Sunday, March 5, 2017

Withdrawal as a reaction to exclusion

Since our class discussion, I've been fixated on the idea of preventing social isolation, and how this in turn could stop radicalization. A while back I read this New Yorker article ( in the hopes of understanding the relation between Paris proper and the Banlieues. Before moving here, I had no idea that the Banlieues are so weighted with deep-seeded and racially charged issues: the article explains how those living there have trouble gaining meaningful employment, how tourists and Parisians rarely ever venture into these areas, and the imbedded discrimination from those who believe that the inhabitants of the Banlieue aren't "truly French".

The following excerpt pulled from the article seemed relevant to our class discussions: 
"According to Laurent Bouvet, a political scientist, an √©lite degree is the only guarantee of finding a good job in a country that’s mired in economic torpor. This is increasingly true in America, too, but the U.S. absorbs immigrants far more easily than France. What the two countries have in common—and what makes them unique—is a national identity based not just on history, blood, soil, and culture but on the idea of popular sovereignty. In France, this is called republicanism, and in theory the idea is universal. In practice, being part of the French republic has to do not just with democracy and secularism but also with what you wear, what you eat, and what you name your children".

This idea, that you must conform to ideals of some sort of "way of life" in order to be truly French, is completely isolating. I believe that the small, seemingly insignificant parts of our personality - our favourite comfort foods, the music we listen to, the sports we watch - are integral to the formation of our identity. And if we don't feel that our identities are accepted, celebrated, and encouraged in our everyday lives, social isolation is unavoidable. This article reiterates that the Banlieues are physical representations of this sort of isolation - the author writes that "the city felt like the perimeter walls of a prison". Feeling both physically and ideologically removed from Paris, or the "other" France, must take its toll. I wonder what kind of civic media project we could work to create to help foster connections between communities. If the physical distance between Paris and the Banlieues can't be breached, can an online sphere help ease some of this isolation? It's a concept that I'm interested to explore in the remainder of the course. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Identity in Utopia

With regards to our discussion last week, I found myself most intrigued by ideas of utopia and identity. In a highly individualistic society, we constantly reconstruct notions of utopia based on both community and ideology. By traditional definition, utopia is conceived as a communal place whereby a collective agreeance of perfection is achieved. While this statement can be argued, I believe its validity is reinforced by the human conditions of acceptance and meaning making. People cannot navigate a modern world without interaction, and thus even the most isolated of people participate in community. The creation of a personal utopia anchors identity, but we are constantly evolving this identity based off our surroundings. In thinking of our sphere of communication, I thought of the following layers:
·         At the core, exists our identity where utopia is rooted.
·         Surrounding this core is our physical community.
·         Beyond our physical community is our digital community.
·         From our digital community, there is a large surrounding layer of digital space. This space is incredibly chaotic and we rely on filters provided by our physical and digital communities to navigate this chaos.
·         The final layer is the Other, which exists on the farthest reach of our spheres, and is where authentic empathy exists. It is also the most difficult layer to penetrate, as we must navigate all other layers effectively to reach this layer.

Going off this hypothesis, our notions of utopia are created primarily from the three layers closest to our identity. While changes in ideas of utopia most commonly occur from changes in these proximate layer, acceptance of the other signifies the most powerful change agent of our beliefs. It is also important to consider when there is a weaker the layer of the physical community, the digital layers compensate. Therefore, people who are more subject to vulnerabilities in identity can be more easily exploited.

Outrage also plays a pivotal role in these conceptions, as it helps to reaffirm our notions of utopia, and therefore identity. In an economy of attention, outrage can arguably be considered one of the most valuable currencies, as it elicits emotionally charged reactions that keep our attention (until we can no longer continue encoding outrage). That said, outrage could also be the biggest impediment to empathy and restrict our notions of utopia within the proximate spaces. With all of this in mind, it makes me wonder how reconstruction can effectively occur within radicalized individuals who have undergone some sort of compromised identity. Is radicalization something you carry forever, albeit at highly suppressed levels?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Radicalization as an attempt to find a solid identity

