collection of values-driven engineers, marketers, program managers and founders. Most of them share a common story: Looking for a sense of purpose in tech, they took a financial hit for the chance to become part of the company’s cult-like obsession with openness and privacy. Though the company had its flaws, they left feeling deep loyalty to the mission, and a sense of betrayal from those who went on to work for the tech giants Mozilla has been battling. “

Some companies act as a filter for a certain type of person. Mozilla is like that, and while I was there I worked with some of the most ethical and awesome people I’ve ever come across.


🤪 Why It’s Usually Crazier Than You Expect — “The idea that people like (or hate) what other people like (or hate) is important, because it lets small ideas grow bigger than you’d guess if you assume everything is ranked by quality alone. Social momentum is hard to model on a spreadsheet, so it’s hard to predict or think about in terms that seem rational. But it’s so powerful.”

The standard economic model is that people act in their individual and group self-interest. But humans are much more complicated than that.


🎓 Academics Are Really, Really Worried About Their Freedom — “Some will process this as a kind of whining, supposing that all we should really be concerned about is whether people are outright dismissed. However, elsewhere a hostile work environment is considered a breach of civil rights, and as one correspondent wrote, “It isn’t just fear of firing that motivates professors and grad students to be quiet. It is a desire to have friends, to be part of a community. This is a fundamental part of human psychology. Indeed, experiments examining the effects of ostracism highlight what a powerful existential threat it is to be ignored, excluded, or rejected. This has been documented at the neurological level. Ostracism is a form of social death. It is a very potent threat.”

Given how conservative humanity has been for the past tens of thousands of years, and given how radical we need to be to fix the world, I don’t have lots of sympathy with this view. Especially when tenured professors have the kind of job security most people can only dream of.


👩‍💻 Where we are with digital learning adoption — “We should have less big bang summative exams sat in big rooms with invigilators, there are plenty of alternatives. Online assessment systems can at least allow for typing, which is more authentic, and why not also speaking, and drawing? And in the scenarios where an unseen timed assessment is the only option and it has to be online: sometimes proctoring might be useful. It shouldn’t be the default. But it might have a place, sometimes.”

I’m sharing this to +1,000,000 Amber’s suggestion that, for assessment purposes, speaking and drawing should be as authentic as typing and writing.


Quotation-as-title by Marquis de la Grange. Image: Changing the Letter, 1908, by Joseph Edward Southall

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self

📚 Bookshelf designs as unique as you are: Part 2 — “Stuffing all your favorite novels into a single space without damaging any of them, and making sure the whole affair looks presentable as well? Now, that’s a tough task. So, we’ve rounded up some super cool, functional and not to mention aesthetically pleasing bookshelf designs for you to store your paperback companions in!”

📱 How to overcome Phone Addiction [Solutions + Research] — “Phone addiction goes hand in hand with anxiety and that anxiety often lowers the motivation to engage with people in real life. This is a huge problem because re-connecting with people in the offline world is a solution that improves the quality of life. The unnecessary drop in motivation because of addiction makes it that much harder to maintain social health.”

⚙️ From Tech Critique to Ways of Living — “This technological enframing of human life, says Heidegger, first “endanger[s] man in his relationship to himself and to everything that is” and then, beyond that, “banishes” us from our home. And that is a great, great peril.”

🎨 Finding time for creativity will give you respite from worries — “According to one study examining the links between art and health, a cost-benefit analysis showed a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions when patients were involved in creative pursuits. Other studies have found similar results. For example, when people were asked to write about a trauma for 15 minutes a day, it resulted in fewer subsequent visits to the doctor, compared to a control group.”

🧑‍🤝‍🧑 For psychologists, the pandemic has shown people’s capacity for cooperation — “In short, what we have seen is a psychology of collective resilience supplanting a psychology of individual frailty. Such a shift has profound implications for the relationship between the citizen and the state. For the role of the state becomes less a matter of substituting for the deficiencies of the individual and more to do with scaffolding and supporting communal self-organisation.”


