Social Media Activism – The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted

February 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

Introduction

Activism has its roots in truly honourable movements – paradigm shifting movements – such as African-American Civil Rights Movement, The Russian Revolution of 1917, and First Wave Feminism (and, to varying degrees, the successive second/third waves).

These revolutions all had two elements in common: an unhealthy power dynamic (racism, authoritarianism, or sexism respectively) and the resultant social, political and physical backlash of the masses. Their successes were in the long-term commitment of campaigners towards a clear, defined goal: civil rights and feminist movements demanded equality, and made significant steps towards these over years of brutal, often violent campaigning.

Social media has, apparently, revolutionized activism, with many waxing lyrical of its importance in ‘raising awareness’ and co-coordinating campaigners. The Arab Spring of 2011 was testament to this; thousands were mobilized in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the Middle-east, with social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook serving an important role. The Kony Campaign and Occupy Wall Street movement are other examples of significant social media-driven movements.

The recurrent theme to these campaigns, unfortunately, is their inherent lack of success. The Arab Spring has left the whole region in an ongoing state of inconclusive political upheaval, the Occupy Wall Street movement – besides worldwide exposure – failed in their goals of political and economic equality, and Kony 2012…well, let’s just say the Facebook-driven campaign to arrest African cult and militia leader Joseph Kony epitomizes the limitations of social media activism in its current state.

Slacktivism, Clicktivism, and Hashtag Activism

Serious, complex world events tend to find their way to the social media sphere one way or another, be it as a Twitter hashtag or a Facebook campaign page. We ‘click’ our support, and we might even – if we’re feeling particularly philanthropic – share tweets or write a supportive message. How much of this kind of engagement is really helping the cause, however? Researchers analysed the Save Darfur Cause, one of the most significant causes on Facebook.

They found that, of the 1,174,612 members, the majority did not contribute monetarily (99.76%) or recruit new members (72%)[1]. Contributions were mostly from 1%, a demographic researchers call ‘hyperactivists’ – activists who were usually already engaged in the cause prior to the online campaign. In fact, their study revealed that there was an inverse relationship between broad online engagement and deep participation.

As people engage with these causes via online platforms, their likelihood of actual meaningful involvement was reduced. The study reasons that social media activism is often tied to image and vanity. Similar, perhaps, to the bystander effect, social media ‘activists’ expect the millions of others involved to help or contribute, leading to an echo chamber where ideas are repeated, but very little is acted upon.

Another study[2] expresses the concern that, like the wearing of pink paraphernalia to support a cure for breast cancer, “the inability of small (online) public displays of token support to motivate subsequent helping behavior is a prevalent issue facing our society given that many charities and social causes have come to rely heavily on such tactics”.

People ease their conscience with a click (an act from which the term ‘Clicktivism’ pessimistically stems from). The problem is, social media activism in this form can actually inhibit meaningful engagement with the issues at hand. Social media campaigns can detract from important issues, as those involved feel contented in superficial involvement (likes or shares), potentially limiting their commitment to real action. Awareness, while necessary, will not guarantee meaningful action. People hop on the proverbial ‘bandwagon issue’ that is trendy to support at the time, and rarely stick around. It is widely accepted that deep, committed, long-term involvement, preferably at the local level, is necessary for movements and campaigns to be of success.

Western Solutions to (Complex) Foreign Problems

There’s a certain naive arrogance to the tone of many online campaigns and their respective campaigners. Catchy slogans, phrases and hashtags – Stop Kony! #Bringbackourgirls – simplify vastly complex, on-going issues, events and conflicts to the most digestible format. Tweeters or Facebookers (typically from North America, Europe, or Oceania) call for an immediate, local solution, without any real involvement from themselves or anything more than a shallow understanding of the issue.

For example, when the Kony 2012 campaign charity Invisible Children showed viewings of their film in Lira, northern Uganda, an area ravaged by Kony’s LRA[3], locals – many of whom were directly impacted by Kony’s atrocities – were outraged. They felt that not only did the campaign fail to reflect Ugandan’s lives and struggles, it glamorized Kony through its film and its posters, t-shirts, and related media.

