49 years ago, portugal accomplished what seemed highly improbable. Moving from a dictatorship to a democracy without the spilling of blood. No one was killed and no significant physical confrontation occurred. Through a coordinated effort, mainly from the military and other key figures, the regime change was swift and effective. The portuguese went to bed in a dictatorship and woke up to a democracy. Of course, this is an oversimplification. The months that preceded and that followed were quite intense and the balance was at times on the brink of disruption, but, i think this striking fact is worthy of mention. No blood. It also, illustrates how prone we are to change.... but, are we ready?
Democracy is the best we have.
When we think of democracy, it is easy to associate it with the flourishing of the greek civilization many moons ago. And while, even then, there were valid criticisms to some of its essential assumptions, western culture has embraced it as the most fair political system we have found so far. It needs to be noted that the conditions in which democracy emerged in ancient greece were, somewhat, very different from our current conditions, and that, through time, it's ideas have mutated. In essence, a democracy is a society in which, everyone (the people) decide who they want to govern their society. While, there are several forms of democracy, the basic premise is the same, through a predefined electoral process, the people are free to decide. Hence, democracy is commonly equated with freedom.
All humans are naturally biased. The simple fact that we inhabit ourselves 24/7, seven days a week, from the day we are born until the day we expire, tells a lot about this inescapable human condition. Every time we open our eyes, we are the center of the universe, everything actually revolves around us, on a very physical and palpable way. As an animal it literally makes total sense, that our senses, are our way of probing the environment in which we dwell. These senses are obviously and always connected to us, they allow us to obtain information that we use to inform our decisions and interact with the world as individuals. Yet, on the other hand, we also, cannot escape ourselves. Our life is our own, our experiences is all we really know and our singularities (our unique peculiarities) are a mystery that will, probably, never be understood. I believe, that it is in the mixing of our uniquenesses with life experiences to be the building blocks of our personal views or personal philosophy of life. Either we recognize it or not, we all have a philosophy of life, that justifies why we evaluate certain events to be good, fair, appropriate, imoral, offensive and so forth and so on. Our actions always reflect an ideological framework of thought that validates our view of our place, and story, in the world. Most commonly we draw from the culture we are born in, but, not always. Bottom line is that, individually, we perceive life from unavoidable self centered position, and this, coupled with our singularities and experiences in life, will always sum up to some sort of philosophy of life. The level of awareness concerning this ever changing process will certainly vary with the course of one's life.
From a political stand point, in a democracy (and probably other systems) people's philosophies of life seem to fall within certain limited regions of a wider ideological spectrum that we commonly designate as going from Left to Right (or the other way round if you prefer). Here, I am considering political ideology as a subset of a broader all-emcompassing, philosophy of life. As social individuals, outside our family unit, we naturally tend to orbitate towards like-minded brothers and sisters, that, in some way, share our values, interests and/or so many other things. And so, in the government, the people's representatives, also orbitate toward others that reflect the same limited region of their ideological spectrum. These representatives share common ideological views and naturally unite to gain further influencing momentum and chances of realizing their vision. Ironically, these groups are called parties. For these representatives to access the chambers of policy, they need to be chosen by the people in a process we know as election. This process occurs in predetermined timed cycles and will grant the representatives the ability to participate in the decisions to be implemented on a societal level, as long as they, hopefully, follow certain structural rules (constitution). The election process is when (in theory :) ) the people have a voice, when they are given the opportunity to choose who they wish to represent them. The parties, that represent those limited ideological regions will appeal to those in the population that fall into the same region, or try to convince those that are not in the same region, to join them for this or that enlightened reason. And this, is what we formally designate as election campaigns, and this is where i relate the most to the true meaning of party. An election campaign, is a full on celebration of ideological values, symbols and accomplishments, all packed and presented to validate the promise of a brighter future, while undermining the views of all and any opposing parties (yes, there are alliances... yet...). Anything outside the ideological regions of a party is either not worthy of value, a threat to dominance or an offense to the party views. In any case, it will be rejected. This notion is closely tied to the need for consensus and therefore a majority. No decent governance is possible without some sort of majority, either from a single party, or some coalition (that only seems valuable for governance purposes). As laws are presented for discussion and approval, they undergo the same election process, but, this time, by the people representatives in parliament, and without a majority, governance, they say, would be a constant stalling of back and forwards, since, consensus is, in principle, impossible between parties. Bottom line seems to me, that at any given moment in a democracy, the majority implements all policies using a auto-limited range of solutions due to a self-limiting perspective.
Regardless of the real value of their limping ideology, parties are meaningless without supporters. Every election cycle reveals what are the relevant parties according to popular will. The records will inform us of each party achievements, is it a winner? a looser? or a winner-looser (coalition). The fact is that in the end, someone always wins and according to winners, the people always does. The winner is of course the majority and this is achieved by a simple and commonly accepted and understandable equation. Take all the votes and find which party got the most. The more, the merrier. Logically, it makes complete sense, from the pool of people's casting choices, the most prevalent wins. Simple, equal, just.