Quotation-as-title by Cyril Connolly. Image from top-linked post.

Ethical living

Mural which reads "You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in"

/via LinkedIn

At times, our strengths propel us so far forward we can no longer endure our weaknesses and perish from them

Psychedelic image representing billionaires steamrollering the earth

🤑 We can’t have billionaires and stop climate change

📹 How to make video calls almost as good as face-to-face

⏱️ How to encourage your team to launch an MVP first

☑️ Now you can enforce your privacy rights with a single browser tick

🤔 Why Life Can’t Be Simpler


Quotation-as-title from Nietzsche. Image from top-linked post.

‘Rulesy’ people

Some people in the world want to fit in. Others want to change it. Still others want to fit in by changing it. Robin Hanson has a theory about how paternalism appears in a culture, linking it to a pattern of behaviours that bestows a form of prestige on those creating and enforcing rules.

The key idea is that there are many “rulesy” people in the world who specialize in learning of and even creating rules, so that they can then find and reveal violations of these rules around them. This allows them to beat on their rivals, and also to raise their own status. It obviously raises their dominance via the power they wield, but they prefer to be instead seen as prestigious, enforcing rules whose purpose is more clearly altruistic. And what could be more altruistic than keeping people from hurting themselves?

So many people who are especially good at noticing and applying rules, good at finding potential violations, good at framing situations as rule violations, and willing to at least gossip about violators, are eager for a supply of apparently-paternalism-motived rules they can enforce. So they take suggestions by elites regarding what is good behavior and work to turn them into rules they can enforce. They push to turn norms into laws, and to make norms out of the weak behavior patterns of elites, or common sorts of praise and criticism.

Robin Hanson, Rulesy Folks Push Paternalism (Overcoming Bias)

I like Hanson’s explanation of how this can work in practice:

For example, maybe at first some elites sometimes wear hats. Then they and others start to praise hat-wearers. Then more folks start to wear hats, and get proud of how they are good hat people. Good candidates for promotion to elite they are. Then hat fans start to insinuate that people who don’t wear hats are not the best sort of people in various ways, and are only hurting themselves. They say that word needs to get out about the advantages of hats. And those irresponsible people arguing against hats really need to be dealt with – everyone should be told that their arguments don’t meet the highest possible standards of scientific rigor. (Though neither do pro-hat arguments.)


It becomes a matter of pride to teach your children to wear hats. And to have hats taught in school. And to include the lack of hats in lists of problems that problem people have. Hat fans start to push the orgs of which they are part to promote hats, sometimes even requiring hats at org functions. Finally it is suggested that wouldn’t it be simpler and more efficient to just have the government require hats. Then foreigners who visit us won’t think we are such backward non-hat people. And its really for their own good, as we all know.

At every step along this path, people can gain by pushing for stricter and stronger hat norms and rules. They are good people, pushing a good thing, which just happens to let them dump harder on rivals. Which is plausibly why we tend to end up with just too many overly restrictive rules. Rules rise with the ratchet of crises that can be blamed on problems said to be fixed by adding new rules. But between the crises, we rarely take away or weaken our rules.

Robin Hanson, Rulesy Folks Push Paternalism (Overcoming Bias)

To be in process of change is not an evil, any more than to be the product of change is a good

Globe linked to ball of energy

🌐 Unlimited Information Is Transforming Society

🧠 Alternatives for the Internet: A Journey into Decentralised Network Architectures and Information Commons

📱 Your Smartphone Can Tell If You’re Drunk-Walking

🚸 Britain’s obsession with school uniform reinforces social divisions

🤖 Robot Teachers, Racist Algorithms, and Disaster Pedagogy


Quotation-as-title by Marcus Aurelius. Image from top linked post.

