The Psychology That Leads People to Vote for Extremists & Autocrats: The Theory of Cognitive Closure

There’s a polit­i­cal dis­con­nect in the Unit­ed States. We have two polit­i­cal par­ties, each now liv­ing in its own real­i­ty and work­ing with its own set of facts. The com­mon ground between them? Next to none.

How to explain this dis­con­nect? Maybe the answer lies in the the­o­ry of “cog­ni­tive closure”–a the­o­ry first worked out by social psy­chol­o­gist Arie Kruglan­s­ki back in 1989.

“Peo­ple’s pol­i­tics are dri­ven by their psy­cho­log­i­cal needs,” Kruglan­s­ki explains in the short doc­u­men­tary above. “Peo­ple who are anx­ious because of the uncer­tain­ty that sur­rounds them are going to be attract­ed to mes­sages that offer cer­tain­ty.”

He sips a soda, then con­tin­ues, “The need for clo­sure is the need for cer­tain­ty, to have clear cut knowl­edge. You feel that you need to stop pro­cess­ing too much infor­ma­tion, to stop lis­ten­ing to a vari­ety of view­points, and zero in on what appears to be, to you, the truth.” “The need for clo­sure tricks your mind to believe you have the truth, even though you haven’t exam­ined the evi­dence very care­ful­ly.” And that, unfor­tu­nate­ly, can be very dan­ger­ous.

Kruglan­ski’s the­o­ry could help explain the rise of Nazism in the eco­nom­i­cal­ly-depressed Weimar Ger­many. And it’s per­haps why, across much of our eco­nom­i­cal­ly stag­nat­ing world, we’re see­ing pop­u­la­tions lurch toward extreme ide­olo­gies and auto­crat­ic per­son­al­i­ties. “The divi­sions, the polar­iza­tion, it’s all part of the same psy­cho­log­i­cal syn­drome,” says Kruglan­s­ki.

So what’s the cure? Lis­ten to oth­er points of view. Look at all avail­able infor­ma­tion. And, most of all, be sus­pi­cious of your own sense of right­eous.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy & Neu­ro­science Cours­es

The Pow­er of Con­for­mi­ty: 1962 Episode of Can­did Cam­er­aRe­veals the Strange Psy­chol­o­gy of Rid­ing Ele­va­tors

Free Online Polit­i­cal Sci­ence Cours­es

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All of Wes Anderson’s Cinematic Commercials: Watch His Spots for Prada, American Express, H&M & More

They say a film­mak­er qual­i­fies as an auteur if you can iden­ti­fy their work from any giv­en shot. That might strike even cinephiles as a dif­fi­cult task unless the film­mak­er in ques­tion is Wes Ander­son, who for twen­ty years’ worth of fea­ture films now has defined and refined a cin­e­mat­ic style increas­ing­ly unique to him and his host of reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tors. What qual­i­ties con­sti­tute the unmis­tak­ably Ander­son­ian? Vibrant col­ors, espe­cial­ly red and yel­low. Old build­ings. Uni­forms. The sounds of the British Inva­sionPer­fect sym­me­try. The tech­nol­o­gy of the mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry as well as vin­tage Amer­i­can and Euro­pean design of that era. An eye for the imag­ined past as well as the past’s imag­ined future (and its use of Futu­ra). And of course, Bill Mur­ray.

Ander­son has used dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of these and oth­er aes­thet­ic choic­es not just in all his full-length films from Bot­tle Rock­et to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but also in his com­mer­cials. Giv­en the uncom­pro­mis­ing look and feel of his “real” fil­mog­ra­phy as well as its over­all suc­cess at the box office, one might not at first imag­ine Ander­son as the kind of auteur with the need, desire, or even abil­i­ty to make adver­tise­ments.

But make them he does, an aspect of his career that actu­al­ly began with a self-par­o­dy­ing 2004 Amer­i­can Express com­mer­cial star­ring the direc­tor him­self, hard at work on his lat­est, albeit fic­tion­al, qui­et spec­ta­cle of metic­u­lous­ness and anachro­nism (which also has explo­sions).

