Warning: SEO can Cause Slurring

Internet marketing has been growing in scope and acclaim ever since people discovered that you could make money online. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is a field of work focused on promoting websites higher up Google’s results page. Some people have managed to make their fortune by excelling in SEO. However, while I was learning SEO, a process which included watching online videos of SEO gurus, I discovered a peculiar speech pattern common to these individuals. They slurred their words.

Here is Brian Dean of the successful site “Backlinko.” Dean often boasts of becoming a millionaire from online marketing and SEO. We should hear him out, then.

He initially slurs the phrase “founder of Backlikno” and churns out “fudder of Backlinko”. He later squashes a few other syllables and sounds (mostly diphthongs).

“So what” you’d say. And so did I initially.

Until I came across another extremely well-known figure in internet marketing and SEO, Mr. Neil Patel. While not currently as reputable as Dean, Patel is very successful in his own right, standing behind his name for an empire of SEO courses, videos, and websites. And, just like Backlinko’s founder, Patel’s speech is often noticeably slurred.

For those lazy to press ‘Play’ or can’t hear the clip, Patel’s opening sentence, “Seven marketing lessons learned from billion dollar companies that you’ve never heard of” sounded something like: “Seven marking lessons learn from billion dollar copedies that you never heard a”

“Well, so what” you’d say again. These people are not trained actors. They might slur once in a while like you and me. Whose to say that it’s not just a coincidence? Are you seriously going to say that there is a connection between SEO and slurred speech?”

Well, yes. Yes, I am.

SEO Treats Words as Currency

The job of an SEO specialist is to figure out what people are typing into search engines when they want a specific result. For example, when promoting a website that sells flowers, an SEO specialist will target keywords and phrases such as “roses” and “tulips,” but also “birthday gifts” and “valentine’s day.” Different words become important when promoting certain businesses, based on the expected words that a user might type in the search bar that are relevant to that business.

An SEO specialist uses specific internet tools to keep lookout for the essential words and phrases that make people reach a website. Every niche has its marketplace of words. Marketers invest and bid on these words to push their client’s websites above the competitors’ websites. Unfortunately, what this commodification of words also does to the SEO specialist along the way, is it makes them lose a grip on the meaning of words in ordinary language.

Using on words as coinage makes the SEO specialist, the word-broker, detach from the pronounced meaning of these words. They use words in the same framework that a search engine uses them, not as a human would. That is, they strip words of their nuances and connections and instead view them singularly, as stand alone items. A person with such view will lose the emphasis of certain words and sounds. Their speech will become monotonous and repetitive, with words sounding increasingly like one another.

“Wait, aren’t you making too much of this already?” You might think. “You’ve only given two examples, and it’s not even sure that SEO really causes people to detach from the meaning of words.”

Let’s try and see whether we can find another example based on the theory. That is, if we first started inductively, based on the two examples, let us now try and spot other famous SEO gurus who slur their speech.

While searching Google for “SEO experts,” this article caught my eyes: 9 SEO Experts To Follow In 2018. While a bit out of date, we might still use the list and check whether SEO-speech is really thing.

Here is Venessa Fox.

The article describes her as “one of the creators of Google’s Webmaster Central, the firm’s official blog on crawling and indexing the Web.” She has also created ‘Google’s Search Console’ and ‘Google Analytics’, two of the most prominent resources for SEO specialists today. She also has a great name. But, we will ask. Does she slur?

Let’s check it out

While some might disagree and say that she is merely sporting an accent, I would say that her manner of talking is SEO-speech per se. The incomplete articulation; the word “areas” pronounced “eras”; and the bland, monotonous cadence. Fox mostly uses no more than a couple of tones when speaking. She scrunches her words into similar sounding bites. Here are all the products of working in SEO.

SEO’s Repetitiveness Dissolves Word Meaning

I also want to claim that the more actual SEO work anybody does, the more it impacts their speech. That is because an SEO expert’s job is repetitive. There are many best practices to employ for an SEO specialist, and most of them are known to help in the final aim of promoting a website. Sadly, this means that in order to beat their competitors, SEO specialists must be consumed with the processes of forgetting word meanings and word contexts. In other words, the more the SEO expert is invests in the field’s best practices, the greater their danger of losing touch with regular speech.

How about some more examples?

Still from the article, here is Eric Enge.

The article tells me Enge’s Agency “is one of the SEO sector’s established leaders, with a team of more than 70 analysts and technical personnel.” Like all other videos in this post, this is the first video of Enge I found and used, so that no one could accuse me of cherry-picking my data. So the question remains, does he slur?

Boy does he.

Besides using multi-colored markers for his whiteboard and using a classic YouTube thumbnail with a surprised look on his face (and a pair of sneakers on his hands for some reason), Enge slurs royally. He exchanges his V’s for W’s and scrunches up words into an incoherent mess.

Can we say I’m right, or should we look at another example?

Why not do both?

Here is Barry Schwartz.

The article describes him as “the founder of Search Engine Roundtable, the new editor at Search Engine Land, and host of the annual Search Marketing Expo in Israel.”

The article refers to Schwartz as a prolific contributor to these platforms. Therefore, we can expect some mush-mouthed gems here. Let’s watch.

Wow. That was horrible.

I mean wonderful.

The Medium is the Message Reversed

SEO’s influence on speech patterns is a test case for the susceptibility of human minds to repeated exposure to a particular medium. It reveals how our use of words is not only a tool to shape consciousness but can manipulate us in the process.

In his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that television has replaced the written word with images and created a new, visual metaphor for perceiving reality. I view SEO’s effect on speech as reassuring proof that language is not under our dominion entirely. I believe language has a function humans must fulfill, which involves assigning meaning to the world.

When human beings try to emulate the workings of a computer, as with the field of Search Engine Optimization, they are limiting their scope of expressiveness. SEO-speech is what happens when a new medium comes along and humans try to speak its language. A computer does not assign significance to words. It does not perk its ears at the hint of a familiar sound. The result of this limitation is an inability to speak and convey meaning.

SEO slurring should be a lesson against becoming too embedded with media. The desire to control a medium cannot be done by copying its ways. We might learn to control it only, as Postman concludes in his book, by learning to recognize how it affects us.

First Day of School – a story

It was the first day of school, and the halls were booming with pubescent roars. Kids on the “Eduardo Segovia Municipal High-School” scrambled their way from the entry gate towards their assigned classrooms; in trickles of ones and twos, joining the larger streams of moving masses, snaking their way inside the building.

From his spot behind a window of the teacher’s lounge, he could see them burrowing an imaginary hole into the white three-story structure. He thought of the power embedded within the system, capable of ordering anybody – even them, even on the first day – into a well-fashioned, purposeful motion.

“Maybe there is some sense in it,” he thought a minute or two before the bell rang. He had toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher for some time. Finally, He admitted that despite his memories of hating most of it, and maybe because of it, he would be the right candidate for the job. Hell, no matter how bad it got, the pay was enough for him and the holidays were the final perk. Having spent the last year studying for his teaching diploma, he was beginning to acknowledge a creeping sensation of calling emerging from within him. He had attempted to fight it, but the idea of somehow being different than the teachers he had growing up, of being able to help people with the knowledge he possessed about reality, of changing things – had managed to persuade him that this was the place for him. Here, in high school, he would be valuable, helping others and, along the way mending the wrongs he felt had been engrained in the teaching system.

The bell rang, and the snake’s tail disappeared into the white box. Staring at the lackluster construction, he had almost expected the building to shake about; but it was standing still, awaiting him to charm whatever was inside. As the other teachers were nodding and scrambling out, he sipped the last of his coffee, grabbed his papers, and strolled out towards classroom 315.

Stepping on the grey tiles aligned on the way, he could almost recall his childhood walks home from school, spent looking at the floor most of the way. A wonder he would make it home at all without being run over, he thought. How much nonsense have they stuffed him with back then that he had to avoid eye contact with the world to reach home safely? Now was perhaps a chance to amend all this.

As he looked up, the hallway glared with silence, as if trying not to disclose the secret of its roaring just a moment ago. The rest of the teachers had started their classes already. He paused outside the door, trying to listen to the ruckus inside his designated class. He waited for several seconds and, unable to hear anything, went inside.

They were seated at their desks and were looking at him. He thought of nodding hello but decided to walk and settle his things first. The table was on the other side of the classroom. He walked in silence and flung his briefcase over it, only to hit the edge of the desk first and have his papers drop to the floor. Looking sideways to the classroom, they were still sitting quietly. He got on the floor, picked up his papers, and scrunched them on the desk as straight as he could.

Grabbing a whiteboard marker from his bag, he wrote his name on the board.

“Mr. J. Pennskie”

The name turned out more slanted and squiggled than he wanted. Deciding he had wasted enough time already, he turned away from the board to face the class.

“My name is Mr. Pennskie, and I will be your English teacher this year.” He finished the sentence and stared at the children, the allotted class of 35 seventh graders. They were quietly seated, focusing their gazes at him, soundless.

“Well, we are going to get to know each other in this class and learn English. Could anybody tell me first what English is and why we learn it?”

Having uttered the sentence he had practiced in his head for several evenings before, he raised his eyes to meet theirs.

They were a foul lot. Their faces were deadened by what must have been years of adhering to schoolmasters. His question did not seem to stir any response whatsoever from them.

He peered closer into the rows of fourteen-year-olds filling the room. The primary commonality was sweat, like a constant remnant perched on the sides of faces and top of brows. The smell of the air had reached him. Filthiness unrecognized to him was tangling in knots all through the acrid air. He could not think of the second line he had memorized in reciting. Instead, his sight became fixated on one student’s nose ring, placed between her nostrils – a shiny ring with jagged slits gracing it. It was some call for attention. His gaze shifted quickly to another student next to her, his pre-mustache making itself apparent in scattered clumps above his too red upper lip. They all look as if strange grime was oozing from them, unattended by a single piece of tissue paper. He wanted to stop it all. He felt something in his throat. As he turned to the sides in fright, he realized there was no trash can there, and so he threw up on the floor.

Northern Comfort

ca·​thar·​sis | \ kə-ˈthär-səs 

a: purification or purgation of the emotions (such as pity and fear) primarily through art

ba purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension

Northern Exposure was an American television show that reached the pinnacle of intelligent and emotional TV making, yet instead of paving the way for others to follow, marked an end to cathartic shows on the small screen.

Catharsis and Comfort

The Show ran from 1990-1995, with a total of 6 seasons and 110 episodes. It featured a “fish out of water” arc story of a New York physician forced to work contractually in a remote, Alaskan town called Cicely. Nevertheless, the show managed to abandon this trope quickly and utilize the introduction of the small Alaskan town in order to focus more on the stories of its residents.

The audience was gradually introduced to a group of townsfolk, whose most common characteristic, I argue, was their lack of cynicism. This featured boldly in opposition to the New York doctor who was suddenly stranded in their midst. While on the one hand, the communal attitude of openness and simplicity allowed the physician to acclimate to his new way of living, it had also made viewers let down their own guards and allowed them to become immersed in the show’s overall wholesomeness. It had made watching the show a sarcasm-free experience. “Northern Exposure” created a space in time where dilemmas and queries where resolved in a mature, often enlightening way.

The show prominently featured episodes dealing with topics untouched by most TV shows, such as life and death, philosophy, man’s place in nature, anthropology, astronomy, art, and was not afraid to display knowledge in most of these. An overall quest for knowledge hovered mightily above many episodes. It was dispersed between the characters in direct relation to their personality. The local radio DJ would often cite, as explanations for human activity, an illuminating passage from Freud, Jung or other theoretical classics. The waitress could just as easily surprise customers by dishing out a valuable lesson from her life experience. It was a place where people were depicted as kind and willing to lend an ear, a hand, and some sound advice.

The main reason why I consider it comforting was that the show’s creators treated its characters, and its audience, as adults. The storylines presented far reaching quandaries and made viewers cope with their effects in a satisfying way. It expected people to be able to know right from wrong and accept a difficult solution to a problem if it turned out to be the correct course of action. It revealed characters as searchers, trying to figure out their place in the world:

And in it lies its comforting and cathartic effect, in my opinion. Northern Exposure was like an adult who tells you the truth, and does not coddle you with an answer you’d like to hear. It chose to dive into the complexities of troublesome and hard situations and emerge awakened by truth reached through experience. Catharsis, that purified feeling of emotions being released pleasantly and washed from the body, took place regularly in Northern Exposure episodes.

I have recently been rewatching the show with my wife after first seeing it around its original release date. The impact of just how good it is made me puzzle over why have no other show followed in its footsteps. The creators of “Northern Exposure”, Joshua Brand and John Falsey, were veteran television creators, who are responsible for shows like “St. Elsewhere” and “I’ll fly Away”. I would like to consider “Northern Exposure” as one of the last shows interested in offering its viewers a feeling of catharsis. My interest is in why haven’t shows since then displayed an interest in a cathartic experience and why, as it seems to me, they have in fact become increasingly more sarcastic and hollow.

Where’s my Catharsis?

