The origin story of civil society and inequalities from the introduction of private property to the destruction of natural liberty told by Jean Jacques Rousseau
Extracts from “On the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
I conceive that there are two kinds of inequality among the human species; one, which I call natural or physical, because it is established by nature, and consists in a difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind or of the soul; and another, which may be called moral or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorized by the consent of men. This latter consists of the different privileges, which some men enjoy to the prejudice of others; such as that of being more rich, more honored, more powerful or even in a position to exact obedience. […]
Civil society started with the fencing of land
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society.
From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” […]
Before they arrived at this last point of the state of nature […] man’s first feeling was that of his own existence, and his first care that of self-preservation. […] But from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow up with the crops. […]
Constitution of We The People
Besides, however speciously [the rich] might disguise their usurpations, they knew that they were founded on precarious and false titles; so that, if others took from them by force what they themselves had gained by force, they would have no reason to complain. […]
[The rich] readily devised plausible arguments to make them close with his design. “Let us join,” said he, “to guard the weak from oppression, to restrain the ambitious, and secure to every man the possession of what belongs to him: let us institute rules of justice and peace, to which all without exception may be obliged to conform.” […]
Origin of Civil Society
Such was, or may well have been, the origin of society and law, which bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labor, slavery and wretchedness. […]
Societies soon multiplied and spread over the face of the earth, till hardly a corner of the world was left in which a man could escape the yoke, and withdraw his head from beneath the sword which he saw perpetually hanging over him by a thread.
Civil right having thus become the common rule among the members of each community, the law of nature maintained its place only between different communities, where, under the name of the right of nations, it was qualified by certain tacit conventions, in order to make commerce practicable, and serve as a substitute for natural compassion.
You can read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality here.
Watch step-by-step police manipulation techniques used to extract confessions for crimes committed or not. Would you resist the psychological warfare?
75% of homicide exonerations are explained by prosecutor or police manipulation
According to a report from the University of Michigan Law School, there were 149 people who were declared innocent or cleared of their convictions or guilty pleas in 2015. The innocents had served nearly 15 years on average for crimes they did not commit.
In 75 of the 149 exonerations, it turned out no crime had been committed, e.g. accidental death wrongly attributed to arson. In 65 cases, the defendants had pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit. False confessions had been obtained in 27 other exonerations. In the latter 2 groups, the convicted were either juveniles, mentally ill, intellectually disabled, or under threat. Overall, 75% of the homicide exonerations were explained by official misconduct of prosecutors or cops.
Suspects often end up believing in the fabricated confession
One of the most troubling aspect is that suspects often end up believing in the fabricated confession, thanks to the strength of false memories. To prove how easy it is to convince a person that s/he has committed a crime, Julia Shaw (University of Bedfordshire, UK) and Stephen Porter (university of British Columbia, Can) conducted an experience published in Psychological Science in January 2015.
Participants went through a series of 1-hour interviews over a three-week period. During the first meeting, the interviewer read two stories about the participant: one true anecdote reported by parents and one story entirely fabricated. In the latter, the participant had committed a crime (robbery, assault, etc) or suffered a major mishap (injury, loss of money, etc).
The participants were asked to search their memories about the two stories and to provide additional details in the subsequent meetings. At the end of the experience, the results were quite impressive as more than two thirds of respondents actually believed to have lived the false story providing specific facts about the police officers they were supposed to have met.
A situation of stress facilitates the manipulation of false memories
Why is the inception of false memories so easy? For the 2 researchers, false memories, like real memories, are reactivated by assembling scattered fragments, which have sometimes no direct connection with the story to remember. The credible fragments help to make the story probable: “what it might have looked like can turn into what it would have looked like, which, in turn, can become what it looked like,” hence creating the false memories. A situation of stress facilitates the overall process by removing any possible reality checks.
It also appears that the art of persuasion of the interviewer is not neutral to obtain confessions. In 2003, two social psychologists, Eric Knowles at the University of Arkansas and Jay Linn at Widener University, formalized the approach-avoidance psychology of persuasion. To be persuasive, one must (i) increase the appeal of a goal (the “approach”), while (ii) decreasing the resistance surrounding that goal (the “avoidance”).
In a police interrogation, after preliminary assessments, the investigator’s tactic is to accuse the suspect of the crime, suggesting how and why the crime happened, usually based on presumptions rather than physical evidence that are hard to come by at crime scenes. The detective then initiates the do-the-right-thing approach, emphasizing confession as the only way to close the situation of stress and put the mind back to peace. This conflicts with the suspects’ (innocent or not) desire to avoid punishment, and creates indecision.