Ever the throw­back, Ander­son next shot a com­mer­cial for Japan, that land where, in the days before Youtube, so many Amer­i­can celebri­ties used to go to cash in on their image unbe­knownst to their West­ern pub­lic. Specif­i­cal­ly, he shot it for the Japan­ese telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions giant Soft­bank, cast­ing Brad Pitt as a Jacques Tati-style vaca­tion­er, good-natured if bum­bling and pos­sessed of an eye for the ladies, in the French coun­try­side. Two years lat­er, he and fre­quent writ­ing part­ner Roman Cop­po­la returned to his beloved ear­ly 1960s for Apartomat­ic, a spot for Stel­la Artois (a brand that has also employed the likes of Wim Wen­ders) that brings to life every young man’s fan­ta­sy of the ulti­mate auto­mat­ed bach­e­lor pad.

In 2012, Mod­ern Life and Talk To My Car, a pair of thir­ty-sec­ond com­mer­cials for a new Hyundai sedan, brought Ander­son back into the present. Nat­u­ral­ly, he deliv­ered a present deeply root­ed in the dreams of decades past, which, when the idea is to sell a prod­uct as sat­u­rat­ed with the mythol­o­gy of the post­war years as an auto­mo­bile, does the job ide­al­ly. “After months of cre­ative devel­op­ment on the new Hyundai Azera we were almost out of time to pro­duce the launch spots,” writes cre­ative direc­tor Robert Prins. “At the last minute some­one sug­gest­ed ask­ing Wes Ander­son to direct. We all laughed. Then he said yes.” Imag­ine the result­ing jeal­ousy in the con­fer­ence rooms of ad agen­cies all over the world, where the talk con­stant­ly ref­er­ences Ander­son­’s work with­out ever touch­ing the gen­uine arti­cle.

The fol­low­ing year, we fea­tured Castel­lo Cav­al­can­ti, Ander­son­’s eight-minute short film star­ring Jason Schwartz­man (who became an Ander­son reg­u­lar, and a star in his own right, in Rush­more fif­teen years ear­li­er) as a race car dri­ver who crash­es into a strange­ly famil­iar vil­lage some­where in 1955 Italy. He shot it at Rome’s leg­endary Cinecit­tà stu­dio at the behest of a cer­tain Ital­ian brand called Pra­da (per­haps you’ve heard of them) and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Cop­po­la also put togeth­er Pra­da: Can­dy, a series of three some­what more straight­for­ward com­mer­cials embed­ded as a playlist just above. Set in France this time, they tell the Jules and Jim-esque sto­ry of twin broth­ers vying for the atten­tion of the same girl, a blonde bon viveuse who hap­pens to have the same name — and if you believe the mar­ket­ing, the same per­son­al­i­ty — as Prada’s fra­grance.

Just yes­ter­day we fea­tured Come Togeth­er, Ander­son­’s lat­est com­mer­cial direc­to­r­i­al effort with Adrien Brody play­ing the ded­i­cat­ed con­duc­tor of a bad­ly delayed pas­sen­ger train on Christ­mas Eve. Though it osten­si­bly comes as noth­ing more than a pro­mo­tion for fast-fash­ion retail­er H&M, thou­sands of fans have already thrilled to this new glimpse into Ander­son­’s world — a make-believe one, but “we are all make-believe, too, every one of us,” as GQ’s Chris Heath puts it, “each self-assem­bled from a hotch­potch of dreams and expe­ri­ences and wish­es and ambi­tions and set­backs (and, yes, what we buy and what we say and what we wear and the way we choose to wear it, and all the rest of it).” Ander­son him­self might well agree. But when, we all won­der, will a brand come his way wor­thy of a com­mer­cial star­ring Bill Mur­ray?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Has Wes Ander­son Sold Out? Can He Sell Out? Crit­ics Take Up the Debate

A Com­plete Col­lec­tion of Wes Ander­son Video Essays

A Playlist of 172 Songs from Wes Ander­son Sound­tracks: From Bot­tle Rock­et to The Grand Budapest Hotel

Watch the Coen Broth­ers’ TV Com­mer­cials: Swiss Cig­a­rettes, Gap Jeans, Tax­es & Clean Coal

Wim Wen­ders Cre­ates Ads to Sell Beer (Stel­la Artois), Pas­ta (Bar­il­la), and More Beer (Car­ling)

Fellini’s Fan­tas­tic TV Com­mer­cials

David Lynch’s Sur­re­al Com­mer­cials

Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Com­mer­cial for Schick

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Richard Feynman’s Poignant Letter to His Departed Wife Arline: Watch Actor Oscar Isaac Read It Live Onstage

