Virtues of staying ordinary

I had a problem choosing the title for this blog post. Initially, I wanted to say, ‘The morality of being small’. It could be misconstrued. I discarded it because it was not a romantic, activist view of all things small and a scornful view of all that was big. I also realised that ‘infamous’ is not quite the opposite of ‘being famous’. So, that ruled out the title, ‘The virtues of being infamous’.

What is this preamble about? This morning, I read the article, ‘The New Mind Control’ written by Robert Epstein and circulated to his readers by John Mauldin. I was excited after I read it. It had multiple messages for me.

I shared it with nine friends. Six did not respond. Two thought that it was no big deal. One said that it confirmed what we knew already. Well, I felt that the article was more than these.

The article is about how Internet Search Engines present results in a way that could influence your preferences for candidates in elections. Specifically, it was about Google and in the light of the support extended Hillary Clinton by Eric Schmidt. Apparently, he had financed a start-upthat is helping Ms. Hillary Clinton with her campaign. The company has only one web page and no other links. It is called ‘The Groundwork’.

The article had much interesting content:

An unsettling quote from the British economist Kenneth Boulding: ‘A world of unseen dictatorship is conceivable, still using the forms of democratic government.’ Could this really happen, and, if so, how would it work?

Most of the vacuous thoughts and intense feelings our teenagers experience from morning till night are carefully orchestrated by highly skilled marketing professionals working in our fashion and entertainment industries.

Google, for all intents and purposes, has no competition, and people trust its search results implicitly, assuming that the company’s mysterious search algorithm is entirely objective and unbiased.

Some courts have even ruled that Google’s right to rank-order search results as it pleases is protected as a form of free speech.

In the 2012 US presidential election, Google and its top executives donated more than $800,000 to President Barack Obama and just $37,000 to his opponent, Mitt Romney. And in 2015, a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and elsewhere showed that Google’s search results routinely favoured Democratic candidates.

We published a detailed report about our first five experiments on SEME in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August 2015.

In our PNAS article, Robertson and I calculated that Google now has the power to flip upwards of 25 per cent of the national elections in the world with no one knowing this is occurring.

Gmail users are generally oblivious to the fact that Google stores and analyses every email they write, even the drafts they never send – as well as all the incoming email they receive from both Gmail and non-Gmail users.

Google can share the information it collects about you with almost anyone, including government agencies. But never with you. Google’s privacy is sacrosanct; yours is nonexistent.

By 2020, China will have put in place the most ambitious government monitoring system ever created – a single database called the Social Credit System, in which multiple ratings and records for all of its 1.3 billion citizens are recorded for easy access by officials and bureaucrats.

We now have evidence suggesting that on virtually all issues where people are initially undecided, search rankings are impacting almost every decision that people make.

In one of our recent experiments, biased search results shifted people’s opinions about the value of fracking by 33.9 per cent.

In April 2015, Clinton hired Stephanie Hannon away from Google to be her chief
technology officer and, a few months ago, Eric Schmidt, chairman of the holding company that controls Google, set up a semi-secret company – The Groundwork – for the specific purpose of putting Clinton in office. The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

We now estimate that Hannon’s old friends have the power to drive between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Clinton on election day with no one knowing that this is occurring and without leaving a paper trail.

What were my take-aways?:

(1) Many strongly and sincerely believe that they we are rational, logical and are in control their preferences and decisions. Indeed, it is only a belief system. But, it is worse than religious beliefs that such people usually despise and hold in contempt. It is actually funny that such people mock those who hold religious beliefs. The latter at least seem aware of their limitations and realise that they need a higher power to guide and support them.

(2) It is one thing to manipulate our minds and tastes to sell products. But, it is another thing to manipulate us into choosing a leader who would alter destinies of millions for better or worse.

(3) There is utter lack of accountability to the individual human being from the companies with the Search Engines (Google is the daddy ’em of all) and from the State that has winked at this lack of accountability.

(4) Mr. Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Alphabet, supports Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, Google has donated more to her than to other candidates in this election. In a sense, she represents continuity in a world that probably is actively seeking discontinuity and is ready for it in more way than one.  A detailed article in Washington Post on her backers from the financial services community here.

(5) I doubt if Eric Schmidt and Larry Page wanted to influence and shape the world in this manner when they were a start-up in a garage from whom some venture capital funds ran away. But, here they are: largely unaccountable and unanswerable to those who are providing them their revenues and manipulating them, using humans’ inherent and intrinsic cognitive limitations, for other ends, whose morality is hard to define and, perhaps, equally hard to defend. How to interpret, ‘Don’t be evil’, in the light of this?

(6) That brings me to the final point. This applies to individuals and institutions. Perhaps, there is some deeper purpose and good in remaining ordinary as opposed to being or becoming big, famous, influential and powerful. As the latter happens, morality and values are either re-interpreted or abandoned and newer identities are acquired. Even if they are for a larger purpose, who is judge if the larger purpose is noble and for the greatest common good?

In the Mahabharata, Kunti, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, is said to prayed to Lord Krishna that life should always be full of difficulties and worries for her so that she would never forget him.

I can understand the meaning behind that prayer.

If one wishes this life to be a journey to non-identity, then there is virtue in being ordinary and staying ordinary. There are fewer reasons, excuses and opportunities to abandon one’s values and cross moral and ethical boundaries.

Finally, it is important to be happy and content about being ordinary.

[Cross-posted here]

2 thoughts on “Virtues of staying ordinary

  1. Pingback: Virtues of staying ordinary – The Gold Standard

  2. Pingback: Ordinary and original – Jeevatma

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