As Ethiopian writer Solome Lemma writes, “[The campaign] paints the people as victims, lacking agency, voice, will, or power. It calls upon an external cadre of American students to liberate them by removing the bad guy who is causing their suffering. Well, this is a misrepresentation of the reality on the ground.”[4]

The disconnect between Western concern and reality is epitomized in the fact that Kony, prior to the launch of the campaign, had already left Uganda. Not only that, the Ugandan military – a force the campaign supported – were responsible for serious human rights violations at the time. Our limited understanding of foreign issues can lead to serious folly: Tweeters en-masse encouraged US military intervention to hunt down Kony. Such ‘hive-mind’ activity proves worrying; such an event could prove a political and diplomatic disaster. It comes as no surprise that, after raising $32 million in 2012, Invisible Children, Inc. have failed to assist in the capturing of Joseph Kony to date.

Truthfully, many problems in the world do not have a clear cut solution. When causes are popularized on social media outlets, they have often been on-going for years, for decades. The ‘low-attention span’ nature of online campaigns and social media is often not compatible with complex, long-term issues. When they are simplified for maximized online effectiveness, the complexity is lost, leading to misinformation and misunderstanding. For example, the recent Ebola crisis – despite there only being a handful of isolated US cases – sparked an online panic, with 6,000 Ebola-related tweets a minute[5] at its highest, giving readers the impression of a U.S. epidemic of the disease.

Concluding Thoughts

The Arab Spring of 2011 is an ongoing phenomenon, and the region is undergoing a period of significant metamorphosis. While social media proved useful in organising flash style-mobs, informing protesters, and exposing issues on a global scale, it is merely a useful tool amongst many in the enduring, multifaceted struggle towards real change.

Its benefits must be taken with its negatives. Namely, that it encourages low-quality involvement – or, clicktivism – that can actually detract from real, substantial support, and that it encourages the oversimplification of information. Social media can benefit real-world processes (meaningful action and commitment, mobilised communities, and the sharing of expertise) but it cannot replace them.

It is only through realising the limitations of social media that we can fully utilize it effectively. For true change to occur, we must commit ourselves to real involvement and action. Activists must look back to their roots, to the ground-breaking movements – civil rights and feminist movements – and draw upon their success for inspiration.

Social media can be used – locally – to organise, and – globally – to raise awareness. But the majority of progress will be made through the blood, sweat and tears of local efforts, efforts that will be measured in painstaking years, and not the nanosecond attention span of the internet.

Political change is a long game, one that is messy, chaotic and violent. It goes without saying that, in countries undergoing radical change – Syria, Egypt, and North Korea, and many more – the revolution will not be tweeted.

[1]http://www.sociologicalscience.com/download/volume%201/february_/The%20Structure%20of%20Online%20Activism.pdf

[2] http://web.missouri.edu/~segerti/capstone/Slacktivism.pdf

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/14/kony-2012-screening-anger-northern-uganda

[4] http://boingboing.net/2012/03/08/african-voices-respond-to-hype.html

[5] http://time.com/3479254/ebola-social-media/

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Photography – an artistic identity crisis

December 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

canyons photography color colour beauty art

Photograph by Erik Harrison

Photography has, since its inception, suffered a crisis of meaning of sorts. The age old question ‘is photography art’ is still a disputed one. Critics might even say that the post-digital era of image overload – especially on social media – has undermined its position as an art. Moments are captured, not created, and scenes of great wonder and beauty are duplicated. The ease of photography has, perhaps, pushed it to the point of exhaustion. Instagram/Hipstomatic fads of one-click vintage filters, which desperately seeks to imbue images with a quality that will somehow distinguish it from the many others,  succeed only in robbing the process of the integral, definitive quality in all art; thought.

