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Three lessons on Chinese culture and politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/12/2020 - 4:13am in

The animosity between the Chinese and Australian authorities is heating up, so we Westerners need to understand some of Chinese culture and politics. I do not have all the answers, but some 10 years of working and teaching on China have taught me about three traits that I hope might be of use to my fellow Australians in their interactions with the Chinese. Be aware that my Chinese friends find my descriptions hopelessly simplistic.

One, the individual IS the collective in China. Two, Chinese politics makes an absolute distinction between Chinese and anything else. Three, one can currently only be friends with the Chinese government if one is totally submissive on the issue of personal insults to its leaders (the rest is negotiable).

These three traits sound simple, but they are not easy to understand because ‘we’ are entirely different. We are individuals and don’t even know what ‘a collective’ means. We have shades of us and them, allowing for strangers to become part of us in a matter of just a few years. And our political commentators continuously insult politicians, both at home and abroad, without this being important for friendship between countries.

Let me attempt to explain these Chinese traits by sketching the kind of pressures that gave rise to them. The first two traits should become clear via a stylised story that very roughly tells you where Chinese collectivist culture comes from. Please ‘zoom into’ the story before you ‘zoom out’ again and consider what you might have learned from an Australian perspective.

How ‘I’ became ‘the collective’

Imagine you live in a village far away from the centers of power in your country. You and the entire village are simple peasants growing rice or wheat. You live and die in that village, as have your ancestors you worship for many generations. Tax collectors, bandits, rains, tradesmen, etc., come and go over the centuries. The one constant is that the whole village is held responsible for their dealings with the authorities. You are co-responsible for the taxes of the whole village, for delivering warriors when needed, and for following the law as a village. That collective responsibility is absolute and involves life and death.

So if your neighbour’s son goes to the imperial court and severely embarrasses the emperor, for instance by rebelling, it is not merely he who is killed, but you and your entire village are killed as well. Mild insults mean the neighbour’s son is killed. Bad insults will mean he and his family are killed. Severe transgressions mean its over for the whole village: it is raised to the ground, with the imperial forces leaving placards on the ruins of the village as a lesson to all other villages as to why this one was raised to the ground.

This is not just theory to you. Over the centuries, you have seen this happen to several villages in the region, so you believe it. You have no doubt as the supposed transgressions are plastered on the ruins of the villages destroyed by vengeful imperial troops: authority has made you aware of your collective responsibility.

Now, think of your relation to your neighbour’s children in such an environment. Do you see them as strangers and that their upbringing is none of your business? Or do you think their upbringing is entirely your business because they may get you and your own family killed if they behave poorly? The latter, obviously. Worse, your neighbour looks at you in the same way: you and your children are a liability to your neighbour as much as he is to you. So you watch each other very carefully, particularly for opinions and behaviour considered badly by authority. Similarly do you watch them contribute to the taxes by the village, the religious observances, and anything else.

In the first generation of such interaction you still have some individuality. You have your actual opinions and your own culture but hide them from your neighbour. After 10 generations though, any difference is washed out except the family ancestors which are unique to your family. Otherwise, you have become a totally uniform culture with your neighbours, with the few individuals who cannot control themselves expelled from the village over the generation. Or killed: if there is a particularly uncontrolled person in the village, the villagers have no hesitation killing him and then berating his mother and father for having raised such a menace to the village.

The self-censoring behaviour is entirely normalised and ingrained after 10 generations. You no longer wonder why it is that you feel responsible for the village, you just do. Indeed, you are the village at all times. You have no idea why you automatically fall in line with changes in the direction of authority, you just do. Your relation with authority has become one where you have pinned all your hopes and morality on them.

What authority says is good and proper has become your notion of good and proper. So your notion of what is good has co-evolved with whatever authority is: what started as self-censoring became what you saw as good and proper. Anything else would have gotten you killed long ago. Authority feels to you like the mind over the body. You feel as part of one whole making up China. Yet, you still truly feel that morality, so an authority who egregiously behaves badly for some immediate reason doesn’t feel like authority but an imposter and you want to resist it. So authority must appear the embodiment of good, if not the local authority then at least the more powerful distant one.

Within such a culture, rebellion is all or nothing: a total rejection of an authority in favour of a different authority, or no rebellion at all. That is because it IS all or nothing. The village chooses the winning side or gets destroyed, with no middle-ground: by rebelling one becomes an existential threat to authority.

Some examples of traits 1 and 2.

Now, please zoom out from the particulars of the story and consider the mentality I have described from an Australian perspective. What does this mindset mean for how to read the pronouncements of Chinese officials? You must see them as coming from one and the same organism: Chinese officials simply do not do things on their own initiative without checking with higher authority. Chinese journalists do not merely write things without political backing: all action by anything close to power in China has some degree of permission, either implicit or explicit. To do something with serious consequences without permission means you get killed in China, either literally or figuratively.

This also makes Chinese decision making towards new developments slow. The evaluating parts of the entity need to learn what is going on, adopt a position, and then have that position known in the various arms of the single political organism. An open position has real backing though: if a Chinese embassy openly sends a Western government a 14-point grievance, you should see that as a sign that the whole entity has adopted a position that will be hard to shift unless the very top changes its mind.

If you want a quick change of mind, you would need to convince that top because no-one else counts. The idea that the opinion of businessmen matters at such a point is naive: businessmen don’t have their own opinion with which they would dare lobby the top once the collective has taken a clear position. By the time the clear position is reached, all the lobbying is long over.

There are many other implications of the mindset I have described, from the enormous importance of ‘manners’, to the way in which Chinese corruption differs from Western corruption, to how they deal with African countries. But their actions all follow directly from the described relation: individual Chinese do try to do their best for themselves, but they have a very strong shared notion of ‘us’ from which morality comes and which they openly adhere to absolutely. They think of themselves as part of the same body, with a virtuous mind in Beijing. One of their mistakes is that they think Australia works the same.

Note the absolutism in terms of ‘in’ or ‘out’. Chinese politics does not do many shades of grey. There is no such thing as “a bit like us”: one is Chinese and thus is part of the organism, or one is not. The Chinese literally see it like a body, with its clear distinction between the body that responds to the commands of the mind, and everything else. It doesn’t matter what anything outside the body looks like, whether it can speak Chinese, or how it clothes. It is not ‘us’ and that’s the end of it.

