Society On the Surface: Distinguishing Between the Explicit and Implicit

society on the surface

Pretend that you have just opened a cool, crisp can of your favorite soft drink. You take a few short sips and savor them, then take in a long gulp of that sticky sweet stuff. Now, if I ask you to describe that can of soda, how would you respond? My guess is that most of us would use adjectives like- cold, sweet, refreshing, etc. A huckster might instead describe the can rather than the beverage it contains and say it is- cylindrical, opens at one end, is predominately red and black. These are all of the directly observable qualities or experiences of the can of soda. They are its explicit messages.

Now let us say that you wanted to start a soda company of your own. What are the things you would have to know about soda to do so? Surely you would have to understand the explicit nature of soda in order to make a product that is enjoyable and marketable. But you would have to know some things about cans of soda that can not be related directly by cans of soda themselves. You would have to know about ingredients and the supply chains by which you attained them. You would have to know about properties of the packaging to be used.

If you followed those bits of explicit knowledge further down the rabbit hole of implicit messages you might learn about the resources used to create the ingredients. You might also learn of the labor used to harvest and adapt them and the socio-political implications of that process. And from this you could continue branching off endlessly into infinite new paths of knowledge that all contribute to a fuller knowledge of a can of soda. Eventually your description of a can of soda might be something like, ‘a sticky sweet beverage, often chilled, and reliant on resources, labor and supply chains associated with industrial era global oligarchs who often exploited their laborers/consumers and the environment in order to increase profits from selling  a product with disturbing health implications, and gaining a monopoly on socio-economic paradigms in the process’.

Everything you observe or experience has both explicit and implicit properties. Before we go further, lets get a better understanding of what those two concepts mean.

Explicit properties are obvious. Those properties are apparent through observations and direct experience. They are the properties on the surface. They are the content of the subject. Explicitness ‘is what it is’.

Implicit properties are not obvious. They often require further thought or research of properties or connections not immediately apparent to an observer. They are beneath the surface of the thing itself.  They are its contextual information, knowledge that creates a big picture of a world in which soda exists and its implications and underlying effects in that world.

I have spoken a lot recently about implicit information. Recent articles on Chaos, Like Buttons, Institutions, Facts, Niceness, Survival and Memes (and more Memes), as well as others, have all been an attempt to describe the often overlooked implicit information all around us. I have spoken about content vs. context and signifier vs. signified, as well as other semiotic confusion I often encounter with people. I have discussed Marshall McLuhan’s idea that The Medium Is the Message, which is an excellent example of understanding the difference between the explicit and implicit; as well as why implicit information has greater effects and consequences than explicit info. Because it is easier to attain the explicit and ignore the implicit, we often find ourselves ignoring implicit information and its importance.

Here is an interview with McLuhan that, although long, contains an incredibly rich amount of information and explanation on the topic.

When McLuhan spoke up there of mediums he included social systems and other cultural artifacts and ideologies. Besides the obvious mediums that appear in media, he was talking about how the implicit information about a thing always says much more about its meaning and effect on individuals and society than the explicit.

As our world grows more technologically and socially complex, we are bombarded with ever more cultural artifacts and social systems. There are always more and more mediums being created. And through media we are consuming more and more of the explicit information contained in them. As the bombardment of explicit messages increases, the implicit messages become increasingly hidden and faint. In order to keep up with the increasing amount and complexity of the explicit we have had to ignore the implicit to make room in our expanding collective consciousness. As a result we are constantly applying this shortcut compulsively. We have turned off our implicit thinking, critical thinking, in order to manage the avalanche of explicit information in our environment.

One strange outcome of this paradigm is that modern studies and tests assure us that we are growing increasingly more intelligent as a species, based on scales which measure our ability to regurgitate explicit information. And what determines the sort of explicit information test results reward us for regurgitating often depends on external agendas or attempts to specialize. The agendas are intentional attempts by power structures to condition our thinking and responses to be amenable to the power structures those agendas were created by. They dumb us down to manipulate us using explicit information overload and engineering. The specialization is a response to socio-economic paradigms which reward us for filling in areas of labor necessity that also often works in the overall favor of power structures. Yet the specialization narrows our knowledge to such a degree that even most specialists are buried in the explicit knowledge of their area of expertise to the degree that they cannot see where it fits in the bigger picture.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
-Robert A. Heinlein, from ‘Time Enough for Love’