It is true; most photographs are taken without this mysterious trait called ‘thought’. Consumers will rarely consider compositional dynamics or the artistic, narrative intent of the scene when taking a photograph. However, defining the medium by the ignorance of the majority unfairly adds insult to the names of the few. Masters – Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, even photojournalists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, consider every element in composing their photographs. True masters can take stunning images with the bare minimum. Watch Vincent Laforet with a cheap Canon EOS A2eL, and the awe-inspiring images he produces:

One might criticise the opportunistic nature that photography benefits from, particularly photojournalism, saying that the success of the resultant image is ‘luck’. Disputing this, I would say that people underestimate how much consideration a photographer will put into their work. They will often spend time observing a scene for recurring patterns. Having the skills to capture such moments aesthetically and meaningfully is nothing but artistic. Like the physical arts – theatre and dance – the movement of life has the potential for beauty at its essence. Often, realistic images will evoke strong emotions from the observer, be it the pity and terror we might feel for a Vietnamese child fleeing napalm fire, or the admiration of an Afghan girl’s fierceness of character. This ability to evoke emotions is one that art across all mediums share.

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Photograph by Yanzhou-Bao

Many contemporary photographers are more overtly experimental. One only has to look at the likes of Viviane Sassen to see the artistic potential of the medium. Fashion and fine art photography often entirely distort reality, with deliberately meddled/composed scenes and artistic use of photography settings. Photography is also used by artists themselves, as is the case with the likes of John Stezaker, who splices old images of movie stars, distorting reality. While many criticise the digital era for spawning the online fads we see these days, photography’s very existence is defined by technology:

 “We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art”- Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L’Art, 1931

From the earliest photograph ever taken, ‘View From the Window at Le Gras’ by Nicéphore Niépce, taken with newly developed, primitive photographic equipment, the medium has been criticized as an art form. Despite this criticism, it is my express opinion that superb photography has all of the qualities of true art; it involves thought; both in regards to the narrative and aesthetic, it can stimulate strong emotions in the observer, and it can be used to bend reality to suit the photographer’s creative vision. The lack of such qualities in amateur photography truly sets it aside from the work of skilled professionals. In an era when the sheer volume of photographs makes us worry for the originality of such content, photographers will be utilizing technology and, most importantly, their artistic vision to create more compelling, original and inspiring art for decades to come.

Psychology: the struggle towards objectivity

December 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

Background

The field of psychology influences just about every element of our lives. Business, government and educational organisations rely on psychological studies to form their methods and approaches. Not only that, the media – be it broadcast journalism, informative articles or opinion pieces – greatly rely on the field for support and evidence. It is inherently the study of us; our mental processes and behaviours. As such, there is no overestimating the importance and potential of the field. When psychology is so heavily influential, then, it proves extremely worrying when we find out how it is conducted.

A recent article indicates that 83% of experimental psychology studies in the esteemed journal ‘Science’ are unreliable.  Not only that, 82% of studies in ‘Psychological Science’ were also found to be unreliable. While the article concluded that the data in these studies is not always purposefully manoeuvred, and the inaccuracy often merely poor practice and misinterpretation of statistics, these results present a worrying image of scientific practice within psychology, possibly extending to other fields of science. Psychology has historically received a poor reception; it has been criticised as a pseudo-science, and many of the methods of the field’s pioneers, such as the likes of Freud, have been completely discredited.

History

However, since the early 20th century, psychologists have struggled towards a more quantifiable, scientific method. Behaviourists such as John Watson and B.F. Skinner distinguished themselves from the previously popular psychoanalytical, introspective approach of Freud and Jung, believing that psychology should be empirical and scientific, and the only way to do so was by observing quantifiable behaviour. Seeing the limitations of behaviourism in narrowing the scope of focus, Noam Chomsky sparked the cognitive revolution with his criticism of B.F. Skinner’s work in 1959. Since then, cognitive psychology, the scientific study of mental processes, has dominated the field.

The Problem: How and Why

Why is it that we’re still seeing such a lack of reliability in psychology? Scott Lilienfeld, a psychology professor, says “virtually all psychological phenomena hinge on unknown contextual variables”. It goes without saying that we are all unique, hugely complex, and unpredictable. Combine that complexity with an ” abundance of positive results (due to) questionable practices, selective reporting, as well as data fabrication“, and it comes as no surprise that we see such a large majority (83%) of publications as inaccurate.  Authors will also often subconsciously select data that is in harmony with their theory, known as confirmation bias.

