Monthly Archives: July 2011

Rick Mercer: The Greatest Canadian


[I wrote this 300-word piece for a writing contest a couple of years ago. Its theme was who you (the writer) thought was the greatest Canadian. It wasn't officially submitted due to paperwork problems. I doubt I would have won anyway, since such détournements by adolescents are rarely greeted with enthusiasm by judges.]

In medieval times, the opinion of the court jester was sought by royalty for his view on their decision and was listened to in an open and respectful manner. This may seem odd to some, but consider: very often the royal advisors were parasitic profiteers, disregarding the greater good in favour of their own ends. The jester was given permission to parody any royal proposals made, revealing their absurdities and disadvantages―in effect, expounding a disinterested point of view.[1] The jester was an invaluable asset to the royal courts, and we Canadians have a fitting equivalent.

Rick Mercer may be looked down upon by some as being superfluous to society, yet his impact on the scope of Canadian culture must not be underestimated. As he himself has said, more Canadians receive their information regarding Canadian politics from his show than from CBC News[2]. Now of course, some may view this statistic as shameful, as evidence of the deteriorating intellectual fabric of our generation. When considering the hectic lives of Canada’s citizens, however, can one really point a finger? After a day of work, caring for children, and the vast array of obligatory duties which each Canadian must inevitably endure, must society also expect them to submit to the operose dronings of bleak, one-dimensional propaganda?[3] Rick Mercer provides a genuinely entertaining self and societal deprecation as well as informative news outlet; an effective multitasking for a stressed population which might otherwise be tempted to tune in to one of the surfeit of inane alternatives. Mr. Mercer provides accommodation for the vast demographic which might otherwise remain uninformed of Canada’s perspective of world events as well as its own political ineptitudes.

Indeed, Rick Mercer is one of the great Canadian social critics, and is an invaluable blessing to Canadian culture.

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[1]: My source for this information is Oech, R. (1983). A Whack on the Side of the Head. New York: Warner Books.
[2]: I’m not sure of the specific episode on which Mercer says this, but I saw it myself.
[3]: This is extreme, of course, to the point of being bombastic, but at the time of writing this I had recently watched an appalling documentary on Fox News which seemed to justify such sentiments.

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Since writing this, my thoughts related to Mercer have become more sophisticated, but even if I had been able to articulate these ideas when I first wrote the tiny essay above, I would not have been able to sufficiently compress them into 300 words. Read the rest of this entry

Structuralism: An Extremely Short Introduction

[These are my notes for a presentation I made on Structuralism a couple years ago for an assignment on schools of thought related to literature, though I admittedly don't dwell on literature at all. The presentation is about as accessible as I could make it, though many of my colleagues found it overly complicated. Most of the material is from the book European Intellectual History Since 1789 by N. Roland Stromberg, the "Structuralism" entry in the Colliers Encyclopedia, and some websites that I have since forgotten. For a magnificent & extremely accessible comparison of structuralism to poststructuralism (the best I have read on the topic), I direct the reader to John Lye's essay Some Post-Structural Assumptions here.]      Read the rest of this entry

A Tribute to Surplus Thought


Sometime last week I went through the archives of a brilliant blog called Surplus Thought. Tragically, it is no longer active; if it were, I would want to be one of its contributors. It blends Lacano-Marxism with an activist conscience, specifically concerning the nation of Turkey. I highly recommend it to those looking for an accessible blend of theory & economics.

In particular, I want to bring attention to a three-part series which looks at the economics & politics of health care in terms of Lacan’s four discourses, plus his male & female sexuation formulas. It was written in 2007, but seems to be still quite relevant, especially given the recent debate in the USA about ‘Obamacare’. What it lacks in abstruseness it makes up for in accessibility, so that a fellow like myself who has neither read The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (yet) nor researched the American health care industry, can understand it. Its initial entry is called Health Care and the Community Economy: Towards an Ethics of Surplus and Geography of Sufficiency and can be located here. Parts II & III can be located here and here, respectively. (Don’t use the links given at the bottom of each essay; they don’t work.)

In short, these are exactly the sort of essays that I want to be able to write. I applaud bigbadbull, the author of the aforementioned essays, as well as his coauthors; it’s thanks to you and other people like yourselves, who are able to make the driest elements of economics ‘sexy’ by injecting them with recondite theory, that intellectuals like myself with the perpetual temptation to focus on abstractions rather than particulars are provided with motivation to learn about these otherwise dreary subjects.

A Primer on Neuromarketing


Neuromarketing is one of the latest paradigms making itself felt in the sphere of marketing. Its premise is simple: given the vast amount of inaccuracy in data-collecting methods (e.g. disparities between stated preference in surveys & revealed preference in purchasing), a more objective means of assessing consumer responses is to use neurotechnology to get straight to the heart of the consumer. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Electroencephalography (EEG) are utilized while exposing consumers to products and advertisements, and their cognitive responses are recorded and interpreted. Significant progress has been made, but due to the current expense of neurotechnology (not to mention the legal issues surrounding it, as in the case of France), neuromarketing companies are relatively scarce, with 13 worldwide as of 2007. (One of the more prominent companies, NeuroCo, charged $90,000 per study in 2005 [Mucha, 2-3].) Nevertheless, many powerful companies have begun to enlist the service of neuromarketers, such as Hewlett-Packard, Frito-Lay, Google, Motorola, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nestlé, Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, L’Oréal, and Fox, for issues ranging from the optimal color of packaging to the effectiveness of movie trailers. Inevitably, the widening availability of such technologies has lead to much bombast and panic, particularly fears about locating the “buy button” in the consumer’s mind, forcing them to buy things they don’t need or eat until they’re obese. In this essay I hope to briefly explain the technology in use by neuromarketers, to address some of the fears (groundless and justified) about neuromarketing, and to highlight some cases of neuromarketing in practice.
Read the rest of this entry

Why The French Treat Their Intellectuals Like Americans Treat Their Rock Stars

It will strike the average person as fairly odd that such different valorizations have occurred in the two nations France and America, that seemingly opposite values can prevail among youth of different cultures at the same point in history. Though I am not a historian of French or American culture, I can, through McLuhan, offer a satisfactory answer based solely on formal concerns, since the content of a medium (as McLuhan expertly shows) is auxiliary to the true reason for its popularity, i.e. its purely formal attributes.