Now, of course there are some tiny shades of grey, such as whether one is Hong Kong Chinese or Shanghai Chinese, etc. Yet, very quickly any open differences are resolved in an absolute manner: one rebels or subjugates oneself, and one does both wholeheartedly, totally winning or losing. Right now, the Hong Kong democracy groups are being show what losing means. The same holds for the Uygurs and any rebellious Tibetans: ‘normal’ Chinese absolutism is being enforced on them. Compared to how emperors of old would have treated them, they are getting off lightly, but that is only because they are not seen as a serious threat: the Chinese will think of them as small groups of deviants being reabsorbed into the body, even treated leniently because they are not really Chinese yet. They are reabsorbed for their own benefit, of course, because the whole is noble and being outside of it means one is lost.

The distinction Westerners like to make between ‘the Chinese’ and ‘the communist Party’ is basically a mistake, a fantasy. Whilst of course not every Chinese person is a fan of the Party, it is still seen as the head of the same organism. Why the Party got in power historically is unimportant. It is the head and cannot be separated from the body which it represents. When Westerners make such distinctions they are just seen as stupid.

Now, the third lesson has hopefully also come into view, ie the absolute need of Chinese political leaders to be above critique. What is rather unimportant in the West – that the rest of society adheres to a positive or a negative story about its leaders – is of total importance in China. The body is told the mind needs focus and unity. Chinese political leaders can only allow open flattery. Any open questioning of their competence or, much worse, moral purity, is political kryptonite.

The deeper reason for this is how Chinese politics works at the top: it is a single group playing very subtle games with each other as they are still each other’s rivals.

Chinese politics as a game of Survivor

The best analogy I can think of in the West as to how Chinese politics work is the reality game show “Survivor”. For those who don’t know how that show works, let me sketch.

Imagine a single tropical island on which you put 16 ambitious smart people vying for a single big prize, with every week seeing one contestant being demoted to ‘also-ran’. So over the weeks, the pool of ‘might win’ whittles down from 16 to 1, while the pool ‘can no longer win’ goes from 0 to 15.

Every week, the contestants engage in some tests with the winners of those competency tests being certain of remaining in the pool that could win. So competency matters. Then, at the end of each week, one additional person is voted out of the pool of ‘could still win’ by those still in the potential winner pool. So the politics are entirely internal: only the opinion of the insiders matters. This dynamic means that those within the potential winner pool play alliance games with each other, scheming up to rid themselves of opponents they dislike for some reason, lying and cajoling constantly, but in a way that it is as unnoticed by the other contestants as possible (though they do have to tell all in front of private cameras, for the enjoyment of the tv audience).

In the final round of Survivor, when there are only 2 left in the potential winner pool, those last two themselves are judged by the pool of 14 ‘also-rans’ who already lost, meaning that the winners remain polite to the losers in each round and try to make it appear others voted them out. Hence, Survivor is a game of internal alliances coupled with total insincerity and a bit of a role for competence.

Chinese politics at the top works pretty much the same: the top politicians live in Beijing and are constantly around each other. They judge each others proteges: the game is about whose junior party friends will get promoted to higher ranks and whose junior party friends get demoted. So the top party officials play a constant game of shifting alliances, with positions strengthened when previous rounds were won. Yet, all the time, there is a bit of an implicit voting going on for the top politicians too as they get judged by the entirety of the circles around the top politicians. Competence, money, and popularity matter. So anyone who is too openly ambitious, poor, or arrogant gets voted down very quickly.

Now, in Survivor, as in Chinese top politics, seeming is everything. Open conflict immediately gets resolved by isolating any accuser and voting them out. So the whole game is about forcing opponents into the open, isolating them, and destroying them. The top Chinese officials are absolute masters of this game who are extremely careful with language and outward appearances. Their game lasts decades, not a few months.

What that evolves towards is a system at the top of total outward compliance with a ‘Party line’. Anyone who criticises a higher leader in a noticeable way is killed off immediately. Higher leaders only very implicitly criticise each other via the juniors they help promote, but always using very circumspect wording and arguments. Any open personal criticism is a declaration of war, which is usually settled in a matter of hours in favour of one side. In the West one can run to an open rival, or another country, but in China there are no open rivals and certainly no other countries.

In very volatile periods, a kind of mass disobedience breaks out as lower officials take local opportunities, and the central system breaks down, but any period of stability means this dynamic is restored, leading to a total omerta on personal criticism of the leaders. That omerta then simply spreads out over the entire organism: the highest layer of observed critique is killed off, after which the omerta goes a level further.

In recent decades China has had stability. That has meant the omerta on leadership critique has spread far and wide, such that Chinese top politicians are now only criticised in the very extremities of the Chinese organism and abroad. And Chinese officialdom has become obsessed with those sources of criticism. When the New York Times a few years ago ran negative stories on top leaders in China, huge efforts were made by Chinese secret service agencies to disrupt the NYT website and to prevent a recurrence. The Chinese authorities have so far accepted they cannot force US politicians to tow their line, but they are trying to expand the omerta everywhere they can. What they hated about Hong Kong much more than its democracy was that Hong Kong businesses aired lots of open criticism of the top Chinese leaders, even printing salacious stories on their families.

Which brings us to friends of China. The omerta has reached Australia. It has shown itself on Australian university campuses where Chinese students do their own version of Survivor by enforcing the omerta on Australian shores. By criticising any other Chinese students on twitter if they show the slightest degree of disagreement with the Party line, they are showing their own deference.

The same omerta is now being asked of Australian politicians and higher level journalists. The price of friendship with the current Chinese government is an omerta on critique of its political leaders and anything they decide.

The price for not complying with the omerta is that the Chinese authorities will then want to shield other Chinese away from the ‘perverse’ influences coming from Australia. So no more Chinese students, tourist, and businessmen. Some of the less high-contact forms of trade might still go on for some time, but only if the insults are not loud enough.

So that is what Australia is now facing, in my opinion.

Histories of the Great Panic.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 4:40pm in

How will Western historians in 2050 remember 2020? In scenario 1, “The Great Panic, a lost generation”, I sketch my best guess. Scenario 2, “A job well done” is the one I imagine many current Western governments hope is told. Scenario 3, “The dark path of the Great Panic”, is one of my main fear scenarios.