The main fault within psychology  is that it is conducted by humans. How very droll…maybe in a couple of hundred years, we’ll have sentient robots do our scientific research for us. The thing is, humans make mistakes and bend truths, especially those with ambiguous data at their hands, and pressure from those who provide the funding. No one wants to publish something inconclusive. As Nassim Taleb says, “The same past data can confirm a theory and its exact opposite! If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death“.

Implications and Solutions

We simply need a more rigorous publication process. Scientists hold such an important role in our society, and that importance should be respected in authoring potentially deceptive studies, and letting said studies make their way past the peer-reviewing process. Psychology is a very young science. If psychologists wish to gain the respect of the scientific community, as well as the public, standards need to raised. Combined with pioneering technologies posed by the cognitive and neurosciences such as brain imaging, psychology has the potential to make some truly ground-breaking discoveries and revelations.

Finally (wait, you read all of that?), what does this really mean for me and you? I’d use this article as an opportunity for a call to action. Scientists not only have the potential to be very wrong, they often are. Inform yourself with a wide range of sources and question information that is fed to you at face value. I’m not asking you to study scholarly articles on every opinion piece or news item, but remain sceptical. The truth is bent, brushed over or treated subjectively, and information can influence every element of our lives. Something that has such powerful potential should be treated accordingly.

A Change of Direction

December 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ve recently been thinking about the direction of this blog. It’s true, I haven’t been updating it very much, which is down to my own procrastination. However, I feel like a change in direction is warranted. I want this to be a quality blog, filled with cultural commentary and thought-provoking ideas. As such, I’ll be distancing myself from the self-help stuff (there’s only so much you can say without sounding like a broken record!) and focus more on news events and stories, intelligent art (film, TV and literature) and the likes. If anyone has any suggestions or requests, I’d be willing to oblige. I’m also looking for people to collaborate with. If that means swapping guest blog posts, by all means, lets do it. Cheers guys.

Nightcrawler and Interstellar – an Exploration of Darkness

November 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

From the vast, mysterious dark of outer space in ‘Interstellar’, to the night-time Los Angeles gloom of ‘Nightcrawler’, cinema-goers are spoilt for choice this fall, that is if they’re looking for moments of thrilling disquiet, and the saturnine, gloomy intensity that comes with all-engulfing darkness. ‘Interstellar’ sees Matthew McConaughey reinforcing his new-found place in serious cinema as Cooper, a former NASA pilot tasked with one last mission; to journey into outer space to find a new home planet for mankind. Christopher Nolan reaffirms himself as king of cerebral, fast-paced science fiction films, taking pages from his own creations (Inception, Dark Knight series) as well as his influences (namely, 2001: A Space Odyssey), creating something entirely refreshing and pioneering in the process. Nightcrawler is Dan Gilroy’s directorial début, following Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he scours the night for crashes and crime scenes, filming them for profit. While less ambitious thematically, it is sleek and efficient, cold and calculated, much like its protagonist, and proves to be both a poignant reflection on our modern taste for dramatic violence, as well as a spine-chilling commentary on how sociopaths such as Lou Bloom thrive in such environments.

nightcrawler film movies new releases jake gyllenhaal cinema november

Nightcrawler protagonist ‘Louis Bloom’

At first glance, there is no doubt that Lou belongs to the night. His skin is pale and light-deprived, his mannerisms and interactions with people are eerily eccentric, as one might expect after a considerable period of isolation. His eyes, however, his eyes…they are sunken, enlarged and unblinking; always looking and always searching for the spoils of the night. Shakespeare said that the eyes are “the windows to the soul”. This soul is driven by an intensity of appetite that takes precedence above all. Daytime in this film feels odd, as if it somehow doesn’t belong in Lou’s world. His days show him in isolation, performing banal tasks such as watering his plants or ironing, waiting for the night to fall. As such, L.A. becomes a place of eternal night and uninterrupted violence, a stylistic approach that lends weight to Gilroy’s vision.