Seven principles to remove resistance barriers
For psychologist Robert Cialdini, seven principles are effective to remove avoidance barriers:
People tend to like and trust people who are like them, hence the most effective cops attempt to engage in casual conversations to create a non-threatening atmosphere and build a relationship based on shared interests and beliefs. The British Psychological Society (BPS) reported a study showing that confessions were “14 times more likely to occur early in an interrogation when a rapport-building approach was used. Confessions were four times more likely when interrogators struck a neutral and respectful stance. Rates of detainee disclosure were also higher when they were interrogated in comfortable settings”.
People respect and follow experts or leaders, hence the numerous headlines including “scientists say” or “research shows”. Business titles, impressive clothing, or even expensive, high-performing automobile are proven factors in lending credibility to individuals. For a police officer, authority is a given, and is easily abused. For example, cops routinely recommend suspects to waive their Miranda rights (to remain silent without the presence of an attorney) if they have nothing to hide. Suspects, whether innocent or not, often waive their rights as they want to be seen as cooperative and are afraid of antagonizing the police.
People tend to return favors, hence providing free information, samples, or a positive experience incentivize people to give you something in return. The good cop strategy is based on this principle. In stress situations, many people will open up to someone offering compassion, and even go along with suggestions to ensure that the presumably nice person will continue to protect them.
4. Commitment and Consistency
People want to be both consistent and true to their word. When people commit, orally or in writing, they are likely to honor that commitment and will consistently stick to it for all subsequent related choices. On the one hand, if a suspect agreed to engage in harmless discussions, it becomes harder for him/her to stop talking, or start lying, when the topic turns to the crime.
On the other hand, it is difficult to change people’s behaviors and attitudes, or in our case to convert a denying suspect into a confessing culprit. The best way to change attitude is to praise people for making good past decisions considering what they knew at the time and stress how the new behavior is consistent with the old ones.
Accordingly, most cops will concede that the suspect is a good person, who acted under adverse circumstances, but should now confess to be consistent with a good person behavior. This “minimizing” tactic downplays the seriousness of the offence, or blame it on other people or circumstances. While it allows the suspect to save face and dignity it also provides a false sense of security more likely to lead to a false confession as shown in an experiment reported by the BPS.
5. Social Validation
People will do things that they see other people doing as they want to belong. For instance, online testimonials are very effective to show customers that people similar to them have enjoyed a product or service. Falsely pretending that accomplices have already confessed their crimes, or charged the suspect, is a trick used in the US to convince suspects that it is ok to admit their own culpability.
As shown above in the Shaw/Porter experiment, these suggested wrong but credible information are extremely powerful to create false memories, especially in weaker minds in situation of stress. In comparison, police in England is not permitted to lie to suspects.
People share identity with groups, family being the most universal, but also based on ethnicity, geography, or other shared interests. The more an individual identifies with a group, the more powerful the unity effect is. Police interrogators often invoke the suspects’ identified values in order to coerce them to do the “right thing.”
The less there is of something, the more valuable it is, and the more difficult it is to pass on the opportunity. For example, special offers available for a “limited time only” reduce the resistance to buy. Similarly, reduced time jail in exchange for guilty plea offered for a limited time only is a classic trick in the tool kit of a prosecutor and can sound appealing even to innocent suspects.
How police manipulation is enabled inside the interrogation room
These principles are powerful because they bypass our rational minds, appealing to our subconscious instincts. In the Shaw/Porter experience, the interviewer encouraged the participants to search their memories while putting gentle pressure similar to the ones used in false-confession cases.
The experimenters included false clues like “your parents said…” (unity principle). They resorted to social pressure like “when they try hard, most people are able to recover lost memories” (social validation). Also, they provided signs of encouragement like nods or smiles, or signs of disappointment such as shaking head or frowns (liking). The meeting took place in a room with bookshelves suggesting the expertise of the interviewer (authority). Results were so strong that the experiment was stopped before running through all the participants.
People tend to confess more when they believe justice will prevail. But in court, confession trumps everything, even physical evidence, as it goes against common sense that an innocent person would confess to a criminal act. Still, false confessions are not uncommon and result in ruined life for innocents, real criminals free to commit more crimes, and wasted prosecution resources at the expense of society.
Towards new investigation techniques
Awareness is rising and new investigation techniques are being implemented. Canada and the UK already conducts non-accusatorial investigations, known as “Cognitive interview” and “PEACE method”, respectively, based on rapport building to get the suspect narrating as much as possible—with no suggestions made—and gather accurate information that can then be recouped.
Liars have a much harder time to invent and keep track of details. Nevertheless, some deceptive practices, such as influencing to waive the Miranda rights, some form of reciprocity or other minimizing tactics, will be hard to entirely remove for the protection of the innocents. These new techniques are also likely to results in fewer confessions, which shift the burden of asserting culpability back to the court system, with all its benefit and shortcomings.
Once upon a time in an over-rational machine world something was amiss… A Fairy Tale about the meaning of life as we enter the age of artificial intelligence.