Is part of the problem the failure of countries to properly integrate their foreigners? Correcting this could be a step in the right direction towards preventing radicalization. When individuals feel unwanted or ostracized, they will naturally seek to find a place where they belong. A foundational component of our human nature is grounded in mutual relationships. Historically, we have always been in communities. Belonging operates as a basic need of oneself that must be met before the needs of an external are met. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love/belonging comes before esteem. It is only out of belonging to a group that one’s identity can be solidified. If you fail to belong to a group, your identity is not clear, and consequently esteem cannot be induced. If one does not have esteem for oneself, how can respect for another occur? It goes back to the basic love principle, you cannot love someone without knowing how to love yourself first. Societies are becoming more exclusive instead of inclusive (as we can see in the current rhetoric of the Trump Administration), making individuals feel like they do not belong. Radicalization is an enormous leap, however from our reading we see it is a process that does start somewhere. If countries made these people feel like they belong even though they are a minority, this could lead them to develop a sense of self, or esteem, which would prevent them from being easily manipulated by these radical groups. However, with this gap present radical groups are able to come in and manipulate because the individual is desperately attempting to establish a solid identity and find true belonging, as they perceive themselves as being rejected from the larger society. Referring back to the lack of logical arguments:  How can one maintain or even care about logical arguments when the logical arguments pushed are not matching up with actual experiences. The logical argument being, do not harm another citizen in your society because we are all fellow citizens. If the person is being told they live in an equal society yet they are being treated as something else, a cognitive dissonance is produced. This uncomfortable feeling leads individuals to seek out ways to manage or eliminate it, which leaves open the opportunity for these radical communities to come in and provide an explanation as to why things are the way they are, even if it’s completely illogical. This illogical argument from the radical communities appear to make more sense because the reality argument put out by the society is not true, as it does not match up with the living experience of the person. The situation of radicalization can only get worse if countries continue to fail to properly integrate all into their society. It is one thing to declare equality, but if it is not happening on a micro-level, it appears as false rhetoric, in which radical groups can appear offering to provide some form of “truth” as opposed to a widely accepted “lie”.

The "Me" Generation and the Role of Narcissism in the age of Social Media

What struck me as the most significant theme of our discussion was the role of narcissism, particularly as it relates to our social media interactions.  I was reminded of a Time Magazine article I read about how the millennial generation - or the “me” generation - has been raised to believe that everyone is special and everyone is a winner.  Yet paradoxically, the millennial generation has the lowest self-efficacy of any previous generation.  I think this goes hand in hand with our newly hyperlinked, technological world.  

Technology has been at the forefront of the millennial generation, and most of us are exposed to endless amounts of breaking news; largely depressing and overwhelming.  With this over-saturation of media constantly re-demoralizing us through our social media streams, it’s no wonder people feel that any attempts to make a difference would be futile. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that technology evolved in a way that allowed us to be even more at the center of our own universe.  Not only do our interests and desires control everything we see in our online communities, but we now have the chance to be microcelebrities in our own social network world.  Sure we aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense of the term, but to our networks for friends and followers we feel self-righteous and empowered by likes, retweets, and complimentary posts.  We also possess the savoir faire for maximizing our positive feedback, such as bribing others to pay you attention by commenting and liking their posts, with the expectation they will return the kind gesture.  I’m reminded of the article “Microcelebrity and the Branded Self” by Theresa Senft, in which she states,

the Internet has become a stage, and a successful person doesn’t just maintain a place on that stage; she manages her online self with the sort of care and consistency normally exhibited by those who have historically believed themselves to be their own product: artists and entrepreneurs. Yet, at the same time that people are beginning to perceive a coherent online presence as a good and useful thing, they are also learning that negative publicity can be quite dangerous to one’s employment, relationships, and self-image.”

Our discussion made me wonder – could all the negative hate speech online actually be people holding back? Is it perhaps even worse?  We feel “safe” in our curated online communities, but I think everyone understands there is a sense of surveillance to it.  After all, potential employers could be looking at our pictures, comments and tweets.  I’d be curious to know the extent to which people are censoring themselves for this reason, and on the flip side, to which they’re sharing content that they just think they should share to be an “involved citizen”?  By the observer effect, where the act of being observed makes one alter behavior, our online presence is by definition not us being our true selves (although we have all seen that person who posts as if they are oblivious to how they appear to a wide audience), but rather curating our ideal self. Hence people sharing articles they haven’t even read, or signing online petitions of support for political movements, but never taking that activism much further.

We also touched upon the question of which is stronger, desire or narcissism.  I would argue that narcissism is at the root of desire.  We desire things not for sheer pleasure but to trigger the desire or envy of others –personal gain.  Interestingly, the psychology research I’ve read on narcissism is pretty divided on whether narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can be treated or not. A lot of doctors refuse to treat narcissistic patients, while others practice various techniques aimed at improving empathy.  I was thinking it might be interesting to study some of these techniques such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization, and reprocessing) and even danger exposure/reliance techniques and how social media, augmented reality, or gaming might be used to actually improve empathy.  I’m also interested in exploring the link between narcissism and aggression into violent behavior.