The character of Lou Bloom could be said to be the archetypal man of capitalism and the American dream. He is enterprising; from the get go, he systematically works his way up from buying a cheap police radio and camcorder to expanding into what appears to be a legitimate video journalism business. He repeats time-worn motifs of ‘hard work and initiative’, that ring hollowly, especially considering how he gains all of his success stealing, blackmailing or taking advantage of those around him. In this overt paradox, it is clear that Dan Gilroy poses Nightcrawler as a criticism of the free market and the flawed socio-economic structure that it ingratiates. How can such a system be successful if it not only permits but actively enables sociopathic opportunists such as Lou Bloom?

nightcrawler jake gyllenhaal los angeles cameraman filming

Lou stalking a crime scene for footage

Stylistically, Nightcrawler follows in the steps of the likes of ‘Drive’, moody and intense, fast-paced and hypnotic. The focus of ‘the road’, as in Drive, lends a sense of purpose and direction to Lou Bloom that is all but an illusion. He drives the night searching for opportunity, but he remains a mere predatory outsider stuck in a rotten, filthy city. Above all, Nightcrawler is an enthralling character study of a sociopath and his remorselessness in taking advantage of the ill fates of strangers, as well as those directly around him. Like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, he isn’t a hero, yet is praised and rewarded as one, and escapes the legal or moral punishment one might expect to be exacted on a villain.

Interstellar is much more ambitious in its narrative scope. It rises beyond the filth of the streets, following McConaughey as he and a small crew of astronauts travel across space to find a new inhabitable planet for humankind. It is the 2050s (or thereabouts), and earth is experiencing some sort of global crop blight. McConaughey’s character proclaims that he was ‘born for this’. As Gyllenhaal’s cold, merciless character in Nightcrawler is suited to his new-found occupation, so is McConaughey’s Cooper. That is where the similarities end, however. Cooper is very human in the sense that his motivations are mixed where Lou Bloom’s are singularly self-focused. In his mission, he is part fuelled by the love of his family, partly by an altruistic desire to help his species, and part glory and self-fulfilment. Strangely, for a dystopian film, Nolan’s approach is much more sympathetic in comparison to Nightcrawlers cynical, resigned tone.

interstellar matthew mcconaughey space christopher nolan interstellar review

Cooper (Mathhew McConaughey) and daughter look to the stars and beyond

The film is, on face value, a blockbuster epic about the survival of mankind, and space travel (in case you missed that). Unusually, Nolan puts these themes second to love. As Anne Hathaway’s character Brand says, “love is the only thing that transcends time and space”. Interstellar is – compared to the likes of Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy – very sentimental, almost soppy. Where Nightcrawler is cold and precise in its aims and vision, Interstellar is all encompassing, and flails a little because of this. The sentimentality – between Cooper and his children, as well as Anne Hathaway’s character, can be clichéd at times. There are also various unanswered questions and plot holes.

However, with a film that tackles themes of space/time travel, human extinction, love and self-sacrifice, it is my opinion that Nolan deserves some slack. Like the best of us, the film is ambitious and loveable, and that is what makes it utterly human. While Nightcrawler will leave you feeling dirty and cynical and Interstellar inspired and uplifted, both films are not only exhilarating for their entirety, they also make you think. Both veterans such as Nolan and newcomers like Gilroy are vital to intelligent cinema and the ability to entertain and inspire, inform and provoke, and it is my hope that both directors keep producing such quality work in the future.

Democracy in the Middle-east – a Moral Conundrum

October 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

democracy grief war middle east

The Arab Spring of 2011 revealed an inconvenient truth. The world watched as governmental regimes in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen were brought to their knees by a discontented population. Dictators such as Mubarak and Gaddafi were ousted, or worse, killed. The revolution promised reform, and freedom from the regimes that violated their given powers at the people’s expense. The outcome, however, was less than satisfactory. The countries involved are either embroiled in bitter, complex conflicts, as in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq, or are resigned under an almost identical political system, as in Egypt.

