Ghost in the Shell’s Advice for not Being a Tool

Ghost in the Shell’s Advice for not Being a Tool

If you’re a geek and have a functioning cortex, you may have caught wind of a micro-budget film coming up on March 31st. If you’re glued to ET or other TV shows or just spend a lot of time browsing entertainment sites, you may have heard about this little indie film as well. It’s called Ghost in the Shell. Chances are you’ve heard about it because of the whole whitewashing controversy. I don’t want to focus too much on it, though as a geek it does piss me off. Long story short, Ghost in the Shell is an incredibly popular and influential cyberpunk manga and anime series. Heard of a little movie called The Matrix? Thank Ghost in the Shell for its heavy influences. If you haven’t heard of The Matrix then holy fuck what is wrong with you? Back to Ghost in the Shell and its controversy woes before we get into the main point of this post. Ghost in the Shell is a Japanese property with Japanese characters and in typical Hollywood fashion, they cast a white actress, Scarlet Johansson, in the main role of the cyborg who I’m pretty sure for many nerds was the cause of much adolescent stirring. Not only that, but there is a great fear that this American production will stray far from one of the other things that made Ghost in the Shell so great which was its seamless blending of heavy philosophy with action and hot cyborgs.

V_1389954971993-Motoko Kusinagi Gun
Yes, Motoko may be mostly cold synthetics but for many geeks, she sure could spark a very hot response.

Now, in keeping with the true spirit of Ghost in the Shell, I want to go back to the original anime movie, all the way back to that magical time known as 1995. In particular, I’d like to focus on a specific quote I think that holds a lot of weight and that we can all apply to our lives and in fact should. Yes, there is advice coming out of this article. The quote comes from none other than Motoko Kusanagi, the fully cyberized commander of the Section 9 cybercrimes task force. The quote is said in the scene in which she is talking with the newest and least cyber augmented member of the team, Togusa, about why he was chosen and how he complements the team by adding a wildcard aspect to their otherwise highly cybernetically augmented unit. In the course of this conversation, Motoko says, “It’s simple: overspecialize, and you breed in weakness.”

It is ever so simple isn’t it? He’s human and so he won’t react the same way. Harder for the bad guys to predict Section 9’s patterns and next moves and thus get away. But, there’s more to it than that. With Ghost in the Shell, there usually is. If you think about it, part of the reason Togusa can be unpredictable in ways that the other members of Section 9 can’t is that he is in full control. The cyber augmentations of the other team members may give them enhanced abilities in some respects but in others they actually detract from their ability to exercise free will. They are constrained by the model specs of their particular enhancements. Additionally, just like any mass produced product, not to say that they are no equipped with top of the line augmentations that basic civilians would not have access to, they will lack complete, true individuality and most importantly, they will possibly suffer an impediment to their ability to make choices or at least to manifest them. So what the hell is this all leading to? I hate to do this… actually screw it, I don’t. Let’s look at another quote to further develop our conclusion.

Robert A. Heinlein, author of classic novels like Starship Troopers an Stranger in a Strange Land, had this to say about overspecialization.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

On a subtle level, both quotes are talking not just about the problematic effects of being too specialized but of relinquishing choices. In Motoko’s case, being too cyber augmented strips the unit of the ability to act in an unpredictable manner and in Heinlein’s case, being specialized is a roadblock to living a fully realized life of being able to choose between a large repertoire of acquired skills and experiences. (Funny side note, many people incorrectly peg Heinlein as a fascist because of his book, Starship Troopers, but many people are uneducated and humorless idiots who don’t see that this book was an ingenious work of satire. The more you know.) But how does this relate to everyday life?

Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers continued the trend of being misunderstood by people with amoebas for brains.


Now this is where we get to you, you self-absorbed malignant narcissists, you. The thing about overspecializing is that in a way it is an abdication of choice. When one becomes overly specialized, one forgoes the entire life experience and instead cordons oneself into only a specific corner and acts only in that corner, that one specific subset of situations. As for the rest? Fuck it, I’m not specialized in that. Furthermore, by overspecializing, one forgoes any hope of a unique, complex personal identity, either in one’s personal life or work. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of working in a cubicle farm like I have; doing the same fucking task for eight or so hours straight, specializing in a particular task, as it were; you will begin to experience a breakdown of a sense of autonomy as you begin to take on the aspect of a thing, a process, an application that only does a certain thing, that only serves a particular function. The problem here isn’t just that this divests an individual of their individuality but what happens, as I said before, a person accepts this mechanistic view of him or herself. It sure makes making choices simpler as we can fall back on safe, well worn behavioral patterns and duck away from making harder choices that lie beyond the safe boundaries we’ve twisted ourselves to fit within. But the opportunity to overspecialize doesn’t just come from boring desk jockey jobs.

