The Trap…

what’s happened to our dreams of freedom?

“The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom” is a 2007 BBC documentary series directed and produced by Adam Curtis (think: Hypernormalisation). It consists of three one-hour episodes which explore the concept and definition of freedom. In short, Curtis argues that today’s idea of freedom is based on a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures.

Episodes

01. — “F**k You Buddy.”
In this episode, Curtis examines the rise of game theory during the Cold War and the way in which its mathematical models of human behaviour filtered into economic thought.
📹  watch episode 1

02. — “The Lonely Robot.”
The second episode underscores the first but develops the theme that the drugs such as Prozac — Happy Pills — are being used to normalise behaviour and make us behave more predictably… more like machines.
📹  watch episode 2

03. — “We Will Force You To Be Free.”
The final episode focuses on the concepts of positive and negative liberty that were introduced in the 1950s by Isaiah Berlin.* Curtis explains how negative liberty might be defined as freedom from coercion, and positive liberty as the opportunity to strive to fulfill one’s potential.
📹  watch episode 3


P.S.

* “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This ancient Greek aphorism, preserved in a fragment from the poet Archilochus, describes a thesis put forward by Isaiah Berlin regarding the philosophy of history. Although there have been many interpretations of the aphorism, Berlin uses it to mark a fundamental distinction between human beings who are fascinated by the infinite variety of things and those who relate everything to a central, all-embracing system. Berlin’s extraordinary essay offers profound insights about Tolstoy, historical understanding, and human psychology.


Isaiah Berlin’s essay:
📙 The Hedgehog and the Fox

According to Berlin, humans can be divided into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (he cites: Plato, Dante, Hegel, Nietzsche and Proust), and foxes, who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be summed up into a single idea (he cites: Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare, and Joyce).

The American Dream
“The American Dream”
— Gabriel H. Sanchez (BuzzFeed, 2018).
The American Dream
“The American Dream”
— Gabriel H. Sanchez (BuzzFeed, 2018).

L. O. {Lesbos} V. E.

“Once again love drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.”

Sappho

lesbos_1
Sapho, by Gleyre | Lesbos today | Sapho, by Mengin
— “Do You Get Me?”

Refendi [dot] com
Photography by Rena Effendi (2016–17)
We Are All Human Beings
In this photo by Petros Giannakouris, 17-year-old Soumaya is holding her baby at a UNCHR refugee camp in Greece.

“In the crooks of your body, I find my religion.”

Sappho

lesbos_1
— “You Do Get Me, Don’t Ya.”

Unspeakable, unspoken.

young_americans
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go

Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature
— by Toni Morrison


I planned to call this paper “Canon Fodder,” because the term put me in mind of a kind of trained muscular response that appears to be on display in some areas of the recent canon debate. Also I liked the clash and swirl of those two words. At first they reminded me of that host of young men — black or “ethnics” or poor or working-class — who left high school for the war in Vietnam and were perceived by war resisters as “fodder.” Indeed many of those who went, as well as those who returned, were treated as one of that word’s definitions: “coarse food for livestock,” or, in the context of my thoughts about the subject of this paper, a more applicable definition: “people considered as readily available and of little value.” Rude feed to feed the war machine. There was also the play of cannon and canon. The etymology of the first includes tube, cane, or cane-like, reed. Of the second, sources include rod becoming body of law, body of rules, measuring rod. When the two words faced each other, the image became the shape of the cannon wielded on (or by) the body of law. The boom of power announcing an “officially recognized set of texts.” Cannon defending canon, you might say. And without any etymological connection I heard father in fodder, and sensed father in both cannon and canon, ending up with “father food.” And what does this father eat? Readily available people/texts of little value. But I changed my mind (so many have used the phrase) and hope to make clear the appropriateness of the one I settled on.