Before we continue to analyze the problem of implicit-blindness in our society on the surface, lets look at another form of explicit information that behaves in very much the same ways as memes. In fact, many memes past and present have incorporated this far older medium into their own. The medium I am discussing is ‘platitudes’. Platitudes are common sayings that convey what generally seems like universally agreeable statements. But those explicit statements are always loaded with implicit context. And even when the explicit seems universally agreeable, deconstructing the implicit messages within it can reveal a platitude as being poorly thought out or outright deceptive or false. Yet because the assumption of universal agreement is also a part of sharing that platitude, those who reject it on the terms of implicit falsehoods can face social rejection, or be told that they should ‘chill out’, ‘stop overthinking it’ or not be so ‘unreasonably disagreeable’. Yet when the reason for disagreement comes directly from an investigation of the platitude using reason itself, intelligent responses to intellectual automata are not only considered acts of aggression, but make one susceptible to acts of counter aggression by those who reject the implicit. Lets look at a simple platitude-

Love is all you need.

This one is really simple because it has only three main areas we need to deconstruct to view the implicit information which negates the explicit message of the statement. Due to structure we will work in reverse with the three concepts.

  • Need- What is need? Need means that a condition must be fulfilled to avoid negative consequences. Human beings have several needs, but only a few of them must be met to basically live. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a standard often used for identifying the needs of human beings in their order of importance. Love is somewhere in the center of the pyramid of these needs, although one could, in theory, live without it.
  • All- How long do you think you would survive if all you had was love? How happy and mentally/emotionally healthy would you be if the only need being met was love, or even just stopped there on the pyramid? Does ‘all’ have any meaning in this context or is it just a small word with lots of hyperbole?
  • Love- Of all of the qualities of human experience, love may be the most subjective. Though we all agree that it seems to exist and even have similar experiences of it, we cannot say exactly what love is. Yet there are some things we know about love. Love can make you feel good, and it can make you feel bad. Loving someone, therefore, means that you will both make the other feel good sometimes and bad others. In fact, sometimes love requires us to hurt others, in order to protect them from dangers they are unable to recognize or protect themselves from.

When John Lennon wrote that trite crap, do you suppose he meant to say that ‘sometimes hurting other people for their own good is the only requirement for survival’? It is possible that he meant that. He died from an overdose of admiration before I was old enough to even consider that question. Yet what 99.99% of people think he is saying is that ‘so long as we make each other feel good, everything else will take care of itself’. In this case, even the explicit message is pretty dopey and vacant. Yet when examined even further for its implicit message, it is a completely idiotic and meaningless statement. Yet it has become so culturally persistent that it is now essentially a universal platitude.

(Exercise: Try reading the lyrics to Imagine by John Lennon while uncovering the implicit messages and see if you can get from one line to the next without wanting to knee his rotted corpse in the groin.)

Explicit information is subjective experience calling itself objective knowledge backed by the certainty of majority consensus. We are able to prop up our own self-awareness and identity on the explicit with very little danger to those concepts. Agreeing about the explicit forms the basis of social interactions and becomes a path to popularity or other social rewards. The explicit is often the feel-good content of daily interactions. Because it often makes us feel good or rewards us otherwise, it becomes a path of least resistance at best, and a total crutch at worst. When you add this to the fact that it is far easier to deal with the explicit, implicit messages are constantly being ignored, denied or scorned.

Yet explicit messages are like dots in a ‘connect-the-dots’ exercise. They are a necessary part of the end product, but are meaningless themselves. It is the lines between which gives shape and life to those dots, and the lines are the implicit. Our ignorance, distaste and rejection of the implicit is creating an intellectual environment of all dots and no lines. Even while humanity is acquiring more dots all of the time, we are becoming more like white noise than a clear signal. If we do not learn to be more connective in day to day life, to see the bigger picture or the forest through the trees, then we will eventually be awash in a cosmic sea of useless information. Dots that connect to no other dots. The noise of which will be too great to concentrate upon the implicit and save us from the feedback chamber of horrors that is explicitness overload.

It is critical that we begin to stop thinking from so many assumptions and operating from the micro. For our intellectual evolution to continue, humanity must train its minds to operate more often from the macro, and from that bigger picture to never take any information for granted. The society on the surface is one in which critical thinking is replaced by assumptions, in which we are always zooming in and never out; and in which explicit messages do not act as paths to implicit investigation, but become barriers to thinking about anything beyond its mere appearances.