This majority scenario, however, has become (or always was) an ideological war that promotes confrontation over dialogue or objective debate. No wonder election public adresses are called miliitary terms like campaigns or rallies. And since the ideological spectrum has been reduced to essentially a binary system, the options turn out to be quite limited. Spite, occasional agreements, most of the times, parties are in a all out war with each other, using all the tools they can find to either remain relevant or damage the opponents reputation. After all this is a battle for trust. In the meantime, in the parliament, while laws are being discussed, the battle continues and the majority always wins. Since parties are bound to limited areas of the ideological spectrum, mostly for identity purposes, stepping out, they think, would question their ideological integrity. So, in the end, a crystalized identity is prefered over objective enquiry. And, while, parties try to keep up with the times by modernizing their speech, the stance remains immovable, static, always pointing in the same direction... as if everything was a simple straight line.
One could wonder that, if the metaphor was a circle, and not half a circle or line (left to right), how ideologies would have been framed and if the concept of extreme would even be possible. How there could be more points to look at a problem. It seems that ideologies are tied to single perspectives, that need to be static, even if everything else (including the people) is not.
Some argue that propaganda and advertising are two distinct forms of public or mass communication. I am using advertising in it's broader sense and including all services provided by advertising agencies, like branding, advertisements, events, campaigns, etc.. Propaganda is commonly associated with authoritarian regimes like nazi germany or communist russia while, advertising is associated with free democratic and capitalist countries. One indocrinates and the other suggests. One is operated by the state and the other by a company. From an operational stand point there is indeed a difference, yet, on every other aspect they operate pretty much the same way:
- call for attention - "make it flashy! grab their attention"
- convincing - "the best, most, ever before, future, unquestionable, only for you"
- call for action - "buy now, last opportunity, heaven can´t wait"
Since advertising is intended to reach target audiences, it is required to appeal to the specific sensitivities of that particular target, by always shooting a carefully crafted mercurial message of hope, beauty, success, or whatever sense activity that needs soothing, appraisal or enticing. The underlying premise of any ad is: "If you buy me, your life will be better" (john berger). Fortunately, our lives are composed of so many aspects and elements, that there will always be room for improvement, fine tuning, modernizing. We can always make our lives better, and it is counterintuitive to think we are just fine as we currently are.
From an artistic perspective, advertising could be eligible to become the 8th art of the world. If cinema includes photography and literature (or the foundations of it), than advertising includes almost every other art (excluding sculpture?) while standing on it's own in terms of public role and function. It is the art of mass seduction, mass appeal, mass indocrination(?), and no decent, democracy can live without it, either from a political or an economic point of view, and because it eventually reveals (defines?) certain targets, it is probably the most accurate and summarized depiction of what are the dreams and aspirations of the society it operates on. Some sort of cultural snapshot, a combined group selfie of a shared philosophy of life. Is this not, one of the possible roles for art? But, while it seems a simple one way process, because it needs to reflect certain aspects of the target audience sensitivities (no other art needs it as a premise), it requires the use of audience analysis tools (market research), without which, it could not have a picture of it's target audience in the first place. Even without sophisticated market research, any company, always have an idea of what type of clients they deal with. An ad piece success has been traditionally linked to how well tailored the message fits the audience, how much it makes them tick, which ultimately and hopefully, will lead to an increase in sales, the only clear and objective role of any company. After all, it's just business, right? However, for a long, long time, it was kind of difficult to clearly frame, under plain old cause and effect. To state with certainty that some campaign translated into a quantifiable amount of sales, was, to say the least, a bit of an exercise of imagination. Mainly because it has been know for a while that people don´t respond equally to advertisements, and that, ultimately, the decision to buy cannot solely and directly be attributed to a specific ad piece or campaign. Yet, spite unclear palpable results, in a highly competittive world, large amounts of resources, time and funds are invested in this seductive art of influencing, which the essential building blocks are fragmented snapshots of an ever shifting collective philosophy of life.
Market research and analysis, advertising's probing apparatus, on the other hand, has become the new key to the kingdom for all playing the big influencing game. The hability to make ever more accurate predictions and depictions has become the new golden meca for successful companies, the holy grail of the electronic world. Viral is the new black. Since it's inception it has been an all hands on deck stituation. Everything is valueable as long as it helps gain further understanding on whats going on in the mind of the people. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, all of the human sciences have always been closely tied to market research and advertising. They are an incessant pool of knowledge about our audiences. With the rise of big data, meaning the hability to collect, store and analyze truly unimaginable amounts of information with unimaginable combining approaches, it became possible to depict the population with ever more degrees of accuracy, or let's say resolution. The amount of parameters that can, and are now, being collected is absolutely tantalizing. With our plunge into the electric ocean of life sporting devices (lsd), our lives are now constantly monitored, recorded and tracked to the finest detail, at all times. This will help us in enriching the companies that sport us to the best and most authentic experience or personally tailored piece of information. From cell phones (also quite an ironic name), computers, watches, bycicles, dishwashers, tvs, cars through to public utilities like streets, trains, beaches, i mean, it could be roughly argued that if it is electronic, than we could assume that it is recording or tracking some operation... or soon will be. Another oversimplification, but you get my point. And since, we all have so many constelations of interests and, fortunately, such a rich life, from the overall colective data, patterns emerge where groups of people are revealed where once they were not easily perceivable. Others become more easilly defined, while some probably not so much. From food preferences, to daily habits, health, wealth, jobs, through to political or entretainment preferences, big, small, influential or non influential, we all end up in some sort of shared category. By creating this caleidoscopic frame of cataloguing, everyone always fits somewhere along with someone else. or is it all the way round? When everyone is matched to a certain group configuration, than it also becomes as easier to describe it as to study it and understand what triggers, excites or steers, this or that specific group. But how much of this awareness do we really get access to?