Media vita in morte sumus, goes the medieval line of poet­ry that lent the Eng­lish Book of Com­mon Prayer its most mem­o­rable expres­sion: “In the midst of life we are in death.” The remain­der of the poem extrap­o­lates a the­ol­o­gy from this obser­va­tion, some­thing one can only take on faith. But what­ev­er way we dress up the mys­tery of death, it remains ever-present and inevitable. Yet we might think of the mot­to as a palin­drome: In the midst of death, we are in life. The dead remain with us, for as long as we live and remem­ber them. This is also a mys­tery.

Even the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cists must con­front the pres­ence of the depart­ed, and few scientists—few writers—have done so with as much poignan­cy, direct­ness, elo­quence, and humor as Richard Feyn­man, in a let­ter to his wife Arline writ­ten over a year after she died of tuber­cu­lo­sis at age 25. Feyn­man, him­self only 28 years old at the time, sealed the let­ter, writ­ten in 1946, until his own death in 1988. “Please excuse my not mail­ing this,” he wrote with bit­ter humor in the post­script, “but I don’t know your new address.” Even in the midst of his pro­found grief, Feynman’s wit sparkles. It is not a per­for­mance for us, his posthu­mous read­ers. It is sim­ply the way he had always written—in let­ter after let­ter—to Arline.

In the video above, Oscar Isaac, who has embod­ied many a wise­crack­ing roman­tic, gives voice to the long­ing and pain of Feynman’s let­ter, in which the physi­cist con­fess­es, “I thought there was no sense to writ­ing.” Some­how, he could not help but do so, end­ing with stark­ly ambiva­lent truths he was unable to rec­on­cile with what he col­lo­qui­al­ly calls his “real­is­tic” nature: “You only are left to me. You are real.… I love my wife. My wife is dead.” Read the full let­ter below, via Let­ters of Note. For more from their Let­ters Live series, see Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch read Kurt Vonnegut’s let­ter to the school that banned his nov­el Slaugh­ter­house Five.

Octo­ber 17, 1946


I adore you, sweet­heart.

I know how much you like to hear that — but I don’t only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.

It is such a ter­ri­bly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you’ll excuse me because you under­stand how I am, stub­born and real­is­tic; and I thought there was no sense to writ­ing.

But now I know my dar­ling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.

I find it hard to under­stand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to com­fort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have prob­lems to dis­cuss with you — I want to do lit­tle projects with you. I nev­er thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We start­ed to learn to make clothes togeth­er — or learn Chi­nese — or get­ting a movie pro­jec­tor. Can’t I do some­thing now? No. I am alone with­out you and you were the “idea-woman” and gen­er­al insti­ga­tor of all our wild adven­tures.

When you were sick you wor­ried because you could not give me some­thing that you want­ed to and thought I need­ed. You needn’t have wor­ried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clear­ly even more true — you can give me noth­ing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of lov­ing any­one else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much bet­ter than any­one else alive.

I know you will assure me that I am fool­ish and that you want me to have full hap­pi­ness and don’t want to be in my way. I’ll bet you are sur­prised that I don’t even have a girl­friend (except you, sweet­heart) after two years. But you can’t help it, dar­ling, nor can I — I don’t under­stand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don’t want to remain alone — but in two or three meet­ings they all seem ash­es.

You only are left to me. You are real.

My dar­ling wife, I do adore you.

I love my wife. My wife is dead.


PS Please excuse my not mail­ing this — but I don’t know your new address

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Let­ter to the High School That Burned Slaugh­ter­house-Five

‘The Char­ac­ter of Phys­i­cal Law’: Richard Feynman’s Leg­endary Course Pre­sent­ed at Cor­nell, 1964

Richard Feyn­man Cre­ates a Sim­ple Method for Telling Sci­ence From Pseu­do­science (1966)


The Photography of Poet Arthur Rimbaud (1883)


Arthur Rim­baud, far-see­ing prodi­gy, “has been memo­ri­al­ized in song and sto­ry as few in his­to­ry,” writes Wyatt Mason in an intro­duc­tion to the poet’s com­plete works; “the thumb­nail of his leg­end has proved irre­sistible.” The poet, we often hear, end­ed his brief but bril­liant lit­er­ary career when he ran off to the Horn of Africa and became a gun­run­ner… or some oth­er sort of adven­tur­ous out­law char­ac­ter many miles removed, it seems, from the intense sym­bol­ist hero of Illu­mi­na­tions and A Sea­son in Hell.