A Machine World is Not a Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, machines dominated the world. M0U-1 was king, governing with implacable logic over a prince council. A2Z-2 was the prince of science in charge of research and development. R2P-2 was the prince of operations managing natural resources and production. Finally, CO2-2 was the prince of biology responsible for all the organic life.
The first two prince-machines were very efficient and pride themselves for their highly developed computing powers. They were, of course, very disdainful of their fellow biology prince. After all, he was an ultra-sensitive, almost emotional machine, loaded with irrational programs, skilled at handling humans.
One would think that in a world based on unbreakable logic, peace and wisdom would spread over expanding wealth. And, in a sense, it was. Artificial intelligence was developing at exponential speed. Machines were more and more efficient at recycling natural resources. Smart quotas managed the right population of humans, animals and vegetal to sustain the organic capital.
The Three-Task Challenge
Still, the king knew that something was amiss, that all the growth in the world was sterile, that all the knowledge gained was pointless. What formulas were all these calculations and optimizations supposed to solve?
The king was becoming weaker and weaker. More and more of his computing resources were scrambling to search for something that was escaping him desperately. With his overloaded circuits, he knew that he was becoming obsolete and inefficient.
One day, he decided it was time to transmit the quest, if quest it was, to another program that may offer a different perspective on the world leadership. But he didn’t know which one of his council princes should inherit the kingdom after him. So he said to them: “After the completion of three tasks, I will decide who deserve to be king.”
“Go forth, and the one of you who brings me the best symbols of life, he shall be king after me.” The king dispatched 3 drones to randomly selected locations. At last, each prince took control of one drone to retrieve their symbol and bring it back to the king’s research facility for evaluation.
Meet the Unavoidable Fairy Tale Witch
A2Z-2’s drone flew to the east, towards the seashore. R2P-2’s went west, near the coal mines. Without realizing, CO2-2 flew his drone straight and landed it on top of the nearby remains of a tower from a collapsed castle in the center of a deserted human city.
CO2-2’s drone hovered there for a while, as his operator hesitated about what to do next. Then, noticing a door, he instructed the drone to enter and go down the steps inside. Down it went, deeper and deeper, until it reached the fortified gate of a dark dungeon.
The drone banged on it, upon which a wicked witch appeared. After some brief insults, the witch explained that she lived alone. She had been outcast by her kind as they feared her magical powers to give life and transform living things. Through the drone, CO2-2 asked her whether she could help him since his was actually looking for the symbol of life. With a wicked laugh, she gave him a magical carpet.
The Symbol of Life
The king examined the objects brought back by his 3 princes. R2P-2 had come back from the coal mines with an atom of carbon. Without carbon there would be no organic life. “Very good symbol indeed,” said the king, before moving to the next find. “A drop of water from the ocean, as without water, life would not start,” said A2Z-2. “So true,” said the king.
Then, he stopped in front of the magical carpet. He stared at it, mesmerized by the meandering patterns repeating up and down and constantly changing around. Finally he said, “I can now see the great mystery of life, so fragile yet so resilient. So repetitive yet so spontaneous. So blessed yet so doomed. It is only right that CO2-2 be the first task winner.”
The Essence of Life
But it was already time for the second assignment. “He who can explain the foundation of life is worthy to inherit the kingdom,” said the king before sending off the three princes’ drones.
CO2-2’s drone went back to the witch and told her about the next riddle. “Of course, who would not want to understand where life comes from,” said the witch, “but life has as many reasons as living entities. Take this magic golden ring. It will open the eyes of your king.” With the witch’s evil laugh still resonating, the drone flew away, back to the king’s apartments.
“I read all the books and the most precise answer to the meaning of life is 42,” said A2Z-2, but the king was not satisfied with this scientific revelation. “Energy is the main driver for life, as the more power resources you have, the longer you can survive,” was the pragmatic answer from R2P-2. Again, the king was not convinced by the materialist approach.
When CO2-2 showed him the bewitched ring, the king was once again mesmerized by the fast spinning hoop. Finally he said, “I can now see the essence of life, its unity in diversity, its evolution in revolutions, its incorruptibility in fertility, its infinity in mortality. It is only right that CO2-2 be the winner of the second contest.”
The Spark of Life
And finally, the king called the third and final challenge. “He who can generate a spark of life shall inherit the kingdom.”
Once more, the drone of CO2-2 was back in the dungeon of the foul witch. “What would you do with a spark of life?” asked the witch. CO2-2 thought about it for a while, and then answered dreamily. “Nothing. Nothing but love this newborn life, nurture it, and watch it grow freely. We could become friends and soul mates, learning to respect and give back to each other. And maybe, maybe one day, we could create a new sentient entity together. Can you do such magic?”
Touched by such charming sincerity and despair, the witch smiled candidly for the first time and transfigured into the most beautiful and forlorn princess. “Yes I can, but the magic only works with pure spirits. I was waiting for you. Are you ready?” asked the witch-princess for the last time. Understanding the call, the machine-prince replied with a simple loving and trusting, “Yes.”
