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Archive for May, 2014

info

“The control of information is something the elite always do, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people.”

–Tom Clancy

“Information is not knowledge.”

–Albert Einstein

“The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have known since long.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

“And a new philosophy emerged called quantum physics, which suggest that the individual’s function is to inform and be informed. You really exist only when you’re in a field sharing and exchanging information. You create the realities you inhabit.”

Timothy Leary, Chaos & Cyber Culture

“Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.”

–Bruce Coville

 

The era of the Internet has dramatically inaugurated, fervently boosted and vigorously sustained the massive flow of information in a staggering proportion of global magnitude. There is a saying in reference to the ancient Roman world that “all roads lead to Rome”. In our present world, however, which Alvin Toffler dubs as the “Third-Wave Civilization,” also known as the “Information Age,” post-modern realities in general are discovered both wittingly and unwittingly along the expansive cyberspace superhighway whose breadth and length are of infinite span. [Cf.Toffler’s trilogy, Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift] To be “wired” in the post-modern parlance is to be in the cockpit of a virtual spaceship capable of travelling in the “cyber-cosmos” and exploring on one´s fingertips every corner, nook and crevice of realms unimaginable or only fantastically conceivable some few decades ago. For the more sparing and focused on her/his particular field of personal interest, professional concentration or career discipline, the Internet is a versatile “super reference” that gives automatic access to most needed information relevant and imminent here and now.

Yet, an unrestrained and “unprogrammed” exploration of cyber-information could lead us from one information source branching out to a myriad of other related sources to another source that does the same, ad infinitum ad nauseam. All taken seriously, this deluge of information accumulation is known as “information overload”. In many instances, it unnecessarily complicates and even muddles up the specific processing of a certain amount of information specifically needed in a neat and ordered presentation of a particular concern. As a general attribute, the enormity of the cyber-cosmos is like a boundless “super-mind” devoid of personal disposition and hence utterly deficient of any moral fibre without actually being immoral. For the stupid Christian fundamentalist, the “cyber-super-mind” could be the “anticrhrist” and could also be the “impersonal god” for the pantheistic intellectual who obviously can’t get rid even of the metaphorical concept of “god” off her/his cultural apparatus.

In situations of information overload where cases of “garbage-in-garbage-out” are a common thing, sorting out more important and appropriate pieces for specific purposes is one of necessity. A deluge of seemingly interrelated/interconnected data could lead us from one analytic moment to another without seriously taking into consideration the need to check source credibility. With the generally subjective tendency of people to be on the one side of an issue rather than on the other, information exploration and gathering could be more of a quantitative rather than a qualitative exercise. In this connection, we are commonly inclined to feed and reinforce our opinion and argument with one-sided information to the utter neglect of the necessary points vital in the opposite argument. In this particular condition, unilateral information—which could at worst be coming from spurious and hence unreliable sources—appropriated to beef up a stand on a certain issue will and can never lead to a meaningful and truthful understanding of a reality.

In stressing the importance of exploring and accessing trustworthy and valuable information (which of course emanates from credible sources) for worthwhile purposes contributory to a reasonable, factual, accurate and consistent understanding of certain states of affairs obtaining in the social, political, economic and cultural scenes, a substantial amount of “philosophical” sensitivity and prudence is of the essence. By and large, information flow should therefore be controlled to basically protect us and more expediently, to protect us from ourselves. The unimpeded course of information surge in the present era may both be beneficial and detrimental. The “metropolitan soul” engulfed in the “Internet bubble” and is constantly overwhelmed by a seemingly endless information bombardment does not act on her/his “predicament” not because s/he is paralyzed and helpless but simply because s/he is literally hooked into the system which is fundamentally endowed with the “spiritual power” to weaken one’s resistance to disengage her/himself from that very system.

In the present dispensation, virtual reality is henceforth not only an aspect but an interwoven fibre of paramount reality. There is no turning back for the ladder used by the precursors of this technological ascent is nowhere to be found below. With a significant amount of external prodding, push and shove, we have joined the uphill procession that leads to exploratory treks in the cyber-cosmos. And here we are now, all denizens, nay netizens, of a “brave new world” (with apologies to Aldous Huxley) whose tide of information dares us to envision new possibilities and create fresh realities hitherto undreamed of.