Overspecializing can occur by way of only subscribing to one particular point of view or holding one particular ideology above all others. This can apply to religions, politics, economics, or philosophies. Overspecializing can be said to occur when we lock out the rest of the world and only view things through the one particular filter we’ve chosen and never question if this filter is reasonable or is just more bullshit we’ve piled on to our bullshit existence. The weakness arising from such slavish, unthinking devotion to a set of ideas should be obvious. You not only erode your ability to think critically but you also forgo any possibility of adaptation. Foregoing and refusing adaptation, you will inevitably be left behind by a world that couldn’t give less of a fuck about you or your thoughts because it already gives absolutely zero fucks about you.

Life is like a big room, devoid of fucks.

Now, the rest of the world may not care about your being left behind, in fact no one will likely know you were even there to be left behind in the first place, but you will feel it on some level as the world becomes more and more incomprehensible since your inflexible ideology goggles get more and more scratched and scuffed, soon leaving you in a swirling miasma of confusion that could be easily lifted it you just took off the fucking goggles, man! But this is the kind of weakness we’re talking about when we talk about overspecialization. Little fun fact for you, one of the things that makes humans so adaptable is that we come in to the world totally unspecialized for anything more than feeding, pooping, and looking squishy and adorable. Everything else, besides a very few innate tendencies and biologically derived cognitive capacities, is learned. And now look at us. Masters of the planet. All because we were flexible, we could adapt and integrate new information and paradigms.

The take away point of all this is that life requires choices and we make those choices by the accrual of individual experiences and skills. All these things allow us to act in a way that is particular to us. I hope this won’t be misconstrued as the tired, saccharine platitude we’ve heard ad nauseam: just be yourself. This isn’t about that. First of all, you might be an asshole to others in which case maybe you should be a little less you. Secondly, that tired cliche never actually tells us why we should be ourselves. Again, the reason that someone is usually fed that kind of advice is that this person has something that he or she wishes to do but for whatever reason, is living a repressed life and finds that it is not possible to act in the way he or she wishes. It boils down to freedom. We could go further and say that such a repressed person has become overspecialized in the practice of conforming to the expectations and needs of others. They have created a product of themselves and a product has no function unless it is consumed or utilized.

In the end, we are really talking about freedom, the freedom to act as oneself, not as a component of a machine or system, not as a specialized tool whose function is prescribed. I’m not suggesting that one totally go crazy, start wearing their underwear on their head and smearing their entire body in used coffee grounds for no other reason than, “Fuck it, I’m free.” Sure you can do that but to what end? Maybe it’s performance art. I don’t know. All I’m saying is that all things are possible and permitted; that’s both the awesome thing and the terrifying thing about life. It seems crazy to lock ourselves into tight corners and claustrophobic rooms when considering the vast degrees of freedom that are literally forced on us by dint of our being alive. And yes that may come with crushing responsibility but the terms of our existence are not open to negotiation so we may as well step up and make the best of it which means being willing to take on the role of a singular being,  left without the assurances of determining factors, and compelled to act to the best of his or her ability in a rapidly changing and indifferent universe. The thing is if you’re doing it right and embracing this mercurial state, you can actually have a good bit of fun, no cyber augmentations required.



Welcome to the Anti-Self-Help Movement: We Ain’t Fixing Shit

Welcome to the Anti-Self-Help Movement: We Ain’t Fixing Shit

It seems like it’s official. There’s a name for the recent trend of self-help books that tell you there isn’t any help and that we’re all pretty much fucked. It’s comforting to know that writers like myself are tapping into a common vein, like junkies passing the same conceptual needle back and forth. You can read more about this anti-self-help movement at the link provided at the end of the article. However, I found two interesting things about this article that I’d like to share.

First of all, this article rightly picks up on the existential blood that pumps through the veins of this literature trend. This anti-self-help movement is honest in a way that traditional self-help books fail to be. Now, traditionally, you’d buy a self-help book in order to get a boost of motivation, get information on how to achieve something like more self esteem or earning more money or screwing more people (in the bodily fluids sense or not), or something similar. These books have always aimed to give people the sense of having power; having control; and, possibly above all, having purpose. This may have worked back in more innocent times but these are not those times. Everything in this era reeks of decay. Our societal systems are collapsing, our government is deteriorating, and my generation, the much maligned Millenials Generation, will have a lower standard of living than our parents. One of the biggest things we all take from this and internalize is that there is no inherent order or meaning to any of this. It’s just a big shit cyclone and we’re caught in the middle of it. We certainly don’t have any meaning or purpose we can turn to. Especially when so many of us are fucked when it comes to employment or finding an outlet for our natural talents that will also be accepted and valued by the marketplace. Essentially, if you can do something but the market place has no use for it, it may as well not exist and you may as well not exist. So the marketplace, which a growing number of young people already don’t have faith in, also has no faith in us, a cycle of fictitious entities in a race to devalue one another. This also speaks to the other aspect of why traditional self-help books are not sufficient.