With the exception of Tunisia, revolutionary attempts have succeeded only in being the spark that plunged the region into inter-conflict. From a Western perspective, this is baffling. The Arab Spring almost parallels similar revolutionary processes that European nations went through centuries ago. We have failed to spread our chief export to the Middle-East; democracy.  The question is why?

Sectarian Division

The Middle-East is a region divided by ethnic and religious differences. The main schism is that between the Sunni and Shia Muslims, a division that can be traced back to the period after prophet Mohammad’s death. Calling the relationship between the two Muslim sects tense would be an understatement; conflicts between the groups have culminated during the Iraq war and, more recently, the Syrian civil war, where an Alawite Shia minority dominates the Ba’athist regime under Assad. This bias has often been to the detriment of the opposing sect. The Kurds, who are a major ethnic group in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, have been the subjects of significant suppression and even genocide. Besides these groups, many smaller ethno-religious minorities exist, along with various political, insurgent and mercenary groups vying for control of the region, especially at the outbreak of the Arab Spring of 2011, and the consequent Syrian civil war.

How can the oppressed, as divided, unauthentic beings, participate in developing the pedagogy of their liberation?”

Paulo Freire

These countries highly value familial, ethnic and tribal ties, and thus established governments will be operated based upon this. Such bias can obviously jeopardise the democratic process. Under Saddam (a Sunni), Shi’ite Muslims suffered abductions, torture and murder. The Alawite Shi’a government has similarly suppressed the Sunni majority in Syria. In Iraq, attempts at democratisation have all but failed. Despite multiple elections, the government has slipped into a corrupted, authoritarian role. Instability in the region has failed to provide the framework individuals require to become involved in a political democratic process. The experiment is a failed one – clearly a democratic revolution is unlikely – so we must look to more stable, long term solutions to deal with the immediate problems in the region.

With the Levant in the midst of war and chaos, we can say that Ba’athist regimes, whilst corrupt and totalitarian, and in many cases brutal, provided the stability that the region entirely lacks. Compared to lack of economic or social structure that recent conflicts have brought to the region, they were the lesser of two evils. An authoritarian approach has clearly worked better for such divided countries than any attempts at democratisation. It is clear that, with Iraq and Afghanistan being the main examples, attempts at forming a democratic government have led to ineffectual establishments plagued with corruption and in-fighting, especially vulnerable to ambitious political/religious groups. It is not ideal, and abusive leaders (such as Assad and Saddam) must be held accountable for their actions, but a transitional, more absolute form of government might be preferable in order to gain some form of stability, and provide a more solid backbone against insurgent organisations such as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) who undermine the region, and jeopardise its people and their futures.

Western Invasion and Occupation

Simply put, in our attempts, the West failed to truly understand the complexity of the situation in the Middle-East. From the League of Nation’s insensitive dicing up of the region after WWII, and Britain, France and the USA’s subsequent presence in the region, to the Iraqi war, the Afghanistan war and their occupations, as well as military intervention in Syria, Western forces have acted brashly, with over 500,000 dead since the Iraqi invasion of 2003. The US and its allies have been fighting the symptoms, not the cause of the problem. Their presence, far from securing the stability democracy requires to flourish, sparked a deep-seated animosity for the West. Their extensive (and expensive) training and restructuring of the Iraqi army has proved to be lacking. ISIL, a terrorist organisation with alarming ambitions for an Islamic Caliphate spreading from Syria to Iraq, routed 30,000 US-trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers with 800 men.  Some argue that while the US should never have invaded, the fact that they left in 2011 was even worse; the instability we are seeing in the country could have been prevented by residual troops keeping the peace.

Many Muslims have grown to associate the idea of democracy with the West, and while some may think of the West as a protector against oppressive regimes and organisations, so many more – especially in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria – associate the West with the death, chaos and destruction that has taken its toll on their country in our doggedly blind pursuit of ideals such as liberty and freedom. It is quite clear that, after over 10 years of occupation in Iraq, such full-on assistance has created a resentful reliance between occupied and occupier that, once broken, proves disastrous.  Intervention should be minimal, and mainly humanitarian and advisory in nature from here on out. Only then can countries in the Middle-East possibly develop the stability necessary for democracy to flourish.