Rim­baud’s break with poet­ry was so deci­sive, so abrupt, that crit­ics have spent decades try­ing to account for what one “hyper­bol­ic assess­ment” deemed as hav­ing “caused more last­ing, wide­spread con­ster­na­tion than the break-up of the Bea­t­les.” What could have caused the young lib­er­tine, so drawn to urban voyeurism and the skew­er­ing of the local bour­geoisie, to dis­ap­pear from soci­ety for an anony­mous, root­less life?


On the oth­er hand, in revis­it­ing the poet­ry we find—amidst the grotesque, hal­lu­cino­genic reveries—that “trav­el, adven­ture, and depar­ture on var­i­ous lev­els are the­mat­ic con­cerns that run through much of Rim­baud”: from 1871’s “The Drunk­en Boat” to A Sea­son in Hell’s “Farewell,” in which the poet writes, “The time has come to bury my imag­i­na­tion and my mem­o­ries! A fit­ting end for an artist and teller of tales.”


He was only 18 then, in 1873, when he wrote his farewell. Two years lat­er, he would final­ly end his vio­lent tumul­tuous rela­tion­ship with Paul Ver­laine, and embark on a series of voy­ages, first by foot all over Europe, then to the Dutch East Indies, Cyprus, Yemen, and final­ly Abyssinia (mod­ern day Ethiopia), where he set­tled in Harar, struck up a friend­ship with the gov­er­nor (the father of future Emper­or Haile Selassie), and became a high­ly-regard­ed cof­fee trad­er, and yes, gun deal­er.


Rim­baud may have left poet­ry behind, decid­ing he had real­ized all he could in lan­guage. But he had not giv­en up on approach­ing his expe­ri­ence aes­thet­i­cal­ly. Only, instead of try­ing “to invent new flow­ers, new stars, new flesh, new tongues,” as he wrote in “Farewell,” he had evi­dent­ly decid­ed to take the world in on its own terms. He doc­u­ment­ed his find­ings in essays on geog­ra­phy and trav­el accounts and, in 1883, sev­er­al pho­tographs, includ­ing two self-por­traits he sent to his moth­er in May, writ­ing, “Enclosed are two pho­tographs of me which I took.”


You can see one of those por­traits at the top of the post, and the oth­er, in much worse shape, below it, and a third self-por­trait just below. The “cir­cum­stances in which the pho­tographs were tak­en are quite mys­te­ri­ous,” writes Lucille Pen­nel at The Eye of Pho­tog­ra­phy.

Start­ing in 1882, Rim­baud became fas­ci­nat­ed with the new tech­nol­o­gy. He ordered a cam­era in Lyon in order to illus­trate a book on “Harar and the Gal­las coun­try,” a cam­era he received only in ear­ly 1883. He also ordered spe­cial­ized books and pho­to pro­cess­ing equip­ment. The planned sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tion was nev­er real­ized, and the six pho­tographs are the only trace of Rimbaud’s activ­i­ty.

“I am not yet well estab­lished, nor aware of things,” Rim­baud wrote in the let­ter to his moth­er, “But I will be soon, and I will send you some inter­est­ing things.” It’s not exact­ly clear why Rim­baud aban­doned his pho­to­graph­ic endeav­ors. He had approached the pur­suit not only as hob­by, but also as a com­mer­cial ven­ture, writ­ing in his let­ter, “Here every­one wants to be pho­tographed. They even offer one guinea a pho­to­graph.”

The com­ment leads Pen­nel to con­clude “there must have been oth­er pho­tographs, but any trace of them is lost, rais­ing doubts about the degree of Rimbaud’s engage­ment with pho­tog­ra­phy.”