There is a myth that we’ve been sold. That myth is progress. You might say, “But look at all the progress we’ve made! iPhone six (or is it seven?), bitch! Another Alien movie! Look at these fucking sequels and new products! Look at them!” To this I say you’re an idiot. But that’s nothing new. In reality, progress is slow and prone to reversal. It is not a given, as so many would like to think. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to think that. It does help to stave off the horrible encroaching intimation that this is all for nothing but that’s all an unswerving faith in progress is good for. But back here in reality, there is no such thing as progress. There’s just the same shit with a different coating. It’s like Taco Bell. Same salty yet flavorless mix of indistinguishable crap, just in a different shell. Progress assumes an endpoint. It assumes there is something to work towards. I invite anyone to tell me what that is. There isn’t one. What there is is the daily workings of life, of getting up, doing stuff, then going back to bed until you die. That’s not a bad thing. It’s life and I’ll be damned if I’d trade it for the alternative. However, we can’t keep lying to ourselves that there’s this magical promise land awaiting us in the future. It’s all we can do to not totally fuck up everything immediately around us. And as long as we’re on the topic of fucking shit up, I want to move on to the second thing that caught my eye in this article.

The author seems to have a problem with the levels of vulgarity that this genre or movement employs. Kind of fucked up, right. Why do I consider this fucked up? Shouldn’t I aim to say less horrible shit?  Well, here’s the thing, ya bastards, these are words. They are signifiers. Their entire existence is dedicated to referring to things and sharing concepts and meaning. They are employed by people who want to get certain ideas into the bone balloons (heads) of others. The thing to remember here is that words themselves have no intrinsic power or meaning. They are merely an amalgamation of symbols or sounds. All meaning is ascribed to them by intent and context. This is why you can go up to someone you’ve known for a long time and say, “How are you you son of a bitch?” and be completely friendly. The use of this, “vulgarity,” is a way to break down distinctions and boundaries and it works in print too. When I curse you know I’m not holding back and that I’m not hiding anything. Accordingly, you should feel like it’s alright to be yourself. You don’t need to feel inadequate or less than me or anyone else, a problem that I encounter in many conventional self-help books. These writers, by setting themselves up as gurus, by presenting themselves as people who have made sense of and more or less mastered life’s difficulties, make themselves inaccessible.  Cursing and using profanity puts us all at the same level, it eliminates distinctions, it makes it easier to empathize. And, considering the amount of shit we all have to deal with in this life, we could all use a bit of empathy, which brings me to another reason why a couple of well placed expletives are just what we need to get to a more realistic understanding of our place in the world and how to cope with it.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize that the world is a brutal, cruel, and unfair place. We’ve all been under life’s boot heel at some point. We’ve been hurt, we’ve watched powerlessly as those we cared about were hurt or taken from us, and we’ve known what it’s like to look at the world and realize how little impact and control we have over anything. In such a world, some foul language is the least of our worries. Think about it. This is a world where there are millions of women and girls who are kidnapped or tricked with promises of a better life then sold on the human trafficking market. And people are offended by the word, “fuck?” Seriously, let’s get our priorities straight. There is an incredible amount of suffering and what could be called evil in this world. If anyone should be offended by anything, it’s the amount of injustice and wanton cruelty that is happening every day all over the world. After we internalize these facts, who gives a cabbage patch fuck about some, “bad words?” Not only are they a non-issue but sometimes we need strong, direct language because the unforgiving nature of existence necessitates it. Sometimes we need a punch to the cortex and one of the fastest ways to do that is with curse words. We need to feel something and, since the anti-self-help movement is primarily in the business of realistic advice, a lot of what we need to feel and get comfortable with is the harsh nature of the world in which we live.

There’s no one coming to save us and we’re all on the same sinking ship. But, there’s the opportunity to go down with grace and style, like a million dollar escort. That’s what I think the anti-self-help movement is best at. It doesn’t make false claims that you too can be on top, and make a million dollars, and look like a million dollars, and be liked by everyone. Nope. It just ain’t so. And the anti-self-help movement is here to help you recognize this fact and show you that you never needed all this shit in the first place. All you ever needed was to live a simple, happy life as yourself, hopefully with some people you care about and who care about you by your side. It may not be glamorous or perfect but it’s life and that can carry its own reward.