Salon Hour on the Monoculture

The following is a selected transcript of a recent conversation with two of my colleagues, “Adam” and “Melissa,” at some point this month.

(Key: I am italicized, Adam is set regularly, and Melissa is emboldened.)

What do you mean by ‘human agency’?

The ability of human individuals and groups to self-determine and to self-actualize.

I think that that’s done.

It’s all done?

We’ve come to a point where people no longer think for themselves.

Without remembering its source, what is called the Monoculture has somehow memetically infested my consciousness. The idea, where apparent patterns of social sameness reflect an imposition of a uniform culture, keeps clinging.

The pieces of the discussion that are presented here represent, in an inherently subjective sense, the executive summary of what we tried to establish as The Problem.

Now that we’re talking about everyone being clustered—what was your phrase, Pushed into…?

Put into their corners.

Does that conflict with the idea of the monoculture? Is there a monoculture? Can there be both?

The last moment that somebody is connected, the moment that that is there, I think that has to be the game over. You’re going to see people fight back as individuals or you’re going to see people come together and become one large voice. And when that large voice happens, there has to be some effect. It can be very large in the sense that it could be an implosion of earth or it could be the moment that society finally speaks with one voice and maybe somebody’s god comes back.

[laughs]

It has to be something big. I think that the moment that everybody can come together in some way.

But how the hell are we gonna get the atheists to think that shit?

Was Herman Melville right? There’s really ‘nothing new under the sun’?

Yeah.

He wrote that over 150 years ago. That’s one of the issues I have with creating new ideas, writing original content. I don’t know how much is really new. Anytime I hear about something, it’s already played out.

I have trouble with the same thing visually, the same exact thing with visual creation. Nothing is new. It’s post-modern, you’re just recycling everything.

Endless recycling. I keep thinking about things as loops, infinite recursion. A retweet is an example.

It’s a fucking diagram, start to finish. It’s a sales process. It’s that same fucking diagram, it has your steps, back to start.

Back to the next quarter.

It’s about the perspective.

We have a perception economy. I mean economy in the looser sense, not specifically dollars and cents.

Social currency.

A social economy, or a political economy. The currency of that economy is what people like, what people are talking about. And if it becomes just an endless loop, and there’s less and less that’s really from the hearts and minds of individuals, but more about is it coming from this cluster of people—this clubby clique, whatever you want to call it—then I think that all kind of taps into this monoculture idea.

Is monoculture the new subculture?

Well it’s more of a supraculture.

Is that the one that in 10 years’ time could become the norm? Because we don’t know the new subculture.

There’s still a lot I don’t know about this, which is why I’m still trying to hash it out.

The subculture is the alternative.

But it is the alternative now, right?

I feel like maybe in our Brooklyn world it’s the alternative, but in Middle America do you think that our world is the norm?

Things went a bit off of the rails toward the end. For the record, I am agnostic on the question of biometric chips, though it is a long-standing sci-fi staple. My interlocutor is less sanguine. The future, if the term means anything, remains precisely what we are going to have to make of it…

Twitter has this feature called “discover” where it will “tailor” things for you, and that bothers me on a number of levels. One of them is it seems to know who you are, and know what you like.

I told you last year that facebook and twitter profiles are close enough with A.I. to be able to be real people. We are finally getting close to that. We’re not there yet. I’m a little early on some of my stuff, but it is getting to that point. The more that you get a sample pool, any basic understanding of statistics will tell you—

The bigger the sample…

The more we’re able to define it. Exactly what you’re gonna do at any moment. Okay. This is a natural by-product. What happens when small businesses are no longer able to put a product in front of you as a consumer. That interchange has changed. We had a phonebook, we had national yellow pages, and the like. This is all a product of that. It’s no longer about getting something to you to make a choice. The way that we are doing ads, the way we are able to help somebody get their information, it’s all being challenged in this garbled world of social. Who’s gonna be the largest brands, who has a larger presence online?

Another element is the decline of trust in institutions, or trust in “experts.” Because if everyone’s an expert…

Pundits.

As we were saying earlier, if everyone’s a private [investigator] or everyone’s an expert or everyone’s an authority, then you’re not gonna trust the established authorities, or any establishments.

But isn’t that exactly what the [White House] press corps has become now? So eventually people no longer trust them.

You were mentioning products, that reminded me of those old ads—they changed the wording. At first it was tell your doctor about this designer drug that will probably kill you but may or may not solve your problem, but then they changed it to ask your doctor, but that’s still problematic because the doctor used to tell you on his educated knowledge of medicine and your patient-doctor relationship what you should take, but now he’s sponsored and you ask your doctor.

The relationship with your doctor has also changed. There’s no longer the family doctor.

That makes house calls.

Or had your history or knew who you were. Now it’s pop[ping] into a different city and can I get it on my insurance or not…

Someday they’ll be able to plug something into the back of your head and get a read-out of all your information.

Soon. It’ll be in your lifetime.

It’s at least 50 years away.

Chips. They do it in animals.

But people will put up some resistance…

What’s the alternative?

Ostracized?

Inability to travel? To participate in society?

You won’t be able to get a job?

You won’t be able to leave the country…

Or get housing.

Pay your rent.

“Chip? Everyone has a chip.” Tyranny of the majority.

This is how you pay your money, scan it in. There’s going to be pockets of resistance that are created in society.

If I live long enough to see that world, I’m gonna say right now…

And play this back to the future you!

I hope I’m part of that resistance, because otherwise I’ll have betrayed everything I believe in if I’m not. I can’t imagine being part of a world where I’m literally another cog in a machine that any particular cog has no control over.

But for some people…

And I don’t believe it’s inevitable, that monoculture has to lead to that. There is still a chance, there’s still plenty of opportunity for people to either collectively or individually rise up and say, ‘We’re not gonna live that way,’ and create other modes of being and living. I don’t know what those are yet.

It is about the megaphone, because it’s about the idea that to be able to get to an audience, it used to be very expensive. And this is everything. It didn’t matter if you were an artist, if you were a writer, or a photographer. To get your product out to a large amount of people required an interchange that usually you didn’t have access to or cost you a lot of money. There were outside factors that also controlled that, government, institutions…

Now there are no more barriers to entry.

Religion used to suppress books, governments used to suppress these ideas of freethinkers. Now that doesn’t take place. The power of what happens when someone becomes such a big megaphone that there has to be a point where when somebody finally gets 50 million followers, they can say, ‘You know what? I don’t want to pay taxes anymore, and I don’t think you should pay taxes, either.’ Now it’s not just one person saying that, now it could be a very big group.

What happens—and this is a complete hypothetical—what happens in four years’ time, how fast things move, that all of a sudden Obama has six billion twitter followers and he just says, ‘You know what, I think I’m going to run again, and if you don’t like it that’s just too bad. I don’t care if it’s against the constitution, because you know what, I answer to a larger voice now than the American people.’

[laughs]

Get it, Obama!

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