My purpose here is to observe the panoply of this most recent and most anxious series of questions concerning what should or does constitute a literary canon in order to suggest ways of addressing the Afro-American presence in American Literature that require neither slaughter nor reification — views that may spring the whole literature of an entire nation from the solitude into which it has been locked. There is something called American literature that, according to conventional wisdom, is certainly not Chicano literature, or Afro-American literature, or Asian-American, or Native American, or… It is somehow separate from them and they from it, and in spite of the efforts of recent literary histories, restructured curricula, and anthologies, this separate confinement, be it breached or endorsed, is the subject of a large part of these debates. Although the terms used, like the vocabulary of earlier canon debates, refer to literary and/or humanistic value, aesthetic criteria, value-free or socially anchored readings, the contemporary battle plain is most often understood to be the claims of others against the white male origins and definitions of those values; whether those definitions reflect an eternal, universal, and transcending paradigm or whether they constitute a disguise for a temporal, political, and culturally specific program.


Read the full essay…

REFERENCE
Morrison, Toni. “Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature.” (1988).

001_hw_dig_cropped
Artist Hale Aspacio Woodruff was commissioned to paint the Amistad Murals in 1938.
006_hw_dig_cropped
Here, Woodruff portrays the repatriation of freed slaves in Africa.
009_hw_dig_cropped
In this 1939 mural, Woodruff depicts the trial of the Africans aboard the Amistad.
007_hw_dig_cropped
In his 1942 mural The Underground Railroad, Woodruff shows slaves about to cross the Ohio River to freedom.
“Shotgun, Third Ward #1”
“Shotgun, Third Ward #1”
by John Biggers (1966)

English dogs

Quite why the British love dogs so much I dunno, maybe it’s cos they like to boss people around — dear reader I joke! I’m a proppa anglophile. Dogging is one thing (I’ll let you look up this pastime yourself) but, what’s it mean to be called a “poodle” or a “lapdog”?

Private Eye
Private Eye — subtext: The U.K.’s Prime Minister is a ‘control freak,’ he only appoints Ministers who will agree with whatever he does or says.

Poodle
[insult]
In politics, “poodle” is an insult used to describe a politician who obediently or passively follows the lead of others. It is considered to be equivalent to lackey. Usage of the term ‘poodle’ is thought to relate to the passive and obedient nature of this breed of dog.

Lapdog
[insult]
A weak person who is controlled by someone else.

Here’s one more but it’s Chinese in origin:

Running dog
[insult]
This is a pejorative term for a person who unquestioningly helps more powerful people. It is like being called a ‘yes-man’ or a ‘lackey.’ Usage of the term ‘running dog’ is thought to relate to the tendency of dogs to ‘blindly’ follow after humans in the hope of receiving food or a favour of some kind (e.g., shelter or a pat on the back).


FOOTNOTES

More Private Eye covers etc.

Political satire
Subtext: The U.K.’s PM is being pulled in two different directions.

⁓Total Control⁓

of our movements & mind

It is coming. Total control is coming. It is coming in the form of facial recognition, machine learning and the extant desire of man to control other men and, almost needless to say, to control fauna, flora, natural resources & women too.

Within this — within Facial Recognition (FR) — I’m including iris & fingerprint scans (which are now sort of ‘old-school’), one’s gait, one’s heartbeat, one’s breathing and one’s vocal idiosyncrasies (the grammatical structures & lilt one unwittingly employs and deploys). With FR, AI can now lipread effortlessly and almost without flaw. Perversely, oh irony of ironies, the last recourse for libertarians may well be to don a loose-fitting abaya and adopt the shayla with a niqab to boot (yet, letter-box style, such garb will be forbidden in due course in the name of national security; just look next door to KSA to see what I/m on about).

When I say Total Control is coming, I more accurately mean that it is basically already here. But I consider it latent and laying low for now. Under the radar, it is biding its time, it is potent, it has portent, it will be omnipresent and predominant. Men of good fortune, you see, they have all the time they need (after all, they’ve us where they want us to be and we are dancing diligently to their drumbeat).

Faces open phones
Snapchat has filters
Instagram takes selfies
Facebook now 'auto' tags
TikTok takes the bloody lot

Total Control you see, and the men of good fortune behind it, have us by hook (line & sinker) and, they have us by crook too (because if liberal state entities desist, your invisible-hand, capital-seeking company sure as night follows day won’t hold back and refrain). It is already in situ at our shopping malls,[1] retailers use Bluetooth to detect our smartphones as we roam around, allowing them to proffer us with real time special offers [sic]. They also track us to see where we linger to ascertain what’s hot and what’s not (i.e., in front of which product do we stand and look longingly at for the longest). There’s no real recourse to escape Total Control’s clasp, only the off-grid recluses have yet to succumb to its virtually all encompassing G P S enabled digital creep and seep.