Something has happened to American TV programming during the mid-90’s. The advent of the sit-com became undeniable. With the success of shows like “Seinfeld”, which emerged in 1989, the networks picked up on a goldmine in the form of 20 minute episode comedy that is easy to create and is filmed mostly on a studio set. Creators of shows, in turn, picked up on the simple formula of a jab-jab-punch type of script, with jokes interchanging every several seconds for a quick fix of enjoyment. The appearance of “Friends” in 1994, probably the most successful sitcom, cemented the power of the formula to make money for the networks.

I genuinely think that the need to cram as many quick punches in a short time span soon made writers forgo the idea of creating a narrative that had closure, in favor of more immediate, hard-hitting single lines. This in turn led to the gradual infiltration and takeover of screen time by one of the easiest forms of comedy, and an enemy of comfort – sarcasm.

Sarcasm is defined as: “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or to give pain”, and as often using “ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.” The easiest comedy is brought about by simply pretending to say one thing but meaning the other – the definition of irony. The second easiest thing is using this device directly at someone, to make them the end of the joke for not understanding the true meaning behind the lie. Here’s a couple of lines from the pilot episode of “Seinfeld” which aired in 1989:

WAITRESS: Mister Seinfeld. [she pours coffee in his cup] Mister Costanza. [she wants to pour coffee, but George stops her]

GEORGE: Are, are you sure this is decaf? Where’s the orange indicator?

WAITRESS: It’s missing, I have to do it in my head: decaf left, regular right, decaf left, regular right…it’s very challenging work. [ironically]

The parenthetical directing remark which reads ‘ironically’ is in the original script. Easy laugh, doesn’t leave the audience with much, doesn’t offer any wisdom.

Whereas “Seinfeld” could still be gauged as attempting to form plots with satisfying resolutions, newer shows that arrived mid-90’s, such as “Friends”, “The Drew Carey Show”, and “Everybody Loves Raymond” grew heavily reliant on sarcasm as the oil for their joke-every-6-seconds engine. Ironic and sarcastic humor became second nature to most sitcoms, with the question becoming not if, but how much of it would serve as the comedic element of a show.

With sarcasm taking much of the airtime, the plots dwindled. Characters with seeming mutual love or respect for one another showed animosity, or simply displayed their affection by form of jabs. The relatability of characters crashed and many of them became flat and unrealistic for the sake of the joke. Sitcoms, in other words, were cartoons acted by real people. They were caricatures of life, with most dramatic plot lines only there as a way to roll the comedic ball a bit further. The laugh-track was not invented in the 90’s yet it symbolizes in essence what most 90’s hit shows aspired to get, an automatic and fleeting amusement.

I recall watching the “Drew Carey Show” as a kid and becoming enraged by its antiheroic take, taking over most of the show’s plotlines by the second season. With its protagonist displayed as nice but unfortunate, the show celebrated him getting jabbed at the expense of making every other character appear utterly vicious. The need for quick comedic punches has made the act of ribbing the only solid element of the show. Moreover, it made the watching experience an act of dismissal, since you had to abandon any feelings towards characters in order to enjoy what was happening on screen.

Yet, the difference between Northern Exposure and most sitcoms is not simply a difference between comedy and drama. ‘Northern’ featured many comedic moments, and indeed many sitcoms, mostly depicting families, featured plotlines that had dramatic elements. The main difference was the pace in which comedic and dramatic elements were allowed to unfold on the screen. While Northern Exposure drove both its dramatic and comedic prowess from a plot which unfolded neatly over 45 minutes, most sitcoms would stuff as many jokes as possible into their allotted 20 minutes. This time constraint would cause them, I claim, to decline any attempt of dealing with more profound issues, and indeed of offering any resolution to any real-world questions that viewers might have. The short time frame itself was enough to make a drama appear sped-up almost, like an old 18 frames per second movie, which would cause it to look comedic.

The sitcom was so confined in form that various shows looked molded like stencils of one another, with very little straying from conventions. In turn, this had led to extreme laziness among writers, who could learn the tricks of the trade and manufacture a show with little to no experience. I would like to suggest that the laziness with which sitcom writers occupied the screen lent itself to the scripting of many dramas to come. The common element was the lack of catharsis. The sarcasm of 90s sitcoms bled into more genres, mostly dramas, with the first ones emerging on networks like HBO and The FX Channel. Successful shows like “OZ” or “Nip/Tuck”, which straddled both sides of the early 2000’s displayed characters which offered no redemptive qualities, and no search for resolution. They were in some respects, cynical shows, which depicted many opportunities for catharsis, yet denied it systemically as a novel plot device. The sarcasm which was brought about by lazy sitcom writing has become a mode of dramatic portrayal.

There are several other reasons besides laziness, which have led to a hollowing out of the human element from TV shows. Culturally, the US has moved towards a more capitalist view of humanity, with the internet giving an extra boost to the idea of people as commodities. A growing alienation which is strongly felt today, was familiar territory in the early 90’s as well. Because of their scope, I chose not to focus on these elements, but mainly on the changing form which the sitcom has introduced into TV. A form that has all but done away with closure, with life lessons, and with catharsis.

Enters David Chase

David Chase is a formidable figure in American Television making. He has produced many TV shows, starting in the 1980’s with the detective drama “The Rockford Files”. He is best known as the creator of the successful “The Sopranos”. In the early 90’s Chase has produced Brand and Falsey’s “I’ll fly Away”, and following the fourth season of “Northern Exposure”, was called by the network to produce that as well. In actuality, Brand and Falsey have by then left the show, casting doubts on its remainder on the air for long.

Chase admitted in later years to disliking “Northern Exposure”. He had moved production closer south, and was there to handle the demands for a pay raise by the lead actor Rob Morrow, who already sought to leave the show for a carrier in movies. The resulting 5th and 6th seasons of ‘Northern’ – the show’s last – saw a significant deterioration of strength, with several episodes undermining previous plots and character traits. By the 6th season, Morrow has appeared only in half of the episodes, and his character was replaced by another physician, signaling the nearing end.

What David Chase lost was apparent in his hit “The Sopranos”. That show seemed the exact opposite of “Northern Exposure”. With its single, anti-hero lead and the celebration of mafia family culture, “The Sopranos” was themed mostly by greed and a sort of vapid motivation otherwise. With not much to identify with, the trials and tribulations of the head of the New Jersey Mafia family offered no emotional release, no catharsis for its viewers. Despite its many depictions of death and violence, “The Sopranos” taught its viewers close to nothing about mortality. Without empathy there can be no cathartic release. The success of “The Sopranos” signified a new direction in TV shows, with viewers proving they would gladly follow a plot and hero that did not offer them any emphatic experience.

The Catharsis Scale

Nowadays, most successful TV shows are more similar to “The Sopranos” than to “Northern Exposure”. I would argue that this is due to a kind of writing habit that is also apparent in many of today’s movies. A laziness in writing that is the result of a new form of consuming visual entertainment, that is binge-watching.

Yet what I find striking is that this habit forms, by way of copying and imitating, a new culture. People are more inclined to speak and behave in the manner displayed in the shows that they repeatedly watch. I claim that the sitcom, in its heyday at least, has engendered a type of conversing that requires throwing in punch lines every so often. The desire to occupy time with jokes is rooted in the automatic pace of the sitcom, resolving in an almost unconscious desire to hear a laugh track in real life.

As art imitates life, it nevertheless creates a frame for viewing life as well. What I have identified is a lack of release in television shows where there once was one. This change might indicate a growing pessimism, and indeed a sarcasm with which it has been replaced. Hit shows such as “Game of Thrones” offer an incredibly low ratio of catharsis versus a feeling of defilement, of dirtying of the mind.

It seems that popular media is now often at a race to disappoint, to dirty the mind, to offer the most unsettling and discomforting input. It denies us, the viewers, of comfort and instead relishes on creating more cynical and immediate sensations, such as frustration, rage and patronizing. Things which are the exact opposite of catharsis. I believe that the reason for this is quite simply laziness. It is easier to show the broken and the disbanded elements in everything, since they are readily available in isolated forms. A news outlet might relish in 24 hour coverage of mishaps appearing around the world, just like talking about a problem is much easier than offering a solution. With the internet turning the media into a personalized and incredibly simple to produce, narratives of indecision, of weakness and of denial are bound to emerge nowadays more than ever. Yet it is the thought out story, which picks up the pieces of reality to offer a helpful understanding of life, which feels more amiss now than before. A sense of release, of Catharsis, is what we are awaiting.

A state of Stress

I haven’t been writing as often as I want lately, with many distractions and general fatigue taking the reins. And now that a distraction if historic magnitude has been unleashed I suddenly feel compelled to write in any way that I can.

I live in the southern part of Israel. In the last few days, deadly rockets have been fired toward us from within the Gaza strip. The streets scream all of a sudden with the sound of alarms and explosions during day and especially at night.  Even for war-seasoned Israelis like me, the alarms create enormous tension, with life now becoming a stand-by situation, waiting constantly for the next blaring of hostile noises that will send us on our feet and rushing to a sheltered room. In the midst of this sudden war, I am trying to piece together how this came about.

[***note: after writing a little about this on Facebook I realize how such a sensitive issue would cause people to search in my writing for a political opinion and to think that I am taking sides. People naturally assume that, being Israeli, I support some view of this issue resolutely. I try to be non-political in my everyday life, and offer this as my own view of the unfolding reality. If you see a wrong fact in my writing or think you see taking sides, I urge you to write in the comments ***]

Being Alarmed

In order to take cover in time, the alarms start almost immediately upon spotting a rocket launched and identifying its trajectory and landing destination. This means that the closer you are to Gaza, the less time you have to take cover. I live in a large southern metropolitan called Be’er Sheva, which is far enough from Gaza to give people 1 whole minute between the initial warning and the rockets hitting or being exploded nearby. Being well versed in perilous conditions, life in Israel has not grinded to a halt, but is instead still going, albeit in a sluggish pace. Writing this makes me realize how impossible of a situation this is. I truly think that only Jews would endure this as a kind of normality, having been raised on an ethos of historic survival at the face of adversity and persecution. Yet this is no way to live for long.

Surviving and enduring is made all the more possible thanks to the invention of the “Iron Dome” missile defense system. It accurately sends an anti-rocket missile to attack the enemy projectile ad explode it while still in the air, thus only threatening civilians on the ground with the debris. While the Iron Dome is very accurate, the recent Hamas rocket attack attempted to bypass it by firing hundreds of rockets at a time. This makes it the largest attack by Hamas on Israel, with over 1,500 rockets fired from Gaza up to this point. So far, several rockets have managed to land on buildings and cars, causing casualties and deaths.  

[source: dstelling.com]

The Iron Dome’s explosive protective shield, along with the constant attacks both day and night, have led to a strange and tense maintaining of daily life. Many stores are still open, public transportation is still running and people are still trying to keep their daily routines as regular as they can in the hope it will all be over soon. A surreal mixture of fatigue and sadness colors over the sunny skies. Living becomes an anxious anticipation of the those first notes of the alarm, the dreaded triton of simultaneous ascending and descending notes, meant to spring you to action even from deep sleep. A minute to run for shelter might seem like plenty, but sleeping at night, taking a shower, walking the dogs or just being outside and hearing the sound of incoming attack leaves you with seconds to get up and find a safe place.

I have been through several of these attacks in past years. They regularly followed a similar pattern. Hamas militants would fire rockets from within Gaza towards Israel. At times they would be joined by assailants from Syria, bombing the northern parts of the country. Refugees in camps from Gaza or the Palestinian territories on the east of Israel (known as Area A) would riot, throwing Molotov cocktails and slinging rocks at soldiers. Fights would last from a week to a month and then the sides would reach a temporary cease fire, eventually causing the attacks to dwindle to a halt.

This time around though, things are terrifyingly different. The recent outburst set off a wave of insider terrorist attacks. They are perpetrated by many Israeli-Arabs living within the country.

The New Face of Terror

The Arab-Israelis are Muslims living inside the borders of Israel. They are generally perceived by most people in Israel as willingly Israelis themselves, having a similar Blue ID card as Jewish Israelis. They share a similar legal status as the Jewish Israelis and are entitled to similar opportunities with identical social and state given benefits. They come from several ethnic groups, like Bedouins, Druze and formerly Palestinian. They are all entitled to occupation, education, welfare, social security, medical services and any other state service afforded by the country. Some of them serve in the military; many of them pursue worthwhile jobs in medicine, government and all aspects of living within the country. For most people in Israel, a society made of strikingly different cultures – from Russians to Ethiopians – Israeli Arabs are a familiar face and a neighbor. This is why the recent riots have brought the country, I would claim, to a terrifying and irreversible mayhem.

In various locations throughout Israel, Arab-Israelis are rioting and terrorizing the civilian population. What started with peaceful demonstrations by Isral’s Arabs who raised the Palestinian flag in identification with the Jewish state’s sworn enemy, has escalated in a matter of hours to an all-out terrorist battle throughout the country. Bedouin crowds in the south are throwing rocks at cars, pulling people from their vehicles, sometimes beating them severely. Northern Arabs in the mixed-population city of Acre have lynched an Israeli driver, which has been “avenged” the following day by an Israeli lynch mob attacking an Arab. In the mixed-population city of Lod (Lydda) Arabs have created a small militia, terrorizing Jewish neighbors, burning buildings and are currently combating police forces sent to ward off this massive, unexpected insurgence.