How Social Network Users Miss the Point of Discordianism

discotrolls

As a long time Discordian I was excited to see the internet spreading the message of Discordianism far wider than pamphlets and books were ever able to. I find the philosophy suggested by this ‘satirical’ religion to be in possession of some valuable truths with ideological premises that can be used to understand all facets of reality. I believed that were Discordianism to ever reach a greater audience, the encroaching Idiocracy might be avoided. So I have been devastated to find that the internet, particularly social media, has managed to dumb down Discordianism itself into a meaningless excuse for all sorts of mindless and often juvenile behavior.

While you can find evidence of this behavior at Reddit, Tumblr and other online meeting places for ‘Discordians’, nowhere is it more pronounced than on Facebook. The Discordian Society group on Facebook has almost 12,000 members and is the most prime example of Discordianism having been co-opted by AOL-era internet trolls. And while trolling itself is a valid form of Operation Mindfuck when done properly, the type being done by these people has no particular ideological agenda, but is just an outlet for cheap shock and attention seeking of the most juvenile sorts. These people have so little reverence for actual Discordianism that they even dumb it down further by calling it ‘Disco’.

Disco Trolls do not understand that the parables regarding, and satirical veneration of Eris are actually a complex recognition of the nature of existence. Instead they think that Eris is a symbol of literal chaos-worship whose rituals require acts of chaos. Besides missing the point here, the juvenile behavior is not even chaotic. It is just crude low brow shock humor that often includes sexism, racism and other bigotries and bad ideas as their premise. There is nothing chaotic about that. There is nothing even ‘edgy’ about it, which is the aim of Disco Trolls. Edgy would be to upset some mainstream ideologies and status quo paradigms, not to vacuously replicate them in your own image for shock value. In a world being dumbed down, intelligence is edgy. But intelligence is regarded by Disco Trolls as a cause for ridicule and abuse. Any attempt to act outside of the narrow confines of their groupthink activities is despised and when you point out their general intellectual blasphemy you are met with vicious attacks of the kind that Greyface himself would take pride in.

The most common activity taking place on Discordian social media is the making and disseminating of memes, which is also the most common activity throughout most of social media. There is nothing at all edgy about memes. Nothing could be more commonplace or normal than meme-ing. And quite possibly nothing could be more dangerous to critical thinking and human intelligence than the anti-intellectual context of that medium, which seems to replicate like a virus, invading places where there was once healthy intellectual tissue with image based reductionism and oversimplification. Yet if you point this out to Disco Trolls, their only comeback is to invoke the internet buzzword ‘butthurt‘, which is a spell people online use to ward of any attempts at actually understanding someone else’s ideological position.  In the rare case a more extensive argument was made to defend memes, it was to call the behavior an art form, which is like calling commercial jingles music. It is also suggested that memes are similar to the images used in The Principia Discordia, but the contexts of time and medium make that comparison meaningless.

What all this adds up to is a large group of people who are convinced they are being rebellious by taking part in the most normal activities possible, while trying to spread their false discord by kindertrolling their own choir. And as if all of this attention seeking juvenile behavior were not obvious enough, Disco Trolls often appear to be emotionally damaged and self-esteem deficient individuals who use blatant hyperbolized sexuality to booster their frail egos. Sharing nudes with strangers online is not edgy sexuality, it is a desperate plea to get attention with the least amount of effort. There is nothing wrong with human sexuality, but people who wrap their identities in it are not healthy expressions of it, they are examples of emotional insecurities not so dissimilar to the sexually repressed. Lest you believe I am just being a prude, this behavior has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with validation. There is nothing transcendent about people seeking validation by appealing to the instincts of others.

Why do I care so much about morons co-opting the the name Discordianism and using it as a label to justify stupid, sophomoric behavior? Because social media is where people are likely to first encounter Discordianism these days. And where those philosophies once were able to awaken people to some powerful metaphors through humor, those who encounter Disco Trolls may never see the deep truths contained therein, and will instead be redirected to participate in a symbolic replica of Discordianism with none of the substance. What was once a tool of enlightenment has been relegated by social network habits into another factor in our devolution. It has made an illness of a medicine.

So if you participate in the above described behaviors but actually have some intellectual honesty, dignity and respect for Discordianism, you might want to consider changing your habits. And if you read this before you have been indoctrinated by Disco Trolls into their pink world of false slack, don’t confuse those intolerable Normals for Discordians. And if you are one of those Disco Trolls who reads this and you get pissy and defensive about it, remember- “Tis an ill wind that blows no minds.”

The Problem With Facts

problem with facts

“Let me hit you with some facts.” – Is this a metaphor about relating facts or about our growing misuse of them as tools of aggression?