Karen Hao et al.[2] suggests that while it is fashionable to fret about the prospect of super-intelligent machines taking over the world by say 2050, we should rather concern ourselves about the actual dangers that FR etc. do now present:

A.
FR is a formidable way to invade people’s privacy. AI tech.’s superhuman ability to identify faces has led countries to deploy surveillance technology at a remarkable rate. We know well that FR enables us to unlock our phones and automatically tags our photos on social media. It moreover enables anyone to find out about us via software such as Amazon Rekognition — take or get a picture of anyone, in the lecture theatre, in the mall, then feed it to Rek, it’ll tell you who it is and once you’ve their amalgamated social media profiles and web postings, you’ll — in seconds — know rather a lot about them. They could be sitting their listening diligently to the professor’s lecture on logical positivism and borne of boredom you silently photograph them and moments later you could be swiping through their Snapchat twerks and their Pintrest tips on yoga poses for better posture (and never quite getting the import of Wittgenstein’s change of mind).

B.
The fact that AI tech. is used by political manipulators like Cambridge Analytica to alter election and referendum results, undermine healthy debate and, isolate citizens with different views from one another has been with us for a good six years now. Our media feeds are tailored and we all exist in echo chambers whose outer walls are soundproofed padded cells.

C.
The proliferation of “deepfake” videos is another real and present danger. Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs), which involve two competing neural networks, can generate extraordinarily realistic but completely made-up images and video. Nvidia recently showed how GANs can generate photo-realistic faces of whatever race, gender, and age you want. Forget fake celebrity porn and idle tittle tattle, think: virulent political smear campaigns and claims based on false science. Think of The Tango, Rude Guliano, alternative facts and fake news.

Big Hands
^ my case in point

Many demand there to be appropriate safeguards in place and for a moratorium on biometric FR technology ((so, so true but capitalism’s been unleashed, the greed and ego of man is both clear and obvious, the proverbial genie’s been let out of Pandora’s box)) so while certain jurisdictions may halt their own agencies using FR tech., multinationals and nefarious individuals are hardly going to pay heed. It is known that presently FR tools generate many of the same biases as humans do, but with the false patina of technical neutrality, we are less likely to call out or even notice such biases. Greater accuracy is not however the only or even main bone of contention. No. It is that Total Control will soon rob us of our liberty and ability to think freely. As Kate Crawford says, “this technology will make all of us less free.”[3] Unfortunately, the idea, frankly, of us harnessing technology is, and I quote, “fanciful.” To hold that we can keep technology in check and use it only for the common good, may with hindsight, be seen as having been a rather naive contention. As I hear it said, be careful what you wish for, and in the lab, be careful with what you develop. No… that sounds wrong! Wish (in a daydream like way) for anything your heart craves and don’t hold back on any form of experimentation whatsoever but, ‘but,’ it is critical we think things through; ‘think before you speak.’

You know what’s the motto of America’s New Hampshire, don’t you: “Live Free Or Die.” Well, it is as moving as it is quaint. It was previously used by the French during their revolutionary years — Vivre Libre ou Mourir. This motto is so me… so much so I want it to be so . but alas no , I did all I humanly could but it wasn’t enough ; it could never ever be close to being enough unless the result is all of you, every sinew every single second : it is all {or} it is nothing at all . I am left with nothing and I feel not free but I have not yet been able to will myself to die. The Greeks said a similar thing and carry it today: “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος” (“Freedom or death”), I’m with them in mind, I am with them in desire but (1) I am alone [yet I’ve still not been able to consciously force myself to pass away] and (2) I am knowingly under Total Control’s auspices as much as every other person I know, if not even more so: I scroll, I refresh, I obsess [& again, I’ve not mustered the willpower to self-combust and abscond this mortal coil].

