Saturday, October 1, 2011

Cure For Conservatives


Say the liberals:
The supporters of conservative movements are ignorant. They don't know history. Without social services people become indifferent to each other. They elect representatives who are also indifferent to each other and to the public, and once in office dismantle the monitoring and correction apparatus necessary to prevent democracy from being undermined by special interests.

Say the conservatives:
Liberals want us to lie to ourselves, to convert us to the belief there is no truth so everyone's way of life is deserving of equal respect. Surely once in power they would institute a government that would reflect this attempt to force a change in everyone's thinking: they would establish a fascist, dictatorial state. Listening to their demands is enraging. It's better not to listen at all.


I've just read that computers are now creating new theories and testing them all by themselves. Equations which already seem to work are randomly combined, and then the result tested, this done a huge numbers of times until the resulting equation set works. The author of the article warned of a time soon approaching where computers might be able to do better everything people do.

But I am not too worried in what I am about to do, combine two theories together and propose how to test the result, even though computers are said to be able to do the same. In this case I know they cannot, because the two theories to be tested involve the idea that a machine way of thinking interferes with, is incompatible, with another better way of thinking, a distinction that by definition machines cannot appreciate, cannot calculate with.

The first idea to be combined and tested is the one quoted above.* The second is in what the Belgian art team Crew does, a kind of participatory theater.

You are dressed in a costume, and wear a device composed of dual video screen goggles, a forehead camera, and motion detectors on your head and shoulders. In the performance I attended last night I was part of a group of 10 wearing the costume and apparatus while another larger group of audience sat ranged along the walls and were our audience. A large projection on the side wall showed the audience the movie we participants were seeing in our goggles, and feeling in our body, as attendants, among them the actors in the film, moved us around on wheeled chairs or trolleys or walked us fast or slow strait or swerving, touched parts of our bodies as they were touched in the movie we watch. The audience sees all this being done to us.

In the movie we undergo some uncertain kind of experimental treatment or procedure. When we turn our heads or move our upper body the scene adjusts accordingly. It feels like we are there. We get out of our body by seeing something happening that feels and looks like it is happening to us but we know is not. We know an audience is watching us, we know that the hand in the film being touched is not ours. We are being made aware that what we see and feel about ourselves need not really be ourselves. What happens in our brains is related to what is outside us but is not identical. There's a lot of room for confusion. What we think and feel about ourselves could be right, and could also be wrong. What we think and feel about others might also be wrong.

When I later took my turn to sit in the audience I saw how what I felt as participant was made. My feeling was in fact wrong: I was afraid even though I knew it all wasn't real. What frightened me was the sense of being caught in a machine, becoming a thing to be operated on.

What the Tea Party member fears from democracy is being trapped in a machine like relation between people, each alike operating on the others to make the machine run. He too fears being experimented on.

The experimental combination of political ideas and performance art I propose is this: test what happens when people who fear the machine-like demands of modern democracy are compelled to see cooperation with others in a way in which it is impossible for them to see themselves as parts fixed in relation to other people seen as parts. Find out whether participating in the Crew performances would do this. Another Crew performance might be especially effective: the video apparatus shows one person a second person's world while that second person sees the first person's world. Since each can't see where he is himself, each has to ask the help of the other to safely move around.

Would Tea Party members undergoing this experimental treatment, purged of their fear of democratic mechanization, rage less at and listen more to proposals of cooperation? Could we measure the difference?