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Thursday, May 31, 2018

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The opium of the people today + Saturday Film

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The opium of the people today.

But first we are going to the movies this Saturday 2nd June to see the
Terry Gilliam film "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" which as you know
Matilda plays a key role in this adventure-comedy film!

I propose the 5:20pm showing at the Cine Ideal so we have enough time to
go for a drink after. Please get your own tickets; I'll try to be at the
cinema by 5:00pm.
"The Man Who Killed Don Quixote"
Original version with Spanish subtitles
Show Time: 5:20pm
Cine Ideal, Calle del Dr Cortezo, 6, 28012 Madrid

In the meantime for Sunday:

The opium of the people today

At the time Karl Marx wrote "Religion is the opium of the people", in
1843, which is not the actual sentence Marx wrote, China and Britain
were involved in the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856–1860). You will
remember that Britain sold opium from India to Chinese addicts and with
the proceeds they bought luxuries from China to ship to Britain.

It is also unsurprising that when the Chinese government objected to the
British activities their (British) response was to lay siege* of Canton
(now Guangzhou) and Nanjing. Gunboat diplomacy is a very common way to
solve issues between powerful countries and smaller countries who object
to being exploited.

So while this idea of "…opium of the people" is not necessarily an
original invention of Marx it is an excellent description of the state
of affairs of people at the time. Religion, however, is probably cheaper
and maybe just as effective to exploit people.

The idea of the saying is both to highlight the scope of alienation from
one's fate in life and to create a sense of compliance that can be
exploited by others. The addiction to opium is not just the biological
effects of the chemicals in opium on the brain, but also the
understanding of the person (the addict) that there is a causal
connection between the plant and the hallucinating effects caused by the
opium. Of course, when I say understanding I don't mean rational
understanding but causal process understanding. The sale of the opium is
the exploitative part.

So what we are looking for is today's equivalent of those things that
create a feel good effect in our brain which we understand to be the
causal connection between what we do and what we feel. The exploitation
is to supply whatever it is that bridges the gap. Some commentators
compare Marx's religion to modern sports, fashion, celebrity,
entertainment and so on. Personally I think this is a wrong
interpretation of religion in modern times.

Religion is not about any deity or code of ethics, but about our sense
of feeling good from doing 'good' or being good. Friendship, love,
charity, cause campaigning, and volunteering are all means of causing in
us this idea of self worth which leads us to feel good about ourselves.
Feeling good is a good motivator for human beings.

Another desirable effect about religion is that it keeps society in some
order. But like gunboat diplomacy religion does not always work. If the
objective of opium, religion or whatever it is that creates awareness in
us of feeling good about us, how are we expected to apply limits to this
commodity? Thus, exploiting the "feel good" feeling in us can go awry
and we end up with extremist zealots, dangerous behaviour, unhealthy
narcissism and so on.

Today, we have more opportunities to feel good about us through social
media which is no less metaphysical about the real world as religion is
about the life of deities. Social media and accessing social media is
also very cheap. Our ability to contact long lost friends makes us feel
virtuous about ourselves, keeping in touch with family thousands of
miles away makes us feel good, ranting on about some politician makes us
feel even better and seeing ourselves in selfies and photos can do
wonders to our ego. A note of caution here, this has nothing to do with
narcissism. What we are referring to are justifiable feelings to have
and justifiable activities to pursue. There is nothing inherently wrong
with keeping in touch with friends.

But where is the exploitation and what is the product we are paying for?
The exploitation is us exposing ourselves more efficiently to
advertisers, social engineers and political scientists, plus the gadgets
we buy to connect onto the social media. When we connect to social media
we are also providing information about our behaviour and beliefs that
can be used to monitor us, social dynamics, and surely an opportunity
change social dynamics by those in power.

On the internet, and social media in particular, we are the product:
information about us is valuable data for modelling human behaviour,
invent new device and formulate policies to keep us alienated from the
reality of the world, plus as I said we can be identified individually
by those in power. And this alienation from reality may or may not be
the product of some 'evil deceiver'! As observers of social media keep
telling us; if it's free on the internet, you are the product.

Best Lawrence
* see for example Gunboat diplomacy by 'Dean Swift' the pen name of the
author.
http://general-history.com/gunboat-diplomacy/



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from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The opium of the
people today + Saturday Film

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