Monday, 19 September 2022

Neo-Medievalism and the New Latin

By Emile Wolfaardt

Medieval Latin (or Ecclesiastical Latin, as it is sometimes called), was the primary language of the church in Europe during the Dark Ages. The Bible and its laws and commands were all in Latin, as were the punishments to be meted out for those who breached its dictates. This left interpretation and application up to the proclivities of the clergy. Because the populace could not understand Latin, there was no accountability for those who wielded the Latin sword.

We may have outgrown the too-simplistic ideas of infanticidal nuns and the horror stories of medieval torture devices (for the most part, anyway). Yet the tragedy of the self-serving ecclesiastical economies, the gorgonising abuse of spiritual authority, the opprobrious intrusion of privacy, and disenfranchisement of the masses still cast a dark shadow of systemic exploitation and widespread corruption over that period. The few who birthed into the ranks of the bourgeois ruled with deleterious absolutism and no accountability. The middle class was all but absent, and the subjugated masses lived in abject poverty without regard or recourse. There was no pathway to restation themselves in life. It was effectively a two-class social stratification system that enslaved by keeping people economically disenfranchised and functionally dependent. Their beliefs were defined, their behavior was regulated, and their liberties were determined by those whose best interest was to keep them stationed where they were.

It is the position of this writer that there are some alarming perspectives and dangerous parallels to that abuse in our day and age that we need to be aware of.

There has been a gargantuan shift in the techno-world that is obfuscatious and ubiquitous. With the ushering in of the digital age, marketers realised that the more information they could glean from our choices and conduct, the better they could influence our thinking. They started analysing our purchasing history, listening to our conversations, tracking key words, identifying our interests. They learned that people who say or text the word ‘camping’ may be in the market for a tent, and that people who buy rifles, are part of a shooting club, and live in a particular area are more likely to affiliate with a certain party. They learned that there was no such thing as excess data – that all data is useful and could be manipulated for financial gain.

Where we find ourselves today is that the marketing world has ushered in a new economic model that sees human experiences as free raw material to be taken, manipulated, and traded at will, with or without the consent of the individual. Google's vision statement for 2022 is ‘to provide access to the world's information in one click’. Everything, from your heart rate read by your watch, your texts surveyed by your phone’s software, your words recorded by the myriad listening devices around you, your location identified by twenty apps on your phone, your GPS, your doorbell, and the security cameras around your home are garnering your data. And we even pay for these things. It is easier to find a route using a GPS than a map, and the convenience of a smart technology seems, at first glance anyway, like a reasonable exchange.

Our data is being harvested systematically, and sold for profit without our consent or remuneration. Our search history, buying practices, biometric data, contacts, location, sleeping habits, exercise routine, self-discipline, articles we pause our scrolling to peruse, even whether we use exclamation marks in our texts – the list continues almost endlessly – and a trillion other bits of data each day is recorded. Then it is analysed for behavioural patterns, organised to manipulate our choices, and sold to assist advertisers to prise the hard-earned dollars out of our hands. It is written in a language very few people can understand, imposed upon us without our understanding, and used for financial gain by those who do not have our best interest at heart. Our personal and private data is the traded for profit without our knowledge, consent, or benefit.

A new form of economic oppression has emerged, ruthlessly designed, implemented by the digital bourgeois, and built exclusively on harvesting our personal and private data – and we gladly exchanged it for the conveniences it offered. As a society, we have been gaslighted into accepting this new norm. We are fed the information they choose to feed us, are subject to their manipulation, and we are simply fodder for their profit machine. We are indeed in the oppressive age of Neo-Medievalism, and computer code is the new Latin.

It seems to have happened so quickly, permeated our lives so completely, and that without our knowledge or consent.

But it is not hopeless. As oppressive as the Dark Ages were, that period came to an end. Why? Because there were people who saw what was happening, vocalised and organised themselves around a healthier social model, and educated themselves around human rights, oppression, and accountable leadership. After all – look at us now. We were birthed out of that period by those who ushered in the Enlightenment and ultimately Modernity.

Reformation starts with being aware, with educating oneself, with speaking up, and with joining our voices with others. There is huge value to this digital age we have wholeheartedly embraced. However, instead of allowing it to oppress us, we must take back control of our data where we can. We must do what we need to, to maximise the opportunities it provides, join with those who see it for what it is, help others to retain their freedom, and be a part of the wave of people and organisations looking for integrity, openness, and redefinition in the process. The digital age with its AI potential is here to stay. This is good. Let’s be a part of building a system that serves the needs of the many, that benefits humanity as a whole, and that lifts us all to a better place.

4 comments:

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Thank you, Emile. I wonder about two things here.

You seem to me to focus on the exploitation of personal data for material or monetary gain -- which you portray well. Would you assign any significant place to other motivations? For example, religious, ideological, or territorial?

In my own view, there is something more insidious than financial exploitation. We have, at the moment, algorithms which run billions and billions of calculations each day which -- at the same time as they focus on exploitation -- de-focus from things which are irrelevant to the same, the pre-eminent example being the environment.

Emile said...

Thomas O. Scarborough - thank you for your read and response. After a fair amount of study into this, I am of the persuasion that the primary driver is financial. Facebook really has no interest in personal indiscretions (photos of an affair etc.) as there is no way for them to monetize that. Politically, it is not secret that most media heads lean left - and so it is probably easier for them emotionally to censor right than left - but again, their primary motivation is profitability. The left leaning papers that vilified Trump now ridicule Biden in the USA. Why - because even though they lean left, there is no financial value in not reporting Biden's missteps. I believe the billions of AI calculations each day are primarily concerned with profit. If exploitation brings in the greenbacks, they will do that. If catering to the whims of a left leaning media mogul brought in the bacon, I believe they would do that. I have read a few biographies of people who left FB and have an inside view of the working there - and they all seem to agree on the same thing - even those who left with a bone to grind - FB is about profitability - no matter what it takes.

Keith said...

I found it distracting, Emile, to preface an essay about the digital age, loss of privacy, and the commodification and monetization of personal information with a lengthy lead-up about far grimmer matters: the Dark Ages, Ecclesiastical Latin sword, infanticidal nuns, horrors of Medieval torture devices, biblical commands, spiritual authority, deleterious absolutism, and subjected masses in abject poverty.

Meanwhile, I agree with what you characterise as the ‘harvesting of our personal and private data’, and the digital industry’s assumption such ‘free raw material [may be] taken, manipulated, and traded at will’. Society isn’t close to figuring out whether it actually wants to curtail such practices, and if so, how. Years-long trendlines remain in the digital industry’s favour.

Worse in terms of users being handcuffed is policymakers’ seeming inability to understand the technology, figure out the depth of how industry practices impact people for good or bad, struggle over free-market predispositions, and decide on how effectively to regulate on behalf of the public’s safety and privacy. All, despite repeated rounds of hearings. Meantime, we can’t easily opt out.

Anonymous said...

Keith - thank you for your comments. I am sure I could have reduced the length of that introduction but felt it really important to connect the flagrant abuse of (spiritual) authority, the suppression of recourse and the sense of personal violation we associate with the Dark Ages with the current situation. And this has all happened behind our backs. We may be in too deep to even care. At a recent congressional inquire Zuckerberg was hauled before the US congress to account for this disregard for privacy boundaries and the monetization of personal data so acquired. To the dismay of the global audience, his response was that FB would do a better job of self-monitoring. The fox secured his position to oversee the henhouse. The truth is that FB, Google and Amazon dollars have wicked their way deeply into the government structures of the USA, that both recourse and reform seems unlikely at this stage! I believe it will come - but no time soon.

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