Per­haps, how­ev­er, he’d sim­ply decid­ed that he’d done all he could do with the medi­um, and let it go with a grace­ful farewell. His­to­ry, pos­ter­i­ty, the cement­ing of a reputation—these are phe­nom­e­na that seemed of lit­tle inter­est to Rim­baud. “What will become of the world when you leave?” he had writ­ten in “Youth, IV”—“No mat­ter what hap­pens, no trace of now will remain.” In a his­tor­i­cal irony, Rimbaud’s pho­tographs “were devel­oped in ‘filthy water,’” notes Pen­nel, mean­ing they “will con­tin­ue to fade until the images are all gone. They are as fleet­ing as the man with the soles of wind.”

If we wish to see them in per­son, the time is short. The pho­to at the top of the post now resides at the Bib­lio­thèque Nationale de France. The oth­er six are housed at the Arthur Rim­baud Muse­um in Charleville-Méz­ières.

via Vin­tage Anchor/The Eye of Pho­tog­ra­phy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Brief Won­drous Career of Arthur Rim­baud (1870–1874)

Great 19 Cen­tu­ry Poems Read in French: Baude­laire, Rim­baud, Ver­laine & More

Pat­ti Smith’s Polaroids of Arti­facts from Vir­ginia Woolf, Arthur Rim­baud, Rober­to Bolaño & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Why Socrates Hated Democracies: An Animated Case for Why Self-Government Requires Wisdom & Education

How often have you heard the quote in one form or anoth­er? “Democ­ra­cy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment,” said Win­ston Churchill in 1947, “except for all those oth­er forms that have been tried from time to time.…” The sen­ti­ment express­es two cul­tur­al val­ues many Amer­i­cans are trained to hold uncrit­i­cal­ly: the pri­ma­cy of democ­ra­cy and the bur­den­some­ness of gov­ern­ment as a nec­es­sary evil.

In his new book Toward Democ­ra­cy, Har­vard his­to­ri­an James T. Klop­pen­berg argues that these ideas arose fair­ly recent­ly with “most­ly Protes­tants, at least at first,” notes Kirkus, in whose hands “the idea of democ­ra­cy as a dan­ger­ous doc­trine of the mob was reshaped into an ide­al.” Much of this trans­for­ma­tion “occurred in the for­mer British colonies that became the Unit­ed States, where, at least from a British nobleman’s point of view, mob rule did take hold.”

The mod­ern revamp­ing of democ­ra­cy into a sacred set of uni­ver­sal insti­tu­tions has defined our under­stand­ing of the term. Just as the West has co-opt­ed clas­si­cal Athen­ian archi­tec­ture as sym­bol­ic of demo­c­ra­t­ic puri­ty, it has often co-opt­ed Greek phi­los­o­phy. But as any­one who has ever read Plato’s Repub­lic knows, Greek philoso­phers were high­ly sus­pi­cious of democ­ra­cy, and could not con­ceive of a func­tion­ing egal­i­tar­i­an soci­ety with full suf­frage and free­dom of speech.

Socrates, espe­cial­ly, says Alain de Bot­ton in the School of Life video above, “was por­trayed in the dia­logues of Pla­to as huge­ly pes­simistic about the whole busi­ness of democ­ra­cy.” In the ide­al soci­ety Socrates con­structs in the Repub­lic, he famous­ly argues for restrict­ed free­dom of move­ment, strict cen­sor­ship accord­ing to moral­is­tic civic virtues, and a guardian sol­dier class and the rule of philoso­pher kings.

In Book VI, Socrates points out the “flaws of democ­ra­cy by com­par­ing a soci­ety to a ship.” If you were going on a sea voy­age, “who would you ide­al­ly want decid­ing who was in charge of the ves­sel, just any­one, or peo­ple edu­cat­ed in the rules and demands of sea­far­ing?” Unless we wish to be obtuse­ly con­trar­i­an, we must invari­ably answer the lat­ter, as does Socrates’ inter­locu­tor Adeiman­tus. Why then should just any of us, with­out regard to lev­el of skill, expe­ri­ence, or edu­ca­tion, be allowed to select the rulers of a coun­try?

The grim irony of Socrates’ skep­ti­cism, de Bot­ton observes, is that he him­self was put to death after a vote by 500 Athe­ni­ans. Rather than the typ­i­cal elit­ism of pure­ly aris­to­crat­ic think­ing, how­ev­er, Socrates insist­ed that “only those who had thought about issues ratio­nal­ly and deeply should be let near a vote.” Says de Bot­ton, “We have for­got­ten this dis­tinc­tion between an intel­lec­tu­al democ­ra­cy and a democ­ra­cy by birthright. We have giv­en the vote to all with­out con­nect­ing it to wis­dom.” (He does not tell us whom he means by “we.”)