Around roughly the same time period (around the 1950s, give or take a decade), the youth culture of both France and America took a drastic turn from what preceded it. McLuhan explains that American culture since its formation was traditionally literate (i.e. raised on newspapers, literature, etc., and concomitant linearity & compartmentalization of thought), as opposed to the culture of France, which was traditionally oral. From this basic description is the key to understanding this divergence. For whatever reason, the younger generation decided to rebel against the predominant media in their cultures. In doing so, these two cultures exchanged media forms, so to speak. While rock stars exemplified the nonlinear, erratic thinking of electric culture to the Americans, intellectuals (Sartre, say, or Camus) exemplify literate thinking by their sustained themes (angst, absurdity), their emphasis on lebensprojekt* (or better yet, whatever the inverse of this would be, but retaining its lifelong, linear manner), and their general abstruseness (i.e. one must read their work closely, whereas in oral transmission of information clarity & ease are essential).

Desmond Morris, in his book The Naked Ape (pg. 105), explains that the sociobiological reason for young women to scream and go into hysterics at music concerts (“They not only scream, they also grip their own and one another’s bodies, they writhe, they moan, they cover their faces and they pull at their hair”) is that they (unconsciously) desire to show their peers how they have matured to the point of being able to process complex emotions. As evidence of this thesis, he notes that if a teenage girl were to confront a rock star while on her own, it would never occur to her to scream at him. It is not at all difficult to switch the medium around in this case, and to see that reading (mainly literature, and perhaps some philosophy) could justly serve this end, provided that enough conspicuous consumption (or discourse about what each youth has been reading lately) occurs that one’s choice of reading material can be adequately broadcast to one’s peers.

Thus we see that youth possess a sociobiological need to display to their peers their developing emotional maturity, which must be satisfied one way or another.  Looking at American and French culture from a purely formal perspective, then, we see that their situation is the same.  Each culture merely had a different historical situation (in America, mass literacy, in France, oral culture) to rebel against.

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*[German] Work to which one has devoted one’s whole life.

TL;DR

  • It may seem strange that the youth of these two cultures could have such different interests, but actually they’re not as different as they first seem.
  • As Marshall McLuhan shows, exposure to different types of media motivates different types of thought.  People raised on books will think in a linear, compartmentalized, and mechanistic manner.  People raised on television and music will think in a more nonlinear, transdisciplinary, and ‘organic’ manner.
  • Traditionally, America was characterized by its ‘print culture’, whereas France was characterized by its ‘oral culture’.
  • Around the mid-20th century, the youth of both cultures rebelled against the traditional mindsets of their respective cultures. 
  • Music in America and literature/philosophy in France fulfill the same need (i.e. to display to one’s peers one’s ability to process complex emotions).
**Note: For more information about McLuhan, see here.

Proletarian Science, part III; The Enneagram, A Constellation of the Real

The Enneagram is another fascinating heuristic system of proletarian science which has unjustly not received mainstream acceptance. The Enneagram, as its name implies, states that every person fits into one of nine categories, which are simply denoted by numbers. Everyone also has a secondary type, which is the number either before or after that of one’s primary type (e.g. a 5-4, a 6-7). Of course, such a simple schema hardly does justice to the complexity of the human psyche, so there’s an extra twist. Types, when their mental health deteriorates, display the characteristics of another type: the order is 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 and 9-6-3-9, so an 8 will deteriorate to a 5, etc. Also, when each type reaches a height of mental health, they will exhibit characteristics of the other adjacent type in the aforementioned list, ascending in the reverse order, so a 5 would become an 8, etc. Don Richard Riso in his book Personality Types describes each type in terms of stages of mental health, and the results are remarkable. Read the rest of this entry

Proletarian Science, part II; Dale Carnegie, Nietzsche’s Heir

Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends & Influence People has been a bestseller ever since it was first printed in the 1930s. In it, Carnegie provides a series of points (usually with a point being the basis of a chapter) which, as he shows by a plenitude of examples, will invariably allow the reader to win affection (and concomitant material benefits) from the one at the receiving end of these techniques. Examples include remembering a person’s name (“there is no sound in the universe more important to a man than his name”); “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain;” and being “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Taken altogether, Carnegie’s ideas constitute a veritable weltanschauung, perhaps more than he was aware. Among students of body language, every ‘utterance’ is interpreted through the binary of dominance versus submissiveness: it expresses either superiority (displays of strength, nonchalance, etc.) or inferiority (displaying nervousness, desire for comfort, etc.). (There are other, more neutral ‘utterances’, of course, but most of these can be interpreted in such a way as to denote weakness or strength, e.g. signs of hunger show the subject’s inability to satisfy their need at the present moment, and hence, weakness.) What Carnegie does, in effect, is to appeal to the human desire for dominance within a situation and to convince the user of his techniques to voluntarily place himself in a position of submissiveness. For example, extending from the importance of names, Carnegie describes a situation where a lucrative merger was achieved simply by offering to name the resultant company after the CEO being propositioned. Read the rest of this entry

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