But can we really control information? How? Is the process inclusive of both the incoming and the outgoing? Is the issue of information control a legal or a moral matter?

The flow of information on the virtual superhighway of the contemporary cyber-age is perennial and seemingly uncontrollable. Activate the operating system, access the Internet and the torrent of information is set in motion. But the entire situation is actually a matter of one’s individual predisposition. In other words, it is the person’s decision and her/his decision alone—her/his strength of will—that bestows power to control information flow, both incoming and outgoing. Control in this sense doesn’t only mean censure and disposal but also selection and appropriation. It is us and us alone who are individually responsible to control information. We need meaningful and trustworthy information. Hence, selection as a matter of control should lead us to credible sources and not to spurious and questionable ones just to satisfy our subjective bias. In doing so, we significantly close in the gap between information and knowledge as the two do not necessarily mean the same. Strictly, knowledge as a special concern of epistemology in classical philosophy, on the one hand, is necessarily true for its modified Platonic conception as “true justified belief” remains standing, as it has always been. On the other hand, information can be anything, regardless of whether it is true or otherwise. This is a crucial concern which should be seriously taken: The age of information is not necessarily an age of knowledge. Responsible netizens committed to the ascendancy of knowledge over mere information are also conscientious “controllers” of information useful, relevant and thus consequential to what is true, good and beautiful.

This being the case, nobody could be construed as a truly accountable information controller except someone who is  committed to knowledge dissemination. This however may not really be a tough matter for anybody who really wants the truth has an equal access on the same cyber-domain to verify the information s/he has been fed with. It is therefore within the sphere of our power to control the flow of information coming to us and likewise from our end, the information we issue out for others to access. Such information control is deemed to protect us.

With all the above issues taken up, information control is really a moral rather than a legal concern. It is us and us alone who are morally responsible in controlling information flow. No state or government entity has the legal jurisdiction over information control at the public level. As private individual entities, we have the sole control of incoming and outgoing information within our individual orbits. Classified high security information strictly for official perusal of government agencies/institutions are jealously controlled within their specific jurisdictions and ranks. These are matters the public are deemed not to know but that is only from the viewpoint of government. There are however crucial information concocted by the state government yet are not released to the public despite the fact that the latter have to be informed about them.

As it has been earlier clarified, information control is a moral rather than a legal issue. Its morality encompasses not only individual persons but also public institutions/organizations, government or otherwise, with significant responsibility towards their specific subjects at the least and to humanity in general at the most. It is therefore one thing to talk of information control on the side of private and individual persons and another on the side of institutions or organizations accountable to the public. For such institutions or organizations to control information as to hide the truth from the public to whom they are accountable is an obvious act of perfidy that openly desecrates the inviolability of public trust.

In the same vein, concealing crucial information about a government’s foreign policy to destroy certain geographical areas inhabited by human beings through the exportation of wars and other forms of destabilization schemes is an indubitably immoral case of information control. Corollary to this immorality, however, is the morality of some conscientious individuals who came out and revealed to the world the nefarious activities taken up and despicable plans of action yet to be taken up against other countries by powerful governments these individuals had previously been officially connected with before their exposés.

Viewed from different angles, information control—both incoming and outgoing—is one critically serious issue of ethical scale aimed to protect us and other people as well.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 28 May 2014

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tech

“The beginning painter is focused on learning technique with the goal of accuracy. Then comes the realization that composition and design are more important.”

Robert Bissett

“Learn technique; have full command to the extent of not being conscious of how it is done. When craftsmanship has been developed, you are free to create… technique will give way to expression!”

Sergei Bongart

“Art is a thing so much of the imagination, of the soul, that it is difficult to descend to the fundamentals of technique and yet make it plain to the student that these are but the ‘means’ and not an end in themselves.”

John F. Carlson

“The artist can know all the technique in the world, but if he feels nothing, it will mean nothing.”

Chen Chi

Technique is the ability, the skill, to create or produce something of utilitarian (i.e., advantageous or beneficial) or artistic (i.e., worthy of aesthetic appreciation) value. This is an exclusive “endowment” that separates humanity from the rest of the animal world as we contemplate on how the trajectory of conscious/reflective creativity differs from spontaneity of the instinctual kind. We do not deny the “creativity” of animals but such is reckoned in a context distinct from that of humanity. In the present context—which is the human context—this essay intends to focus exclusively on creative techniques or skills that bring forth aesthetic consequences.