How Past Plagues & Pandemics Have Shaped Human History | PocketOne should of course not take any of these too seriously, but they do help put some perspective on matters because constructing a future history of today forces one to detach from current concerns and nominate long-term forces that might come to the fore.

 

                   H1: The Great Panic, a lost generation.

In 2020 a new coronavirus appeared that health authorities and the media whipped into a huge panic that went viral around the world. Forced by their populations to pretend to be in control, governments instigated lots of highly damaging restrictions on the movements of their own citizens. Whilst this did very little to the spread of the virus or the eventual death toll from it, it opened enormous opportunities to governments to extend their powers, sidestep parliaments, and rob their populations.

The ideology of the Great Panic was an echo of the Fremdkörper ideology of national socialism of the 1930s: an ideology in which the country was seen as an organism that could only function if the ‘elements alien to it’ were excised. This ideology reached great popularity in 2020 when it was directed towards the new coronavirus, but, as in the 1930s, the ideology morphed when the coronavirus ceased to be a threat to include all infectious diseases and large groups of citizens. Zero-covid became zero-other-things. Increasingly draconian and destructive policies were rolled out in the 2020s by governments eager to hold on to the power they had amassed.

After the period of initial shock in 2020, an unholy alliance between opportunist local commercial interests, the global ambitions and immediate interest of Big Tech, the virtue industry, and governments emerged that thrived on continued restrictions. The surveillance state they instigated survived the end of the actual pandemic which had run its course by early 2021. New viral threats were identified to justify massive random testing regimes, with the inspectors who could use those test to order lockdowns of whole regions becoming feared figures of derision. Immunity passports became compulsory for most international travel. Masks became compulsory everywhere outside.

The disruption and ideology inherent to the Great Panic formed the kernel of its own eventual demise. The disruption to the economy and social life lead to large-scale unrest and even civil war in poorer regions like India and North Africa. High levels of mental health disruption aggravated the collapse of the economy, which is now estimated to be 20% of world GDP loss in that period, masked in the early periods by increased government debt and money printing. The eventual inability to buy off social unrest as debt and quantitative easing ran into its limits lead to high inflation and loss of confidence in governments.

The Fremdkörper ideology eventually became the enemy of the emerging medico-industrial complex: just as populations saw the virus as an ‘element alien to it’, so too did they view new vaccines, particularly the new RNA-based vaccines. Increasingly, tests became seen as invasions of privacy and unwanted attempts at stigmatisation, with individuals increasingly reluctant to be identified with any infectious disease.

Eventually, massive popular disapproval lead to a reversal of the main ideology and restrictions in Western countries, followed by other countries. A restoration movement was dominant for a few years, including a greater role for nationalistic libertarian movements.

One long term effect was the large-scale destruction of the independent middle classes made up of shop keepers, service workers, small hotels etc.: their businesses were replaced by franchise systems tethering nearly all former independent small businesses to large corporations. This worsened inequality and lead to more feudal societies.

Another long-term effect was the disruption of the education and the ability to socialise normally for a generation of children. As a result, average wellbeing and prosperity took decades to recover.

The huge collateral death tolls and the illegality of the 2020 restrictions were not recognised in the courts in most countries until the 2040s but are now part of textbook teachings on ethics and law. When a few large countries decided in special commissions that they had been the victim of international emotional contagion, regionalisation of social media became institutionalised.

In the poorer part of the world the Great Panic lead to a lost generation whose education and economic prospects got disrupted, leading to a widespread primitivisation of their economies. The situation got aggravated by civil wars and by reductions of the aid budgets of the richer countries, leading to a large political pivot towards China in that period.

Economic historians estimate the death toll of the Great Panic to be around 70 million unnecessary deaths, making it the world’s second biggest self-inflicted catastrophe, only behind the second world war. Still, from a longer-term point of view the crisis was seen as a blip that exposed the susceptibility of existing democratic and scientific systems to contagious mass emotions. Some of the innovations and restrictions of that era are still with us, like immunity passports: though many countries eventually decided they were unconstitutional and illiberal, enough countries remained adamant about not letting in anyone without them that they became a standard feature in the tourism and business sectors.

 

                   H2: a job well done

In 2020 a new virus emerged of unheard potency hitherto. Though at the time not everyone was convinced of its danger, it was in hindsight definitively proven to be directly responsible for long-term problems like dementia, depression, anxiety, insolvency, terrorism, violence, unemployment, and loneliness.

Governments sometimes were late to heed the science but eventually all recognised that a working economy and social system needed to first focus on the eradication of this new virus. Whilst scientists were working hard at a variety of solutions, governments kept their populations safe by means of restricting their movements. A vocal minority of covid-terrorists resisted these restrictions but eventually a combination of marginalising their voices in the social media and physical containment ensured they did not prevail.

This period is now recognised as a triumph of human ingenuity, where the world went from a new disease to 95% safe vaccinations within 6 months. Nobel prizes went to the inventors, knighthoods to the industrialists who produced the vaccines at marginal cost, and lucrative government contracts to the transportation companies who disseminated the vaccines. Grateful populations voted for the governments that had more decisively protected them by large majorities, with covid-deniers like the US president Trump roundly thumped at the ballot box.

The long-term benefits of having gone through this challenge were the complete registration of the entire world’s traveling population and a fail-safe viral recognition-technology that follows nearly everyone wherever they are in the developed world, warning them via wrist-bands against the illegality of any imminent meetings that would put them at risk of infection. Quarantine camps all around the Western world now operate to intern those for whom positive tests have revealed them to have subverted the International Pathogen Safety Protocol. A new international agency oversees these camps and a large force of pathogen-marshals makes sure adaptive local protocols are adhered to, with the rule-making-bodies fed by state-of-the-art simulation models.

Though there was much criticism at the time by out-of-touch scientists of how the attention to the new virus lead to tens of millions of deaths via neglected other diseases, new studies since then proved the so-called collateral damage to be the results of the virus itself. After extensive investigation it turned out that the propensity in that period to become a dictatorship was higher in countries with the lowest vaccination rates, proving it was ongoing covid-risk that lead to the new dictatorships. Similarly, the initially claimed higher death tolls of hunger and tuberculosis where eventually proved to be because farmers with covid were less productive and hence produced less food, whilst tuberculosis was found to be more dangerous for those who also had covid. Nobel prizes went to the discoverers of these important insights as they definitively showed the importance of focusing on the coronavirus. It has been estimated hundreds of millions of lives have been saved by its eradication.