The last time that Arabs within Israel have waged violence against Jewish people was over 70 years ago, before the establishing of Israel as a Jewish country and safe haven. My grandparents who arrived here fleeing from Nazi occupied Europe in the late 1930’s would at times recount having to evade gunfire shot from rooftops whenever going outside to buy food. While the current attacks are carried by other groups than those who fired at my grandparents, in the eyes of many Israelis the events cannot be separated. Now, decades of neighborly peace is being wiped out within days. While the terror attacks are carried by a minority of violent Arab youth, to many Jewish Israelis, the face of their neighboring Arab Israelis is starting to change. The friendly Arab doctor, bus driver, vendor and neighbor are being transfigured to that of an enemy, who secretly wishes them dead. The trauma-quenched Israeli, used to thinking of being persecuted, is creating a new cultural memory of the Israeli Arab, no longer as a friend or neighbor, but as a murderous threat from within, a lying wolf in sheep’s clothing; a cancer about to destroy its host.

While not all of Arab-Israeli society agrees with the uprising and certainly not with the terrorist acts, there are several reasons to believe that this new face of terror will not subside smoothly once the riots are over:

  1. The vicinity of Arab-Israelis to the Jewish population – being the marker of peaceful everyday life, the co-habitation within Israeli society is now a factor that instills fear in the hearts of many. Much like Americans in the 50’s believing their neighbors are communists, the radicalized youth will cause every Arab in Israel to be perceived, if only from afar, as a Hamas supporter and a terrorist. A great number of Israeli Jews have already taken to boycott all Arab businesses in the attempt for a peaceful combating and separation.
  2. The radicalization of people from both sides and the desire to revenge – while Gaza is the breeding ground for anti-Israeli terrorism, it is bordered and mostly there is not much contact between the populations of each of the sides. With Arab-Israelis, each side’s quest for revenge can be fulfilled by going a short distance. It is absolutely terrifying to consider the kind of societal maturity needed for calming the atmosphere and compare it with the Mediterranean temperament of hot headedness shared by a majority of people in Israel.
  3. It’s much easier to create turmoil than to maintain peace – especially in a uniquely diverse place such as Israel. With the cohabitation of people from 3 religions, various ethnicities and cultures, countless sets of beliefs and political tendencies, anyone who wishes to set ablaze the sensitivities of a certain group and divert anger towards other groups is like a kid in a candy store. This current civil war is already touted by many as the political work of the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is attempting to regain his power by any means necessary.
  4. While empathy is natural, fear is its destroyer – To harm another being is something we inherently feel to be wrong. This on account of our human ability to emphasize with others. Religion and laws, while attempting to ground this empathy in writing, have grown out of proportion, making many abandon their internal moral compass for the blind following of scripture. In other words, minorities of people who are not sensitive to their own empathy are putting religious and governmental laws above their feelings and letting fear drive their actions in life.  It’s revealing that the name for the Jewish ultra-religious sect, the “Haredim”, translates literally as “the fearful”. Fear abolishes empathy. If you fear someone is out to do you harm, you will blindly be willing to inflict inhuman acts over them as a survival instinct.
  5. Organized religion engenders volunteer stupidity – The ultra-religious are anxious to follow leaders. They are the first to abandon original thinking from fear it will lead them to temptation. Instead, they blindly follow imams and rabbis, awaiting their every word for direction as the word of god. The ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel are known for their opposition of the Jewish state on account of it being secular, and in the last days some of their youth have been protesting, raising the Palestinian flag. As long as organized religion is accepted as a separate cultural system with its own educational institutions, the potential for inner war steadily increases.

The Fantasy of Coexistence and Civil War

By its sheer newness and shock, the Arab-Israelis’ sudden terrorizing of Jewish Israelis will bring about a massive cultural change on the whole region. Human beings are eventually nothing but primates with the ability to symbolize and abstract. We are still prone to act based on the most primal drives to avoid pain and receive joy. As a survival tool, Israelis have been learning for the past decades how to mentally classify potential threats, like people who dress overly warm in the summer and have an Arab appearance, for fear they might be a suicide bomber. We have become weary of being in crowded groups of people whenever the political state is tense, for fear of being targeted. And now, the emergence of terrorism from the Arabs living within the country and their affiliating themselves with the Hamas is causing many Israelis to classify all of them as a life threatening element – a danger to survival.

And it’s not only that we will classify them as terrorists. Many people might take to equate the idea of “terrorists” with “freedom fighters”, or “soldiers” of sorts. No. Israelis have grown to classify the terrorist flanks within the Palestinians, I will claim, as nothing short of monsters. This perception was planted by the Palestinians doing and by them alone.

[source: israelhayom.co.il]

The Ramallah lynch is branded in many Israelis’ memory as the revelation of the Arabs’ true face. Two Israeli soldiers who lost their way and reached a city under Palestinian command were driven by the local police into – not outside – the city’s police headquarters. They were thereupon beaten and stabbed to death by policemen and by members of the crowd. Pictures like these and other miserable incidents forced Israelis to see Palestinians as blood thirsty villains and to classify them as a real and immanent threat to their lives. And now the Arab-Israelis within the country are starting to be placed into the same mental category.

As fear is the destroyer of empathy, many attempts of restoring coexistence will not work against the last few days’ terrorist acts from at the hands of local Arabs. That is, the majority of Arab-Israelis, while desiring peaceful lives, would ultimately suffer the misconducts of their youths who are joining hands with the Hamas. For Israelis – any threat to their existence is perceived as real and possibly delivering genocide, torment and exile. And this state of stress cannot linger for long. Living alongside your destroyers is a waking nightmare that no organism can bare. With the ability to arm themselves, it is almost an assurance that many people in the country will take actions against one another.

The striking inevitability of all this is enough to search for an invisible hand who is deliberately fanning the flames for its own benefits. As shown, many people are already revealing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions in creating a civil war scenario. While there is much truth to this, I would like to examine all the possible reasons for what is currently happening in Israel, and suggest ways in which events could unfold in the near future.

Who is to Blame? Reasons and Outcomes

As the news coverage worldwide (and some of it within Israel) would have us believe, the current attacks are just a continuation of the arguments over settlements and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In actuality, while these factors underscore much of the tension in the region, it has little to do with real instigator this time around. I will offer explanations to how this insurgence started and unfolded until now, with an explanation for each culminating step on the way.

  1. The independence of Israel and Palestinian segregation – The creation of the state of Israel has been a bloody battle I which the Palestinians lost and were evacuated from their homes, mostly driven into refugee camps. The neighboring Arab countries, like Jordan and Lebanon, took in some Palestinians into their border and refused to accept more. All attempts at reaching an agreement with Palestinian leadership and decide on a fixed border, being either a 2 nation-state, or a single nation state, has been refused. Since the 1990’s the Israeli government was led by a right-wing party, forcing peace treaties and negotiations to find a solution to dismantle the refugee camps to come to a halt.
  2. Hamas – The Palestinians have been under the regime of several terrorist groups, the most prominent of them all being Hamas. Most Hamas leaders have made clear their objection to the existence of Israel. Hamas is an active terrorist organization and has been firing rickets from inside residence buildings and schoolyards, sending suicide bombers and using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
  3. Israeli military response – In retaliation to Hamas attacks, Israel’s military has actively secured and locked the Gaza border with Israel. It engages in both aerial and ground deployment of soldiers into Gaza to capture insurgents from Hamas and other combatant groups.
  4. Palestine living conditions – being the longest standing refugee camps in world history, large parts of the Palestinian population are tied between supporting Hamas from fear and supporting them out of genuine agreement with their cause. Living conditions in Gaza’s refugee camps are lousy, although the upper echelons of Palestinian command and their supporters are enjoying a high standard of living, existing mostly off of funds raised for their people and by monies sent from supporting regimes in Arab countries abroad. Many Palestinians have work permits inside Israel and are demanded to return by curfew hours to Gaza.
  5. Islam and Judaism – most Arabs are religious people. This is sometimes understated and must be emphasized. The Abrahamic religions are extreme subjugating forces in the world and Islam is the most fundamentalist, allowing its believers very little room to stray from doctrine. It has a special place for Judaism in its writing, treating Jews as “Dhimee” – or as sub-humans. Judaism is also intolerant of other religions, yet not as specifically, but by looking down at them as being unconnected with god. Although the state of Israel is mostly secular, with the exponential birth rate in the Jewish orthodox household being the highest in the world (with an average of seven kids), this is expected to change by 2060.
  6. The coronavirus – The passing of 2020 have left many feeling miserably secluded inside their home, with a great deal of people losing their jobs and some losing close family and friends. With that, the corona pandemic felt and still feels for many people like an unrealistic hindrance; a burden existing in fantasy without any semblance of realness. The year 2020 have left people outraged and discombobulated, wanting to express themselves in any way possible.
  7. Social Media and General dumbing down – The coronavirus forced expressing ourselves into the realm of the screen. We have begun living our lives in front of phones, computers and television. The desire to socialize has been transformed into a symbolic act of simulacra in what is known as social media. In writing what we think, people everywhere and in Israel as well have begun straying farther and farther from the mess of tangible truth and into the territory of idealistic-speech. This involves seeing the world through the clichés and slogans in our heads, put there by a removed relation with reality; and also through the loss of voice and nuance engendered by writing’s replacing of talking, making us hear others only as they sound within our own minds. Judgment and negativity abounds. Protests and fighting are another way of trying to reclaim the outside space, to make fit with an idealistic, inner narrative.
  8. Benjamin Netanyahu – Israel’s PM for the past two decades has been avoiding impeachments, indictments and reportages for as long as he has been in power. A divisive power within Israeli society, he has also been a promoter of settlers’ rights for grabbing more lands – a most instigating factor in Israeli-Palestinian relations. His most current allegations is that he is in fact a gun dealer, using his role as leader of a militarized country to sell nuclear submarines to high powered individuals. For the most of 2020, protests have been held in front of the Netanyahu residence in Jerusalem as well as in other locations throughout Israel, calling for his resignation.
[source: Wikipedia.com]
  • The failed Israeli elections – the democratic elections in Israel have resulted in the inability to form a government. Netanyahu’s Likud party and the other elected parties were on a race to reach an agreement with enough members of other parties sufficient to create a new government. Netanyahu’s opposition in parliament was negotiating the creation of a block large enough to finally establish a new government ((the ‘Shinui Government’) – of which he will be left out. On April 6th they seemed to be on their way to creating a joint Israeli and Arab party government, while Netanyahu, with only 24 hours until the expiration of this time, seemed unable to find enough partners to form his own majority government.
  • Shiekh Jarrah Neighborhood – On April 9th, the Israeli court made several decisions to evict around 300 Palestinian residents of a Jerusalem neighborhood from their homes. This after several Jewish settlers have took over one of the houses in the neighborhood, claiming it was historically theirs. The decision to evict hundreds of residents has sparked Arab and Palestinian demonstrations throughout Israel. The initial protest was broken up with the use of excessive police force.
  • Ramadan – Islam’s most sacred month of the year started on April 12th. All the time riots between radical Arabs and Jews have increased in Jerusalem, with the local police firing stun grenades inside the Al-Aqa Mosque. Riots ensue in other mixed population cities within Israel, like Jaffa.
  • Jerusalem Day – On May 9th, Jerusalem day took its annual place. The police, led by Commissioner Amir Ohana, who is Netanyahu’s assignee, enter the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Arab-Israeli protestors raised the Palestinian flag in several locations in Israel. The message to Israelis was that Arab-Israelis support the extermination of Israel. Israelis watching the protests on the news and in cities are enraged and form counter-protests.
  • Gaza Attacks – On Monday, may 10th, Hamas begins firing rockets towards many locations in Israel from inside the Gaza Strip. The attacks are unprecedented in scope and range of the rockets launched, reaching as far as the most populated central cities within Israel, like Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This is an ongoing state of stress for most residents, as I wrote, with the bombs falling indiscriminately upon buildings and cars, hurting and killing civilians.
  • The Arab-Israeli Riots – The most alarming and novel element of this war, for many people, is the surprising insurgence of Arab Israeli youth claiming to identify with Palestinians, engaging in terrorist acts throughout the country. The possibility of distinguishing between “good” and “bad” people amongst neighbors is unlikely. A real danger of a civil war is at hand. With the capturing of a mixed-population city like Lod, many fear that their city is next.

The possible outcomes depend greatly on the perpetrators of this mess.

If the Prime Minister is to keep his throne, it appears that the safety of the people of Israel is greatly compromised. Netanyahu utilizes fear and subterfuge to remain in power, by inciting different sides within the country against one another. In a diverse place like Israel, this is an easy feat to do.

