Monday, March 26, 2012

Life in the Petri Dish - Modern Internet Culture and the Complete Whole of our Human Experience

(A few weeks ago I saw a good friend of mine defended McDonald's on his facebook page: 
"What the Hell! Quit bashing a great place! I love McDonald's. That place has fed me since I was a little boy. All the toys I got from there-I could have never afforded to buy at a store. I'm sick of people talking crap about the golden arches man- Remember 29 cent hamburger Sunday? huh? that fed me for days! Rock on Ronald!!"
To which I have to agree. McD's have supplied the American Culture, and the world to some extent, with many memorable things. I still recall vividly the first time mom took me to the first ever McDonald's in Beijing; to me, it was a chance at freedom and the brave new world I had only thought about from my father's tales about America. Although these days I am a foodie at heart, defending what you should eat or not at times on this blog, I have to side with my buddy on his sentiment for those who has not the privilege to eat expensive "organic" "healthy" food. Although I've walked away from my daily fast food routines, I cannot help but notice that they are so prevalent in our communities; I cannot help but think maybe one day, they will be the champions of our communities once again, delivering healthy, nutritious, locally grown food, along with the toys.

But you see the obvious contradictions I face. I cannot bring myself to completely agree with everything McD is doing. I still wish we could move away from industrial farming, excessive meat consumptions, and massive waste in the food industry in general. At the same time, I know we need the institution to stand behind us in confronting our problems. I wish McD's could bring us a new constructive eating culture that would solve all of our sustainability problems. But those are big dreams. 

I had spent a few weeks thinking about this problem; from all that immersion, I've found myself lost. What follows is a rant and ramble, once again. Please excuse the philosophical babels.)  


Photomicrograph of neuron cultured in a Petri dish
Biologists would like to have your consciousness in a Petri dish, isolated and controlled, denied of its connection to other neurons, other organs, other people, other societies, other life forms.

The philosophical question is if this particular Petri dish neuron can independently appreciate being “conscious.” Or is it an automaton devoid of “Life”? (See Dennett, Daniel, Allen Lane, ed., Consciousness Explained, 1991).

There are volumes on either side of the fence; some say our consciousness is a necessary by-product of the whole, the complete of being and manifests in something beyond the cell and within the person: in the emotion of things; some would believe everything is reducible to its parts, what we call emotion and consciousness are just mere illusions of chemicals and reactions (notice the free-will problem here?) and “Life” as we would like to think is but a mere presence of the moment of biological and chemical interactions.

But I ask, even so, is there not a complete whole of such chemical and biological process that is more than its parts? Is there not a social identity, at least ideally, more than its individual parts? If we do not believe in those things, what would keep our families together? What would keep our communities together? Our nations? Our religions? Our humanity? And finally, what would keep our planet together? We might as well burn our flags and bibles now, there would be No Exit to the mere presence of things.

This is Zeno’s paradox: that if you were to break down the whole into its parts, you would never arrive at the whole; if you were to travel exactly half the distance between here and the wall, you would continue to be half the distance away from your destination.

Sometimes I wonder if philosophers enjoy being distracted by moot points of contention just so they can live happily with themselves—devoid of emotion. Other times I see it the quintessential aspect of self-perpetuation: self-validation, as it turns out, the sort of at-a-boy, goes along with these intellectual instinctive behaviors—validating one’s thinking forces action, action leads to mistakes, mistakes lead to learning, and learning leads to more self-validation. We simply perpetuate the cycle and the process this way. Six Sigma calls this organic growth, industrial and market forces, and undergoing these transitions; sometimes I worry that our pace is not fast enough to keep up with our problems. But at least even if we are completely devoid of our whole, we can pursue progress in its parts.

But as human beings, we seem to be distracted by the same kind of mootness about humanity just so we can live happily as Buddhists, Christians, Muslims; as Americans, Chinese, Germans, Italians, etc.; we do this to fool ourselves into believing in the perpetuation of something better than another—we live to perpetuate an idol.


What function do these philosophical inquiries serve is beside the point, the real issue is, even if we were to believe there is a complete whole, that we cannot simply isolate consciousness to a Petri dish, what must we do with that information?

How is the complete wholeness related to our everyday problems and challenges? Do we not still take the same process approach taken by the deconstructionists?

We identify the problems, measure against known constants and variables, analyze our observations, and finally control for improvement in the wholeness that is more than its parts. Only here we are mindful of the completeness—the whole of these parts. Here, we revisit the problem of free-will: alongside of the view that Petri dish neurons maintain the same bio-chemical reactionary “consciousness” as the whole of a person fails to address what would prompt the single cell to act in self-preservation? A person would defend him or herself, would a neuron?