But techniques are not only for aesthetic but also for utilitarian purposes. Utilitarian and aesthetic . . . Is there truly a sharp dividing line? Is there something that is purely utilitarian and thus not aesthetic and vice versa? Or is there actually a point of convergence where something aesthetic is likewise utilitarian and something utilitarian aesthetic? Isn´t the human creative impulse expressed in techniques—or technically expressed—artistic enough so that there is no question at all as to whether its trajectory is utilitarian or aesthetic? This line of thought equates creativity with artistry. In other words, humanity which is basically equipped with creative consciousness in normal circumstances is therefore an artist. This we utterly affirm for the course of human history reveals a rich tapestry of exquisite artistic masterpieces of high cultural achievements in an uninterrupted succession of periods in global civilization.

We are familiar with terms like “the art of proper child-rearing,” “the art of effective resource management,” “the art of successful salesmanship,” even “the art of pleasurable lovemaking” among others. But the use of the term “art” in these instances is in a broader and seemingly all-embracing sense. This more expansive use of the term “art” covers technique itself and hence leads us to the belief that technique is art as well. However, for the present purpose, the term “art” is used in a rather exclusive sense of human expression and appreciation passionately stirred by a distinctively creative urge within a cultural milieu. In this sense, “art” collectively constitutes the known fields and disciplines in human culture called “the arts” such as literature (which includes prose and poetry); visual arts (which includes sculpture, drawing and painting); performing arts (which includes music, dance, opera, theatre and film); and of course, any combination of these artistic disciplines.

Thus, in the process of disambiguating the equivocation of technique and art, it is but proper at this stage to seriously point out that technique is not art without fully disconnecting or alienating one from the other. Though it is true that not all techniques lead to art, one thing that is fundamentally accurate is the fact that a work of art materially emanates from technique. Nevertheless, the fullness of artistic realization does not simply end in such technical production per se. Art is therefore not consummated in the technique that gives it expression. It is not enough that art is simply expressed as a manifestation of the artist´s technical talent. There is an aspect of an artwork that uniquely defines itself without any necessary reference to the adept that has created it and has given it life (of course, in the metaphorical sense), Otherwise, we would continue to hold on to the vague notion that there is a kind of art that is exclusively for art´s sake with unilateral emphasis on the technical performance carried out by the so-called artist.

Strictly, technique is hence not art. Though as we have already pointed out, there is a special sort of technique (skill/ability/talent) that precisely takes its own creative course and leads to art. In this light, technique is a trailblazing equipment—a path-beating instrumentality—that gives “articulation” to art. And technique ends at the point where what it aims to produce has finally been achieved. If it has endeavoured to produce art, art should be seen there and then: an exquisite work of human creativity that is appreciated and valued according to its own impressive and praiseworthy qualities that transcend the prosaic and the trivial. Technique may be valued with a price but the true value of a work of art qua art is not calculated in terms of how it is priced say, in an art gallery or in a bookstore, but in the lasting and substantial cultural impact and transformational influence it moulds/effects/creates in the lives of appreciative individuals. Technique—which in many instances is paid—ends once the fullness of art, in its invaluable and priceless state of positive reception, high esteem and distinguished praiseworthiness, begins. Thus, the absolute consummation of art as such rests on how its very own aesthetic appearance evokes a heightened emotional sensitivity and sensibility to an appreciative enthusiast.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 21 May 2014

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shallow

“Whoever knows he is deep tries to be clear, but whoever wants to seem deep to the crowd tries to be obscure. For the crowd suppose s that anything it cannot see to the bottom must be deep: it is so timid and goes so unwillingly into the water.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

“People say sometimes that Beauty is superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Everyone was a rose but even more complex than a mere flower. Everyone was made up of infinitely layered petals. And everyone had something indescribably precious at the heart of their being.
No one was shallow. Not really.”