Sadly, I now believe this is what will take place:

Netanyahu will ride this wave of fear and hatred to bring about a new election, in which the most right-wind parties in the country will take hold of the parliament. With fear being maintained and the military and police forces called out of action to increase tension, many civilians would resort to arming themselves with personal weaponry. The Israeli population will become even more segmented and torn between cities and political affiliations. Guns will become popular and will be used in terrorist acts. Mass shootings will grow to levels reminding of those in the US. The political system would shrink to include only 2-3 parties, with the method of elections switching to a personal vote.

[source: jpost.com]

The vacuum of leadership will continue and ridden by the neighboring Arab countries to attack Israel and attempt to bring it to its demise. At the present time, Syria and Lebanon are already firing rockets from the north. Along with this, Arab-Israeli insurgents will continue to try to terrorize Jewish Israeli civilians, burning their places of work and attempting to take over whole neighborhoods and cities, in an attempt to assist the enemy countries.

The Israeli Arab conflict would enable Netanyahu to enrich his friends in the arms and technology industries and to use Israel as their experiment lab. With his eye on the US’ exploitation in its occupied lands, he will collect on every American firm willing to invest by stealing the natural reserves still left inside the country.


How futile it is.

Even writing this I feel I have unloaded a burden more than attempting to offer a solution. It seems like everyone has their opinion as to what needs to be done, and not many taking responsibility and pleading ignorance.

In practicing my Buddhist side, I do not wish to see someone different in anyone else. I can only muster hate in the face of seeing anyone who abuses animals, on both sides. My conviction in helping animals makes me look at Facebook more than ever in search of lost dogs who fled their homes from fear of the sirens and the bombs. This at least makes me tolerate the current routine of bombs and alarms going off every several hours.

Bombs don’t discriminate.

Rockets being bombed mid-air over houses in my street by the Iron Dome defense system

Sounds Good: How Units of Speech Command our Subconscious

I’m watching this lovely lecture by American Social Psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt, about “The Three Terrible Ideas Weakening Gen Z and Damaging Universities and Democracies“.[1] At the 27:35 minute mark he discusses the idea of ‘Anti-Fragility’, suggested by essayist Nassim Taleb, which states that exposure to potentially harmful things can actually build resilience and strength for those exact things in the future. 

As an example, Haidt recounts a now somewhat known experiment held by international scientists that surveyed nut allergies worldwide. The study revealed how in Israel, because of early exposure to a highly popular local nut-based snack, peanut allergies are drastically lower in comparison to other countries in the world. Being an Israeli, and a person interested in words, I was waiting to see if a theory of mine would become evident in Haidt’s next choice of words. And sure enough, it was – as Haidt continued to dignify the snack by uttering its name, “Bamba”.

Now, nothing in the lecture itself or in Haidt’s premise necessitated saying the name of the snack. “Bamba” is not a name familiar to most people who listened to the lecture, and doubtful whether they would search for it in stores as the immunity builder of choice for their own children. Nevertheless, there it was; that name, “Bamba”, hanging in the air.

The reason why Haidt was suddenly compelled to say the product’s name, I would argue, is found is the power of certain phonetic sounds. These sounds cast such a spell over us that we subconsciously crave them, both hearing them and also uttering them ourselves. And in today’s market-like atmosphere, many of the beings filling up the public space – from the products we buy to the politicians that we elect – are there because we subconsciously prefer the way their name sounds to us. That is, we subconsciously feel that we either like or dislike certain things based solely on their names, which is predicated on the impacts that their sound imprint upon us.

The Power of Plosives

The Bilabial plosives, the consonants “p” “b” and “m”, are some of the earliest sounds that we make as babies. They are in our first mumbles and words, like “mamma”, “baba” etc. And indeed, the inspiration for the name “Bamba” was the combination of sounds that babies make when they first make sounds. Bilabial plosives are created by pressing both lips together and releasing air. I have found that people everywhere are drawn to utter “p”, “b” and “m” consonants and to repeat them as much as possible. Jonathan Haidt’s example is just one of many. Another prominent example is the recurring of the word “baby” in pop songs.

[source: fastcompany.com]

The word “baby” – itself loaded with bilabial plosives – is one of the most popular words in western culture, particularly in pop and rock songs. In this chart, recurring words were counted from “every song on Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 list since 1960”. The word “baby” repeatedly comes up in many similar word-recurrence-in-songs-projects as suspiciously popular, usually coming right after the most fundamental building blocks of the vocabulary, such as “I”, “You”, “The” and the likes. So are we obsessed with our children and like to sing about them? Obviously not. “Baby” has become synonymous with “loved one” and a term of affection for its being a perfect bilabial-plosive word.

Saying “b” and “p” repeatedly makes us mimic a certain facial expression. It requires us to pucker up, much like kissing a loved one, or even sucking. And why not – we are mammals and one of the first expressions our mouths take part in is the sucking of milk for the sake of feeding. Could it be that bilabial plosives are reminding us of their preceding function, of nourishing and being close to warmth and affection?

This would explain the recurrence of “b” and “p” sounds in words and name assigned both to loved ones and to food. At the top of this list of “60 romantic names for your sweetheart” we can see such terms as “Pookie”, “Pumpkin”, “Lamb Chop”, “Muffin”, “Precious”,  “Baby Doll”, “Sweetie Pie”, “Smootchie”, etc. It’s noticeable how terms for food intertwine here with the loving tags of endearment. The choice to assign bilabial consonant to words that signify things we love is not accidental, but was ingrained in our minds by cultural repetition as well as by our linking them to pleasurable gestures of eating, drinking and kissing. So “baby”, much like “Bamba” got to be this popular not just on by virtue of its content, or its taste, but also because saying it feels good. We will see how advertisers have learned this trick quite early on, and from them it had spread to other aspects of the public sphere, dictating much of our attitudes toward people and not just products or pop songs.

Nothing wrong with Diphthong

Before venturing to see how the bilabial plosives – the “p”, “b” and “m” – rule our psyches, it would be beneficial to look at another more subtle set of sounds that sway our opinion. These are the diphthongs, or “double-sounds”. Whereas the bilabial plosives are consonants, Diphthongs are the appearance of two vowel sounds within the same syllable. The word “no” has us sounding both an “O” sound and a “u” sound consecutively. The words “make” has a diphthong of the sound “A” and “I” consecutively.  The reason that diphthongs are important, I would argue, is that they can create the impression of something exciting and even astonishing taking place. They are repeatedly used in advertising to create the sense of awe, making us unconsciously succumb to them as indeed carrying such meaning.

A disclaimer is needed here – I work in marketing, writing on weekdays for a local internet website where much of job involves copywriting for products. The work process allows me to test various phrases and word choices for their attractiveness and rates of motivating people to actual purchases (what is known as Click Through Rate – or CTR). After a year and a half of this I have come up with an idea of some words that appeal to people everlastingly. I am obviously not the first to notice this, as much of the advertising industry is aware of the power of phrases and words for increasing sales. David Ogilvy, who was known as the “father of advertising” has famously come up with a list of 20 most influential words that have the power to convert readers and listeners and get them on board buying a product. It was in my own copywriting and surveying some of the classic “great words” on such advertising lists, that I have noticed the recurrence of diphthongs. Here is Ogilvy’s list of words:

Ogilvy’s 20 most influential words. [source: slideshare.net]

Many of the words on this list contain diphthongs. Their effect, I believe, is causing us to open our mouths for longer periods of time in order to express the doubly voweled syllable. This creates an expression of amazement, which has us mimicking the sense that the words want to convey – like “wow”, “amazing” and “sensational”, which all have diphthongs.  Such words can be used, and at times are used, to manipulate and sway our opinions.  So while bilabial plosives are endearing and create intimacy, diphthongs are a source for astounding, creating the “wow” factor.

After first noticing this, I started discovering the recurrence of these chosen sounds more and more, and to discover their effects in my own copywriting efforts. I found that I have motivated people more than ever before to engage with the content I was creating, and indeed to buy more of my company’s products. It became apparent to me that the subliminal power of sounds is potent and real.

The Study and Manipulation of Sound

The linguistic approach that attempts to speculate and define the effects of different sounds is called “Sound Symbolism”.  Several researchers have given their insights as to how various utterances create certain feelings and thoughts. They often describe these feelings on spectrums, such as “bright to dark”, or “happy to sad”. The underlying idea in Sound Symbolism, that certain sounds carry meaning in and of themselves regardless of the context of the word, is problematic and refutable. Nevertheless, many scholars who promulgated it, such as Otto Jespersen, have made clear achievements in categorizing the way in which we habitually classify similar meanings for words by their similar sound.

In the advertising world, the rise of the Madison Avenue marketers and their research and focus groups led to some discoveries in regards to particular words and sounds that trigger particular responses from listeners. They managed to survey hundreds and thousands of people in order to learn which words were considered “fortunate” or “unfortunate” in terms of their connotations and sounds.[2] Motivated by money and by idea that everything can be monetized, the advertising world soon lent its many conclusions about preferable sounding words to the sphere of politics. The desire to control the public using the right words has turned on the power hungry to believing, and perhaps rightly so, that they could manufacture consent. This is what Vance Packard termed “The Engineered Yes”.

While it comes as no surprise that politicians try their best in utilizing clever slogans and phrases for their own benefits, the impact of sound symbolism on the fate of elections seems to be at play beyond the control of consultants and statesmen. It is still very much rampant, especially in the outcome of recent elections throughout parts of the world. I would argue that the repeated electing of my homeland Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, AKA “Bibi” for his 5th term is paved by the power of his plosive nickname. In Israel, speaking about a particular political party dropped to a minimum in recent years, with most conversations gravitating around this one name. While his political terms are characterized mostly by inaction, the name has been mentioned so much by itself to almost suggest that the person behind the name was in fact responsible for most things happening within the country.   

Around the world, other names can be presented as evidence. Giuseppe Piero Grillo, AKA “Beppe”, the Italian comedian turned politician is another candidate for plosive advancement. And in the US, one needs to look only a little far back to be reminded of another single word president that took the reins much due to his name and not his actions. This fact was spotted by the writers of the John Oliver show “Last Week Tonight”, who recognized the “magical word” that diverted people’s attention from the nature of the man carrying it.

Spot the diphthongs in this slogan. [source: freep.net]

The danger in using and overusing words is the habits which they create. We use language to communicate, and thus assume that is a tool for our expression. Yet more often than we care to think, the language we take part in is already chosen for us. The impact of specific sounds can get us to feel an inner connection. It is easy to shrug off the risks of advertising, since like language, it is also around all the time. Yet we now live in a time of unprecedented sensory stimulation – with information constantly chucked at us from every venue. This causes us to desensitize and to sift through the info at the greatest speeds. We create hasty judgments just to clear up the mental space to allow more information to reach us.

In such a world, where perhaps advertisements have already habituated western man, we often choose what sounds good to us. We see our political candidates as if they were products on a long supermarket shelf of ideas and preferences. We decide to buy into their promises based on a glimpse at their shiny package, their snippets of a few seconds broadcasted on the daily news – their jingle no doubt – and their brand name. If reality becomes commercialized and commodified, it is then a good idea to learn the various manipulations of the marketing world to see how we become duped. Sounds are a key player in habituating our ears to buy into dishonesties and to become consenting. Becoming aware of how susceptible we are to sounds is a good way to reclaim our individuality and realize what we truly believe and think, without the solicitations of sound.

[1] Those ideas are, to restate Haidt: 1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; 2. Always trust your feelings; 3. Life is a battle between evil people and good people.

[2]  See Packard, Vance. The Hidden Persuaders, 1957.

The Hidden Initiation – Thoughts after Reading Jonathan Black’s The Secret History of the World

Jonathan Black’s The Secret History of the World is a hard book to recommend.

On the one hand, it is an overwhelming undertaking; namely an attempt to reveal the secret ideas of cults and mystery societies since the dawning of mankind. On the other hand, it is an undertaking that seems to be abandoned by the author throughout the book.

Here is not a scholarly research, but more of a mixture of history and speculative literature, with Black often playing on the Secret part to allow a lack of eruditeness. You won’t find exact references and citations in Black’s book, but many stories, anecdotes and tidbits which at times create a cohesive account of a secret history, yet more often remain fragmented.

It is nevertheless full of interesting ideas and references to noted historical figures, who Black attests by were all knowers of the secret history. Black, the eponym for Mark Booth, asks the reader from the first pages of TSHOTW to allow this indiscretion since the narrative conceived by the secret societies is “upside down and inside out”; meaning, they adhere to an almost reverse view of the world from the modern, physical science’s conception.

The Secret History of the World
[source: bookdepository.com]

The Secret History of the World

The secret history of the world, according to Black, goes something like this:

The world was created out of thought (and not from matter as is conceived in today’s physical sciences). This thought predated and in fact created matter. Matter first appeared as a thin gas, impossible to sense even by sight or touch. Then, this gas began to slowly condense and solidify until it hardened enough in order to generate the minerals around us. From these minerals gradually emanated a second, vegetative phase, with the growing of plants. From this, emerged the third and final animal phase, from which humans have arisen. According to the secret history, mankind is the summit point of all evolution, being the only creature capable of being consciously aware of this creation.