For Socrates, so-called “birthright democ­ra­cy” was inevitably sus­cep­ti­ble to dem­a­goguery. Socrates “knew how eas­i­ly peo­ple seek­ing elec­tion could exploit our desire for easy answers” by telling us what we want­ed to hear. We should heed Socrates’ warn­ings against mob rule and the dan­gers of dem­a­goguery, de Bot­ton argues, and con­sid­er democ­ra­cy as “some­thing that is only ever as good as the edu­ca­tion sys­tem that sur­rounds it.” It’s a potent idea, and one often repeat­ed with ref­er­ence to a sim­i­lar warn­ing from Thomas Jef­fer­son.

What de Bot­ton does not men­tion in his short video, how­ev­er, is that Socrates also advised that his rulers lie to the cit­i­zen­ry, secur­ing their trust not with false promis­es and seduc­tive blan­d­ish­ments, but with ide­ol­o­gy. As the Inter­net Ency­clo­pe­dia of Phi­los­o­phy sum­ma­rizes, Socrates “sug­gests that [the rulers] need to tell the cit­i­zens a myth that should be believed by sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions in order for every­one to accept his posi­tion in the city”—and to accept the legit­i­ma­cy of the rulers. The myth—like mod­ern sci­en­tif­ic racism and eugenics—divides the cit­i­zen­ry into an essen­tial hier­ar­chy, which Socrates sym­bol­izes by the met­als gold, sil­ver, and bronze.

But who deter­mines these cat­e­gories, or which vot­ers are the more “ratio­nal,” or what that cat­e­go­ry entails? How do we rec­on­cile the egal­i­tar­i­an premis­es of democ­ra­cy with the caste sys­tems of the utopi­an Repub­lic, in which vot­ing “ratio­nal­ly” means vot­ing for the inter­ests of the class that gets the vote? What about the uses of pro­pa­gan­da to cul­ti­vate offi­cial state ide­ol­o­gy in the pop­u­lace (as Wal­ter Lipp­man so well described in Pub­lic Opin­ion). And what are we to do with the deep sus­pi­cions of, say, Niet­zsche when it comes to Socrat­ic ideas of rea­son, many of which have been con­firmed by the find­ings of neu­ro­science?

As cog­ni­tive sci­en­tist and lin­guist George Lakoff writes, “Most thought is uncon­scious, since we don’t have con­scious access to our neur­al cir­cuit­ry.… Esti­mates by neu­ro­sci­en­tists vary between a gen­er­al ‘most’ to as much as 98%, with con­scious­ness as the tip of the men­tal ice­berg.” That is to say that—despite our lev­els of edu­ca­tion and spe­cial­ized training—we “tend to make deci­sions uncon­scious­ly,” at the gut lev­el, “before becom­ing con­scious­ly aware of them.” Even deci­sions like vot­ing.

These con­sid­er­a­tions should also inform cri­tiques of democ­ra­cy, which have not only warned us of its dan­gers, but have also been used to jus­ti­fy wide­spread vot­er sup­pres­sion and dis­en­fran­chise­ment for rea­sons that have noth­ing to do with objec­tive ratio­nal­i­ty and every­thing to do with myth and polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Socrates on TV, Cour­tesy of Alain de Bot­ton (2000)

Watch Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tions to 25 Philoso­phers by The School of Life: From Pla­to to Kant and Fou­cault

How to Know if Your Coun­try Is Head­ing Toward Despo­tism: An Edu­ca­tion­al Film from 1946

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Performance Artist Marina Abramović Describes Her “Really Good Plan” to Lose Her Virginity

Los­ing your virginity–it’s not a sub­ject we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly dis­cussed much here at Open Cul­ture. Nor is it a sub­ject about which we’d claim to have great exper­tise. (After all, you lose it only once in life.)

But per­for­mance artist Mari­na Abramović has giv­en the whole endeav­or some seri­ous thought. As she explains in the BBC Radio 4 video above, she wait­ed until she was 24 years old. Hav­ing seen pre­co­cious friends make mis­takes, she han­dled things in her own spe­cial way. A Per­ry Como album. A bot­tle of Alban­ian whisky. An expe­ri­enced, emo­tion­al­ly unin­volved part­ner. They all fig­ured into what she calls–now 45 years later–her “real­ly good plan.”