Free countries, as constitutional law expert Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde once wrote, flourish in conditions that they themselves are unable to guarantee. Without a cultural learning process — like the one undergone by Europe over the centuries — the toppling of a dictator and the holding of elections are not sufficient to establish democracy. As such, the West should value functioning states to a greater degree in the future.

Christiane Hoffmann

Closing Thoughts

A painfully simple lesson has been taught to us; the Middle-East is not ready for democracy, at least not as we conceptualise it. We must cultivate conditions that will, first and foremost, reduce violence and conflict, and encourage stability. Allied forces must take a more diplomatic, hands-off approach in future involvement. The US must temporarily forgo past tensions with big players such as Iran – who are one of the only functioning, relatively stable states in the region – and encourage their involvement in ousting dangerously ambitious groups such as ISIS, who threaten Iran’s very border with Iraq. Colonial borders are archaic and damaging. Groups such as the Kurds must be listened to, and their needs have to be met. It is necessary that minorities have a voice in their future, or bitterness and resentment will guarantee the continuing of instability – especially between Sunni and Shia Muslims – that we see now. The Middle-East is in ashes, and it may be for some time to come, but with the tenacity, compassion, and open-mindedness of its people, it may rise again as a centre of learning and culture in the world.

Sources

Did the wars bring democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq?

Freedom vs. Stability: Are Dictators Worse than Anarchy?

The Sunni-Shia Divide

Protest, Uprising & Regime Change in the Arab Spring

 Global Democracy Ranking

Self-reflection and self-criticism – a fine line

October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

self reflection narcissus self condemnation awareness knowledge philosophy mindset depression

That line is an invisible razor edge. There is an innate value in being able to examine our thought processes, beliefs and actions in a weird sort of detached ‘consciousness observing consciousness’ way (mindfulness, anyone?). We can reason against harmful and illogical thought patterns, and limit self-destructive behaviour. In fact, philosophy itself is based upon inquiry and examination.

However, we’ve all, I’m sure, experienced how easy it is to fall into self-criticism. We criticise ourselves for the actions we take or don’t, for what we lack – for our weaknesses. Why, then, do we spend such a huge chunk of our time in this self-critical state, rather than a productive, self-examining one?

Our self-perception is formed from an early age. Factors such as the amount and quality of maternal attention during childhood to negative/positive reinforcement from peers all determine how we perceive ourselves. Self-perception is complicated, and is formed over years, mainly in response to stimuli in one’s environment. We often end up treating ourselves as we’d imagine we deserve to be treated. It is no wonder, then, that self-criticism and condemnation are linked with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

The biggest enemies of willpower: temptation, self-criticism, and stress. (…) these three skills —self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matter most— are the foundation for self-control. –The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal

Self-criticism is inherently an evolved survival tool. In an inhospitable environment, where survival itself meant success, criticising mistakes / missed opportunities (or whatever the negative element might be) ensured a higher chance of success and therefore procreation in the future. However, in an era where the survival ‘basics’ (shelter/food/air/water) are met for most of us in the Western world, these evolutionary traits are defunct. Sadly, however, our brains haven’t evolved as quickly as our societies and their respective technologies.

This is where we have to smarten up. If you find yourself having trouble with self-criticism, there are methods that you can use to deal with it. Ben Martin from PsychCentral has a good article on combating what he calls ‘negative self talk’. These steps, involving logic and reasoning against illogical thoughts and fears, can be found in a wide spectrum of practices, from mindfulness to cognitive behavioural therapy. They’re tried and tested, and simply need consistency in application to work.

Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate –Carl Jung

Self-reflection and examination, on the other hand, is both beautiful and useful. Urban Lifestyle Blog have a relevant article about self-reflection as part of a modern lifestyle. It’s a productive habit that allows you to process your thoughts, emotions and experiences, and potentially learn a lot from them. We spend so much time paying attention to external variables in our lives (careers, families, hobbies). If we spent a little of that time becoming more aware of the way we perceive ourselves and our thoughts, we’d be better off for it.