The highest ambition of the integrated spectacle is to turn secret agents into revolutionaries and revolutionaries into secret agents

This article is about, and quotes heavily from Guy Debord’s Comments on the Society of the Spectacle published twenty years after his 1967 Society of the Spectacle. I wanted to share all of the bits that I highlighted, as I think it speaks directly into our currently times, so buckle-up.


Debord never gives a single definition of ‘the spectacle’ but rather alludes to it in such a way that the reader is left in no doubt as to what it is. Here’s one such section:

Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use to the term ‘media’. And by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service which with impartial ‘professionalism’ would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication through mass media – a form of communication which has at last attained a unilateral purity, whereby decisions already taken are presented for passive admiration. For what is communicated are orders; and with perfect harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them.

p.6

There are three kinds of spectacle, the ‘concentrated’ spectacle and ‘diffuse’ spectacle that Debord discusses in his earlier work, and then the ‘integrated’ spectacle that he introduces in Comments. Briefly, the concentrated spectacle can be seen in totalitarian regimes, whereas the diffuse spectacle is in evidence in democracies such as the United States.

The integrated spectacle shows itself to be simultaneously concentrated and diffuse…

For the final sense of the integrated spectacle is this – that it has integrated itself into reality to the same extent as it was describing it. As a result, this reality no longer confronts the integrated spectacle as something alien. When the spectacle was concentrated, the grater part of surrounding society escaped it; when diffuse, a small part; today, no part.

p.9

One way of thinking about this in 2020 is the extent to which we carry around the media (a.k.a. the integrated spectacle) in our pockets. It permeates and mediates our reality, and we conform ourselves to its whims and ideas – for example, on social media platforms for likes and follows. We spend our time pointing out the falsity of media reports contrary to our beliefs, always within the construct of the spectacle.

Often enough society’s bosses declare themselves ill-served by their media employees: more often they blame the spectators for the common, almost bestial manner in which they indulge in the media’s delights. A virtually infinite number of supposed differences within the media thus serve to screen what is in fact the result of a spectacular convergence, pursued with remarkable tenacity.

p.7

Experts are dead in the traditional sense, all that remain are media professionals who help explain the spectacle and serve to perpetuate its existence.

With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning. For every imbecility presented by the spectacle, there are only the media’s professionals to give an answer, with a few respectful rectifications or remonstrations.

p.16

What can one do about this? Choose to live outside the grip of the spectacle? Debord says this is practically impossible, as to do so is to be a pariah.

An anti-spectacular notoriety has become something extremely rare. I myself am one of the last people to retain one, having never had any other. But it has also become extraordinarily suspect. Society has officially declared itself to be spectacular. To be known outside spectacular relations is already to be known as an enemy of society.

p.18

This is part of the problem that people are up against when trying to do things that are counter-cultural. The counter-culture is part of the spectacle, and has been commodified; packaged up to be sold at low prices to everyone via t-shirts, mugs, and other trinkets.

The spectacle requires a fleetness of foot imparted to it by everyone’s acquiescence to maintain velocity. This is achieved partly through news cycles that produce outrage but then move on quickly to the next target.

When the spectacle stops talking about something for three days, it is as if it did not exist. For it has then gone on to talk about something else, and it is that which henceforth, in short, exists. The practical consequences, as we see, are enormous.

p.20

The spectacular machinery of our age is therefore ill-suited for the kind of messaging required during, say, a global pandemic. The spectacle feeds on our emotions, on our base fears, on our need for safety. It ‘others’ people, ensuring that there is always a them vs us.

Such a perfect democracy constructs its own inconceivable foe, terrorism. Its wish is to be judged by its enemies rather than by its results. The story of terrorism is written by the state and it is therefore highly instructive. The spectators must certainly never know everything about terrorism, but they must always know enough to convince them that, compared with terrorism, everything else must be acceptable, or in any case more rational and democratic.

p.24

This explains why COVID-19 cannot possibly, so the conspiracy theorists say, come from bats but instead must surely be the ‘weaponised’ product of an enemy laboratory. It’s the reason why two and two are put together to make five, with 5G masts and George Soros and Bill Gates and a ‘plandemic’ serving to fill the role of terrorist.