Black calls this history an “idealistic” one for its formation of physical things out of ideas – matter out of mind. This mind is what that initial gas was, and it appeared in an already perfect form, reminiscent of Plato’s sense of ideals. Black indeed sees Plato as a member of secret societies and thus a proponent of the secret history.

In the times of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, idealism was still a “living Philosophy (TSHOTW, p. 124). When Plato speaks of Ideals he is referring to them very much as an existing realm. The allegory of the cave is in fact about how thought creates material. Additionally, most of the ancient hybrids depicted in classical literature, such as the creatures that are a mixture of man, animal and God – the likes found in Ovid, the Greek pantheon, the Egyptian one and so forth – are all depictions of the living world while we could share imaginatively the same mind with the animals and the rest of creation.  These creatures are envisioned anachronistically by us today as if they are half-breeds, while back when these stories were lived and perceived these creatures were thought of as actual.

This history is also not completely linear and is in actuality moving in an ebb and flow pattern. According to Black, humanity is currently moving on a returning path, back into the initial gas form. The axis of this boomerang evolution was the appearance of Jesus Christ. As Black states throughout TSHOTW, the appearance of many renowned figures on the stage of history indicates consecutive spiritual phases in the development of mankind.

If you can’t criticize a book – what’s the point of reading it?

I do not wish to criticize Black’s book for its obvious incommensurability with today’s materialistic beliefs of the world, as some critics have already done. His request to depict a “topsy turvy” image for the origins of the world, in his words, is enough to make such criticisms futile. What I do regret is the book’s lack of ordered conclusiveness, showing in Black’s unsystematic approach. The Secret History offers many interesting and at times magically inspiring notions, yet does not pursue any of the to the fullest.

Although TSHOTW wishes to unravel the fact that many renowned historical figures were avid members of mystery groups, it does little to show how this affected their craft or their lives. The brevity of description awarded to most of these figures reads often like tabloid material or an old fashioned almanac. The idea that the secret history has been around us in literature, art and music for so long, and that hints have been planted by initiates as a way of communicating secretly with other acolytes is definitely intriguing. Sadly, black only allows glimpses of this idea throughout the book, as if he himself was writing a secret, hint-laden manuscript.

Another point of critique is that the attempt at a historic account of secret thinking is almost entirely westernized. Black focuses mostly on the esoteric ideas promulgated and followed by westerners. He fails to deal with the influences of eastern belief, science and philosophy on early western thought. He does note the Chakras throughout the book, although as an already fully formed idea that is intertwined with western arcane concepts. While this omission might be done for the sake of adding mystery, I believe that Black simply knows more about western cults to dare plunge into the ocean of ancient eastern wisdom. A choice that, for me at least, nullifies much of the “historic” intention that is behind TSHOTW.

RARE14.7.M126 1867DP1DB
[source: nationalheritagemuseum.typepad.com]

Secret Initiation Stories

Black claims that many great minds throughout history have been initiated into secret knowledge. This means that they were also probably taught in ways of reaching higher, more ancient connections with said knowledge. The fact that this knowledge was so well disseminated on the one hand yet was still kept under wraps is not easy to accept. Black hints at the ways of secret societies in keeping this history private, in their constant alluding to it in allegorical art. He recounts some the characteristics of the practices undertaken by mystery cults throughout history.

Secret practices make us realize the true possibility of stepping out of the body. They involves an initiation, which usually practices being taken to a secret location, mostly underground; being asked inquisitive questions about our life and past, and being scared for our life to the point of realization that we wish to transform who we are and give for the greater good. “By the act of leaving the body the candidate knew beyond any possibility that death is not the end.” (p. 186). There is an out of body experience “that is shattering (p. 190), the spirit experiences “a lightness which nobody who has not been initiated could describe or understand”.  A being guides the initiate through the underworld, who is the god of the planet mercury, and then there is a strange swap, in which this guide reveals himself to be Lucifer, who is a “necessary evil”. Secret initiation prepares the candidate for a meetings with the guardians after death – who are the stars of the different spheres “both on the way up and on the way down”.

So, for the sake of making the most out of Black’s 500+ page book, I would like to assume that he is right in at least the detailing of the secret initiation rites. It could be interesting to pursue the secret initiation in the plotlines of several famous stories. These are some of the symbols and narratives which characterize, according to Black, the process of being initiated into a mystery school:

  • Being underground – a place where on receives secret knowledge
  • Being scared to death – a part of the process of forgetting past identity and accepting a renewed, spiritual life
  • An out of body experience
  • Traveling through the stars, both upwards and downwards
  • Conversing with the devil
  • Spiritual transformation and enlightenment
  • Oath or understanding of mandatory secrecy

So, much in the spirit of presumption embedded in The Secret History of the World, but with a nudge towards a more researched approach, let’s look at some of the classic stories available for us in our western society and see whether they meet these criteria. These narratives take the form of children stories, folk tales, myths and legends, known to us from the bible to Disney movies. Some of these stories will not contain all of the parameters on the list for an initiation story. They might nevertheless be about a form of secret initiation, or inspired, as stories often are, by a predecessor tale which was indeed about rites of accepting secret knowledge.

Secret Initiation Symbols and Acts in famous Stories

Initiation Story Criterion /StoryBeing UndergroundScared to DeathNear Death/Out of Body ExperienceTraveling through the StarsMeeting the DevilSpiritual TransformationOath of Secrecy
Jesus Christ+++++
Sleeping Beauty+++
The Golem of Prague++
The Binding of Isaac+++
The Little Mermaid+++
The Crossroads++++
The Lion King++
Jonah and the Whale++++

How Digital Media has changed how we Think, Operate and Behave

To say that people are occupied with their digital technology devices nowadays is almost redundant. One only needs to walk about in a big city and see how leering into cellphones has become a human reflex. What was not too long ago spoken about in terms of escapism is now a common and acceptable mode of behavior. The reasons for the meteoric rise in smartphone use are also fairly obvious, being a one-stop-shop for much of our informational and communicational needs, enough to outweigh its escapist proclivities. I wish to claim that much of the social disconnect that we experience nowadays can be explained by the rapid entrance of the new information media into our lives. That is, while we might believe that we are in charge of our thoughts and behavior, that we can choose how to examine things in front of us; our use of media ends up dictating our scope of perception, our expectations from reality, from ourselves and from others, and creates our cultures in its likeness.

Marshall McLuhan famously coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ to encapsulate a natural law – that the means and structures through which we perceive reality impact that reality itself. This idea has predated McLuhan and appeared in many incarnations and not limited to any genres, from Emmanuelle Kant to Chuck Palahniuk. As obvious as this notion may appear, it is a profoundly useful tool for analyzing the changing world. By regarding the digital technologies in our disposal today – like computers and smartphones – not merely as instruments for executing our wishes, we might see them alternately as mechanisms that also require from us a particular set of actions and engagements, we could see how ultimately they cause us to operate in recurring ways, forming new habits, behaviors and modes of thought. By examining some of the habits we have developed in dealing with digital technology, it is possible to explain and predict many urging issues unfolding in the world today.

Digital technology is at its peak of accessibility nowadays. Personal computers and handheld mobile devices with an internet connection, or smartphones, are passing the tipping point in which over 50% of the world population has one, and is thus considered a ‘user’ (and in the top 10 developed countries in the world, that percentage reaches around 73% of the total population). With such dramatic numbers it is apparent that digital technology is causing a revolution of histories scale, with what seems like an unstoppable trajectory of expansion. Several thinkers expressed their predictions for the course that this revolution will take or, more accurately, how it will end, with a spectrum of conflicting ideas. The ecophilosopher and primitivist John Zerzan sees technology as a whole as a the abandoning and forgoing of nature, and sees digital technology as a culmination of humans becoming alienated and robotic; whereas science fiction author Bruce Sterling regards the digital revolution as a passing fad, much like the nuclear age craze of the 40’s and 50’s in the USA, which he suggests will pass with a silent hum by the 2030’s.

Even though this tidal wave of digital technology invites predictions of how societies and individuals will appear in the future, looking far ahead is unnecessary. The impact of over 20 years of internet access and of smartphone usage is apparent right now, in much of the western world today.

Did we choose to use computers and smartphones or did they choose us? Throughout history, other media have come into existence based on the requirements of their time, culture and history. The literary novel has changed its form over the years and around the world in both length and subject matter, based on how much free time people had for enjoying  a leisurely read.  Nevertheless, it is possible to identify a cultural preference to use certain media instead of others. The rise of the internet managed to abolish much of printed journalism, just as the popularity of smartphones eroded the photography business. The more optimized and effortless our actions thanks to a particular medium, the better chance that medium has of lasting. And so, the most optimal systems of delivering and receiving information, that is also most suitable to our times right now is the smartphone. These transformations and metamorphoses of one media to another have often led to different cultural behaviors. The pace of living, the way we perceive the world and our expectations of ourselves and other people, are very much constructed by the channels through which we accept reality.

It would be helpful at this point to examine some of the recurring actions we are required to make in the routine use of a smartphone. These are all standard processes we accept as part of the operating rituals of digital technology, yet they have no parallel in the real, non-virtual life. We can try and extrapolate how each action becomes over time an actual habit, and how it is finally translated into to new forms of human behavior.

The Operating System makes the Real world Virtual

Most people over 18 in the west have already been shaped by digital operating systems even before the arrival of the smartphone, due to previously using a personal computer. The most popular operating system in the world, Microsoft’s ‘Windows’, has conditioned users to its mode of operating. A product of 80’s American corporate mentality, Microsoft Windows is riddled with metaphors and concepts[a]  from the business world of an office. It has ‘files’ and ‘folders’, it has indeed and ‘Office’ brand for its top programs, it is built on the hierarchical language of DOS operating system, in which you give ‘commands’ and the computer carries out the tasks. 

While the language attempts to portray ‘Windows’ as a physical place of work, the actions it allows users to make are still performed in virtual space, and so none of its executions has any repercussions or gravity in the physical, real world. The recycle bin can make anything you previously saw or heard on the computer vanish with a click. Despite the fact that new information is still needed to overwrite the “deleted” data in order for the actual deletion to be performed, the message of this medium is that you can make your unwanted things and trash disappear in an instance; and the message, as said before, is reinforced through countless performances, through muscle memory, into a habit of thinking and behavior in the real world.

We still use personal computers, and so the underlying assumption that we can perform those actions in reality still lingers very much in the minds of the current generation. It is worth mentioning that computer use is on the decline, with most youth in the west nowadays preferring consoles and video games to the PC. Therefore, the engraining of ideas and behavior that is illustrated here applies mostly to those people 20-60 year old, and might indeed perish when they are no longer alive.

The Digital Rhythm and Responsibility

While they are often lauded for their fastness, their quick processing and speedy reaction time, digital media – when compared to speed of human capabilities – only fulfills the promise of being fast paced on some occasions. Computing powers of calculation now dwarf most of human ability, as is evident in performing basic and elaborate mathematical calculation that are unsurpassable by even those humans who have dedicated their lives for its mastery, as in the games of chess and ‘go’. On the other hand, operations which require more dexterity, flexibility, reasoning and even what to humans is considered basic communication skills, are a thing which as of yet, no digital system was able to approach. Computers take time to load, to connect, they require electricity, batteries, they are replaceable and, most noticeably, they tend to malfunction.

Examples of these can be found abundantly, and are epitomized at every locale where digital machines carry a sticker displaying the human contact’s number to call if it breaks down. In our case of personal use, computers and smartphones both engage many systems which appear as innovative yet mimic human capabilities with slower results. These include printing, since the operations needed to print a page – from connecting the cables, clicking files and commands, loading paper, etc., are much more elaborate and time consuming than handwriting onto a piece of paper. Handwriting, being more tactile than typing on a keyboard or pressing on a touch screen, is also disappearing thanks to the use of the computer and phone. While this might be environmentally healthier, the relocation of the written word to an exclusively virtual space marshals the vanishing of its reverence and gravity. In explaining why he prefers to write his jokes not using a computer writing software but with a pen on a yellow legal pad, Jerry Seinfeld mentioned the stress induced by the ever-present, ever-blinking line at the end of your digital word processing sentence. Adding to the diminishing gravity of the written word is the digital media’s ability to update and change their texts at any time. The words in a printed book acquire their significance from their being unchangeable, and being so, they have real consequence.

As opposed to that, today with the decline of printed journalism and books, their online digital versions are easily changeable and updated, with the headlines of every major news organization alternating more rapidly than ever, even for the same article. Given this ability to correct and edit on the go, true consequence is gone. Newspapers in the digital age, perhaps without our noticing, have lost their status as moral compasses, of being reliable and responsible. With responsibility gone, cynicism and despair take hold, as is very much apparent in today’s world of journalistic coverage. As will be discussed soon, the current climate of ‘fake news’, much like ‘reality TV’, resulted from the internet’s placing higher merit on changeability than on consequence and research.

