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A Marginal Sociologist on Social Engineering Part 1: Technology

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Yesterday I found myself connecting through Washington D.C.’s Reagan National Airport. There were just nine gates in the small terminal I was in, so I headed to a nearby restaurant for a drink and a snack. To my surprise, there was no one around. No one working, at least. Each table had two Ipads—one for each chair—with menus, games, and even flight information on them. There were no waiters or waitresses. It felt like an odd wasteland, but I decided to play along. I touched the “drinks” page, scrolled down to “spirits”, chose “whiskey/bourbon”, scrolled down to “Jim Beam”, chose “double (plus 4 Dollars), chose a “non Coca-Cola Mixer” and selected “Ginger Ale”. Success (even if it meant spending more time on the Ipad than it would have to tell a server “One double Jim Beam and Ginger Ale please”). When it came time to pay, I was told to add a gratuity. But why? Would I be giving myself the gratuity? I took my own order, after all! And there were no servers whose service I could rate; after all, gratuity is given after the service has been conducted, not before!

I was bewildered. But the system does not let one order without paying; one must pay up-front in order to even get a meal! On top of that, one must swipe a credit card in order to pay! My attempts to pay in cash, needless to say, failed miserably. It was clear that the losers—in this situation—are those who do not have credit cards (this establishment, clearly, did not serve their kind . . . isn’t that discrimination?) and the limited number of servers themselves; those lucky enough to have kept their jobs in this technological utopia will be chronically under tipped because no one in their right minds should tip before seeing service.

Once the order was in, I decided to poke around the menu for a few minutes. I noted that it was available in a number of languages, which intrigued me (perhaps I should have been a marginal linguist, but I digress), so I scrolled down to “Turkish”. The translation was, predictably, atrocious. Likely, it would have embarrassed a five-year old. “Gluten Free of Charge” meals, Grilled Cheeses made of children, and “national bread” did not seem like very appetizing meals. Clearly, the restaurant had chosen to eschew human translators (like they eschewed employing a human wait staff) and instead relied on Google Translate. Unfortunately, the end result was an embarrassment. I felt like I was living in an episode of Black Mirror; I had found myself in a dystopian present dominated by the limits of technology. No, technology certainly does not make us “freer”; rather, it tends to erect more and more boundaries around us—it is certainly Max Weber’s “iron cage” of rationality.

 

A Bar Without Bartenders at Reagan International Airport…Black Mirror Much? Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

While the restaurant itself was kind enough to provide me a prompt reply to my complaint via email, this example stretches far beyond just one poorly run restaurant in the Reagan National Airport. Rather, this kind of technological rationalism—if left uncheck—will likely spell doom for human kind (and human freedom more specifically) in the long term. Peter L. Bergman and Thomas Luckmann’s 1966 work The Social Construction of Reality makes it clear that we, as human beings, are social creatures (For more on Social Constructionism, please see the Wikipedia page here. We need human contact not only to just thrive, but also to survive:

 

Men together produce a human environment, with the totality of its socio-cultural and psychological formations. None of these formations may be understood as products of man’s biological constitution, which, as indicated, provides only the outer limits for human productive activity. Just as it is impossible for man to develop as man in isolation, so it is impossible for man in isolation to produce a human environment. Solitary human being is being on the animal level (which, of course, man shares with other animals). As soon as one observes phenomena that are specifically human, one enters the realm of the social. Man’s specific humanity and his sociality are inextricably intertwined. Homo Sapiens is always, and in the same measure, homo socius (Berger and Luckmann 1966: 69).

 

By severing our links with our fellow human beings—by privileging the technological over the social—we are, in actuality, setting ourselves up for a bland (and perhaps even bleak) future devoid of empathy and social interactions. While I have written about both the threats to empathy and ongoing cultural homogenization in the modern world before, it is useful to remember just why empathy—and human relations—are so important.

Empathy and respect for your fellow human beings are factors which can prevent tragic events like mass shootings and homicides; social alienation, however, are risk factors which can exacerbate anti-social behaviors and—ultimately—lead to violence. The first step of fascism—which the history of mid 20th century Europe provides a few examples of—is the dehumanization of the “other”. Once one sees “the other” as sub-human, it becomes much easier to dismiss and—in extreme cases—get rid of them; it is the process which Hannah Arendt outlines effectively in The Origins of Totalitarianism. In the period Arendt writes about, this dehumanization was encouraged by state-led propaganda. In the current era, this dehumanization is encouraged by corporations and Silicon Valley, who constantly stress the value of technology for “making our lives easier”. The other side of the coin, of course, is that machination serves the interests of corporations (by driving down the costs of labor and increasing competition between the remaining human employees) but does not serve the interests of average human beings. Is technology really making things “easier”? Or are we just willingly accepting a form of domination and—simultaneously—sewing the seeds of our own destruction? Perhaps we should care about one another—our fellow human beings—than we should care about robots. Unfortunately, it seems like Amazon’s Alexa gets more respect than living, breathing, human beings do, and that is a very real problem. Otherwise, we will be left in a very bland world where restaurants look something like this, too bland to ever offend anyone:

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A…Bland New Eating Establishment. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Take back your lives from corporate greed.

Take back your educations from radical ideologues.

Take back your countries from dehumanizing bureaucratization.