In decades following, the rational scientific approach to the coronavirus pandemic came to be seen universally as a triumph of the Enlightenment.

 

                     H3: The Dark Path of the Great Panic

The Great Panic of early 2020 cemented the Fremdkörper ideology around the world and lead to the demise of the international system of migration and travel that had ballooned in the decades before. The impoverishment and deteriorating health of the populations that followed was aggravated by a collapse in the birth rate in Western countries, the large-scale destruction of the independent middle-classes, and the instigation of the surveillance state. These consequences combined to create existential panic in the populations of the West.

When Western societies woke up to the enormity of the destruction, internationalism was blamed and ultra-nationalist groups fought on the streets with the internationalist activists of black-lives-matter, extinction-rebellion, and others.

The conflict between internationalism and nationalism that had been simmering for decades grew and grew. The early running was done by the internationalists: armed with anti-nationalist ideologies, the media clout of Big Tech, and the coercive power of the state in many Western countries, they initially managed to successfully push the nationalistic protest movements to the margins of their societies.

However, within a remarkably short time, the increased economic desperation of large sections of the population and the ability of nationalists to have large numbers of sympathisers on the ground turned the tables on the internationalists whose means of communication were increasingly sabotaged, with city-wide internet blackouts increasingly common in many countries. Crucial in the conflict was the inability of the internationalist to gather because of the travel bans and international migration stops.

Partnered to the nationalists, a virulent nativist movement arose that was obsessed with the low birth rate and regarded anything that was not pro-family an existential threat to their culture and population. Forced by popular opinion, state bureaucracies switched sides and started to censor ‘foreign divisive and anti-family content’ on social media. Lists of national values and habits were set up, taught as compulsory subjects in schools and universities. Without a ‘national certificate’ one could not have jobs or access social services in many countries.

The ultra-nationalist movement counted many high-profile homosexuals, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities. The victorious ultra-national movements they belonged to turned the Fremdkörper ideology away from viruses and towards what it termed ‘woke internationalism’ and anything associated with ‘anti-family values’. Re-education camps were set up for the ‘enemy within’, camps in which eventually millions perished. Among the first initial groups sent to the camps were critical race theorists, intersectionality academics, and various groups that came to be seen as inherently anti-family.

List of sympathisers with ‘anti-family’ groups and ‘enemies of the nation’ were harvested from stored copies of Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, WeChat, Instagram, and other social media sites. Special tribunals were set up for young offenders to see whom they had been lead astray by. High profile trials of crimes against humanity were instigated for the leaders of those scientific and media institutions held most responsible for the Great Panic.

The ultra-nationalist movements then turned on ‘radical’ Muslims and on foreign enemies, in particular China. Chinese minorities throughout the West, even if they had lived there more than 150 years, were forced to swear allegiance to ‘national values‘ and denounce the Chinese Communist Party. Large groups of reluctant newer waves of Chinese migrants were deported to China. There were many voices to put them in re-education camps but after several nuclear standoffs with China such plans were abandoned. The identified Muslim minorities who did not swear allegiance and who failed regular checks were not so lucky.

Nowhere did the nativist ultra-nationalist movement get more fanatical than in the US. The Democrats only managed to regain the presidency after the fourth Trump term, with the second one ending in Trump senior giving the reigns to his Vice President, Trump junior. To win the White House, the Democrats promised a total war on China, a green wall with Canada, a ban on the speaking of any language not on an approved-language list, a ban on any executive job being done by someone with less than 2 confirmed children, and a strategic alliance with Russia.

In Africa and some parts of Asia, the disaster of the Great Panic lead to widespread civil wars, a population explosion as education systems crumbled, and a mass-exodus in terms of migrants. The ultra-nationalist movements in the West immediately responded to these migration streams militarily, forcing the migration streams towards neutral countries or poorly border-patrolled countries like Turkey, Iran, the Caucuses, and elsewhere. Eventually, a semblance of order was restored as Western countries and China competed for influence via neo-colonialist projects.

The main longer-term consequence of the Great Panic was thus the victory of ultra-nationalist and nativist movements in the West. It also accelerated the construction of regional internets and the polarisation of world politics into various camps, with the West and China on opposing sides with nearly completely detached economic and political spheres.

Historians disagree on whether the excess death toll of 500 million that eventuated in the 2020-2040 period should be entirely or only fractionally attributed to the Great Panic.

 

                  Conclusion

As said before, the first suggested history sounds about right to me at this moment. The second one is basically the history I imagine the medics within the pro-lockdown brigade tell themselves. The third one is the dark road I fear we might be on.

Do add your own scenario in the comment section.

Hacking Happiness in the Information Age

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 12:45am in

Tags 

life

Some great insight from Evernote’s Taking Note blog on happiness, screentime, and balance in our lives. The post shares insight from Ellen Petry Leanse, author of The Happiness Hack.

Some ideas of interest:

First, we need to stop thinking about happiness as a single monolithic concept. There are different kinds of happiness — and some are more fulfilling and long-term than others:

  • Short-term happiness: Psychologists refer to this as “hedonic” happiness, derived from the ancient Greek word for pleasure. This kind of gratification is brief and shallow; Ellen describes it as “tequila shot” happiness.
  • Long-term happiness: There’s also a deeper, lasting fulfillment known as “eudaimonic” happiness. Also from Greek, eudaimonia translates into “well-being.” This is the kind of happiness that we feel when we are truly at peace with our lives and ourselves.

Happiness & Tech?

Who would we be if we weren’t bombarded by technology all of the time?

Ellen Petry Leanse

Our ubiquitous connection to digital spaces has revolutionized our lives, but we are also beginning to see the dark side of these interactions.

Uncontrolled consumption of technology is increasingly monopolizing our attention, and diverting us from our intentions. All individuals, especially youth, are increasingly becoming data points of innovations and algorithms that seek to mine your data and attention in order to sell you ads or worse. For those that recognize these trends, we seem unable, or unwilling to stop.

Our time and attention are the new economy and some of the corporations and developers that built these digital spaces and places that captured our attention now express misgivings about what they have created.

Loneliness, Depression, failed critical thinking skills, and lack of empathy are some of the undesirable outcomes of information technology. Millions lose sleep, motivation, and focus as digital tools constantly poke us with notifications that were initially supposed to make us more productive.

