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Offbeat – 14 December 2012


This week, there are two passages which I can’t quote word for word, I can only remember the name of one author and there is a quote which I think is biblical, so get ready for an extra big helping of qualitative gonzo goodness with no Einstellung effect.

I set out to be a bit gonzo in this column. My problem is I can never remember my sources, aside from Heraclitus and Hermes Trismegistus and, anyway, if it is a truth or evident to me, I really don’t need to go empirical on it. I mean, how often do you need to prove to yourself that you need a cup of coffee, or that the sky is blue (unless it is cloudy, raining, night, dawn or sunset)?
The main problem with empirical approaches is that lovely semi German term, the Einstellung effect. According to someone who wrote an interesting piece for a series on ways of thinking, the Einstellung effect means that people find it easy to solve problems in the same rote manner, rather than considering different approaches.
In other words, there are different types of coffee, and places to get coffee, or you can have tea, or something, and the need will be satisfied without regression analysis, unless it is chickory which is no solution to the need for caffeine. Gonzo works unless the numbers are highly nuanced, and if the term is a bit lowbrow, just call it qualitative, or qualitatatative if you want extra syllables to make you sound clever.
This week, there are two passages which I can’t quote, I can only remember the name of one author and there is a quote which I think is biblical, so get ready for an extra big helping of qualitative gonzo goodness with no Einstellung effect.
In the first passage, Satan demonstrates the internet. He says something to the effect that people will be able to watch one another having sex, after which he gloats a bit and rubs his hands together in a demoniacal sort of way. I think most of humanity who has the internet must be damned by now.
In the second passage, from James Blish’s ‘The Day after Judgement’, Satan shows up on earth and gets going in a flowery puff of verbiage, not dissimilar to Dante. Getting to the meat of the matter, he flounces back to Hell in a cloud of amusing self-righteousness and thirteenth century grammar, declaiming that there is no evil he can inflict on humanity because what he sees is far worse than anything that has been imagined in Hell.
The final item, the quote, goes, “When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back at you.” It’s Azimuth and Behemoth: what we think becomes our truth and reality.
Now let’s cobble it together. Porn is big on the web but the combined weight of social networking makes it look like the sweaty imaginings of a teenage boy. Add the next passage to my construct, and you get that social networking is doing something far worse than porn. Also bear in mind that the folks at Facebook are far more Catholic in their tastes than many fundamentalist Islamic militias, hence porn is not a problem.
So why has Satan headed back to the comforting tiers of fire and ice of Dante’s imagining, and what is the abyss?
I figured it this afternoon. Most picture posts contain some form of sarcasm, anger or misery. It’s disguised as humour, but it is undeniably there. That’s the abyss, the stuff with which we fill our brains and souls. If you need to get empirical on it, I am sure the curve will show an exponential trend, that should have any halfway decent sociologist approaching a state of catatonic shock.
Lets head into analogy here. Children who grow up on farms become inured to violence towards  livestock. What are we habituating ourselves to by looking at the incessant stream of low grade anger on social networking sites? And when are the stupid sociologists going to freak out? If humanity becomes habituated to sardonic anger, the future becomes a far less habitable place.
The Einstellung effect would dictate that turning off the social network is a smart move.
Let’s think differently. If you stand gazing into the abyss long enough, sooner or later, you are going to need to unzip and relieve yourself. The best way to disrupt the trend is to unzip and be a bit variable. Why not post a good-natured picture, or something thoughtful and positive?
Spread happiness.

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