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In Touch­ing Video, Artist Mari­na Abramović & For­mer Lover Ulay Reunite After 22 Years Apart

Mari­na Abramović and Ulay’s Adven­tur­ous 1970s Per­for­mance Art Pieces

The Artists’ and Writ­ers’ Cook­book Col­lects Recipes From T.C. Boyle, Mari­na Abramović, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Car­ol Oates & More

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Hear a 20 Hour Playlist Featuring Recordings by Electronic Music Pioneer Pauline Oliveros (RIP)

We can all sure­ly recite some ver­sion of the dif­fer­ence between lis­ten­ing and hear­ing. It’s usu­al­ly explained by a par­ent or guardian, with the intent of mak­ing us bet­ter at fol­low­ing instruc­tions. On the whole, it’s for our own good as chil­dren that we pay heed to our elders. But gen­uine, crit­i­cal lis­ten­ing is about so much more than per­ceiv­ing ges­tures of author­i­ty. The avant-garde com­pos­er Pauline Oliv­eros, who died this past Thurs­day at 84, would argue that true lis­ten­ing, what she called “deep lis­ten­ing,” opens us up in rad­i­cal ways to the world around us, and frees us from the sociopo­lit­i­cal con­straints that hem in our sens­es. “Take a walk at night,” says one Oliv­eros’ 1974 “Son­ic Med­i­ta­tions,” a set of 25 instruc­tions for deep lis­ten­ing, “Walk so silent­ly that the bot­tom of your feet become ears.”

“Son­ic Med­i­ta­tions” emerged after “a peri­od of intense intro­spec­tion prompt­ed by the Viet­nam War,” writes Steve Smith in a New York Times obit­u­ary, dur­ing which Oliv­eros “changed cre­ative course” to begin favor­ing impro­visato­ry works. “All soci­eties admit the pow­er of music or sound,” she wrote in the pref­ace.

“Son­ic Med­i­ta­tions,” wrote Oliv­eros, “are an attempt to return the con­trol of sound to the indi­vid­ual alone, and with­in groups espe­cial­ly for human­i­tar­i­an pur­pos­es; specif­i­cal­ly heal­ing.” Her approach rep­re­sent­ed the com­pos­er giv­ing up con­trol and the pri­ma­cy of author­ship in order to play oth­er roles: heal­er, guide, and teacher, a role she inhab­it­ed for decades as a col­lege pro­fes­sor and author of sev­er­al books of musi­cal the­o­ry.

As you can see in her TEDx lec­ture at the top of the post, Oliv­eros always returned from her son­ic explorations—such as the 1989 record­ing titled Deep Lis­ten­ing (hear an excerpt below)—with lessons for us in how to become bet­ter, more engaged and empow­ered lis­ten­ers, rather than dis­tract­ed con­sumers, of music and sound. Even before the 70s, and her turn to music as a med­i­ta­tive dis­ci­pline informed by Bud­dhism and Native Amer­i­can rit­u­al, Oliv­eros’ work dis­rupt­ed the usu­al hier­ar­chies of sound. An ear­ly adopter of tech­nol­o­gy, she “was quick­ly at the van­guard of elec­tron­ics,” wrote Tom Ser­vice in a 2012 Guardian pro­file, but her “rela­tion­ship with tech­nol­o­gy is philo­soph­i­cal­ly ambiva­lent” giv­en the role of research and devel­op­ment in cre­at­ing weapons of war.

In ear­ly com­po­si­tions like 1965’s “Bye Bye But­ter­fly,“ the com­pos­er “manip­u­lat­ed a record­ing of Puccini’s opera ‘Madama But­ter­fly’ on a turntable,” Smith writes, “aug­ment­ing its sounds with oscil­la­tors and tape delay.” In the beau­ti­ful­ly mov­ing results, fur­ther up, she aimed for a cri­tique that “bids farewell not only to the music of the 19th cen­tu­ry,” she wrote, “but also to the sys­tem of polite moral­i­ty of that age and its atten­dant insti­tu­tion­al­ized oppres­sion of the female sex.” Music has always been pro­duced and con­sumed with­in the social con­struc­tions of gen­der bina­ries, Oliv­eros main­tained. In a 1970 New York Times essay “And Don’t Call Them ‘Lady’ Com­posers,” she observed that “unless she is super-excel­lent, the woman in music will always be sub­ju­gat­ed, while men of the same or less­er tal­ent will find places for them­selves.”