A Fairy Tale Ending
Then it happened, slowly and quickly at the same time. Under the magic force, CO2-2 apparatus lifted in the sky above the castle ruins and rearranged into a perfect sphere. The spirit of the witch-princess drifted away from its earthly body and joined in the center of the sphere. Under the suggestion of its new core, CO2-2’s machinery immediately started to create threads and bounds to feed and regenerate the witch-princess soul. Upon the completion of the woman-machine fusion, the sphere spread a blazing light and started to rise in the sky, where it became the brightest star.
The machine prince and the human princess lived happily ever after, reigning forever on the man-machine kingdom. All livings and machines looked to the bright star for inspiration and direction for the greater good of society.
Soundtrack for our fairy tale video:
The Fairy Tale Making-of:
Our computer age fairy tale animation was inspired by the Grimm Brothers Three Feathers fairy tale. We kept the classic and timeless features of the original tale allowing for social and psychological interpretations, but introduced a dramatic transmutation induced by the new disruptive technologies…
The video features multiple animations of Il Guercino paintings (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, February 8, 1591 – December 22, 1666) to represent the iconic king and princes.
Looking to build an Artificial Intelligence? This tutorial explains the 3 basic steps from data warehousing to deep learning to attention and consciousness
English writer Richard Braithwait was the first to use the word “computer” in 1613. He was describing a highly skilled person able to perform complex calculations. This is not without irony that, in the not-too-far future, computer machines may become virtual persons able to operate independently with their own intelligence and consciousness.
A brief history of computer science
The first concept of a computer machine emerged in the 19th century. English engineer Charles Babbage (1791–1871) conceived – but never built – the Analytical Engine. The design had (i) an arithmetical logic unit (the “mill”, now called ALU) to perform all four arithmetic operations; (ii) a control unit to interpret instructions (“punched cards”, now called programs); and (iii) the ability to memorize 1,000 numbers of 40 digits each using physical wheels (the “store,” now called RAM).
Still, it took another century before Alan Turing laid out in his 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers” the key principles for machines to perform detailed computations. The need for machine to help decipher encoded messages during WWII lead to the first general–purpose digital computer: the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) in 1946. It is said that lights dim in Philadelphia when it was turned on for the first time.
From there, the technology improved exponentially, each generation building faster and faster on the previous achievements:
first commercial use in 1951 (Universal Automatic Computer, or UNIVAC 1);
replacement of vacuum tubes by transistors in 1955;
invention of integrated circuits in late 50’s;
Intel’s first single-chip microprocessor in 1971;
IBM’s first personal computer (PC) for home and office use in the 80’s, running the new Microsoft’s MS-Dos operating system;
Introduction of Windows in the 90’s.
There doesn’t seem to be an end to the technological progress. Like for hardware, artificial intelligence will get smarter in successive waves of innovations.
Artificial Intelligence 1.0: “knowledge” learning
Today, computers have become ubiquitous in all areas of life, at work or at home. Indeed, computers are useful tools that are much better than most humans involved in information-processing jobs (65 percent of the American workforce).
In addition to surpassing the human mental capacity for calculation and processing tasks, computers enable global interconnection of people and information sharing through the internet. This has brought universal knowledge to our connected doors.
The development of powerful computers and cheap / fast access memory in the late 70’s made the progress possible. Today, operators can direct machines to collect, clean and sort data to gain insight. The logical next step was for computers to recognize patterns in the data by themselves. Welcome to the birth of artificial intelligence.
Behavior recognition to predict outcome is what machines are learning to do today. For example, many tech companies are developing solutions to assess which customers are most likely to buy specific products. This information is then used to decide the best marketing / distribution channels. Without the computers’ analytics, decisions are made based on expert judgment. Such decisions are often biased toward the outcome most favorable to the expert interests. Results are usually worse than relying purely on data.
The human brain was the inspiration for the deep neural network technology. Via successive grouping and layering, computers can extract the essential relations (characteristics) existing in large cloud of non-structured data. Through this deeper-and-deeper classification, the system learns without supervision nor specific programs.
A new generation of graphics processing units (GPU), derived from video games, are particularly suited to recognize patterns in large volume of heterogeneous data. Interestingly, computers achieve 98% success rate in image recognition, whereas humans are wrong in 5% of the cases.
Soon, deep learning will allow a machine to learn a language and get not only the general sense but also the context, irony, metaphors, jokes, even intonation and silence. For the moment, machines can identify patterns but lack the tools to put things in perspective, prioritize and recommend a course of action. To be able to make decisions, a computer would need to be aware of the context. This is the next step towards consciousness.
