Sunday 23rd of January 2022

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 rewiring our 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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the zuck and joe wrestle...


Before the Cambridge Analytica story had broken. Before Facebook's acknowledgement that its platform had been used to help incite ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Before the WhatsApp lynchings in India. Before QAnon and the Proud Boys - Mark Zuckerberg had the world at his feet. 

So much so in fact, that at the start of 2017 he decided to tour America. 

In a Facebook post, he said he wished to "talk to more people about how they're living, working and thinking about the future". 

His goal was to speak to people in all 50 states - to get out and engage with real Americans. 

It was seen by some as the start of a possible 2020 presidential bid - something he always denied. 

His potential candidacy was seriously debated in the press - he had money, drive, and power.

This week, Joe Biden took the job that many believe Mark Zuckerberg secretly craves, or at least craved. And in doing so, he completed a reverse metamorphosis for Zuckerberg. A butterfly no longer, he finds himself alienated politically. 

"He's not a welcome figure at the cocktail party any more. And I don't think he has been for a long time," says Sarah Miller, director of the American Economic Liberties Project. She also happens to be on Joe Biden's transition team.

"There is not a lot of love lost there," she told me. "Facebook is broadly seen as the most prominent villain, among all the tech monopolists."

Obama's administration was considered to be close to Silicon Valley and to Facebook. If Biden was ever a friend, he's not now. 

In fact, the president often uses Facebook as a byword for the ills of a free internet gone wrong. 

Talking to the New York Times a year ago he said: 

"I've never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I've never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he's a real problem." 

It's not just Biden. In the days after Biden's election victory, his deputy head of communications, Bill Russo, tweeted:

"If you thought disinformation on Facebook was a problem during our election, just wait until you see how it is shredding the fabric of our democracy in the days after."

Democrats blame Facebook for what happened in 2016. The Republicans' use of Cambridge Analytica to micro-target voters was seen as a crucial component in Trump's victory. Some of the angst is about settling old scores.

But if that was the turning point, relations are even worse now. Since then, Democrats - Joe Biden included - have been appalled by what Facebook has allowed on its platform. 

Talking to a CNN anchor in late 2019 Joe Biden said: 

"You can't do what they can do on Facebook, and say anything at all, and not acknowledge when you know something is fundamentally not true. I just think it's all out of hand." 

Devastating for Facebook 

When you're a billionaire, perhaps it doesn't matter that the president doesn't like you much. 

But what President Biden has a chance to do now is restructure Big Tech and reformulate the relationship that social media companies have with their users. 

That could be devastating for Facebook. 

Its most obvious problem is the potential repealing of Section 230. 

This is a small but crucial piece of legislation that prevents companies like Facebook from being sued for the things people post. 

Joe Biden has said he wants it removed. In fact, in that same New York Times interview from a year ago he said he wanted it "revoked immediately". 

That could spell disaster for Zuckerberg. Suddenly all the things people post, all of the defamatory and fraudulent things people say - would be the responsibility of Facebook. It's hard to see how Facebook functions in its current form without Section 230. 

And that's before we get into Facebook's anti-trust problems. It's currently being sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 46 states for "illegally maintaining its monopoly position" by buying up the competition. 

The FTC has also said it's looking at "unwinding Facebook's prior acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp" - ie breaking the firm up. 

Facebook will, of course, fight that. But Biden seems a pretty willing ally to those who want to split up Big Tech. 

In 2019, he said that breaking up companies such as Facebook was "something we should take a really hard look at". 

Jameel Jaffer, a media legal expert at Columbia University, told me: "I would expect the Biden administration to be pretty aggressive in enforcing the anti-trust laws. And to have the whole spectrum of harms in mind, not just the democratic harms, but harms relating to user privacy and consumer welfare." 

President Biden is even reportedly thinking of creating an anti-trust tsar,designed specifically to restore competition in areas like Big Tech.

Donald Trump and other Republicans always claimed that Facebook was too liberal, that it was biased against conservatives. But Trump did very well out of the platform. Both Trump and his high profile supporters regularly featured in the top 10 most shared Facebook posts of the day.

Trump's indefinite suspension from both Instagram and Facebook of course changes that dynamic again. But would he have been suspended if he'd had a year to go of his presidency rather than a week?

Trump's suspension has to be seen through that lens. Facebook is now scrambling to show it can moderate itself - that it agrees with Joe Biden's view that a free internet isn't necessarily a great and glorious thing.

And what better way to show you're serious than banning the president? 

Joe Biden though, doesn't like Facebook. That die is cast. 

What he now decides to do to Big Tech may well be framed around his dislike of the social network, and its emperor, Mark Zuckerberg. 

James Clayton is the BBC's North America technology reporter based in San Francisco. 




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