According to Anna Mitchell et al.,[4] China is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control ((and don’t we all just love cheap Chinese product nowadays)). In China, it is said, when you step outside your door, your actions in the physical world are swept into the dragnet: the government gathers an enormous volume of information by way of C C T V. According to some, one hundred percent of Beijing is now covered by surveillance cameras ((it ain’t just China, where I live there are cameras on every traffic light and all over the university campus)). As is so most everywhere, the main stated goal is to capture and deter criminals. Yet, the massive risks to privacy are there in plain daylight. As Anna Mitchell paints it and I paraphrase it:

Imagine a society in which you are rated by the government on your trustworthiness. Your “citizen score” follows you wherever you go. A high score allows you access to faster internet service or a fast-tracked decision on a welfare payment or a hospital appointment. If you make political posts online or, for instance, question or contradict the government’s official narrative on current events, however, your score decreases. … To calculate such scores, private companies in partnership with government agencies will unceasingly trawl through vast amounts of your social media and online shopping data alongside your G P S movements and hangouts; you may be allowed to know your score but certainly wont be allowed to know the heuristics upon which it is derived.

In such ^^ scenarios ^^ — which I submit to you are basically underway if not yet overtly rolled out and, when they are rolled out will be, on the grounds of national security, bellicosely championed by state-backed sycophants and media outlets — citizens will refrain from any kind of independent or critical expression for fear that their data will be read or their movements recorded and their citizen score reduced. Indeed, my dear reader, this is the whole point and purpose of it. While we should monitor and denounce this sinister creep toward an Orwellian world, we… me… we mostly just do nothing at all.


Relevant past posts:
Poetry & ProseBooks1984
Poetry & ProseBooksBrave New World

Orwell's---1984


Live Free Or Die

— General John Stark (1809)


p.s.

Bellicose
Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight.


Bide one’s time
This phrase means to wait quietly for a good opportunity to do something. — “She patiently bided her time before making her bid to escape and roam free.”

* Read the Nature magazine 2019 article by Kate Crawford,

Editable PDF: “Regulate facial-recognition technology”

which comes with the wonderful pull-out quote:


These tools are DANGEROUS when they fail and HARMFUL when they work.

— Kate Crawford (2019)

I shall study…

for what else can I do?
❝(Ⅲ+Ⅲ) ⅋ (Ⅲ*Ⅲ)❞

Heronimus Bosch
^ Known as a triptych. This one consists of oil daubed, with meticulous masterstrokes, on three oak panels. It was painted some 500 years ago, by a lowlands gentleman called, Hieronymus Bosch.

“Garden of Earthly Delights” is the contemporary title given to Hieronymus Bosch’s mesmerising work. It was painted in around 1499 and is currently on show at the Museo del Prado in Spain.

Before digging and delving a little deeper, lets enjoy each panel in turn (click each of the three below to greatly expand the image); together, the three parts of a triptych are intended to tell a story which is read from left to right:

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_The_Earthly_Paradise_(Garden_of_Eden)
A. “Left-hand panel”
Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_(Ecclesia's_Paradise)
B. “Central panel”
Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_Hell
C. “Right-hand panel”

As so little is known about Bosch, opinions and interpretations of his work have ranged from, “an admonition of worldly fleshy indulgence,” through, “a dire warning on the perils of life’s temptations,” to, “an evocation of ultimate sexual joy!” Look again at the myriad of things going on in the central panel; there is a surfeit of symbolism. Contemporary scholars are divided as to whether the triptych’s central panel is a moral warning (good 😇) or a panorama of paradise lost (bad 😈). But come on YOLO (( Jae: WOLO )) bad is good ain’t it. We say wicked to mean good and sick to mean wow. I, for one would rather wallow in the last days of Rome, than be a prudish restrained human, living not for today but the mythical afterlife.

“Hidden meanings in The Garden of Earthly Delights”
by Fiona Macdonald (9 August, 2016)
BBC
 
“Facts You Need to Know About the Delightfully Weird ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’”
by Jessica Stewart (6 July 6, 2019)
MyModernMet
 
“Decoding Bosch’s Wild, Whimsical “Garden of Earthly Delights”
by Alexxa Gotthardt (18 October, 2019)
Artsy.net


POST SCRIPTUM

Tri–
Etymology: From Latin tri- (“three”) and Ancient Greek τρι- (tri-, “three”).


