Life Hacking and the New False Consciousness

Perhaps you’ve seen the plethora of social media feeds and internet buzzings clamoring for your attention in showing you how to life hack.  What is this phenomenon?   Well, mostly just helpful yet useless information like how to get round lunch meat to fully cover square sandwich bread or using the tong of a electrical plug in the absence of a flathead screwdriver.  You know, day-to-day advice that you would never use because putting your dry pasta noodles in a Pringles can doesn’t keep it any fresher than leaving it in the box.

However, I recently came across this article which details some of the pitfalls of the lifehack mentality in a desperately unequal culture.  Blogger "Jendziura” reviews a book called “How to Break All the Rules and Get Everything You Want,” and makes the argument that when the author adovcates for this rule breaking to improve your life, he essentially is telling readers to go forth and use white privliege to their advantage.  I can cut in line at the post office because I only need one quick thing, and because I’m white, or so the article satirizes.

That book, and its discordant review, demonstrate to me the real goal of life hacking.  Or, at least some of the more outlandish tips and tricks which make up

Such as : 

…which is to say that the advice of life hackers is designed to make you feel more in control of your life.  Many of the so-called fixes have to do with money as the source of one’s problems, and attempts to deal with that by saving or earning more money.  Others have to do with home remedies to common problems that one looming specter or another don’t want to you know about.  

This does not address the social root of discord in our time.  Do you really think that it’s possible to achieve a state of enlightened happiness or rid your self of humanity’s most pressing or prevalent problems in 1,000 words or less?  If you could, you would, but lifehacking is a cheap thrill in a long line of cheap thrills which functions to keep the people who seek such advice from a radical transformation in the conceptualization of society.  No matter how many life hacks are designed to help get you out of debt, the fact that we live in a society and a time where having debt is necessary to build credibility in the form of a credit rating (so that you can eventually buy nicer and nicer things), makes this counterintuitive.   Finding cheap upgrades to your current phone only dismisses the giant looming ecological disaster and insane profit margins generated by the planned obsolecence of electronics.

These are problems of a false consciousness - a term often associated with Marx, though he apparently never wrote it.  Rather, later thinkers drew out this term as a problem inherent in a capitalist ideology, which he explained led workers to fetishize products and services which did not actually empower them but rather reinforced the means of their own exploitation.  Engles did use the phrase, which sums this point well:

"Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives” (From his “Letter to Mehring”)

So it is with life hacking as well.  What is the point of hacking an unjust and unequal world if your project to sell all your unwanted crap doesn’t address the consumerism which led you to acquire all that crap in the first place?  It addresses the symptom, not the problem.  Life hacking is simply another form of false consciousness, an ideology which we believe in because of the immediacy of the problems addressed and the solutions derived but unreal because it does not refract upon the core ideology of capitalism as the cause of those problems.

How to be a Talk Radio Host

Have you ever listened to talk radio?  Here in Columia, we have The Eagle, which blankets most of the mid-Missouri geographic area with as much 24 hour outrage at big government and jingoistic exhortations as one can stand.  I usually can’t listen for much more than it takes to commute somewhere which, in a town this size, is no longer than 15 minutes.

While each host has a unique bent on the issues of the day there are some common attributes they all have, and best practices they engage in, which have led the current crop of talk-jocks to the top.  If you want to be successful in the business of talk radio, here are some helpful tips for how the pros do it:

  • Always support candidates from one party, but then claim to be independent because you can also be critical of candidates from the same party.  Preferably, oscillate between criticism and praise of the same politicians at different times and hope no one will notice.  This was probably most palpable for former presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney who, while being deemed not conservative enough during primaries, immediately became class-A, stand-up conservatives when the general election rolled around.  Also, never NEVER admit that you’ve changed your mind about a candidate.  You’ve always thought what you currently think about said candidate, unless their change is a dramatic one, and what you said in the past was a nuance or is being mis-remembered.
  • Create outrage where no has existed or should exist.  Sure there’s lot of news to cover and put through your ideological lens, but what about slow news periods?  Talk radio is 24 hours a day just like the major news networks, so be sure you have something to sell!  Take a narrow series of isolated incidents and make it a national epidemic, like the so-called “Knockout Game”.  Latch on to a helpful provision in the health care law designed to help craft guidelines for end-of-life care and call them “death panels”.  Invent a “War on Christmas”.  Deliberately mis-interpret what an advisor to the president advocated for as “compulsory abortions”.  Outrageous!  Oh wait, none of those things exist.  They were spun to create news.
  • Never under any circumstance admit you are wrong.  That would show weakness.  You can agree to disagree with a caller, but be sure to trash them for having a crazy world view after they hang up.  If you let any differing opinions on your program go unchallenged, that is a sign of weakness, and weakness means lower ratings.
  • Always interrupt guests who disagree with you on an ideological point, and never let them finish a thought.  That threatens the sanctity of you own opinions.  Let guests and callers you agree with ramble on uninterrupted for minutes at a time, practically handing your show and its platform of many listeners over to them.
  • Tell parables. Parables. Parables. Parables.  Even if they are ridiculous it won’t matter, since it’s only a story.  It is the plot itself and the concomitant lesson that are memorable, not the logic.
  • Always references ideas and documents that are universally or near-universally loved to make your point.  There’s a parable somewhere in the Bible that supports your commentary on the inherent goodness of a free and open market. Or perhaps you can cite the Constitution, our governing document, on why we have a right to own guns as a stalwart against government tyranny - except that’s not why the second amendment was originally added.
  • Give lots of love to your sponsors.  For Glenn Beck this is those companies that sell you gold, or perhaps survivalist seed kits. (As a gardener, those crack me up.  You think buying seed kits are going to help you feed yourself?  If you don’t have years of experience in growing your own food, expect to starve when the time comes to rely on it.)  For local talk-jock Gary Nolan, it’s a steakhouse I’ve yet to try despite his savory descriptions.
  • Your personal failings are never at issue, unless they are lessons for why you are right.  Being married four times doesn’t preclude you from commenting on the sanctity of marriage.