 

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Image Courtesy Of: http://world-visits.com/2011/12/flag-of-the-united-states
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A Social Issue Regarding Role Models: An Interpretation of Lebron James’ Instagram Post From the Perspective of C. Wright Mills

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Sociologist C. Wright Mills was influential for not only American Sociology, but world Sociology as well. In his book The Sociological Imagination, Mills distinguished between what he called “Personal Troubles” and “Social Issues”. For Mills, “Personal Troubles” were personal or private matters involving—and concerning—individuals. “Social Issues”, by contrast, were public issues that were experienced by society as a whole; they involved wider social structures and were indicative of wider social issues. As an example: if one individual is unemployed, that is a personal trouble; if the entire society is unemployed, then that would be a social issue since it might indicate a wider phenomenon (such as a recession).

In so many social and political events these days, we can see connections between personal troubles and wider social issues; in fact, it is possible that many things we are currently identifying as “personal troubles” in modern American society are, in fact, indicative of wider social issues. Lebron James’ absurd Instagram post—congratulating himself on reaching the 30,000 point mark in the NBA—is a good example from the sports world. Of course, the globalist media—like CNBC—championed his post, telling readers that it is “A great lesson in success”. NBA fans, for their part, mocked the self-congratulatory post. Below is the post in its entirety:

 

Wanna be one of the first to Congratulate you on this accomplishment/achievement tonight that you’ll reach! Only a handful has reach/seen it too and while I know it’s never been a goal of yours from the beginning try(please try) to take a moment for yourself on how you’ve done it! The House you’re about to be apart of has only 6 seats in it(as of now) but 1 more will be added and you should be very proud and honored to be invited inside. There’s so many people to thank who has help this even become possible(so thank them all) and when u finally get your moment(alone) to yourself smile, look up to the higher skies and say THANK YOU! So with that said, Congrats again Young King 🤴🏾! 1 Love! #striveforgreatness🚀 #thekidfromakron👑

 

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Lebron James’ Instagram Post. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/23/what-you-can-learn-from-lebron-james-confidence-on-instagram.html

 

Of course, there are multiple issues with this Tweet, and very few of them are indicative of a “Personal Trouble”, i.e. this is not a sign of Lebron James’ megalomania. In fact—as CNBC pointed out—it could just be a sign of his self confidence which, in itself, is not such a bad thing. However, this wider Tweet is indicative of many wider “Social Issues” which are taking place across the United States, and they are what I would like to discuss below (I have pointed out before that Lebron James’ actions have had a history of revealing many social issues in American Society).

First of all, we should all remember that Mr. James took time in October 2016 to pen an Op-Ed for Business Insider endorsing candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the U.S. presidency. Judging by this, one would think that Mr. James—as an American citizen—would have the best interests of his country (and community) at heart; after all, isn’t that the point of getting involved in political wrangling in the first place? Unfortunately, from this post at least, it is clear that Mr. James advertises more of what is wrong about America than what is right about the country. Please consider the following:

 

  • The writing in the post is pathetic, and this is something I have criticized Mr. James for before. I am far from the grammar police, but I do expect someone who is an idol to many in the United States to at least take a modicum of pride in their writing, even if they are barely a high school graduate. A thirty-three year old grown man should not be writing something as incoherent as “Only a handful has reach/seen it too and while I know it’s never been a goal of yours from the beginning try(please try) to take a moment for yourself on how you’ve done it!”. A thirty-three year old man should recognize that “The House you’re about to be apart of” means something very different from “the house you’re about to be a part of” (the space bar here is, indeed pivotal). And I will just translate this for Mr. James in bold: “There’s so many people to thank who has help this even become possible” = “There are so many people to thank who have helped this even become possible”. Again, however, Mr. James is not an English professor and I could forgive him if his only fault was poor grammar.
  • Yet, even if Mr. James’ honor of being the youngest to reach the 30,000 point threshold in the NBA is overshadowed by his honor of being the oldest person in the U.S. to write this poorly, his status as a major role model and cultural figure in the United States is without question. The problem is that he is not living up to that standard, especially for the millions of young African-American males who might look up to him. Sending the message that grammatically correct English does not matter—and, by extension, that education does not matter—is not the right message to send young African American children. Sending the message that it is all “ME, ME, ME”—by congratulating yourself—is not the right message to send to young African American children. And it is especially not the right message to send at a time when your team is doing horribly and your team-mates have just scapegoated a fellow team-mate by questioning that team-mate’s commitment. It is not team play, it is just megalomania. Unfortunately, it is indicative of a society that has been so utterly and completely alienated by extreme capitalism that the only thing they can think of is themselves.
  • Instead of praising himself, Mr. James could have posted something that could have sent a positive message to young African-American children, a message that could have combatted the harmful messages sent out by the mass media and music industry that glorify guns, money, and big bootyed-hoes (among other things). It could have been a message that emphasized the importance of hard work and determination being able to overcome the impediments of structural racism within American society, or perhaps something about the family and his gratefulness for his mother’s support throughout the years. Instead, there was nothing of the sort. Nothing worthy of a “role-model” at all. Just megalomania.

 

This is clearly a shame, especially considering the commendable emphasis that Mr. James puts on charity and various civic causes, such as offering college scholarships to over 1,100 underprivileged students. This is why Mr. James’ self-congratulatory post is really not a reflection of himself, or his humanitarian instincts. It is not a personal trouble. Rather, it is a reflection of wider social issues. In this moment, perhaps one of the biggest of his career, Mr. James forgot about the family, the team, the community—and ultimately the nation—he represents, while only thinking about himself. If the United States (and the wider world) is to move forward out of this age of darkness we have found ourselves in, we must all recognize that sometimes it is not all about “Me”. It is also about “US”.

 

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The Kids–Quite Literally–Look Up To Mr. James; He Should Remember That. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.businessinsider.com/lebron-james-why-endorsing-hillary-clinton-for-president-2016-9