Bread and circuses

Thinking zombieErkki Tuomioja asked and wondered in his blog: “What is happening to Finland?” (The entry is first in Finnish and after that in English.) He finds that “it has long been the case that irrespective of the original subject by around the twentieth comment the “discussion” will have degenerated to insane and often racist slander and libel, without any connection to the original subject.”

In general this is compatible with my proposition that people do not understand the actual forum of social media. They feel like they are just rambling in their own livingroom alone of among people they know full well. They do not see the consequences or their own responsibility of their actions in social media. Lot of the hate speech would seem to be from people who actually find themselves so small and insignificant that their actions bear no remark or they are little people trying to rally the heroes of “good” to come find and save them from the world that is too big and complex for them to completely understand and therefore evil.

This mentality that Tuomioja is worried if, is not unique to social media, and it’s not uniquely characteristic of Finland, nor the modern day. Anxiety seems to find relief in violence, dominance and aggression. To start off, we have the reality television programmes.

Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games found one contemporary inspiration to the novel series from channel surfing on her television through several reality television shows and news reports from the Iraq war and finding “an unsettling way” these two fused together.

The entertainment of violence seems to be something deeply rooted in our psychology. It seems to be catalysed especially by a person’s feeling of inferiority and incapability to control their lives. This combination typically leads to violent gangs who feel the need to claim their territory and patrol it with show of force and threat of violence, as is currently happening worst with Daesh in the Middle-East and so far more moderately with nationalists in the western world, including Finland. When a person feels incapable, small and alone, they can at least improve the last issue by ganging up, where they get the sensation of greater capability and they can also claim to be bigger than they really believe of themselves.

It is worth noting that this is a polarizing phenomenom. Where an opinnionated group of people gang up, they appear to others as a greater threat, which leads to similar kind of behaviour, especially among people who feel their way of life particularly threatened by these gangs. As in physics, for each force there is an equal opposing force. In this case, perhaps “similar” would be better word than “equal”. As a result these two groups appear like a pair of children, where one has started crying or misbehaving for one reason or another, and the other one joins it, because the other one is doing it. In a political society, both parties appreciate and look up to those who keep their calmness and rationality. This awe I could recently perceive, not only every so often in my own self, but also in an acquaintance of mine (and I should also here say, a fellow member of my gang) in Facebook, in the statement: “This is getting all the more interesting. It appears to be always worth in these [cases] for 24 hours before commenting anything.” It is ever so easy to find one’s favorite bogeyman, especially in the headlines of the daily news. People are eager to accept anything that confirms their current beliefs – their prejudices. It is one of the greatest challenges of a scientist to objectively perceive the evidence, instead of subjectively assume everything to confirm their hypotheses. The people who appear like the calm and reliable adults in the situation for the two children, who bring forth the feeling of security and stability in the world. In a political society, these people have power over the masses and one should study their Macchiavelli and keep a watch on these people, perhaps even more than either of the two gangs. It it them, whose morality we will eventually follow – fortunately for us, the mature people tend to be less selfish (almost by definition) and… mature in their morality.

To proceed from Tuomioja’s concerns about it being only a social media issue, to the concerns of it being about the modern day and Finland, already in the ancient Roman times the state made use of this. “Bread and circuses” was what the Roman satirical poet Juvenal found the people to seek for in their anxiety, in return yielding the control of their lives to the Emperor.

It is conformant to this line of thinking, how many of these nationalists in Finland are longing for the return of Urho Kaleva Kekkonen. When a person doesn’t believe their own capability of being the hero of their own life who tackles all hindrances and overcomes them with adequate success, they go looking for something likening to a super hero, or a parental figure. For a small child, father and mother always know the solutions to absolutely everything. In my eyes, the Freudian oedipus complex is the phase, where a child realizes that their parents are not omnipotent. The resolution of this complex at it’s best is the person’s emansipation: The perspective where the parents are the capable people from whom to seek help, changes into the perspective where the person themself is equally capable and instead of just needing help from others is also equally capable of giving valid help to others, especially the children.

Unfortunately, to be able to breed it has not been necessary for the majority of people to fully resolve this complex. Like it is currently seen in Jean Piaget’s developmental stage theory, not everyone reaches the final, formal operational stage, where one easily perceives the distinction between thoughts/ideas and reality – you can think and believe it, but it isn’t necessarily so – sounds very scary and unreliable, doesn’t it. Another option is to rely in the power of a gang, a god, or some other hero. This would appear to be why it gives satisfaction to watch a heroic seeming person impose violence upon others. One can place this person into one’s own gang by using the concept of good and evil. The victorious hero is good, defeating the evil. You yourself at least try your best to be good and trust that the good (who are few, seeing how much evil you can find in this world and how many  the hero has had to defeat alone) are all on the same side/gang and will accept you to be “good enough” to be accepted.

Also, when you do not believe that you are sufficiently good and worthy as a person, you can appeal to your birthright of your nationality, for example. As your parents’ protection was your birthright, why wouldn’t this be extended past your immediate family to the whole of what you see as your nation. This is why I like stories such as the Hunger Games, Brother Bear and Hellblazer in preference to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Lion King. I prefer the stories, where the hero overcomes the evil because of their personal effort and competence, rather than because of their heritage and birthright. In the Matrix they keep a balance on this, where Neo is widely considered as “the chosen one”, but actually there are no clear evidence of this. There is a prophecy that one day someone will be capable enough to defeat the Matrix and Neo turn out to be so – because he can, not because of his heritage or any bestowed symbols on his body. Certainly, children fancy being accepted by their parents because of their relation, and can transfer that fancy into the “chosen” heroes of these stories.

As the technology is shrinking our world, bringing everyone closer together and bringing better forth everyone’s individual voice, this phenomenon is being catalysed. In the past you only heard what the leaders told you, or what your closest friends told you in your living room. Now you have a proper voice of your own. What we need is a culture of growth that enables people to believe in their own selves and to take responsibility of their lives, as has been done with democracy overcoming monarchies and tyrannies with the power being given to the people. We need more writers such as Saku Timonen to bring exemplary voices of reason to the middle of panic and chaos and the people mongering the panic and chaos.

I am looking forward to the outcomes of the University of Turku study on hate speech. I have faith in the multidisciplinary set up of this research programme. Personally I am waiting to see if their results support these intuitions I have described in this blog entry, or if they manage to improve my image of “all you zombies” – the human kind – I myself included, for I find myself also intrigued by violent action movies and often feeling out of control and fearing for “evil”, what ever that happens to be at the time.

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