Making connections between seemingly disparate people, technologies, and ideas is easier in a world where the spectacle provides a never-ending supply of memetic imagery, designed to resonate on an emotional leve.

At the technological level, when images chosen and constructed by someone else have everywhere become the individual’s principle connection to the world he formerly observed for himself, it has certainly not been forgotten that these images can tolerate anything and everything; because within the same image all things can be juxtaposed without contradiction. The flow of images carries everything before it, and it is similarly someone else who controls at will this simplified summary of the sensible world; who decides where the flow will lead as well as the rhythm of what should be shown, like some perpetual, arbitrary surprise, leaving no time for reflection, and entirely independent of what the spectator might understand or think of it.

p.27-28

Today, algorithms used by social media platforms dictate what we as users see and do not see. Baby photos precede photos of protesters which are followed by an advert for a new soft drink. No wonder we’re not sure what to think.

The only response is submission to the spectacle, of the reduction of the self to a pawn in a game played by someone, or something, else.

Paradoxically, permanent self-denial is the price the individual pays for the tiniest bit of social status. Such an existence demands a fluid fidelity, a succession of continually disappointing commitments to false products. It is a matter of running hard to keep up with the inflation of devalued signs of life.

p.32

All of this is depressing enough without adding in deliberate attempts to reduce our agency by means of feeding false information with the aim to leave us confused, apathetic, and less inclined to vote in democratic elections. After all, what’s the point when there is no coherent narrative?

Unlike the straightforward lie, disinformation must inevitably contain a degree of truth but one deliberately manipulated by an artful enemy. That is what makes it so attractive to the defenders of the dominant society. The power which speaks of disinformation does not believe itself to be absolutely faultless, but knows that it can attribute to any precise criticism the excessive insignificance which characterises disinformation; with the result that it will never have to admit to any particular fault.

p.45

So we get false flag campaigns, deflection, no-apology apologies, until things, as they always do with the spectacle, move on. As Debord points out, we live in a world “without room for verification” (p.48), so we might as well share that headline that confirms our existing beliefs by retweeting (without reading) as it passes us by.

In the 19th century, it made sense for Ludwig Feuerbach, a thinker who greatly influenced Karl Marx, to point to an emerging preference for the imaginary over the real.

Today, however, the tendency to replace the real with the artificial is ubiquitous. In this regard, it is fortuitous that traffic pollution has necessitated the replacement of the Marly Horses in place de la Concorde, or the Roman statues in the doorway of Saint-Trophime in Arles, by plastic replicas. Everything will be more beautiful than before, for the tourists’ cameras.

p.51

Here is the problem for the person, or group of people, wishing to smash the spectacle, to dismantle it, to take it apart. It must be done in one go, rather than piecemeal. Otherwise, the spectacle has too much capacity to self-repair.

In a certain sense the coherence of spectacular society proves revolutionaries right, since it is evident that one cannot reform the most trifling detail without taking the whole thing apart. But at the same time this coherence has eliminated every organised revolutionary tendency by eliminating those social terrains where it had more or less effectively been able to find expression: from trade unions to newspapers, towns to books.

p.80

So there can be no conclusion, only awareness. We live in completely different times to our forebears. I’ll leave the last word to Debord.

Old prejudices everywhere belied, precautions now useless, and even the residues of scruples from an earlier age, still clog up the thinking of quite a number of rulers, preventing them from recognising something which practice demonstrates and proves every single day. Not only are the subjected led to believe that to all intents and purposes they are still living in a world which in fact has been eliminated, but the rulers themselves sometimes suffer from the absurd belief that in some respects they do too.

p.87-88

Header image by elCarito