Category Archives: Spirituality

Knowing Me, Knowing YouTube: Are Video Algorithms Silently Recasting Us?

In recent years, it has become almost passé – and all-too-easy – to blame the ever-encroaching behemoths of social media for a whole host of problems. Because of the continued weight given to matters of state, scrutiny of these corporations has overwhelmingly focused on their alleged capacity to engender electoral upsets and remove entrenched power elites – often at the cost of installing a yet more freakish, less predictable iteration of the departing political class.

However, this relentless focus on a single apparent consequence of mass social media adoption has effectively obviated discussion of considerably more profound impacts that these historically new technologies are having on both society and the individual; in this context, the YouTube algorithms which suggest new video clips to the end user based on previously-viewed content merit serious attention.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, video has assumed a primacy within the media sector such that it is in an unparalleled position to shape human consciousness. Digital television, the evergreen DVD format and streaming services together now dominate how we perceive the world beyond our immediate surroundings. But just a single streaming website – YouTube, which Google acquired back in November 2006 – can claim to be making the next leap: guiding us, whether consciously or otherwise, into new and deeply personal cultural realms.

Uniquely amongst video content portals, YouTube possesses a truly enormous and phenomenally diverse back catalogue of televisual fragments – and a truly massive community which is continually uploading content, fusty and fresh, to its servers.

On a basic level, what this means is that only YouTube has the ability to continually present hyper-customised video recommendations to its users. This may sound borderline innocuous. But the consequences of this go far beyond the conventional platitudes of monetisation and engagement (although these are certainly encompassed by its emerging business model). Much more interesting is the fact that YouTube can effectively curate the cultural preferences and overall evolution of nothing less than the individual citizen – and maybe even the individual soul, particularly if recommended videos pertain to spirituality – to a remarkable degree.

Should this worry us? This is enormously difficult to state with any certainty, partly because no two users will experience YouTube in quite the same way. Additionally, the relevant algorithms are still quite clunky and easy to game – though whether they are broadly perceived as such is another matter entirely. But at the very least, this is a debate that should enjoy much greater prominence, both in regulatory circles and far beyond.

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Filed under Culture, Psychology, Spirituality, Technology

Nuking for Jesus: Westminster Abbey ‘to Celebrate the Holy Trident’!

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Filed under Politics, Spirituality

Reflections on #Lexit: Why Capitalism is Not the Problem

As the Brexit process – and quite possibly the United Kingdom itself – continues to jump the shark, original and rational (let alone coruscating) analysis of this phenomena remains that scarcest of commodities. It was therefore with great relief that we were alerted (via the Twitter feed of the inimitable Paul Mason) to the existence of Lea Ypi’s excellent There is no left-wing case for Brexit: 21st century socialism requires transnational organisation.

Ypi – who is a particularly iconic Professor of Political Theory at the London School of Economics and Political Science – posits a compelling and sophisticated case for why Britain’s impending departure from the world’s most valuable single market is unlikely to engender a more humane set of outcomes for a general population apparently in thrall to that curious mix of uncritical neoliberalism and buck-passing xenophobia laced with deliberate ignorance.

However, it is her analysis of why those social demographics commonly (and not always accurately) lumped together as ‘the Left’ have failed to advance politically from the 1990s onwards which stopped us in our tracks: ‘As representatives of the centre-left wore business suits and moved into central bank buildings, those of the radical left kept the squares, the flags, and the slogans. But both lost ordinary people.’

After some reflection on this exquisite sentence, we at Mediolana aver that it merits unpacking as follows:

  1. The non-distinction between those members of society who (to use a Chinese metaphor) leap into the sea of business and those in the financial services sector mirrors the Left’s broader analytical weakness in not distinguishing between people who engage in productive wealth generation on the one hand, and those who use this same wealth to subsidise their own bad bets (cf. the 2007– global financial crisis).
  2. More broadly, the Left’s antipathy towards capitalism as a whole – and not, say, the grotesque elements of financial capitalism specifically – is not merely analytically bankrupt, but helps ensure the continued rampant exploitation of vulnerable groups by its misidentification of the problem, which is fundamentally a moral and even spiritual one, albeit one with a partially material solution. (Indeed, the most extreme instances aside, whether an economy is ‘capitalist’ or not tells us surprisingly little about the state of equity and the quality of life experienced by the people who inhabit that system.)
  3. On a final and related point, given the fundamental nature of the problem, the Left must at last seriously consider how it is going to mine the world’s great ethical systems for guidance on how to sustainably address complex human impulses such as greed, dehumanisation and the erosion of empathy. To this end, Karl Marx’s facile orientalism needs to be rapidly discarded; instead, sustained and respectful engagement with both Western and global spiritual traditions should commence with immediacy.

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Filed under Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Spirituality

Resurrecting Brand Anglican: Can Embracing Contemporary Media Save the Church of England? #COFE #FollowTheStar

With the Christmas period fast receding into the distance, it seems entirely apposite to glance back at one of the more intriguing pieces of marketing in the run-up to what has become arguably the greatest target date in the global economy: the Church of England’s 96-second video clip that was the centrepiece of its Follow the Star campaign (‘FTS’, ‘#FollowTheStar’).