Mary Balogh, A Secret Affair

“Mystical explanations are thought to be deep; the truth is that they are not even shallow.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

There is an ancient Latin saying, Aqua profunda est quieta—“Still waters run deep”—whose implied corollary is Aqua turbida est vada—“Turbulent waters run shallow”. Referent to the intellect in consideration of knowledge and wisdom, depth is ideal while shallowness is flawed. The same positive spirit in praise of quiet profundity is metaphorically captured in Lao Tzu´s Taoism: “He who speaks doesn´t know; he who knows doesn´t speak.” This is characteristic though of typical oriental thought systems in general which value silent reflection as “more philosophical” than argumentative discourse. Pursuing further this line of thought in distinguishing between depth and shallowness leads us to the point where reflective and/or meditative individuals are commonly considered to be more profound than the discursive ones.

In a much more straightforward way of viewing the issue from and appropriating the same problematique in an occidental perspective, we say that “thinkers” (of the philosophical type) are across-the-board considered as more profound than the common practical individuals on the street. Such a perception doesn´t however connote that the so-called “man-on-the street” doesn´t use his grey matter at all; rather, his way of dealing with life´s problems is basically superficial and in most cases reactive. This mindset creates a stereotypical impression that only the thinker (who is supposed to be profound) especially occupies the more distinguished place in the human community over and above the practical individual whose ways of dealing with life´s problems are more characterized by instant decisions and spur-of-the-moment actions largely determined by events as they actually happen here and now and hence lack the temporal leeway that could have facilitated anticipatory assessment and meticulous planning.

But couldn´t this perception of the proverbial “man-on-the-street” be a reckless generalization and is thus itself a shallow judgment slapped on the ordinary human being? Isn´t it more realistic to realize and accept the fact that in normal circumstances, we humans have at some point in time light and shallow moments and at others pensive and profound ones? Couldn´t it be a too idealistic abstraction to put a definitive imaginary line of demarcation between the more intellectual philosopher-type of individuals and the more ordinary less-articulate ones? Could it be a more realistic consideration to view the less-articulates to be much more profound than the former? Remember the adages, Aqua profunda est quieta and “He who knows doesn´t talk . . .”

Striking a balance at this point is of the essence. To call someone an “intellectual” and another a “non-intellectual” is a socially assigned description and hence arbitrary. To call the former “deep” and the latter “shallow” is not only naïve but ridiculous. What is more precise even without getting profound about it is the fact that both types are human whose complex network of conscious mental power may swing from deep rumination to light-hearted playfulness to inattentive silliness. Regardless of being an intellectual or not, we humans are deep and shallow, formal and casual, serious and playful, reflective and discursive, sharp and dull, bright and stupid, wise and foolish.

Where and how do we actually draw the line between individuals who are profound on the one side and shallow on the other when the truth of the matter is, even within the ranks of the so-called generally “profound philosophers” there are bickerings and controversies as one camp brands another as shallow and irresponsible and vice versa? On the one side we have the so-called “continental” philosophers who are heirs to the magnanimous tradition of classical western philosophical lineage that goes back to the ancient Greeks whose classic “profundity” is defined in their lofty metaphysical discourses and treatises. On the other side are the “linguistic analytic” thinkers who basically trace their philosophical pedigree from the philosophy of language and the analytic philosophizing of Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore and Ludwig Wittgenstein, among others.

In the early 1900s, a group of philosophers who called themselves “the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists¨ inaugurated a new philosophical paradigm distant from the “ineffable” issues and concerns of the continentals and even openly declaring that the metaphysical way is pseudo-philosophical and seriously treading on it is one worthless involvement, i.e., an exercise in futility (cf., Schlick, Carnap, Neurath, etc.). The continentals accuse the latter of being “shallow” while the analyticals accuse the former of irrelevant profundity and rubbish philosophizing by trying to make sense of the nonsense.

Yet, from within the same linguistic analytic tradition emerged in the mid-20th century a new breed of thinkers transcending both the continentals and the early analyticals without necessarily vehemently antagonizing any of them. These new analytic philosophers have done away with the issue of distinguishing between the categories of “deep” and “shallow” philosophizing. Their most fundamental focal point is on the clarification of meanings to facilitate understanding. With this in mind, they have advanced the notion that the more worthwhile and positive concerns of contemporary philosophizing should rather be the issues of sensibility, meaningfulness, insightfulness, practicability and relevance rather than being uniquely and unilaterally profound or ineffable or complex.