As an effective and poweful tool of mass communication, advertising is unmatched in terms of mass delivery. It can also assume many shapes, configurations and provide countless benefits. The most important is that it can sometimes make things either cheaper or free. "Take this voucher", "watch this ad". Yes, apparently there are free things in this word of ours, things that cost nothing, so companies offer them to people, like jesus handed out fish. It is a rather curious fact that only digital companies are this generous. And all major social media platforms are. In risk of stating the obvious, advertisers are the real clients of these free social platforms, they are the real reason these companies can exist, without charging operational expenses. Why, spite the increasingly complexity and cost of their systems, they remain adamant in their pursue of free access to all. They don't really want users money, a radical idea in itself, when they can get a much more valuable material. No wonder, users are users and not clients. They are simply using. On their end, users feed these data collecting companies with ever more information and details on how to learn ever more effective ways of capitalizing on the user´s most important asset, the user´s attention. It's the perfect feedback loop, or is it a vortex? In the end, the only real currency is the user's attention. "What you like", "what is meaningful to you", "what drives you to interact and share or comment". It really, does not even matter if the user clicks the ad and buys the thing. As long as the user keeps scrolling, the capital keeps flowing. On the other hand, when was the last time you participated in a non-sponsored public event? Sponsorship, while technically different, can be seen as a form of advertising. A way of informing the audience that this or that event is endorsed and supported financially by this or that company. The bigger the support, the bigger the logo, or the ubiquitoussness of it. In the bracelet, the keychain, the bag, the glass, the pen, the ashtray, it´s unmissable, the sponsor is the one that makes this movie, concert, event, symposium,research, exhibition, festival, race, competition, gathering possible, and we are the proud scouts marching through the event wearing the meaningless logo as a badge of honor.
To a certain degree, with it's foot in every door, advertising has become another elephant to add to the room (it's getting crowded). It's foundational presence is so prevalent, that news companies can barely make it without it, if at all. Yet, advertising is also just a tool for parties, but mosty for companies, corporations or whatever you wanna call it. It's exercise within culture also provides a frame to understanding the economical dynamics of society. Since companies are the main drive of an economy, so they say, it seems logical that they should have their finger on mass airwaves, outdoors and and electronic veins, in order to properly access the beat and the pulse. Even if, news companies try to distinguish themselves by a righteous moral compass, under the assumption that their product (news) is an objective independent perspective on events, "only the facts", in the end, they are just companies like all the others. The end game is always the same old profit and to be truly successfull, than it needs to grow. A sort of life grows on.
The way i see it, democracy is indeed an interesting concept in theory. The basic concept that the people have the choice in their hands is indeed appealing. We all get the same equal say in the election. This, nonetheless, implies that everyone is equally informed and mature to ponder on the subject, which though, ideal, is far from objective reality. In the end, the dynamics of group and personal philosophies of life tend to make this process quite unobjective and easily biased. Another problem is time. To avoid easily falling back into authoratarianism, most democracies implemented timed ruling limits. Governments, Presidents et al, are only allowed certain periods of time. 4 years is the common timeframe. This, automatically jeopardises any program that requires more than that time, and promotes policies that can be implemented on the short term. Long term visions are no longer seeked and so, objective environmental policies are just headlines from the campaign rallies carefully crafted to ring all the bells.
While, it can be argued, that even flawed, democracy is better than other systems, truth is, we are living in a modern form of dystopian feudalism, where capital is ruled by companies that have so much power that they can bend the rules (not pay taxes for example) of what applies to every individual (including their ceo's). Unimaginable riches are hoarded in the hands of a few under the premise of free capitalism and enterpise. Slavery is normalized through unpaid social media users self-authorized data collection of beahviours and interactions. Full on citizen survaillance is now a non-issue. The "AI" fool's gold legalized overall internet theft, while the people rejoice and delight with the spell of this planetary rip off and the promise of human anihilitation. With politics becoming a cross between entertainment and marketing, the degrading of sound visionary approaches is inevitable and we end up with a very superficial set of clichets that never really face the problems objectively.
What ever this is, i am not sure most people have chosen this.