Here too, it is interesting to notice the language used for renaming and altering perceived reality within the digital medium that is the internet, and to observe how it is then passed on to venues in physical life. When changing a digitized piece of text, the most common terms are “edit”, “update” and “refresh”. These words seem to refer to a text as a part of a series of appearances, each rejuvenating and giving it renewed life. This change of pace has indeed created an impossibility for news coverage to continue in any other structure but the 24 hour news cycle. But while the new corporations have all the machinery to observe and report (a word originally meaning “account told, rumor“) things that are happening in real time, they are also driven to display those concurrent happenings in real time, lacking the breadth of vision and the distance needed to process and investigate deeper into the worth of a story. Much of the extreme outrage characterizing western culture nowadays (and the emergence of ‘fake outrage’) is a byproduct and incarnation of the 24 hour news cycle. With news corporations playing by the digital media’s pace, they have become a reactionary medium, offering on-the-spot commentary to the events they are witnessing; whereas given more time, they could have stopped and investigated deeper.

Uniformity of Information and Tribal Mentality

The standardization and uniformity of written texts predates the modern era, and can be traced to the invention of the Guttenberg printing press in 1440. Before that, texts were hand copied so that different versions of the same texts would be varied with many nuances and idiosyncrasies. Since Guttenberg, uniformity has become a standard in the reproduction of visual and auditory works of art. Uniformity is an artificial manmade construct, which does not occur in nature, much like right angles, yet years of industrialization and automation have instilled its image in our cultural psyche. But where previous media and technology outpoured “forgivable” uniform creations such as cars, clothes, machinery, etc., the internet risks promising the standardization of information itself.

The internet works much like a telephone conversation. It connects between one side and another side for the exchange of information. This can be symmetrical, as in a chat, or one sided, as in browsing through webpages. Nevertheless, the internet is often portrayed as an “information superhighway”, or more colloquial is the term “world wide web”. Again, much like the computer’s operating system, metaphors of place and space appear. We start browsing on our “home” page, move to different “sites” send emails to “addresses” and webpages are assigned a “domain”. Along with the web metaphor, the internet is often conceptualized as a huge network, an equivalent to a big city, a massive library, or the universe. All these are ways or trying to order the very much unstructured nature of the internet.

The Internet from Above [source: intenet-map.net]

Where the internet reveals its underpinnings as being a cluster of callers on a circuit board is in the chat rooms and online message boards which allow anyone with a modem to sound their voice.  As expected, such sites are notorious for the impossibility of creating anything similar to a real life conversation. The sensation of such forums is of a rabble of people attempting to talk over one another since that’s the only way they could get a word in.

Sounds familiar?

If you managed to identify moments like these in real life, you’re not alone.  In the last decades, groups of people all around the world have been expressing themselves increasingly vocally, with a significant rise in protests all over the globe. The Financial Times ran an article which describes 2020 as “The Year of Protests”, and have asked whether these gatherings are so popularized that they have become less effective

 While one could say that it is not just the discordant nature of the internet that leads to more violent communication patterns but the information itself that is becoming more available and horrific, I wish to claim that the internet has shaped our very perception of information and knowledge, making us expect a uniformity of thought on a grander scale than ever. The expectation of uniform, identical information has become so prevalent, that its clashing with the many voiced world leads to violence, intolerant behaviors.

With the powerful ability to instantaneously receive information and answers to questions, we have become, in a significantly short time, willfully dependent on the internet and on smartphones as its most accessible vehicle. The ability to reach to our phones and find seemingly inexhaustible responses to our needs has created a sort of reflex reaction. You do not need to stop and count the times you have reached for your phone to search for something you don’t know, but simply look around and see that it is already ubiquitous in our culture. The internet does the same thing for emotional distress, of course, offering optimized communication that serves as an instant fix, but it is extremely dangerous when information itself becomes fixated and perceived as uniform – which is what our new reflex of quick-answers has brought about. In other words, we have grown accustomed to thinking that the internet has all the right answers.

Given the fact the internet is carried by binary media, most of us have unknowingly became habituated to seeing it as a life calculator, demanding of it answers for what is true or false, right or wrong. And this habit, especially at the hands of young people who grew up using the internet, is an instrument of uniformity. It abounds with informational sites for life answers, from Wikipedia to Quora, from Snopes to FactCheck. The irony is that these websites, originating out of a desire for critical thinking, ultimately contribute to the abolition of human questioning. The internet, in other words, started as a promise for polyphony of opinions and cultures and ultimately makes us crave absoluteness.

And this absoluteness is already experienced in many countries today. For a generation of well-off people all around the world, and particularly in the rich western countries, growing up with the internet has bred people’s expectation of the world to appear a certain way and not the other. Going through a generational clash as did countless other groups in history, many western youth today present the novelty of not being able to understand or deal with the existence of opposing opinions. This is often touted as part of their being the ‘snowflake’ generation, yet I think saying they are spoiled misses the mark – their inability to understand, I believe, is based in their view that no person who was exposed to the same information could reach different conclusions. That is, the free information found online has caused them to assume that the truth itself is uniform, and anyone who disagrees with their perception must have an ulterior motive.

For what these websites create is the assumption that it is natural to have all the information at the palm of your hands at all times, and that everybody else is supposed to have it as well. Such expectations induce stress and generate a shock – realizing that copious amounts of information do not make people likeminded or uniform in their thinking – signals that we do not have a single answer for most of the prevalent questions in life.

This behavior is not endemic to the snowflake generation, to social justice warriors, Gen Z, or any other name by which to call new groups of young people. It has invaded most of our cultures. In many western societies who are smartphone ridden, straying from cultural norms has begun to be seen as more grotesque and downright impossible, than ever before. We begin expecting each other to become in sync with our own mentality, as if in perfect unison. This explains the phenomenon known as ‘cancel culture’ (another computerized phrase thrown into real life). We opt to do away and discard anything that strays from the norm. The dangers of this computerization of the living world only start with the social deterioration we are witnessing the last years, but might end in a collective schizophrenia, a war waged for the sake of purging unwanted (natural) elements that do not exist in the binary realm.

Commodification and Comfort

There are plenty of other changes that the new media has imposed upon the smartphone carrying man and woman. It is possible to talk about how the quickness and uniformity of typing has led to a similar expectation of human communication, in conversation. I would venture into claiming that the pace of a talk show or a TV sitcom – that is, eliciting a laugh every 5 seconds or so – has transfigured from the appearance of the typed word, and since it bled into our lives. Moreover, the web’s ability to display only visual and auditory information has caused a stifling in activities based on the other sensory perceptions, with the exclusion of beautiful food, since it is possible to display it in visual form and elicit a taste-bud reaction. On the contrary, there is no trend of taking pictures of wines, perfumes or bubble baths. Time will tell whether the collective peak in the usage of exclusively visual and auditory devices will cause a development in the neuronal clusters in the brain in charge of those parts. With young children playing more hand-eye coordination games on console devices, I believe this will be the case.

Add to these the option to scroll endlessly and swiftly through more and more information and you will understand how impatient and demanding of new stimuli the internet prompts us to be. As an inverse of this, we are now driven to shallower thinking, with much less stamina for judging and analyzing the information given us. In a way, we become more accepting, yet unquestioning, similar to robots on a convey belt of images and sounds, and expect ourselves and other to behave in much the same manner. This is but another way in which the operating mechanism which we use begins creating us in its form – we become the things that we own. And so, robots operating robots is a bleak image for our society, which might have appeared exaggerated if it were not for the way in which the new media objectifies and commodifies our reality – and eventually, ourselves.

Becoming robotic is not only a hyperbole but in fact a point worth stopping to think about. Since using smartphones stifles our habit of deep and clear reflection, we eventually lose our ability to asses our own inner feelings. It is easy to notice how today, from a young age, this is already taking place. When cellular phones only started becoming popular, debates have arisen about whether or not children should be given them, and at what age should we start giving kids access to a smartphone and to the internet. In the second decade of the 21st century, such debates seem out of touch with reality, and parents are using the pacifying capabilities of smartphones on children from as early as toddlerhood. The irony behind such acts is that it is impossible to dismiss them as merely bad parenting; since pacifying is something all smartphone users take part in, whether they can admit to it or not.

From the comforts of having all the information we need at hand, to the seeming proximity we get to our loved ones, the smartphone is today’s quickest route to short term happiness. It has the ability to supply endless neurochemical stimulants and relaxants. From watching pictures that create the sensation of enjoyment, such as nice food, recognizable people and beautiful places; to receiving approval and even constant complements in the form of social media clicks, reactions and comments – the smartphone, with all its many helpful features, is put to use principally as a form of self-medication. By being continuously comforted, we begin expecting this state in real life as well as online, with our pacifiers firmly in hand.

Social media offers the drug of companionship, of amity and of approval. It has already changed much of the way we interact with one another in real life, I will claim, and is the foremost instrument for our increasingly commodified view of reality. By placing the carrot of social acceptance and companionship in front of our faces, social media has done away with much of the mechanism and structures created naturally for people to gravitate towards one another in real life. And while it may be true that entire social constructs such as etiquette, courtship, even hobbies and friendship can be seen in fact as byproducts of desiring the same neurochemical pleasure that social media provides in its instant version – they are not interchangeable since each of them offers different types of experience, namely a subjective and an objective experience.

As a binary medium, displaying visual and auditory information, the internaet offers an exclusively objective experience, by which I mean that turns our perception of anything put inside it into an object. For example, watching images of our friends on Facebook, no matter how dear they are to our hearts or even if we closely remember them from a meeting in the near past, is still placed within a square frame, among an endless scroll of other bits of information, related or unrelated, being held or placed on a desk, being able to click, and mostly static – with the ability to manipulate. All these are attributes of frozen and unchanging objects. The mere appearance of anything within a medium makes it objectified. Whereas seeing our friends in person provides a constant change, an unexpectedness as well as many more parameters for sensing, like smell, touch etc., all of which are attributes of subjective existence. And so the more time we spend replacing real life, subjective information, with media-ted, objectified information, we begin losing the ability to subjectify – that is, to relate to others, to sense the world around us as alive and having an individual existence – and begin commodifying our surroundings as if they were a part of an endless scroll, there for our instant gratification.

The Great Objectification – The Flattening of Reality

The continuing of all this has already led, in my opinion, to the further demolishing of such social constructs as friendship, marriage and the family. With the almost metaphysical law that what we create and repeat will make us in its own image, the internet’s constant informational flow would seem to be turning us users into information seeking and delivering automatons. E. M. Forster’s 1909 short science fiction story The Machine Stops depicts a future where humans are living solitary lives in pods which supply them with endless communication with other people around the world. They spend their time either creating or listening and seeing others giving lectures on various topics. Forster’s famous saying “always connect” predates the experiential tug of war currently taking place between the objectified and the subjective dimensions of real life. While the internet’s virtual nature has no bearing on real life, the expectations and behavior we have repeatedly come to employ while using it are sticking out into subjective, lived experiences, and dismantling much of the communication and perceptions involved with everyday social life.

As with the rise of ‘Cancel Culture’, many subcultures and movements in today’s society are displaying the push and pull of the internet onto our real experiences. No longer are the old considered as wise for their experience, since experience is knowledge found in subjective information. For well over a generation now, western culture is profoundly children-centric, placing higher values on youthfulness and its characteristics, like swiftness of action, dexterity and freshness. Yet a bigger change that the internet has brought forth is in its striving for collective, group mentality.

Being submerged under a constant flow of superfluous data and information that the internet provides, it is practically impossible for anyone to sift through it all and evaluate which bit is correct and which is false. Our latent desire to keep scrolling for more stimuli while being able to handle new information in extremely high dosages has led to an inevitable decontextualizing- a flattening of our valuation systems. This flattening which enabled the optimizing our reaction speed, has  led to the reactionary and inflammatory nature apparent in message boards, forums and Facebook comments– with numerous funny laws appearing to explain the failings of its communication framework – most of which originating, to my estimation, from the habit formed online to expect absolute information, in a clear binary yes-no fashion. A mere disagreement online is immediately cast as an argument with two distinct sides. The fault is in the medium itself and I our expectations of it. Yet arguing online is benign compared to taking this flattened perception of reality into the streets.

The inability to analyze information in its context is a growing problem of character, leading many younger people to crises of personality in numbers far exceeding anything in past years. The inability to detach from objectified, media-ted information, has desensitized a great number of people and brought upon a rift in their ability to identify their own personal, subjective sensations. Many today are stripped of having a real sense of inner monologue and moral compass, and with such existential insecurity bubbling, have made their most basic affiliations a safe haven and meaning. Tribal mentality is a new name for such classic phenomena as blind patriotism, nationalism or chauvinism – it is the weak individual’s falling back on a certainty; the confused psyche’s escape towards things that it cannot change, like its country of birth or its race or gender, and tapping into it as a source for safety and strength, often in a violent and overcompensating manner. While there is much to say about the psychological changes brought upon by the internet, the point combining most of its various expressions all is an insecurity and new forms of doubting reality – all of which create frightful and often vicious individuals, willing to use drastic measures to latch on to their identity.

The End of Subjectivity as we know it?