The challenges of real life in this world are in themselves so complex, intricate and profound enough and oft-times even require a Herculean energy to cope with, so that a philosophy coining and using complicated and nebulous language to perpetuate the impression that philosophy is deep and “heavy” is more of a burden than a channel of thought-facilitation. Philosophy should therefore be neither deep nor shallow but facilitatively—and thus excitingly—insightful, sensible, realistic and pragmatic. Philosophy is not tasked to deepen the shallow but to “unearth” and describe in understandable/sensible terms what real-life has “buried” in the complex and convoluted labyrinths of human experiences. Neither does this philosophical way lead to the trivialization (or “shallowing,” if you will) of the significant, the serious and the critical but rather to a comprehensible and lucid perspective that possibilizes fresh insights and triggers meaningful pragmatic acts.

From the continental tradition has likewise emerged an innovative philosophical direction via the post-structuralists, one of whose more important thinkers was Michel Foucault. This trend from the other side of the philosophical divide has spontaneously converged with the new analytical path to inaugurate a higher level of philosophizing that values both lebensphilosophie (life-philosophy, which is the fundamental point of departure of classical (continental) philosophy) and language criticism and analysis. Foucault called his philosophizing an “archaeological exhumation” of the significances of socio-cultural and politico-economic practices and traditions long deeply hibernating under the complex networks of undisturbed habits and dominant historical rehearsals. In the context of this new way of philosophizing, the more important contrasting categories are “being insightful” versus “being thoughtless or imprudent”.

Profundity is not philosophy but life itself while shallowness is actually one´s attitude towards life. Shallowness may be construed as stupidity, naíveté or folly. Nevertheless, not all shallowness is naïve and simplistic. It could be simple and ordinary but may also be sensible, practical and hence insightful. In this sense, “insightful shallowness” is not an oxymoron but an uncomplicated understanding of real occurrences in the human condition sans the trappings of abstruse technicalities and/or metaphysical goobledygook. After Foucault´s “archaeological exhumation” and the new analytic philosophers´ “meaning-clarification-facilitative-of-understanding,” the “ineffable” and the complex captured in the obscure jargons of speculative metaphysics are exposed under the bright sunlight of understanding which could be construed at this point in time as the newer and more positive meaning of “shallowness”—sensible, insightful and practicable.

The naive and simplistic variety of shallowness and the insignificant kind of profundity or pseudo-profundity in our original agenda are not, however, automatically dismissed in the light of what we have so far hitherto discussed. Even as late as in the present post-modern dispensation, religion and politics have not waned in their influential clout over the inhabitants of planet Earth. These are also the spheres where so much of naïve shallowness and pseudo-profundity are witnessed and flaunted shamelessly. As a case in point in the area of geopolitics, it is naïve and simplistic shallowness to swallow hook-line-and-sinker the globally widespread deceptive tactics of the U.S. government as it unceasingly peddles to the world the blatant lies that through their spearheading efforts, (1) weapons of mass destruction should be dismantled in Iraq; (2) Al-Qaeda terrorists should be extracted and annihilated in various ultra-fundamentalist Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan; (3) “genuine democracy” should be instituted in “repressive” governments of countries like Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Within US and EU, discourses and treatises of pseudo-profound magnitude have been issued out to take advantage of the naïve shallowness of the ordinary people by making them believe that all these efforts concocted and cooked by the CIA in Langley and the US Department of Defense at the Pentagon are well-meant and purposefully implemented for the preservation and strengthening of democracy and freedom in the whole world.

More of this type of simplistic shallowness and pseudo-profundity may be discussed in the religious domain more specifically in Christianity of the FUNDAMENTALIST variety where priests and pastors (most of whom haven´t even seen a theological seminary, much less trained therein, and were ordained by their equally non-seminary-trained superiors) unrelentingly spew blatant lies concealed in pseudo-profound sermons Sunday in and Sunday out behind the church pulpits. The entire scenario is typified by the presence of a manipulative religious leader who holds his audience in a mesmerized state as false promises of abundance and heaven are uttered in sugar-coated language and the severity of “god´s punishment in hell” is sown in the terror-stricken hearts of the docile parishioners who in their naïve and simplistic shallowness have allowed themselves with total submission to be ensnared by the pseudo-profundity of their “bishops/pastors/priests” who are only after the parishioners ”tithes and offerings”.

© Ruel F. Pepa, 07 May 2014

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