Ellen indicates that there are several factors that are keeping us from being happy as we interact with digital environments.

  • Our brains are constantly scanning our environments to keep us safe. You random funny images while zombie-scrolling Instagram doesn’t connect with the rest of your life.
  • We need to disconnect and go offline. We need time away from consumption to allow for processing.
  • We’re easily driven by social rewards. We’re proverbial rats in a Skinnerian box…but we don’t even get cheese. We get more notifications.

What we need is a balanced approach for all producers and consumers of digital places, spaces, and tools.

Make Happiness Happen

If we want to prioritize eudaimonic happiness over the hedonic kind, we have to make some changes to our lives. Ellen offers three ways to make happiness happen:

  • Connectedness – Unplug and spend time with humans offline.
  • Acts of kindness – Offer some kindness to others and pay it forward.
  • Self-nurturing growth – Sharpen your saw and find opportunities for self-improvement.

…happiness is not a destination, but a way of traveling.

Ellen Petry Leanse

Photo by Denise Jones on Unsplash

This post is Day 52 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

The post Hacking Happiness in the Information Age first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

The Alive Ones

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/11/2020 - 1:21pm in

Tags 

poem, poetry, life

The opposite of life is not death.

The opposite of life is habit.

One who moves from cradle to grave
in the flip book illusion we call time
without deeply attending to this cavalcade of miracles
is one who never lived.

Lifeless are they who live by habit,
who walk by habit,
who sit by habit,
who see by habit,
who think by habit,
who feel by habit.
Lifeless are they who drift through on dead patterns
instead of giving the omnipresent Holiness its due reverence.

The alive ones meet each moment
like a dog greets its master at the door after work.
They do not think: they wonder.
They do not watch: they marvel.
They do not walk: they adventure.
They do not sit: they engage.
They do not wait: they worship.

Awe was never meant to be exceptional.
Awe is the only sane response to this mess.
The alive ones know this.
The alive ones live this.
The mundane does not exist for them.
The ordinary is a fairy tale told by the lifeless
to which the alive listen with rapt fasciation.

They take in breath with the passion of a lover in bed.
They entertain light in their retinas like a beloved guest.
They merrily lose every war with the world.
They dance without music in the frozen food aisle.
They go out into the rain with bare feet and empty wine glasses.
They greet every experience with exuberant curiosity,
and as death approaches it receives that same greeting.

And when they are gone those they leave behind
will be saddened but fulfilled,
and so very grateful,
to have known one who truly showed up here.

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Canadian doctor Joffe MD on the negative effects of covid-19 responses

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 8:01pm in

Dr. Joffe just posted a new article on the many negative effects of lockdowns in Canada and in the world as a whole. He really has put in a fantastic effort to source the evidence on the negative effects of the covid-related policies, digging up and critically evaluating nearly 200 international studies. Here is his Table 2 (out of 8).

Highly recommended as a summary document of the masses of evidence now rolling in on the unnecessary self-inflicted disaster that is befalling humanity. The link is https://www.preprints.org/manuscript/202010.0330/v1

The Great Barrington Declaration?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/10/2020 - 2:14am in

A group of senior medical scientists have gotten together to pen an open petition to governments and society, calling for a herd immunity approach to the coronavirus. Signatories already include over 3000 “Medical & Public Health Scientists”, 4000 “Medical Practitioners”, and 60,000 others not in those categories. That’s pretty good in these times of strong adverse media headwinds.

As I too have been here on Troppo, the organisers of that petition are deeply worried about the damage that the lockdowns and other anti-social measures are doing to children, students, the poor, the developing world, the elderly, and everyone else. Their key quotes on policy are

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

where I want to heartily cheer the phrase “most compassionate approach”. It is exactly that. This approach means

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

which is pretty much what many Australian residents called for in our June letter to governments. There are small things I do not agree with in the letter, but on the general message I am in agreement so have signed it. The strong should accept the burden of gaining high degrees of immunity so that the vulnerable run less risk when leading a normal life. We should indeed encourage and celebrate high covid infection rates among the young and healthy.

Do sign the petition to show your support.

Sitting Between Life and Death

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/10/2020 - 1:39am in

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say when one ends, and where the other begins?

Edgar Allan Poe

As our world become increasingly digitized, and social networks link friends across the spaces and lines of our lives, an interesting phenomenon occurs as people die.

My Mother passed way too early at the age of 30. This event set forth a chain of events in my own life in which I’m cognizant of my own mortality, and to some extent (try to) live for the day. Most times this is a struggle and I don’t actually live each day to the fullest because there is also a fear that at any point life will/could fall apart. These two elements keep me in a constant state of neurosis…but I digress.

This has also brought about this need that I have to be remembered. As an angry adolescent, I wanted to be remembered after I die. Not just by friends and family, but I also wanted others to know me, or my work, or my name. Because my Mother may have been a blip on the radar, I wanted to be remembered.

I don’t think it’s a case of vanity, although I’m sure there is a subtle dose of that. I think there is also some desire to write myself into being, but also make up for time lost by my Mother.

I think you can learn a lot about life by knowing that you will die.

Because of the time period in which she died, there is relatively little documenting her life. A handful of scattered, yellowed photos. A half dozen lost home videos that can only be viewed on machines that don’t exist.

Looking and listening for a story unremembered is like the daily ritual of an archeologist.

What do you live for? How do you want to be remembered after you have passed?

What…if anything will your digital breadcrumbs say about you when you’ve stopped logging in?

Photo by Luke Southern on Unsplash

This post is Day 21 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

The post Sitting Between Life and Death first appeared on W. Ian O'Byrne.

Covid and the lessons of the Dreyfus affair

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 7:23pm in

One can tell many stories of how current times resemble some earlier historical period. The conflict between nationalism and internationalism, as personified by the controversies surrounding Brexit and Trump, has been seen as somewhat of a re-run of the conflict between fascism and socialism in the 1930s. The conflict between the West and radical Islam made many think of the crusades. The covid pandemic and its effects has been likened to the Plague, the Spanish Flu and the Asian Flu.

Though they are never perfect, I like looking for such analogies because they give some idea as to the outcomes and the dynamics that are possible. They tell us what humans have been capable of believing and of doing in similar situations as we have now. So I have looked for the historical analogy that best fits the “narrative” aspect of the current covid controversies.