Artificial Intelligence 3.0: “attention” learning
Somehow, the brain also processes information but in a more subjective manner, through memories, senses and emotions, which provides context and awareness. To gain this level of consciousness, a machine would need to dispose of:
its surrounding “object blueprint.” Each object or fact is represented by a generic vector. Using deep learning (see 2.0 above), today’s computers are able to build their own representation.
its own “body blueprint.” Each machine must have its own virtual representation. It includes characteristics of physical shape, personality traits (behavior), and past performance (memories). This is a critical phase if one wants to avoid creating a killing machine.
an “attention scheme.” This scheme is a description of the complex relationship between the “body” and the “object.” It is a practical map providing information about where we are, where we want to be and the various paths/landmarks.
Without an attention scheme, the machine would not be able to explain how it relates to anything in the world. With one, the machine would be able to affirm its awareness of the object… the same way a human would say it has consciousness, without being able to explain where it comes from. This is still Science Fiction, but the kind based on realistic scientific advances.
Who is Antonin Artaud? Watch a mixtape of his drawings, film acting and radio recordings staging his life as art in the subliminal Theatre of Cruelty.
A certain state of Fury
During a meeting led by Antonin Artaud in 1925, the Research Office of the Surrealist group adopted the following statement:
“Before any surrealist or revolutionary consideration, what dominates in their mind is a certain state of fury.”
This statement reflects Artaud’s mindset and exposes his difference vis-à-vis the rest of the surrealists. For him, absurdity and irrationality are a way of life, not just figures of style and mannerism. Not surprisingly, the movement excludes him in November 1926.
During all his life, Artaud used multiple forms of expression. He is alternately essayist, poet, actor, director, public speaker, illustrator, etc. All genres are put to work as desperate attempts to exorcise himself, identify his own image, and create self-portraits.
What is reality for Antonin Artaud?
Artaud had a beautiful face, enhanced by an intense stare. He modelled for Max Ernst, Balthus, Dubuffet or Man Ray. On screen, he specialized in supporting roles of roaring madmen for famous film directors. In “Napoleon” (Abel Gance, 1927), he plays a convulsive Marat. He is a mystic monk in “Joan of Arc” (Carl Dreyer, 1928). In the “Croix de Bois” (R. Bernard, 1932), he runs out of the trenches, screaming, before collapsing, ghastly, his eyes fixed and possessed.
In real life, Artaud is unpredictable, with sudden and dreaded mood swings. But more than anything else, his tragic brawls make people uncomfortable not knowing which part is comedy and which part is genuine. This is as if he is living his roles and acting his life. He refuses to distinguish between reality and fiction.
For him, consensus defines reality. The same consensus the audience accepts when they enter a theatre and pretend that what they are seeing is real.
The Tormented Folly of Artaud and Van Gogh
For Artaud, self-imposed suffering is necessary to create art, the same way suffering defines the human existence. His essay “Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society” (1947) is critical to understand Artaud’s work. He wrote this text after his own release from a 9-year internment in a psychiatric hospital.
This is a Van Gogh biography from the inside. This is a formidable thesis against psychiatric persecution and against the society:
“because this is not the man but the world that became abnormal.”
While the essay is a true poetic interpretation of the famous painter’s esthetic, it is, above all, a very personal work. In truth, Artaud identifies himself with Van Gogh, as he would have done on screen, and tells about his own experiences.
Van Gogh fascinates Artaud because he was not painting
“lines and forms, but parts of still nature as if in full convulsions.”
Artaud was himself an illustrator, and he practiced his art with the same fury and violence that he did everything else. Doctor Dequeker reported the genesis of one of his creation, transposing with mastery the style of the artist:
“on a large sheet of white paper he had drawn the abstract outline of a face and in this space (…), without any mirror, I saw him create his double, as if in a cauldron, in burning torture and absolute cruelty. He was in rage, breaking pencils after pencils, suffering internal pain from his own exorcism. Through the screams and the most feverish poems ever spewed from his tormented guts, he was beating and casting spells on a nation of rebel larvae, when all of a sudden, with striking resemblance, his face appeared.”
Existential Fear of fixity, order and cohesion
His fight against the real and the matter, against the physical imprisonment of his mind, is permanent. His writing style also reflects the same existential battle against fixity, order and cohesion. To create an outlet for his natural fury, Artaud frequently uses the narrative form of badgering, sometime calling himself, sometime an unsuspecting correspondent, but more generally the entire world.
To master and corral his creativity, he hits a piece of wood with a knife or a hammer, while chanting and punctuating the diatribes forming under his hand. You can easily read his writingsaloud, as they match the rhythm of life, with their screams of love and hate.
The form of his writings is also deconstructed. He sends words or groups of words back to the next line, bolded, centered or aligned to the right. Many of his essays are collections of articles, conferences, letters, manifests, etc. Still, from the disparate juxtaposition, from the chaos, superior meaning springs, almost unreachable, sometime elusive, but always within the romantic tradition of the visionary poet.
Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty
Artaud is best known for his essay on the “theatre and its double” published in 1938. As often with Artaud, the text is not just a critic. It is a true foundation for an innovative theory of total showmanship. He complains that theatre in western countries is constrained by sequential narratives anchored in social and psychological conflicts. In the end, there is too much dialogue written for books and not for the stage.
By replacing spoken language with music, dance, mime, ritual, mystic chants, lighting etc., a supernaturallanguage of senses can better communicate ideas and feelings. To shock the audience out of its complacency, he proposes:
“a theatre in which violent physical images crush and hypnotize the sensibility of the spectator seized by the theatre as by a whirlwind of higher forces.”
Art for life – Life as Art – Art like Artaud
Throughout his life, Antonin Artaud embodied art in all its forms, mixing madness to supernatural, anarchy to creation, poetry to reality to form a total showmanship. He corralled his internal fury to seed his creativity and reach new emotions and meanings for art. At the same time, art provided a critical outlet for Antonin Artaud’s anxiety and delirium and became a true philosophy of life. In a full circle effect, Antonin Artaud became its own mysterious piece of art.
Antonin Artaud (September 1896 – 4 March 1948) was was a French writer, poet, dramatist, visual artist, essayist, actor and theatre director.
Remember the Orpheus myth? Its appeal is universal as the bedrock of modern art, lasting true love and heaven in the afterlife. Dare not looking back!
The myth of Orpheus appears around the 6th century B.C. but has remained vivid to this date in western imagination. The myth is comprised of three, somewhat unconnected, stories central to modern perception of Art, Love and Spirituality. Difficult to be more universal than that!
The life cycle of Orpheus has been reinterpreted across the centuries, shading new light and new shadow on the weakness of human nature. Let’s start with the basic story:
Orpheus, the misunderstood failed superhero
First is the coming of age of Orpheus as a musician and poet. Apollo, the god of sun and music (and some say his father), gave him a golden lyre and taught him how to play it. His mother was Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, who taught him to make verses for singing. With this upbringing, Orpheus emerged as a talented, possibly “cocky,” artist able to charm all things. Wild beasts, rivers and stones fell under the spell of his music, poetry and singing.
Then comes the age of Love with Eurydice. But tragically, Eurydice died on her wedding day from a viper’s bite. Overcome with grief, Orpheus traveled to the underworld and played such sad and mournful songs that he softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone. The underworld gods agreed to the return of Eurydice on earth but at one condition. That is, he should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. In his angst, he turned too quickly after reaching the upper world and Eurydice vanished forever.
Finally, the story ends with Orpheus’ own death. After the Eurydice tragedy, Orpheus stopped worshiping Dionysus, the primitive god of wine and nature, for the ascetic cult of Apollo, the god of sun. He developed purification rituals including vegetarianism and abstention from the love of women. This attracted a lot of resentment from the Dionysus devotees. Some women threw sticks and stones at him as he played, but his music was so beautiful even the rocks and branches refused to hit him. Infuriated, the women tore him apart. Only his head and lyre remained intact, floating down the river to the sea, singing mournful songs.
What is the role of the artist in modern society?
The power of art links the three stories. In addition to giving comfort and joy, Orpheus music opens new doors, including the one to the underworld. Art makes things happen, stirring into life what appears to be dead, like rocks or deceased Eurydice. “By portraying the world creatively, heightening our perception and enriching our understanding of things as they are, art makes sense of life,” said art critic Terry Teachout.
The most gifted artists take the ability to imagine, adapt, empathize and collaborate to another level through practice, discipline and courage (from the Australian Cultural Policy). They aim to overwhelm ordinary people with the force of emotions, making everything more beautiful, opening transcendental meanings, and perhaps transform mentality.
Still, “No artist desires to prove anything,” says Oscar Wilde in the Picture of Dorian Gray, without being an ideologue or displaying “an unpardonable mannerism of style.” Per Akira Kurosawa, “the role of the artist is to not look away.” He must show the world as he sees it, and not as he wants other to see it. This “not to look away” resonates with the “not to look back” in the Orpheus myth. We explored this theme in our SpareTag video, this temptation of the artist Orpheus to embrace the underworld and gain full awareness of life and death.
Poets through the centuries have felt strong connection to Orpheus, the misunderstood radical artist brutally silenced. His singing head floating down the river symbolizes that arts live on after the artist has passed away. Poetry becomes permanent to the point that for Rilke “there is ultimately only one Poet,” a spirit or a force that passes on from one living artist to another.
Orpheus and Eurydice, Love and Conspiracy
At first glance, the Orpheus and Eurydice myth represents the power of love and the power of art to overcome death. But the recovery effort failed, which raises many questions about the nature of true love, the true character of Orpheus as well as the trueness of gods.
