Sunday 6th of December 2020

the great masturbators in silicon valley told to ease up...

hitler masturbating by dali

Dopamine fasting’ is a craze making its way around Silicon Valley, as the technological elite cut down on smartphone usage, binge eating, and gluttonous porn consumption. But isn’t penance by another name still penance?

The phrase ‘Silicon Valley’s latest trend’ should be enough to set alarm bells ringing by itself. From venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s reported interest in injecting young blood in a bid to live forever, to Mark Zuckerberg slaughtering a goat with a “laser gun” for its meat, our technological overlords partake in pastimes more deranged than yoga lessons or pottery classes.

The ‘dopamine fast’ is the latest such trend. Psychiatry professor Dr. Cameron Sepah coined the term in a LinkedIn post in August, and claims that he has popularized it among his mega-rich clients in Silicon Valley. Put simply, Sepah advises that we all limit our exposure to six overstimulating activities: “pleasure eating, browsing the internet or playing video games, gambling or shopping, viewing pornography or masturbating, thrill seeking and recreational drugs,” so as not to burn out our ability to feel pleasure.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that rewards us with a spike of pleasure when something good happens. In a more primordial era, this kept us motivated to seek food and reproduce, hence why eating and sex feel so great. However, our smartphones and Netflix subscriptions give us this same dopamine hit. That ‘one more page’ buzz you feel when you scroll through reddit in bed and the satisfaction of having 300 people like your latest Instagram booty-shot (we all know it’s not about fitness), that’s dopamine in action.

There is a wealth of scientific research demonstrating how smartphones and social media are literally rewiringour brains, and not for the better. However, there is no research proving the effectiveness of a ‘dopamine fast’ in rebalancing brain chemistry. That hasn’t stopped California hipsters from going all in on the trend, though, with some reportedly switching to ice-cold showers and cutting conversations short to avoid the dopamine hit of a chat with friends.

Among the progress-obsessed transhumanists of Silicon Valley, Sepah has earned guru status. But what he suggests is not new.

From the asceticism of ancient Christianity, to the starving Buddah, to modern Muslims denying themselves pleasure during Ramadan, nearly every world religion advocates denial and sacrifice as a means of reaching enlightenment.

Seneca would take long walks in the countryside to get away from the hustle and bustle of ancient Rome, “so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” In the 1980s punk scene, ‘straight edge’ artists avoided the drugs, alcohol and promiscuous sex beloved by their peers. Nowadays the ‘NoFap’ community on Reddit eschews masturbation to “reboot” their brains’ pleasure centers. 

Self-denial has been practiced and preached for millenia, but by wrapping his message in the cold scientific language beloved by hipsters and geeks, Sepah has brought the medieval concept of penance into the 21st century.



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Is self-denial of pleasures a form of dopamine indulgence? Like in masochism? 

dali was obsessed with hitler...

Expulsion from the Surrealists

As war approached in Europe, specifically in Spain, Dalí clashed with members of the Surrealist movement. In a "trial" held in 1934, he was expelled from the group. He had refused to take a stance against Spanish militant Francisco Franco (while Surrealist artists like Luis Buñuel, Picasso and Miró had), but it's unclear whether this directly led to his expulsion. Officially, Dalí was notified that his expulsion was due to repeated "counter-revolutionary activity involving the celebration of fascism under Hitler." It is also likely that members of the movement were aghast at some of Dalí's public antics. However, some art historians believe that his expulsion had been driven more by his feud with Surrealist leader André Breton.

Despite his expulsion from the movement, Dalí continued to participate in several international Surrealist exhibitions into the 1940s. At the opening of the London Surrealist exhibition in 1936, he delivered a lecture titled "Fantomes paranoiaques athentiques" ("Authentic paranoid ghosts") while dressed in a wetsuit, carrying a billiard cue and walking a pair of Russian wolfhounds. He later said that his attire was a depiction of "plunging into the depths" of the human mind.

During World War II, Dalí and his wife moved to the United States. They remained there until 1948, when they moved back to his beloved Catalonia. These were important years for Dalí. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York gave him his own retrospective exhibit in 1941. This was followed by the publication of his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942). Also during this time, Dalí's focus moved away from Surrealism and into his classical period. His feud with members of the Surrealist movement continued, but Dalí seemed undaunted. His ever-expanding mind had ventured into new subjects.

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Painting at top from 1973, watercolours, Savador Dali


"climate crisis created by the silicon valley wankers"...

The climate crimes of big tech are legion. This summer the Amazon burned. Why? In part because of the policies of the new anti-environmental, anti-human-rights president, Jair Bolsonaro.

How did Bolsonaro rise to prominence and then the presidency? YouTube, and certain of its algorithms that push people toward more extreme content, played a large part. As the New York Times reported in August, not long ago Bolsonaro was “a marginal figure in national politics – but a star in YouTube’s far-right community in Brazil, where the platform has become more widely watched than all but one TV channel”. Members of the nation’s newly empowered far right – from grassroots organisers to federal lawmakers – say their movement would not have risen so far, so fast, without YouTube’s recommendation engine.

YouTube’s search and recommendation system appears to have systematically diverted users to far right and conspiracy channels in Brazil. Some of YouTube’s algorithms have been connected to the rise of racism, white supremacism and mass shootings. It appears its prime agenda is profit – and extremist content keeps viewers hooked, and hooked viewers bring in revenue. 

Google, the owner of YouTube, also appears to help push some users toward more extreme content, and it then collects all our data and sells it. Some of that data is used to target you and me for shopping, but politics is now a kind of shopping in which the targeting and manipulation of voters via personal data is like the manipulation of potential customers, as we learned from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s role in Brexit and the climate catastrophe that was the election of Donald Trump. (It’s worth noting that everything that the Putin regime is charged with doing in the 2016 US election amounts to exploiting new vulnerabilities created by new technologies.)

This erosion of privacy that Edward Snowden warned us about in 2013 when it was the US National Security Agency eroding it, is being violated far more thoroughly by Facebook and Google aggregating data from everything we do and everyone we know. Snowden warned us that privacy is a crucial part of democracy, a sort of fortress each of us owns – or owned – behind which we are free to think, associate and act without governmental intrusion. The many ways in which everything we do is now monitored and the data is aggregated will be – and in many places is being – used to limit the freedoms of ordinary people. And ordinary people have been, all along, what drives the climate movement’s effort to save the planet from the worst effects of the climate crisis.



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