Ask yourself: which historical event had the same combination of an official narrative that had great popular support but was just an ossified mistake versus a small minority narrative that gradually became more and more dominant? The clearest case I can think of is the Dreyfus Affair from 1894-1906. If we are witnessing a repeat of the dynamics of the Dreyfus Affair, there are sobering lessons for both sides of the covid debate. Consider the parallels from my point of view, ie as an avowed “lockdown skeptic”.

Albert Dreyfus was a proud captain in the French army at a time when France was very divided and its army command was very worried about German spies, still smarting from the German invasion of 1871. When it was discovered in 1894 that details of French armament were sold to the Germans, the secret police more or less randomly arrested Dreyfus who was promptly convicted by a tribunal and sentenced to life imprisonment on “Devil’s Island”, a notorious prison camp with conditions few survived for long.

Albert’s brother Matthieu was a man with very powerful connections and could call upon Jewish solidarity with an accused member. For instance, the Rothschild’s of London took up Dreyfus’ case. So a lot of money lined up to fight Albert’s cause. The evidence in the case was so pitiful that intellectuals with all kinds of ideologies (socialist, anarchist, pacifist, etc.) got organised as ‘Dreyfusards’. They wrote petitions, held rallies, lobbied politicians, encouraged high-ranking officials to start new investigations, etc.

Initially, the Dreyfusards got nowhere. Over 99% of the politicians (but not all!) affirmed the conviction in a parliamentary vote. Books were written on the evil influence of Jews in France. Newspapers were full of disinformation. Officialdom celebrated Albert’s conviction. The population was totally on the side of the army. It was a time of hysteria.

In 1896 there was a breakthrough in that a new investigation actually found the culprit who even confessed to selling secrets to the Germans. How did the French army react? They posted the investigating officer (the head of the secret service no less!) somewhere far away, took no notice of the confession and even paid the culprit to stay away and keep quiet. In a new trial, they simply convicted Dreyfus again, dismissing the new evidence. Once more, the majority of the population rejoiced.

Now the Dreyfusards really got going, buoyed by their belief that they were onto a winner and that the case was all they hoped for: evidence of all the ills of authority and whatever else they thought was wrong with France at that time. They managed to improve the actual conditions of Dreyfus stuck on his island so that at least he’d survive, basically by bribing and threatening the key authorities involved. They organised more rallies, petitions, etc., the most famous of which was the “J’accuse” letter by Emile Zola, who was then the eminence grise of French literature. In that famous letter he accused the entire elite of France of all manner of evils, a libelous accusation he knew they would put him into jail for. Which they did.

The force of the argument, as well as that of the international press and the money on the side of the Dreyfusards built up the pressure, such that in 1899 there was another high-profile trial in which the commanders of the French army stood accused of stupidity, cover-ups, and all the other things they had actually done. The jury consisted of junior French army officers who exonerated their own army commanders and duly convicted Dreyfus again, despite the international media mocking their convoluted arguments. Mainly to get rid of the pressure, the French president then offered Dreyfus a presidential pardon, which he took, much to the chagrin of the Dreyfusards who wanted him to refuse out of principle and keep going with court cases.

The Dreyfusards fell apart a bit after that, particularly because it turned out Albert Dreyfus had no interest in being a rebel or to blame those who had him imprisoned unfairly for 5 years. All he wanted was to get back into the army and fight wars for France. He got that wish in 1906 when a 6th and last trial finally exonerated him, after which he promptly reapplied to the French army, which took him and gave him a promotion. Later on he got wounded by a fervent nationalist still smarting about the case, but he survived and fought in the first world war, getting all sorts of medals. He died in 1935. The anti-antisemitism that was fanned by officialdom during the 1894-1906 period has been seen as a factor in the vicious behaviour of the Vichy-regime of 1940-1944.

Now, I see many parallels between the narrative dynamics of the Dreyfus Affair and the covid debates now increasingly raging.

The modern Dreyfusards are all those railing against the imprisonment of the population (lock downs and social distancing), starting with very few initially but gradually growing in strength. They are a motley crew from all kinds of persuasions with totally different hopes for what happens once they are seen to be right. They have all kinds of beliefs as to what lead to the initial hysteria and the imprisonments, most of which are absurd conspiracy stories. They have some money and power behind them, namely from the business community and parts of the artistic and intellectual elites. They can all see the suffering of the population and the absurdity of the arguments concocted to keep the hysteria and imprisonment going, but they hit a solid wall of authority, the popular appeal of the hysteria, and legions of intellectual enablers.

The modern opponents of the Dreyfusards are authority, institutionalised health advisers, most of politics, and the institutionalised arbiters of truth. Whilst the French courts in 1894-1905 made absurd ruling after absurd ruling, today’s regulators, Lancet editors, and many ‘scientists’ equally contort themselves into bizarre twists to rationalise previous decisions and the instincts of the public. At least, from my perspective!

The discovery in April-June 2020 that covid was nowhere near as lethal as previously said, whilst the effects of the imprisonment were just as bad as foretold, is like the confession of the actual culprit in the Dreyfus case in 1896. And, like then, the revelation that the entire basis of all the previous decisions was completely wrong, something already known by a handful at the start, has made little difference to authority or the arbiters of truth. At least, not in the short run. Authority doubles down and uses covid for an increasingly destructive agenda, aided by the majority of the population who doesn’t want to believe they have been fooled.

Like then, the modern Dreyfusards initially have had to operate on the fringes of the media but are gradually becoming more mainstream. Like then, the early Dreyfusards  dreamed truth would prevail in a matter of months, disappointed at every turn at how long it takes and how intransigent authority and its intellectual enablers can be if their own honour is at stake.

I think this last element is what draws me most to the Dreyfus analogy: the involvement of a sense of honour on the side of those who insist the right choices have been made. It is not so much that they truly think they are doing the right thing right now, but more that they are incensed by the open suggestion that they f*cked up big time initially and have been covering up every subsequent step of the way. They feel their honour is at stake and they extend that personal indignation: to question them is to question authority, the nation, science, and reason itself. As with the Dreyfus affair, this time round a growing group inside authority know exactly what is happening, but at the same time a large group has convinced itself and will probably never recant.