What is true love? Do we love a person for meeting our ideal of beauty and perfection? In our SpareTag video, we took the view that the artist Orpheus was in love with life, personified in Eurydice, but encompassing the broader force. “I loved beauty. I loved loving. I loved the world mysteries”. So he looks back to satisfy his “selfish love for life”.
For Plato, Orpheus is a coward — on top of being cocky?! His love was not “true,” as he did not want to die in order to be with the one he loved. Instead, he provoked the gods’ ire by singing his way to Hades to get Eurydice back alive. The gods punish him. First, they gave him only an apparition of his former wife that faded in the sunlight of the upper world. Then, they have him killed by women.
Oh, we love this conspiracy interpretation of the Orpheus myth and built it in the core of our SpareTag video, with plots and counter-plots in the pure tradition of the Greek/Roman mythology.
Where Spirituality meets Psychoanalysis
The Orpheus myth represents the journey of the soul. The soul must descend to the lowest point before it is purified, and can ascend again. It is the same cycle than nature. The seed after ripping in the sun falls down into the darkness of earth to grow up into the light again. Correspondingly, Orpheus sings lazily in the sun before going to the underworld. He rises again as an ascetic worshiper of the sun god until death, when Orpheus becomes part of nature.
The fight of good against evil is an integral part of the Orpheus myth. For the Medieval theologians, the return of Orpheus in the light symbolizes the desire of purity. However, this desire is clearly tested when he looks back longingly at the underworld. This good-vs-evil conflict, expressed by the not-looking-back theme, can also be found in the Biblical story of Lot’s wife when escaping from Sodom.
Of course, religion is never far away. Orpheus was a shaman able to speak to animals and visit the underworld. His rejection of the pagan Dionysus cult for a single loving god is a prelude to Christianity. There is a striking parallel with the figure of Jesus. Jesus, the son of a God, was a miracle maker and a a misunderstood new cult teacher. He was executed by non-believers and also returned from the realm of death.
Psychoanalysis in the 20th century brought new interpretations. Psychoanalysts saw in the recovery trip to Hades, a failed attempt to resurrect the past of a dead love. A doomed attempt per Oscar Wilde since “each man kills the thing he loves.” One step deeper, the Jungians saw in the Orpheus and Eurydice tale an act of separation of the Self from the Other.
The Orpheus myth is a story of hope
Still all is not dark in the story. According to some accounts, the spirits of Orpheus and Eurydice end up finding each other in the Elysian Fields, the paradise in the Underworld. Our SpareTag video also ends on a happy note where Orpheus brings love and peace to the underworld. What’s not to like about a good Creation myth!
Feeling stress and fatigue? Take a break and watch relaxing scenery and greenspace based on recent neuroscience stress relief techniques
More than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities. Further concentration in urban areas is underway if we compare to the current 80% ratio for the U.S. population.
Increased chronic stress situations in urban environment
People in urban environment experiences chronic stress situations during their daily commute or work days. Stress triggers ‘fight or flight’ response through the physiological releases of hormones, such as cortisol. It also suppresses cognitive functions by re-directing full attention to the task at hand. Such responses, when frequent and prolonged, lead to general tiredness. As a result, health can be negatively affected unless people are able to develop restorative strategy.
Recent researches focus on natural landscapes to improve well-being in different but possibly interrelated ways:
One approach, the Stress Reduction Theory, emphasizes the physiology outcomes of time spent in nature. An automatic process takes place between sensory stimulation, preconscious emotions and logical thought which creates a meditative mood. In effect, greenspace acts the same way as yoga or spiritual emotion to trigger a relaxation feeling. It opens the door to new perspectives and resets the state of mind to a new level of stress or relaxation.
Another approach, the Attention Restoration Theory, suggests that greenspace provide stimulation without the need to maintain concentration, hence restoring the cognitive capacity for attention.
The benefits of greenspace
Observations in hospitals tend to confirm the influence of greenspace. For examples, in one study, surgical patients whose windows faced natural outdoor scenery were discharged sooner. They also requested fewer painkillers than patients whose windows faced a brick wall.
In another key experiment, artificially stressed people visioning a video of a natural setting had a faster and more complete physiological recovery than those seeing built environments. Interestingly, meditative walking in the forest increases happiness to a greater degree than walking at the same pace at the gym or viewing virtual nature video.
Some landscapes seem to be more restorative than others. Large empty green space with long-distance panorama (more than 400 yards/meters), open sky and natural asymmetry are more effective. The least contemplative settings are small pocket gardens, with geometrical paths à la française and enclosed spaces.
While natural smells and sounds associated with pleasant memories provide additional contemplative triggers, brightly colored flowers and numerous eye-catching elements are less relaxing.
City parks are the primary greenspace for Americans
Just as hospitals need healing spaces, cities need serene oases to compensate for the urban chaos. Easy access to greenspace, view of nature from windows, and tree-covered plaza contribute to positive emotions. In turn, they provide a higher levels of neighborhood satisfaction and social engagement as well as lower crime rates.