So, now that you know, you can go ahead and start your own radio program.  Be sure to have a good stock of outrage ready to unleash at a moment’s notice.  Don’t hold back either - if you say something offensive just blame the “PC Police”. Better yet, stand out from the crowd by inventing new phrases to call your detractors that simultaneously ignores their argument and belittles their character.  

Sadly, I have no comparison for left-wing talk radio since there are no such shows in my area.  I would be willing to bet that Al Franken’s former show on Air America or TYT are guilty of similar offenses.  Perhaps I should take some time in another post to detail the attention-grabbing faux journalism of left wing news, but doing so here would be like comparing apples to oranges, or Michael Savage to Buzzfeed, as I would have to delve in to another medium entirely.  There is some left-wing talk radio, but it pales in comparison to the popularity of the right.  Frankly, I think everyone should strive to absorb news from a variety of sources, including partisan ones you know you will disagree with.  What is important and newsworthy is highly relative, so take in as much as you can before forming your own thoughts.

Development Labeling

As a geography teacher with lots of non-traditional students, I often face an uphill battle in trying to dissuade them from using terms like “first world” and “third world” to describe different countries based on their historical status from the Cold War era.  It’s not their fault, after all it’s still part of the popular discourse and most Americans don’t hear enough about other countries to really change their understandings of how the world works.

Rather, I’ve endeavored to get them to use phrases like “more developed countries” and “less developed countries” (abbreviated as MDC and LDC) as is vogue now, peppering them throughout my lessons and not once dividing the globe in to three worlds.  But even that is problematic, because the lines between what more and less developed mean are more or less developed in a given year and that threshold of moving to an MDC is pretty vague.  Add to that a constellation of economic blocs and strategic alliances like the “Tigers” of eastern Asia (Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia), the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, China) countries, and the G20, and the lines become even more blurry.  It really is an art trying to put countries in to categories to suit our ideas of what they are or should be.  The lesson here is that there aren’t two categories of country, or three worlds in one, but a constellation of economic situations and international interactions that could lead to a country being lumped together in a definition with others when there is no real fit.

Herein lies the problem - we, as the West, love to categorize the rest of the world in relation to ourselves.  The legacy of empire is strong.  When the British gave up the majority of their possessions it was only in formal control.  They still drew the boundaries existent today, and continued to rank countries based on an Anglo-centric definition of development.  Hell, the whole world uses the Greenwich Mean Time as a standard for their markets.  If that doesn’t demonstrate the Western world’s modern economic dominance I don’t know what does.

But should we really rely on our own ideas of development?  People aren’t necessarily happier in the “most” developed countries in the world.  In fact, the Happy Planet Index Consistently ranks Costa Rica, Colombia and Vietnam as among the happiest countries in the world, with the United States being damn near last.  Perhaps it’s time to re-think what we mean by development to mean more than just economic affluence.  Here are some questions I can think of to measure “development”:

  •     How well do you know your neighbors?  Do you feel like you belong in your community?
  •     How often would you say you feel “relaxed” as opposed to “overwhelmed”?
  •     Do you have control of the major decisions and directions in your life?  Who does?
  •     How would it affect you if you lost your job tomorrow?

Note the common themes of belonging and agency.  If you feel like you have control (even if you really don’t), there’s a lot less to make you unhappy.  A country cannot, I don’t think, create happiness in development.  But, it can remove the barriers to happiness like the incessant drive towards the economic understanding of development as the only important type of development.  Let us work more towards using metrics like community and a sense that each and every one of us is important in some way, even without being rich.  The folks in Costa Rica figured this out a long time ago, and they’re part of that “third world” or “less developed” countries that supposedly rank below us by those archaic measures.

“When you get up, and walk out, and look down the street.  Say to yourself ‘Damn right I’m somebody!’” - James Brown

Zach Rubin, 2018