The analogy contains a very sobering thought for the modern Dreyfusards, which of course includes me. If the same pattern holds now as then, the population will not be grateful for being saved from the follies of authority and the absurdity of their intellectual enablers, but will flock back to authority immediately after being released. The vast majority of authority and enablers will then survive in their position, wreaking more havoc at some later point. The hopes of the modern Dreyfusards will largely be proven vain, and the origins of the most memorable slogans of the fight (“J’accuse”) will be forgotten.

So I really do hope the analogy is less than perfect.

Will busy offices return eventually? Of course they will.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/09/2020 - 9:22pm in

[message: the “stay at home” firms will see their bored and lonely good young staff jump ship to the hip, drunk, snorting, and cavorting hard-work hard-play offices everyone loves to complain about.]

The Office revives small town Scranton, but it wasn't taped there – SkiftThe estimate from Transport for London is that 72% of workers are still not back at their office this week, which is why the coffee clubs, eateries, bars, and restaurants are still empty and central London feels like a ghost town.

Its the same all over the large cities in the UK: 50% of workers of all industries were still working remotely first week of August and public transport remains shunned like the plague.

Its slightly more “back to normal” in other European countries that ended lock downs sooner than the UK, with around 80% of all workers back to their previous place of work in France, Germany and Italy by August.

Still, nowhere has office life yet returned to the previous levels. More than half of office workers have indicated they would like to work more from home than before and many major employers have indicated they do not expect office life to return to pre-covid levels any time soon. This is fueling widespread speculation around the world of how work is going to change forever and that the nature of inner cities will adapt. You get plenty of visions of workers dialing into virtual offices from their forest homes whilst big cities become terrace-filled pedestrian zones dominated by tourists.

I think its too soon to expect the old office life to be gone forever. Its demise has been prophesised before and quite a few tech companies with the know-how have tried to do away with the office in previous years and failed. Whilst it is true that there has never been such a massive shock to office life as we’ve seen the last 6 months, and so the “new normal” might feel to many like it is sustainable, one can only understand whether one should really expect the “old office life” to be gone forever if we understand what the economic and social reasons were behind the old office life. Why did companies fork out hundreds of billions of dollars per year for decades to afford very expensive places in the middle of cities, forcing their employees into highly wasteful commutes? What made that expense and effort worthwhile in the first place?

There are strong economic forces that made regular office life an equilibrium, with firms that did not comply losing out. Firms that have a regular office life have three things going for them that “from home offices” lack: they offer the staff a venue where they have to socialise; they lead to a rat-race culture that encourages over-working; and they offer a place where clients/suppliers come to visit, come to see up close whom they are dealing with, come to be impressed, and come to be entertained.

So firms with a regular office will pinch the more ambitious, more fun-loving, more socialising workers and clients of firms without a regular office. These disadvantages do not hold if all offices are forced to work from home, which is why they were not so relevant the last 6 months and a different culture seemed sustainable, but they will re-emerge as soon as some offices go back to regular functioning. The “stay at home” firms will see their bored and lonely good young staff jump ship to the hip, drunk, snorting, and cavorting hard-work hard-play offices everyone loves to complain about. Ditto for their richest and most dynamic clients. To put it as simply as possible: you don’t make real friends on zoom. 

One of the central mistakes many commentators thus have about work and office life is that humans are solitary animals only offering their labour time for money which they use to buy stuff online. Its the kind of thing only a half-trained economist can believe. It is just not true. Humans are group animals, first and foremost. They work because they are in competition and in partnership with their colleagues and people around them. They get aroused and motivated via close contact with other humans. Stop offering them an office in which they are a group and you will eventually find they lose all interest.

A related economic force that will lead us back to the office is that offices impress. In old economic parlance, offices burn money and that serves as proof that a firm has something to lose if it doesn’t keep to its contracts. Offices gives contracts and promises credibility because one can see there is a physical place and  social position firms stand to lose if they dont stick to promises and get taken to court. In more normal speak, a big shiny busy office shows you have skin in the game and an adoring tribe to boot.

A nice recent discussion of the basic psychology and sociology of office life is by Randall Collins. Let me just copy the best bit of his quite long article, which discusses failed previous experiments in abandoning offices and also has as the bottom line that online doesn’t arouse people and thus is doomed to death-by-indifference:

Working Remotely

There is disagreement whether working remotely is effective. Some people prefer working from home. What they like about it are: no commuting; reduced meetings which they feel are a waste of time; and fewer distractions in the workplace. Some dislike working at home; what they dislike are more distractions in the household; less team cohesion; and technical and communication difficulties. (Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2020: based on a survey of hiring managers) Similar points were made by the head of a state judicial unit, who emphasized that much additional time by management personnel was now spent on meetings, and attempts to keep up morale by remote contact; meetings were often frustrating because considerable time was wasted trying to get the communications technology working for all participants. (repeated interviews during March-June 2020)  She sometimes went  to her office in order to use secure communications, and found it refreshing whenever encountering a colleague in person. Efforts to re-open court business, with social distancing and masking precautions, were welcomed by part of the staff and opposed by others. The characteristics of one group or the other are unknown; a hypothesis is that the those more committed to their career and professional identity want to return to their customary work setting; those for whom work is more of a routine prefer to stay home.

Hollywood film professionals said they liked spending less time on planes flying around the country; and less high-level meetings which they considered more habitual than necessary. [Los Angeles Times May 3, 2020] One producer said: “I don’t think video conferencing is a substitute for being in a room with someone, but it is better than just talking on the phone. There are so many ways you communicate with your expression… when it’s delayed and small, you just lose all that. My feeling is it’s 50% as good as an in-person meeting.” [p.E6] In the actual work of making movies, most emphasized that it is a collective process, and some insisted that spontaneous adjustments on-set were the key site for creativity. They also reiterated the point that live audiences are the only way to reliably tell whether a film is coming across, and larger audiences amplify both comedy and drama (i.e. via emotional contagion).