Or would the Petri dish neuron choose to lose itself to meaninglessness? Does it even have such a choice? Would a person? Would a Civilization? Do WE have such a choice?

That is the existential question we ought to ask isn’t it?

Does a single individual have the emotional attachment to the whole of the human experience and the freedom to act in pursuit of its preservation? Or do we as individuals simply owe a duty of the automaton, devoid of our obligations of preservation absent of direct threat to our way of life?

We seem to make the right choice on individual, or less complete, levels. As people, we can easily agree to come together, to build meaningful societies, to live peacefully, to learn religions. As divisions of the ideal, where we have reached the pinnacle of our self-assured completeness—either in religion, in nationhood, or in cultural heritages—we seem unable to make the choice of preservation for the larger completeness, for the whole of society, of civilization, of our common human experience. We fought wars, we killed, we burned, we pillaged and sacked our sanity away.

Why is this?

Why can we build intricate and complex mechanical clocks that work as art and in complete harmony, yet we cannot build societies that work the same harmony? Why can we compose symphonies yet we cannot sing along together the same song of struggle?

The rise of ideological divides, by religious, political or other means, is maintained in control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideologically, through a hegemonic culture in which the values of those in power become the accepted views of all. (We come to see this in art, that what the rich says is Art must be Art. Peter Max must be the greatest artist of our living time.)

But at the dawn of the Internet age, we saw a shift from the old to a new generation of powerhouses; with the advent of constructive capitalism, we saw a new hope. So far, however, the Internet culture albeit with the potential but does not address the complete whole of our human experience. Our new kind of consensus culture developed in post World Wide Web age, in which people with access to information identified their own good with the good of the powerful, have only helped maintained the status quo by adopting consumption habits rather than revolting against oppression. Today, the Internet is more cluttered with buys and sells rather than progressive recognition of the artful soul of the human experience itself.

Today, majority of the people on our planet still lives in poverty, most still without access to fundamental human rights; today, the rich are growing richer and poor poorer; we the privileged few are still stilling sitting in the middle blinded by the glow of our gadgets and the promise of better tomorrow for the selected few. Today, people in developing countries do not aspire to be free, but they wish to be rich; today, we face an increasingly ironic world of capital deconstruction that is result of our previous industrial revolutions.

The Internet culture needs to develop a culture of its own, the disenfranchised people ought to take up against the 'natural' or 'normal' values of societies. Murders such as one committed against Emmett Till or Trayvon Martin must not be allowed to repeat themselves. Nor should the murders of village children from hunger, disease, and other manifestations of human greed and corruption.

The Internet culture needs to establish a new cultural objective to shape an increasingly global political arena with increasingly more compassionate domestic and international laws and norms. The distributed differences ought to be reconciled in the completeness of the presence of a new Consciousness—of the Human Experience.

The Modern Internet Culture has to move beyond its own narrow economic, corporate, and political interests; it must exert intellectual and moral leadership to dictators and autocrats, to corporate leaders and heavy investors, to political and economic coercion, to oppression in general.

A Modern Internet Culture ought to make alliances with a variety of forces building a historic bloc of voices creating a nexus of new institutions, social relations and ideas, to promote the health, welfare, and safety of all women, men, child, and all living things.

This new Modern Internet Culture must meet the people's spiritual needs and to do so people would have to think of it as an expression of their own experience. The new Modern Internet Culture must be free and uninhibited, fully disclosed, completely responsible for the course of our time shared on this planet. This means the Culture itself must move beyond the parts of different religions, cultures, nations, and institutions, and come to the complete whole of the similarities of all in ideals such as compassion, love, peace and tolerance.

Italian writer and philosopher Antonio Gramsci once said that when oppression is firmly entrenched, those in power are able to define the frame of reference and the terms of debate of every social problem. The oppressed thus find it difficult to understand the methods by which they are oppressed or the means to be employed for ending their oppressions. Add to that, those in power, often a small minority, can easily arrive at an agreement on how to maintain oppression; the public, the large number of oppressed people, find themselves unable to reach a consensus on what is to be done under tactics of fear, coercion, and delusion.

Without considering the whole of the human experience, we would have No Exit. Without seeing its worth, we would either love McDonald's to our cancerous and diabetic death or we label it as our doom and bash it in the face of others.

Someone take me to the gift shop please, I'd sooner leave this contradictory place.

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