Triptych
A triptych is a work of art that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works.


Trilogy
A group of three related novels, plays or films etc.

Tricycle
A vehicle similar to a bicycle, but having three wheels, two at the back and one at the front.


Triangulation
[1] (in surveying) the tracing and measurement of a series or network of triangles in order to determine the distances and relative positions of points spread over an area, especially by measuring the length of one side of each triangle and deducing its angles and the length of the other two sides by observation from this baseline. — “The triangulation of Great Britain.”
[2] The formation of or division into triangles.
[3] (In American politics) the action or process of positioning oneself in such a way as to appeal to or appease both left-wing and right-wing standpoints.


Triplicate
Adjective: Existing in three copies or examples.
Noun: A thing which is part of a set of three copies or corresponding parts.
Verb: To make three copies of something; to multiply by three.


Tripod
A three-legged stand for supporting a camera or other apparatus.


Trigonometry
The branch of mathematics dealing with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles and with the relevant functions of any angles.


Tripartite
[1] Shared by three parties. — “a tripartite coalition government.”
[2] Consisting of three parts — “a tripartite classification.”


Tricolour
Adjective: Something that has three colours.
Noun: A flag with three bands or blocks of different colours, especially the French national flag with equal upright bands of blue, white, and red.


p.p.s.
With reference to the trio of trilogies introduced above:

* AESCHYLUS [1 of 3]
Aeschylus (524–456 BC) was an ancient Greek tragedian and is today described as the father of tragedy.

Orestes Pursued by the Furies, by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1862)
My X man, a sensitive soul but also a *_fucking_* player
Greek text
“It’s all Greek to me”
(i.e., double Dutch, gibberish, gobbledygook, mumbo jumbo)

It’s all Greek to me
An English idiom — which may be construed as rude by some — meaning that something is difficult to understand. The metaphor makes reference to Greek as an archetypal foreign form of communication both written and spoken. The idiom is typically used with respect to something of a foreign nature. We may choose to use it to refer to texts containing too much jargon etc. The idiom/metaphor’s roots may well be a direct translation of a similar phrase in Latin: “Graecum est; non legitur” (“it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read”) a phrase increasingly used by monk scribes in the Middle Ages, as knowledge of the Greek alphabet and language was dwindling among those who were copying manuscripts in monastic libraries. Recorded usage of the metaphor in English traces back to the early modern period. It appears in 1599 in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.

Double Dutch
[Informal • British]
Language that is impossible to understand. — “The instructions were written in double Dutch.”


Gibberish
Unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing. — “Our Doctor for English Literature often talks a load of gibberish.”


Gobbledygook
Language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms. — “His essay on Plato was pure gobbledygook.”


Mumbo jumbo
Language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment. — “A maze of legal mumbo jumbo.”


Read more :
Poetry & ProseWritersAeschylus

 

** ALIGHIERI DANTE [2 of 3]
Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in the Italian city of Florence. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” is the famous phrase written above the gate of Hell in the 14th c. poem by Dante; the poem is called the “Divine Comedy” and Hell is known as “Dante’s Inferno.”

Dante
Love moves the sun and the other stars.


Read more :
Poetry & ProseWritersAlighieri Dante

 

*** CHINUA ACHEBE [3 of 3]
Achebe is said to be the father of African literature in English. In spare and lucid prose, he writes of the universal tale of personal and moral struggle in a(n ever) changing world. In his most notable and accomplished work, Things Fall Apart, the individual tragedy of Okonkwo, ‘strong man’ and tribal elder in the Nigeria of the 1890s is intertwined with the transformation of traditional Igbo society under the impact of Christianity and colonialism. In No Longer at Ease, Okonkwo’s grandson, Obi, educated in England, returns to a civil-service job in colonial Lagos, only to clash with the ruling elite to which he now believes he belongs. Arrow of God is set in the 1920s and explores the conflict from the two points of view – often, but not always, opposing – of Ezuelu, an Igbo priest, and Captain Winterbottom, a British district officer.