Observing current daily life through common media channels, a sense of immanent finality is inescapably present. It appears as if culture has run its course and new technology and its promises for a better tomorrow is only making things worse, commodifying the world and ourselves while turning the planet into a wasteland. The present-day intoxication from internet technology, social media and the uninterrupted flow of information, are changing our behavior and views of reality right now. It is all the more tempting to predict how our psyches and societies will change on account of the internet and digital media, since such prophecies are another form of escapism and desire to correct the wrongs perceived at the present time. Instead of predictions, I would like to consider the one thing that is changing due to our new capabilities of simulating reality, which is our subjectivity.

As stated, the internet has the ability to objectify our perception of the world – to dilute real happenings from any context, to extract the human element out of them, to make the world appear to us as binary, with the only things possible for consideration are those quantifiable and calculable. In gradually stopping to turn to our inner voice for answers and comfort, we are losing touch with its existence. The term “gut feeling” is very fitting for describing that subjective sense of inner knowing, a trustworthy way that is closest to us.

The French sociologist and philosopher of culture Jean Baudriard observed mankind’s growing ability to signify reality, and saw our times as being post-modern in the sense that the relation between our instruments and tools for signifying reality and that reality itself, are becoming indistinguishable. For such a world, in which we cannot tell apart the real from the signified, Baudriard coined the term “Simulacra” as a simulation and mimicking of reality that has become identified with the thing it is mimicking. This is apparent in our current culture in its most recent embodiment in the rise of Deep fake technology, which is a video and audio representation so similar to reality that it is difficult for us to identify it as being computer generated. The rise of “fakeness” as a term to describe the simulating nature of the internet is to me a sign of the medium’s deteriorating power of representation. We distrust only what we can sense is not true to begin with, and while the technology is getting better at copying reality, it is ironically seen by us as chiefly an act of fakery. I see this as a sign of something unchanging, a subjective element in mankind, which puts the new digital media in a perspective of human evolution since the rise of symbolization.

The ability to create a symbol, and thus, to simulate reality, has been around for millennia. As a unique, thinking species, ours is the ability to symbolize and to mimic. It is quite possible therefore, to see in the many inventions of humanity through the ages a mere copying of nature, from language to the computer, from the wheel to the internet. There is an almost biological predisposition for people to copy themselves into things they create. This recreation of ourselves is repetitively done perhaps for the sake of expanding our infinity-reaching minds out of our limited corporeal bodies, in Ernest Beker’s terms -much like winning an award or securing everlasting fame. The creation of digital media and of the internet is our most recent attempt in simulating reality, in encapsulating every piece of the landscape in a single objective framework. Yet, as all reality is subjectively experienced, it is relentlessly changing, and so in itself is endless and infinite like our imaginative minds. It is my subjective feeling that in the future additional attempts will be made to capture as much of reality as possible, and in so doing various new technologies will be utilized, yet these would also diminish when reaching the point of obvious mimicking, when they – like DeepFake technology, reveal their intentions of simulating the actual surroundings.

This does not diminish the already devastating impact of the digital media on the current pace of living. The 24 hour news channels have created a heightened sense of stress that is enough to cause anyone relying on it as a source for news to become morbidly frightful and enraged; the smartphone and GPS navigation have annihilated our former ability for orientation and memory; and with every new popular app, a previous human capability is extinguished. Yet all of these are still tools, and require us to use them, to operate them, and to turn them on. Although we have become a generation that would rather record reality and comment on it than create it or experience it, a backlash is immerging with the same protests discussed before signaling a change in moods. The global pandemic has reminded many of the reasons they crave being outside, breathing fresh air and engaging physically with other people. Although Forster’s portrayal of the future as a being willingly cooped in a room for one is becoming a vivid concern, virtual existence has not won yet in the fight over human consciousness.

[a] The idea that metaphors and figurative language are revealing of how we perceive our concepts, was suggested by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in their 1980’s book, Metaphors We Live by. It is a vital source for understanding how we create meaning by building our concepts of the world with metaphoric language.

A Thought about Stories

“Change is tremendously stressful, so control the amount of newness you must face”

In one of his more popular lectures, which became known by the title “How to live the rest of your life”, Neil Postman warns against facing too much “newness” all at once.

As a general rule, this is not only great for mustering the forcefulness of life, but is also serves as a fine guideline for writers everywhere in plotting a story.

When reading a book, a short story or even a non-fiction text, the narrative works best when it revolves around a single key novelty. Any other information which is new for the reader, and unrelated to the main novelty ,should be kept to a minimum. This creates a greater impact on audiences I believe, both aesthetically and morally, and is the heart of great storytelling – i.e. knowing what information to include and what to leave out.

This made me think that the true meaning of stories as a thing that human beings do. Stories are a construct intended for coping. The lasting of stories as a human act is due to their ability to make people aware of those new things that might come their way in life – that is, the hardship, perils, heartbreaks, danger, surprises – and in devising a way to memorize them for later use.

A good story, in other words, is always a lesson.

The fact the newness is hard for us to deal with, is probably a great clue to the way the human mind works. Despite our ability to symbolize, human beings are best able to face things based on habits and muscle memory. Stories, texts and narratives all help us visualize and memorize more newness than we have ever faced, and the catharsis and joy we obtain from a good plot is partly through the sensation of having “leveled up” and learned how to cope another novelty.

Eating Animals and our Dishonest Discourse

In recent years, the question of eating animals has been stirring intense debates. Conversations about consuming meat usually end in a disgruntled clash between two sides – namely vegans and meat eaters. While both parties in this argument display their stand adamantly, I argue that dishonesty and self-deception is behind each of their arguments and that much like animals, the real arguments are left unheard..


It is easy to see why the question of eating animals, since its surfacing, has remained in the focus of both public and private discourse in recent years. Eating animal meat relates to our most basic of functions, that of nourishing and surviving.

While debates surrounding the eating of animals appear more omnipresent and fervent today than ever before, a sort of stalemate seems to have been reached. Whether on the media, or in conversation with friends or co-workers, speaking about consuming meat will most likely end up in a clash of ideas between a vegan and a carnivore diet. A sense of unbridgeable doom will hover over the topic, causing people to try and avoid it entirely.

Yet the real problem is not with the topic – it is with the fact that both “sides” are engaged in a dishonest conversation, both to their audience and to themselves.

1. The Arguments are Dishonest

Whenever eating animals is discussed, one is almost guaranteed to hear any of the following lines of thought:

  • Man was/wasn’t meant to eat animals
  • Eating animals is healthy/unhealthy
  • Growing and slaughtering animals is good/ bad for the economy
  • People have/haven’t been eating animals for years
  • Killing animals is moral/immoral
  • Man has/hasn’t the right to kill animals

These claims might wear the guise of scientific research, they may involve reliance on experience or, more often than not, on hearsay and speculation. But the truth is, they are all irrelevant.

The desire to be absolutely right leads the proponents of veganism-carnivorism to seek and employ hard “proof” from the realms of science, medicine and history.

Eating animal products might be associated, rightly, with bad heart condition and early deaths in humans, while a shortage of vitamin B12 will be, rightly, linked to a vegan diet; the animal slaughtering industry is responsible for much of the deforestation, polluting and ruining of the earth’s resources, while eating animals has been found in most cultures ,around the world for thousands of years; man’s stomach and teeth, as well as his evolutionary connection with primates place him closer to herbivores than carnivores, although his ability to heat his food and to successfully consume more species than any other natural predator sets him apart from most other animals.

With each side continuously finding more research, case studies and natural observations to serve as evidence for their particular belief, debates remain conflicting and very much stalemated.

The desire to find “proof” from the hard sciences in order to reveal whether the eating of meat to be ultimately wrong or right, natural or unnatural – is in itself an act of self-deception.

The reason why so many speakers find themselves divided into only two camps, is that the majority of people do not dare utter any complex or unresolved feelings in regards to eating living creatures.

(The term *living creatures* is of itself complex and needs further explication. Is the killing of shellfish similar to slaughtering pigs, for example? Does picking plants and vegetables constitute as killing? For the sake of basing a standard for consideration, I will later write on this with a focus on what constitutes as “suffering”, suggesting that it’s possible to define and classify suffering based on nerve complexity in living organisms. For the ideas presented in this paper, I will suffice with referring to living things as a generalization).

Since, what can any person say when they obviously feel emphatically sad to see the torture and mutilation of helpless beings– when in fact that person’s cravings necessitate this evil? The eating of animals almost demands that we admit to a guilt which for many is too much to handle.

In dealing with this guilt, most people choose from only two options: either becoming a carnivore, thus opting to remain voluntarily ignorant and cruel, in order to justify the craving for eating animals; or becoming a vegan, and thus opting to be intentionally aware, though grief-stricken and burdened, abstaining from animal products entirely in order to justify a moral choice.

Despite the both being viable paths on their own right, each choice is an extremity, and its proponents consider it the only possible path – indeed, as an ideal.

In the attempt to rid ourselves of the guilt of eating animals, these two arguments have by now become a fixed framework for thinking, manipulating opinions and swaying the topic into something it is not, only to vindicate people’s coping mechanism.

Our guilt for torturing animals for their meat is very much covered up by the arguments of both carnivores and vegans.

Whether meat is healthy or unhealthy, historically proven or not, economically sound or not – are all but justifications to rid ourselves of guilt.

We do not surface this guilt in conversation since we know that dealing with it demands not knowing what to do or think; it also opens up the possibility of feeling we are wrong, and need to change or lives and ourselves.

Guilt is hard to accept, and both carnivores and vegans often utilize their chosen path to deflect and push guilt away from them as much as possible.

The debate is dishonest first and foremost because of guilt.

Sadly, in the process of choosing between these extreme options, any uncertain, reserved or questioning opinions become lost.

Any idea straying from this binary pairing of veganism-carnivorism is made to almost appear irrelevant. And thus, the way to a deceitful portrayal is paved.

Unfortunately for the creatures who suffer the most, this fake argument winds up helping those who have built an industry on their torture and who need it for their gain.

2. Moving beyond the Deceit

The underlying tone behind every argument surrounding the eating of animals is guilt, on both sides.

The real conflict, with which every emphatic human is cursed, is that eating animal meat feels good and natural, yet the killing of animals is done so brutally in inhumanely that it enrages us and makes us distraught. and confused.

Most people cannot stay in such a state of inner conflict for long. It drives us to choose one path that pacifies us, maintains our sense of self, as well as our sense of self-righteousness.

To be able to subsist and eat, we indeed need to justify our way of “solving” this matter, at least to ourselves.

This is why, whenever people discuss eating meat, an underlying tone will be a mutual recognition that a process of justification has taken place and an acknowledgement that the other party has made up their mind completely and without a doubt.

Such resolution is indeed required by our psychological need to be intact. Most people would not dare say “I don’t know”, or “I haven’t made up my mind yet” regarding the food that they eat – what we consume must be 100 percent approved, both mentally and physically, before we are able to intake it.

Can we acknowledge our guilt and move further in our understanding?

If we cease rationalizing the deeply intimate topic of eating animals and instead consider how we feel about it, people from all views will generally agree on these two basic assumptions:

  1. That people have been eating animals all over the world for many years.
  2. That treating animals like inanimate objects is monstrous and unjustified.

Every argument on the matter should start with an agreement on these two things, in order to allow for a productive exchange.

Agreeing on these two maxims throws all irrelevant justifications out the window.

It shows that no matter what science has to say about humans “being meant” to eat animals or not – the fact of the matter is that is happens nonetheless.

Agreeing on these two maxims also opens the door to recognize all things which hinders a sincere conversation about eating meat.

It abolishes the guilt that is in the way of discussion and sheds light on the single factor which is behind our dishonest discourse about eating animals – the factor creating our sense of guilt in the first place.

The thing hindering the genuine debate surrounding eating animals, the one in charge of our current dishonest discourse around it, is a relatively new mode of raising and producing animal meat – the modern factory farming system.

In a fantastic reversal of natural order, we in the west have come to accept and to justify a system so inhuman and astray from the natural order as the mass slaughter factory system.

While most people agree on the cruelty and alienation from nature that is factory farming of animals, when questioning this system the same people will be quick to absolve it and offer even more rationalizations for its existence.

With guilt successfully encountered, another powerful objection to our discourse over eating animals starts to reveal itself. This time it is fear.

Our acceptance of such a system, agreed by most to be cruel and alienated from nature – reveals an even more uncomfortable truth for most of us – a hidden servitude lying underneath the perceived freedom granted to us by the Capitalist mode.

The real reason why we are left to debate over lies is the fear that we cannot do anything about the “system” of mass scale slaughter because we depend on it completely for our own survival.

The industrial farming mechanism confronts us with our deepest feeling of powerlessness.

That is the fact that western man and woman have grown completely and utterly dependent on outer sources for their food – that we are, in fact enslaved to those corporations that slaughter and torture animals to deliver it to them.

3. Them and Us – Fear and Industrial Capitalism

This, in fact is the lie of industrial capitalism.

We in the last generations in the west have grown to accept the mode of food production by inhuman means as a necessary law of nature.

Perhaps to our amazement, the mass slaughtering factories has only been in existence for no more than 100 years.