Some businesses have tried to compensate by having “virtual water-cooler” sessions several times a week, where any employee can log in and chat. It is unclear what proportion took part,  how enthusiastically, or with what pattern over time. Some managers reported that company-wide “town-hall meetings” to reassure employees lost interest over time [Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2020]. DiMaggio et al. (2019) however, found that on-line “brainstorming events” for employees in a huge international company were consonant with some patterns of interaction rituals; this research was carried out in 2003-4, long before the epidemic. The degree of involvement and solidarity in town-hall meetings is a matter of scale; the court administrator reported that feedback about morale was positive after on-line sessions involving group of around 10; but in larger groups it was hard to get a Q&A discussion going. This is similar to what any speaker can observe in ordinary lecture presentations and panel discussions; even with physical presence, most people are reluctant to “break the ice” after the speakers have been the sole center of attention; but once someone (usually a high-status person in the audience) sizes up the situation and says something, it turns out that many others find they also have comments to make. This is a process of micro-interactional attention, which is especially difficult to handle on remote media.

Many managers said that innovativeness was lost without serendipitous, unscheduled encounters among individuals. [Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2020] In a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, half of employers reported a dip in productivity with on-line work. Longer trends, going back before the coronavirus epidemic, indicate that the promise of on-line work was not highly successful. During 2005-15, the era of the high-speed Internet, the percentage of persons in the US regularly working from home increased slowly;  those working from home at least half-time reached a pre-epidemic peak of only 4%. [www.npr.org/sections/money/2020/04/28/846671375/why-remote-work-sucks]  During this period several big corporations, initially enthusiastic, tried to shift to primarily on-line work but abandoned it after concluding it was less effective. In the market-dominating I-T companies, the trend instead was to provide more break rooms, food, play and gym services to keep their workers happy on site. This was abruptly reversed in the coronavirus period.

Zoom fatigue

Popular video-conferencing tools such as Zoom attempt to reproduce F2F interaction by showing an array of participants’ faces on the screen, along with one’s own face for feedback in positioning the camera. Reports on how well it works in generating IR-type rhythm and solidarity are mixed. CEOs of high-tech companies tend to claim that it works well. Among rank-and-file participants, however, complaints are widespread and it even acquired a slang term, ‘Zoom fatigue.’ [Wall Street Journal, May 28 and June 17, 2020]  Achieving synchrony with others is hard to do with a screen full of faces, delayed real-time feedback, and lack of full body language. Since there is a limit to how many individual faces can be shown, in larger meetings some persons are seen only occasionally, and leaders looking for responses often find they get none. Some of the ingredients of IR (not necessarily under that name) are now being recognized by communications specialists; these include fine-grained synchrony and eye movements. In ordinary F2F conversation, persons do not stare continuously at others’ eyes, but look and look away (Tom Scheff made this point to me in a personal communication during the 1980s; for detailed transcripts of multi-modal interaction see Scheff and Retzinger 1991). Thus seeing a row of faces staring directly at you is artificial or even disconcerting. Some readers responded with advice: cut off the video to reduce zoom fatigue, go audio-only. Some found hidden benefits in zoom conferencing: once the round of social greetings is over, turn off the video and your mic and do your own work while the boss goes through their agenda.

Continuously seeing one’s own face on the screen is another source of strain. Of course, as Goffman pointed out, everyone is concerned with the presentation of their self, in terms of status as well as appropriateness for the situation. But one does not have one’s image constantly in a mirror; and when interaction starts to flow, one loses self-consciousness and throws oneself into the activity, focusing more on others’ reactions than on oneself. Those who cannot do this find social interaction embarassing and painful.  But enforced viewing of one’s own image feels unnatural.

Prolonged video conferencing as a whole seems to have about the same effects as telephone conference calls. In my experience on the national board of a professional association, our mid-year meeting was canceled by a snowstorm, and a 2-day conference call was substituted. The next time I saw the board in person, I polled everyone as to whether they liked the conference call: 18 of 20 did not. Lack of shared emotion was apparent during the event; for example, when it was announced that we had received a large grant, there was no response. No wonder: applause and cheers are coordinated by looking at others, and it is embarrassing to be the only person applauding. [Clayman 1993] Work gets done remotely, after a fashion; it just lacks moments of shared enthusiasm.

Mr H Reviews Raves about New Russian SF/Horror Flick ‘Sputnik’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 8:40pm in

This is something a bit lighter for a Sunday morning. Mr. H Reviews is a YouTuber, who discusses genre film – Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy. In this video he posted the other day, he praises a new Russian SF film, Sputnik. There are no spoilers, but he briefly sums up the plot. It’s set in in the Cold War, and is about a cosmonaut, who returns from space with something alien. It seems to be in line with films like Alien, although it also reminds me of Britain’s own Quatermass.This classic piece of British SF Horror first appeared as a Beeb TV series in the 1950s, before being filmed by Hammer. It was also about an astronaut, Caroon,from a British manned space mission at a time when we did indeed have our own space programme and were the third space power along with the Russians and Americans. He returns alone from space, his two fellow astronauts mysteriously disappeared, in a coma. It then emerges that he too is carrying a hostile visitor, and is slowly mutating into a threat to all life on Earth. Mr. H. also compares it to the much more recent movie, Life, which is also about a group of astronauts discovering and having to deal with a hostile alien entity in orbit.

Mr. H. is impressed by the film’s high production values, especially as it had a budget of 190,000 Roubles, which equates to about $2.5 million. I can’t say I’m surprised. Russia, for all its role as a global superpower, has a much smaller economy. When Simon Reeve toured it in a BBC documentary series a few years ago, I think he said that it’s economy was the size of Italy’s. It’s tiny for such a large country with a similarly large population. But that does mean that films can be made more cheaply there.

And the Russians are certainly capable of producing SF movies of the same quality as Hollywood blockbusters. A year or so ago before the lockdown I found in HMV a Russian superhero movie, Guardians. This was about a group of men and women from across the Russian Federation – one was from a nomadic people from Central Asia, another from one of the countries in the Caucasus, who have been given superpowers through a secret Russian government programme. But they now have to team up against an old threat  – the former chief of another underground project, that was shut down by the KGB, who is now determined to take over the country and the world.

It’s rather like contemporary Hollywood SF/ superhero movies with its theme of secret, unethical government experiments. And of course, as it’s a Russian film, it culminates in a battle over Moscow. If it was American, it would obviously be New York or LA. Guardians is a Russian language film, so you have to deal with subtitles, but it does show that the Russians are capable of producing genre movies of the same standard as Hollywood. And it’s also interesting to see how the Russians take over and adapt the plot and tropes of the western superhero genre.

I haven’t seen Sputnik, and so really don’t know anything about it apart from what Mr. H. says in the review, but it looks interesting. Here’s his video.

 

 

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