According to Adrian Harris – the Head of Digital for the official denomination of state in the United Kingdom’s largest constituent nation – the core concept behind #FollowTheStar was to get more people to attend church. To this end, his organisation’s 2018 Christmas advert follows real-life parishioners in their preparations for and attendance at what one assumes is a semi-fictional Christmas service.

The commercial itself is not the worst out there, although like many of contemporary examples of the genre it suffers from a lack of investment in developing visually compelling characters with truly arresting personalities.

However – after some reflection – we at Mediolana can’t help but wonder if, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, the basic logic of the ad is somewhat flawed. Understandably – in an era when attendances at Church of England venues are reaching unprecedented depths – the C of E is desperate to funnel warm bodies back into the pews; however, the depiction of a full church as displayed in the marketing spot is not just arguably a tad deceptive, but is setting up the viewer for a big disappointment should they ever follow through on their interest in the ‘service’ being proffered.

Instead, it could be posited that the Church of England should look at the problem from a near-opposite perspective and ask itself the basic question of why it is losing market share in the first place.

This is indubitably a vexed and complex issue, but one thing can be said for certain: any religious denomination whose teachings and general theological direction are virtually indistinguishable to that of mainstream opinion in what is easily one of the more secular societies anywhere on Earth is in serious danger of not differentiating itself enough to be relevant – or even basically interesting – to those of a spiritual bent.

This is a problem which even the tremendous resources and privileges that the Church of England enjoys for historical reasons cannot solve. And until this essential weakness is addressed, the curious spectacle of the established church in the home of the industrial revolution experiencing biological leakage to stronger ‘brands’ such as Buddhism, Islam, and other Christian denominations risks continuing unabated.

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Filed under Marketing, Spirituality

Word Down: China Bans #Internet Sales of Planet’s Most Popular Book!

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Filed under Law, Political Science, Spirituality

Making Relationships Great Again, Part 2: Three New Rules for a Post-Weinstein Era

As regular readers of this blog will be well aware, back in the comparatively innocent days of January 2017 we published a piece – inspired by an article at the magnificent Fashion Artista – which exhorted women to help make relationships great again, in large part by recognising the power that they have to reject mediocre processes and outcomes.

However, since the recent, explosive and murky revelations involving the now former CEO of The Weinstein Company – accusations which are themselves giving birth to a seemingly endless and grotesque reel of similar allegations against all manner of entities – it has quickly become apparent that the relationship scene in much of the developed world is even worse than we thought: a broadly post-religious, post-modern milieu which is not merely defined by empty sex, but arguably some seriously abusive practices which are rapidly corroding the very fabric of the individual.

Given this reality – and to avoid a situation where the human interaction environment resembles a zero-trust zone in which the only winners are lawyers – there is, perhaps now more than ever before, an absolutely desperate need for some new rules which help obviate the desecration of male-female relationships. After some contemplation, here they are:

  1. The ‘Serie A Handball’ Rule. Those soccer fans with even a passing familiarity with Italy’s Serie A will have noticed an intriguing development in recent seasons: that of defenders placing their hands behind their back at the mere possibility of an incoming aerial pass into the penalty area by the opposing team. The reason they do this is to avoid any suggestion that they might intentionally handle the ball and give away a spot-kick. Similarly, men in positions of power over females should adopt a zero ambiguity approach pertaining to physical contact that leaves no doubt as to their good intentions.
  2. The ‘Female Sexual Desire Exists’ Rule. A longstanding moral precept in Western Christian and even post-Christian culture is the idea that women are – somehow – not supposed to show interest in sex. This is problematic on many levels, but the key point here is that it deprives women of agency in relationships: because they are not meant to display certain emotions and desires, this in turn gives creepy predators a kind of cultural licence to proceed with nefarious acts on the grounds that lukewarm reactions to even wanted sexual advances are normalised. Conversely, in traditional Chinese, Islamic and Japanese cultures, fulfilment of female sexual desire is itself perceived as a sublime goal, so long as this takes place in the right context. Comprehending these teachings in their fullness is not merely viable; it is urgent.
  3. The ‘Just Be’ Rule. When women are (i) not under constant threat of being intimidated, groped, or worse; and (ii) respected as people who have a powerful and discerning sexual dimension that is not afraid to make itself known, the psychological space to develop deep emotional connections can appear. And men can, in turn, relax and just be, safe in the knowledge that females – who are an order of magnitude more obsessed with love, sex and relationships than most males can ever realise – will not hesitate to let a man they like be aware of precisely that fact. Moreover, this system incentivises non-predatory behaviour whilst rewarding virtue; it represents a serious upgrade on today’s degraded dynamics.

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Filed under Media, Psychology, Spirituality

Hygge-ing Hell: ‘World’s Happiest Nation’ in New Serotonin Scandal!

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Filed under Parenting, Psychology, Spirituality