Since the dawn of the ‘Age of Reason’ western culture has been heavily concerned with transcending the subjective nature of the individual by seeking out methods that aspire to some degree of objectivity. This was all set in order with the understanding that absolute objectivity was not possible. Even if an objective truth existed, we could not experience it without running it through our subjective perceptions and interpretations. Yet while objective methods are a noble achievement that has done immeasurable good for human progress, over time we have increasingly come to believe too literally in the validity of objective truths, often observed as an over-reliance and unshakable faith in facts.

“As a matter of fact.” -Although this term now carries a connotation of facts as sole mediators of logical validation, it was originally used to separate statements of facts from those of laws, facts being irrelevant in the eyes of the latter.

What exactly is a fact? A fact is a single piece of information that we are able to verify through observations, predictive models, repetition and consensus. A fact is a single factor we can use to draw logical conclusions from. But facts are not themselves conclusions, nor is any conclusion based upon a single fact worthy of rational consideration.The most useful and durable conclusions are often those consistent with the greatest number of facts. Yet even with millions of supporting facts a conclusion may be useless or irrational. Facts are always subject to our subjective perceptions and interpretations, so facts alone are not reliable enough to be the sole basis from which conclusions are drawn.

Example of Misuse of Facts:

Police and their supporters often attempt to use a limited set of facts to make very broad conclusions. One of the most commonly misinterpreted and misapplied facts is this- “Violent criminals are unpredictable and can commit violence against LEO’s at any time.”

The conclusion they draw from this is- “An officer is justified in using deadly force whenever the feel they are in danger.”

The first and most obvious reason this is a bad conclusion is that not everybody who makes cops ‘feared for my life’ is a violent criminal. Often they are sick, scared and confused individuals who are in need of patient and compassionate assistance. It also ignores a number of other facts, especially the facts of law, morals and decency. The singling in on a single fact to support a conclusion which codifies violence into an acceptable part of police routine fits with far fewer facts than it negates. And so the use of facts here is often too limited to support the conclusion that police are justified in so much wanton killing.

A better way to interpret the real fact of danger might be this- “Protecting and serving the community is a dangerous job, so those who are more concerned with their own safety than with that of every member of the community should not become police officers.”

A strong conclusion often owes far more to logic and consistency than to facts. Logic is a basic set of rules we can use to measure the validity of any statement. Thus logic can dictate what facts are relevant to our questions, statements and conclusions, and which are not. It can tell us the relationship between individual facts or sets of them, and suggest a pattern of analysis appropriate to our basic premise. Yet even after you have made conclusions from logical interpretation of facts, those conclusions are unreliable until they have been tested against entire networks of interdependent and complexly related conclusions. The more consistent they are with the bigger picture of human knowledge at large, the more useful and durable they become. Conclusions that negate more outside knowledge than they confirm are considered weak, regardless of how strong they may appear a single entity. Rational thinkers are therefore more concerned with overall ideological consistency than with individual facts.

This highlights another prominent problem in our modern intellectual climate, which is that most of us are far less concerned with being consistently rational than we are with being Right. Our competitive and dichotomous nature often eschews the evolution and  improvement of our individual intellectual landscapes, so instead we seek out symbolic gestures of truths that can be weaponized to obliterate our ‘opponents’. This describes the average persons relationship with facts. They are mental bullets fired from the barrel of our egos.

“Time to face the facts.” -Does it say anything that we think of facts as potentially harmful, or as some kind of punishment?

The misguided obsession with facts as the only meaningful part of human knowledge is not only irrational, it is another factor contributing to our dumbing down. When we treat facts as commodities to be consumed and excreted for our self-gratification, we move ever further away from the holistic models of human knowledge that provide us a view at the bigger picture. Factnaticism becomes a method by which we zoom in to a single facet of knowledge out of ignorance or intolerance of wider views. They become mental crutches by which we validate our emotional states and confirm our biases while at the same time shutting ourselves off from new ideas, information and perspectives.

In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with facts. But an over-reliance on them based on a misunderstanding of their purpose and function for the sake of self-gratification, identity and external validation is a massive problem. Firstly because it is wholly irrational, in-compassionate and destructive to our critical thinking faculties. While at the same time it is also a problem because it undermines the value of facts; as well as their analysis and interpretations. When facts become weapons of mass instruction, the reasonable epistemological faith in their meaningfulness and usefulness will erode under the intellectual attrition created by this small mindedness.

And on a personal level, if you don’t use facts wisely you will be used by them, or used by those for whom facts are only convenient tidbits for controlling the contents of your mind.

Facticuffs- The use of facts to draw wide conclusions from limited intellectual vigor for the purpose of ‘winning’ a discussion.