In its short existence, the slaughter-industry has managed to convince so many of us that there was never another way of getting food, or any other artifacts of consumption. And the biggest lie of all is that we believe it.

Before its arrival, and in fact still found to this day in many non-industrial cultures throughout the world, people either took care of the animals which they later ate, or they hunted them.

Our discourse over factory-farming animals is subdued and relegated to veganism versus eating meat because it is a way of deceiving ourselves into thinking that we have many options, that we are in fact in control over our diets, and that we are enjoying the fruits of industrial progress.

The reality is that we have no control over the food that we consume .It is made with our complete ignorance of it, and thus our inability to decide what we intake puts us at the mercy of growers ad food corporations.

We in the western world are, in fact, in servitude to our masters the food suppliers, and they have the power to starve us when they please. A powerful and rich western man is more enslaved in terms of food than the lowliest farmer family growing its own food.

Western people’s fear and inability to face their servitude to the big companies is not subjected only to food, of course, but is echoed throughout all places where mass production has conquered.

Ever since the mass-scale mode of industrial manufacturing began making a lot of money for a handful of people, we have been driven to distance ourselves not only from our food, but from every artifact that we consume and use.

The furniture we buy now is made on an assembly line and mostly last only several years before it breaks down – causing enormous and unnecessary destruction of the planet’s natural resources; as happens with the disposable electronics we buy and the minerals and metals being quarried and mined for their operation.   

The artistry and craftsmanship of the past has all but vanished to make way for uniform, bland, uninspired things with which we now surround ourselves, only to replace at each opportunity. While the artisan’s chair might be looked at again and again and reveal ideas, spark the imagination and become infused with memories, the assembly line chair carries no meaning, and is nothing but utilitarian.  

No more artistry, no more memories, no more man. We become functionary.

Life in an industrial environment becomes less worth living – it is less filled with things that we like. In such a surrounding, happiness becomes momentary and fleeting.

Back to animals – hunting was the longest one would be involved and occupied with getting food.

A process of hunting in many tribal cultures is a ritual experience in which one envelops themselves in wild nature, to become more and more attentive to the ways of the animals.

The actual kill carries with it the immediate sensation of guilt accompanied with relief, which are the reasons for carrying out absolving prayers and rituals to the soul of that animal which you will consume.

These make you one with the slayed animal (notice the relation between “consume” and consummate”) and able to live off of them.

The meat of a wild animal being hunted would last you for months of sustenance, and its preparation also a process taking a long time.

All of these are things that keep you connected with the memory and the living world, to the cycle of taking-a-life-eating-remembering-dying-being-eaten, that eventually gives meaning to consuming animals.

Both the artist and the hunter can put themselves in touch with the things they consume, and thus enjoy meaning in what they bring inside their existence.

Most of us living in the modern west have distanced ourselves so completely from what we consume that we have denied ourselves the joy of understanding, the meaning behind seeing it and producing it ourselves.

We have become what we eat – a joyless being, moving from one meal to another, surrounded by things that have no personal meaning to us, that we did not create or take part in.

4. What the Machine Eats – Our willful Enslavement

The desire to be right and keep your ego intact isn’t just caused by the guilt of killing animals. It is brought on by the feeling of helplessness at the face of the big industrialist machine – the corporatized and alienated world of money in which we now live.

Many of us take it as a given that nothing can be done to change big companies and corporations, since they control the means of production. With western man and woman not knowing how to raise animals or grow their food, they are utterly dependent upon outside companies for their survival. With this kind of slavery, it almost makes sense to choose the biggest and, in fact most distant of food manufacturers, in order to detach oneself from acknowledging this servitude.

The feelings of guilt and ineffectiveness lie at the heart of our discussion of eating meat. That is, people living in cultures that cultivate their own food and raise their animals do not question the validity of their actions. They are close to their origins of sustenance and can account for how their food is made. We in the industrialized west are left in the dark, alienated and remote from the things that we intake and make part of ourselves. We are thus driven to rationalize and make excuses, scientific as they may be, whose purposes are to justify that predicament which we know in our heart makes us so miserable.  

The big companies, of course, know that this is guilt and are happy to exploit it. Corporations that profit off animal torture tend to display the argument in the media as having only two sides: a vegan option on the one side -appearing too hard and fanatical for most people – and a carnivorous one, socially and commercially justified, on the other.

If you look at how the subject has been brought up in the media, it is almost always portraying veganism as a sole counter stance to factory harvesting of animals. Most times the same media outlets are sponsored by one or more big dairy or meat companies that profit from the animal imprisonment.

The reason that we feel so powerless facing the big companies is that we have enslaved all of our social systems, as ourselves, to the power of its capital.

Legal systems in most western societies are basing their rulings concerning animals on utilitarian – meaning how much money they generate – reasons. Animal abusers are sentences to miniscule punishments since we allow larger corporations to do so on a regular basis. Instead, as every human being is naturally inclined to think and feel, animals should be treated as sentient, feeling beings with a capacity for suffering and joy – much like small children, in their defenselessness against humans.

In very much the same way, the political sphere, the public sphere and any type of discourse we allow to reach a mass audience is still very much in denial or silent (meaning – dishonest) about animal suffering. This is a moment in time in which people have the obligation to demand what they know is right, and act upon it.

In fact, what the large corporations are afraid of, as is any politician, lawmaker and public figures, are large groups of people making similar actions. Affecting how much money goes into the industry has a domino effect that affects all other walks of life concerning animals and ourselves.

Since it is money that affects how society treats animals, we can and should take action by pulling our money from torture companies and placing it where we can get our food and allow animals the dignity and safety they deserve from us.

The industrial farm system is appalling yet despite its machinations there are effective ways to make it stop. It is sustained by the money poured into it – as is anything in the capitalist sphere – it needs capital in order to grow. Spending our money somewhere else is the best way to have a saying where big companies are involved.

5. Stopping the Machine – Ways of Action

Here are a few possible solutions that would change the course of industrial farming within several years.

In order to prevent animal torture, one can:

  1. Buy from a small, local farms, which guarantee their animals a place to range free, and live a life closest to its natural habitat.
  2. Learn how to cultivate and grow food and raise animals by yourself. Raising a small number of animals in the space and conditions they require for a good life is a way of eliminating the power of grow farms and reconnecting with how mankind consumed meat through most of history.
  3. If there is plentiful free range animals where you live with a legal option to do so, hunting is one way of not taking part in industrial farming. It also acknowledges animals as free to roam and is the least wasteful of all manners of attaining animals for eating.
  4. Cutting down in any shape possible – with so many other plant based sources of nourishment today, eating less animal meat, let alone animals from industry farms, is better for them with its side effects being a boost to your health.
  5. Stopping eating meat. The choice that many people are already taking these days, severely hurting the slaughter industry and raising the numbers of plant-based options by thousands of percents.

This change should also generate the creation of an agreement system, in which small growers and sellers of food realize that any attempt to monopolize by returning to mass slaughtering will lead to people stop buying from them and to discontinue their business.

The social and financial “side effects” of these actions are enormous, including helping local businesses and destroying mass-scale slaughter companies. It is a way of bringing about ecological recuperation and even assisting in ending hunger, by taking the power away from food monopolies and cartels.

Health benefits will undoubtedly rise as well. With the torturing of animals stopping, the auxiliary industries which sustain imprisoned animals with their drugs will cease to gain money, which will benefit the health of humans consuming animal meat.

The biggest effects of this change would be in our regaining our own humanity, as well as our connection with our natural surroundings. We will no longer be quibbling over justifying the eating of animals but will be taking command of our actions.

We will finally be able to look at ourselves, and at the animals around us, as deserving a decent life together.

The Benefits of Coronavirus – a short story



On a day like any other.

I’ll take the dogs out for a walk. I’ll get back home and give them their food, get

ready for the rest of the day, you know?

I’ll take a shower, get dressed and put on the mask and gloves before going


I’ll look in the mirror before stepping out.

Nothing memorable, not with the mask on anyways.

It will be a bit warm outside, now being summer.

The mask is a bit uncomfortable, but at least it keeps people from staring.

I don’t think about being jumped by police or paying a fine for spreading diseases. At least if I’m a hypocrite for wearing it, so is everybody else.

I need money so I go into the bank. It’s a bit crowded since they reopened just now. Even outside there is a small line, with everyone dutifully awaiting to get their temperature checked.

All are masked, anxious, yet docile and seem tired and indifferent. The masks equalize and us them faceless. The new uniform of the masses.

I await in line until I scram forth to reach the guard. He checks my temperature with an infrared thermometer. It takes just a second and he lets me through. I catch the smiling wrinkles around his eyes. We are co-conspirators in this charade.

It’s always the busiest just before the weekend, when people are in a hurry to deposit their weekly salaries. There are five tellers all at it, with people more silent than usual, hoping to get it over with and maybe getting to rid themselves of the masks as soon as possible.

A few people in front of me, I scour the place. All are masked. Some clenching pieces of paper, most lean over to stare at their phone, as if their eyes are ready to dive into a deep pool. Every so often the number counter would change with a ‘ting’, causing several heads to lift, and then let out a sigh muffled by the mask, and the head would return to its previous downward slant right back into their phones.

I reached into my pocket to feel for the piece of paper which was my own to display that day. It was resting there, sure enough.

Several people were on the phone speaking a bit loudly. I stood there listening to them describing their most private affairs with the greatest of ease, as if they were entertaining a friend in their home. I could scarcely recall a time when such a thing was considered as rude, or even strange, behavior. The fact that you are able to do something doesn’t mean that you should do it, should you? I felt like I wasn’t alone thinking this, but that everyone else were in silent agreement, staring into their phones, thinking they are able to use them as distraction, and so they should do it.

The line of people grows shorter. The bank had conveniently made people wait in a single line that split off when you got to the end into whichever teller in one of the five stations was ready to help you. A nice way of moving the line quickly and having it all done with in a hurry.

I dislike being hurried most of the times, but here it seemed like a relief in a way. I even didn’t care for the line being long. What usually was tedious though, was thinking which teller would you get and how cranky, or unprofessional they struck you. With masks on they all seemed perfectly similar in their indifference. All equally unconcerned with your business and all likewise less prone to pass judgment.

I was now first in line and it seemed like it would come down to either a young brunette teller, which was finishing up with an overweight couple, whose sweaty t-shirts and pink puffed necks she was probably eager to let go; and an equally young oriental gentleman who was assisting an elderly woman. For the last minute or so, he was no longer looking into his computer monitor, and stared straight at the old lady, who was perhaps done with her transactions but didn’t seem to internalize the reality of that fact.

The couple slowly palmed a stash of bills which the brunette had laid in front of them, and commenced a triumphant exit, as if headed to celebrate with some food. I waited for the teller to look at me so to not barge in, as some people rudely do.

She took a few seconds to search for my eyes in the line, and gave a bewildered stare. I figured most people probably just go ahead and enter her line of sight without being called, like a conveyor belt of characters, just stepping into a slot. And now I was the odd one out for not applying this norm. I hurried to take my piece of paper out of my pocket so to not waste any time.

The teller’s eyes glazed over me as I stood there. I slipped to paper underneath the glassy screen and allowed her to read it. She took a few seconds and then looked at me, as if searching for something in my eyes.

She was nice looking, or at least the top half of her face was, which was not hidden behind a piece of cloth. It took her another minute to count the money and put on the counter. She also handed  me back my note.

Her eyes were now looking straight at me, a look I became used to receiving, a kind of alertness mixed with contempt. I had almost grown fond of it by now.

I thanked her and said “have a nice day”, which, while utterly banal as a saying, still feels like a common courtesy to me, which is why I don’t hesitate to use it whenever I bid goodbye to someone who is doing any service for me.

I went out of the bank and walked steadily home, making sure to pass through a few of the more busy streets, just in case I was being followed. I passed through the square, where the police had camped out to discourage people from walking about without a mask. I strutted besides them as if showcasing how good of a citizen I am to be wearing both a mask and a pair of gloves.


I got back home and counted the money I got. Then, I wrapped it again and went over to the bedroom and opened the closet. “Safe within a safe” I muttered, and threw it in with the rest of the week’s profits.

I took out the crumpled piece of paper from my right jacket pocket. I’ve written it with a black marker on top of a piece of some legal notices I picked off of the ground. Nothing flashy, but looks strikingly similar to your everyday bullshit bank notice. On top of it I had scribbled this lovely message:

“Please remain quiet. I have a gun and this is a robbery.

Put all the MONEY in your register into this bag – NOW

Do not call the police – or I will shoot”

I didn’t think much of it, except that I wanted something to get the tellers to do what I want without time to think. What got me thinking how easy it could be was watching everybody wearing masks and not looking at what anyone else was doing. It’s as if people willfully became deaf, blind and dumb. And so I would be dumb to not use it to my advantage.

I needed the money, who the hell doesn’t. And this was perfect. Nobody suspected a thing, not with my mask and gloves, which made sure I left no fingerprints there. I couldn’t be identified anywhere, not by anyone watching the surveillance footage, not by people on the street, and not by the teller herself. With everyone wearing masks now, I was free to walk unnoticed, a loose criminal in the disguise of an every-man.