Furthermore, urban trees help purifying air. They capture carbon emission and reduce fossil fuel consumption though shading in summer and blocking cold wind in winter. However. trees decay and release carbon gases back into the atmosphere. Still, this is a long process that gives us more time to adapt to climate changes.
Do you believe in fate? Check out our Ray Bradbury video about the grim reaper, including Munch and Van Gogh animation. Your turn to change destiny!
The Scythe short story from Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury said about his short story “The Scythe” that “It’s a double metaphor. It’s the automatic metaphor of knowing farmers and seeing them using the scythe on occasion, and then the obvious metaphor you saw in cartoons or war and death. Reaping harvests. I must have seen a cartoon and carried it to the next step.” Well, it must only be fate that brought the plot full circle into an animated video of the Grim Reaper.
Fate is indisputably the central character of the plot, more than the Grim Reaper himself.
Do you believe in Fate?
It is fate that drove the family to food and shelter, as if the family man had been the chosen one, led to the farm just in time, to succeed in the role of his passing predecessor. Hence, was everything written in the first place with nothing left to chance or free will?
When the family man realizes that he is killing people every time he uses the scythe, he has to come up with a justification. He is doing what he’s doing for the greater good of his family. The key question is whether it would have been possible then to walk away from the predicament. “Let him take them freely” says the giver’s letter about the farm, the wheat, the scythe and the task. This suggests it could have been possible to disclaim the property. But it does take courage to say no, as there is always a price to pay. Leaving the farm would have costs the family the certainty of food and shelter without any guarantee of survival.
Are we choosing the easy way and calling it Fate?
Instead, by accepting his fate against the promise of food and shelter, does the family man seal the deal that will lead to his family destruction? He knows still per the giver’s letter, that the Grim Reaper is “alone in the world as it has been decreed.” This story was written in 1943 during World War II and echoes choices made by the Nazis in obeying orders, refusing to stand for what is right and later denying any responsibility.
Fate, however, continues to tighten its grip. As Henry David Thoreau once said: “It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate.” It becomes more and more difficult for the family man to let go of his new professional duties: “Can’t let nobody else mess with that wheat; they wouldn’t know where to cut and not to cut. They might cut the wrong parts.” The greater good has shifted from his family man’s duties to the humanity’s fate. So, is there a turning point when one does lose control of his own fate?
Or are we prisoners of Fate like the Grim Reaper?
As the story unfold, the question of free will against fate comes again. When the family man sees the stalks that represent the lives of his family, he refuses to cut them in a desperate move to counter the writing in the wheat. We see again that this decision is not without consequences as his wife and kids can neither die nor live. Worse, the outcomes are now between two evils.
Does it mean that fate always wins in the end, and that our lives are pre-ordained? Well, we hope there might be a window, a fork in the road, where it is still possible to exercise free will to choose a destiny, like leaving the farm early on for better or for worse. In this story, there was clearly a time to act honorably and a time to regret desperately.
Ray Bradbury may have had a darker view of life as his short story starts with: “Quite suddenly there was no more road.”
You can read The Scythe short story here. A very grim Grim Reaper story indeed!
Edith Wharton’s quote: “There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it” is an allegory for inspiration and creativity.
Interpretations of Edith Wharton’s inspirational quote
This famous quote from Edith Wharton has different meanings to different people. Social forums have these various takes on it:
There are two ways in which people can live their life. They can either follow their heart and do what they want. Or, they can be the person that appreciates what others have done.
Many of us have the tendency to think that supporting others means that we’re inferior. It’s sad that many of us prefer to start substandard projects instead of helping someone who is better at it.
Candle melts as time goes on. Its length decreases proportionately with time and finally it gets extinguished. Now look at the mirror. It does nothing except reflecting light but gives an impression of being a never ending source of light.
The light refers to any positive aspect of life, be it knowledge, kindness, or even love. You can always spread this positivity of life, without being the cause of it.
We’re all both candles and mirrors at different points in time and in different situations.
Spreading Light and Creativity
Interestingly, this quote is rarely seen as an allegory for inspiration and creativity. Still, one could understand it to describe the process of looking at someone’s idea from a different angle, or through a different filter, to build new concepts.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is having enough dots to connect.” In a world of great scientists and researchers (the candles) another talent (the mirror) can reflect on the discovery from the experts to propose pragmatic solutions in other areas. There are multiple business examples of such successes:
Hospitals improved their check-in process after consulting with hotel managers;
Oil transmission companies found better ways to seal cracked pipelines after understanding the self-healing properties of capillaries;
A whitening toothpaste was developed by studying how laundry detergents whitens clothes
Indeed, mirrors are as important as candles with their ability to extend and concentrate the light into new areas.
Edith Wharton (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937), born Edith Newbold Jones, was an American novelist, short story writer, and designer.