Through­out her long career, Oliv­eros cre­at­ed a place for her­self, with as much the­o­ret­i­cal rig­or, play­ful­ness, ele­gance, and sophis­ti­ca­tion as her friend and con­tem­po­rary John Cage. That her sub­stan­tial body of work has received a frac­tion of the atten­tion as his may offer an instruc­tive gloss on her con­tentions of per­sis­tent bias. But Oliv­eros’ work was not reac­tive; it was con­struc­tive, such that her con­cepts gave rise to what she called a Deep Lis­ten­ing Insti­tute, an “ever-grow­ing com­mu­ni­ty of musi­cians, artists, sci­en­tists, and cer­ti­fied Deep Lis­ten­ing prac­ti­tion­ers,” who strive “for a height­ened con­scious­ness of the world of sound and the sound of the world.”

But you don’t need spe­cial­ized cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or train­ing to expe­ri­ence the med­i­ta­tive, con­scious­ness-expand­ing tech­niques of Oliv­eros’ music. On the con­trary, she sought to fos­ter “cre­ative inno­va­tion across bound­aries and across abil­i­ties, among artists and audi­ence, musi­cians and non­mu­si­cians, heal­ers and the phys­i­cal­ly or cog­ni­tive­ly chal­lenged, and chil­dren of all ages.” In the Spo­ti­fy playlist above, hear—or rather lis­ten to—20 hours of Oliv­eros com­po­si­tions, many fea­tur­ing her ear­ly exper­i­ments with ana­log elec­tron­ics, her “expand­ed instru­ment sys­tem,” and her sig­na­ture instru­ment, a dig­i­tal­ly-enhanced accor­dion.

As in the orches­tral move­ment of Deep Lis­ten­ing, the album, Oliv­eros fre­quent­ly dia­logues with musi­cal tra­di­tions, but she refused to allow them any par­tic­u­lar­ly ele­vat­ed author­i­ty over her work. “I’m not dis­mis­sive of clas­si­cal music and the West­ern canon,” she said in 2012, “It’s sim­ply that I can’t be bound by it. I’ve been jump­ing out of cat­e­gories all my life.” As lis­ten­ers, and read­ers, of her work, we can all learn to do the same.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet Four Women Who Pio­neered Elec­tron­ic Music: Daphne Oram, Lau­rie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue & Pauline Oliv­eros

The Music of Avant-Garde Com­pos­er John Cage Now Avail­able in a Free Online Archive

Hear Steve Reich’s Min­i­mal­ist Com­po­si­tions in a 28-Hour Playlist: A Jour­ney Through His Influ­en­tial Record­ings

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Watch Come Together, Wes Anderson’s New Short Film/Commercial Starring Adrien Brody

Why does the hol­i­day sea­son no longer feel com­plete with­out a Wes Ander­son movie? Sev­er­al of his fea­tures have opened in late fall or ear­ly win­ter, sure­ly the most Ander­son­ian time of year. Some have come out right around Christ­mas (The Life Aquat­ic with Steve Zis­sou on the day itself), and some, most notably The Roy­al Tenen­baums, take place par­tial­ly in the sea­son. While it looks as if we’ll have to do with­out a full-length Ander­son pro­duc­tion this Christ­mas, since the past year has report­ed­ly seen him in pre-pro­duc­tion on an as yet unti­tled stop-motion ani­mat­ed movie, the auteur of poignant and fun­ny anachro­nism has nev­er­the­less found time to direct Come Togeth­er, a brand new not-quite-com­mer­cial for “fast fash­ion” retail­er H&M.

Ander­son­’s unusu­al niche in the world of film­mak­ing allows him to both work as per­haps the most metic­u­lous cin­e­mat­ic vision­ary alive, and also to make ads with impuni­ty. We’ve fea­tured the pair of com­mer­cials for the Hyundai Azera he did in 2012, and more recent­ly the less overt Castel­lo Cav­al­can­ti, a sev­en-minute short spon­sored by Pra­da. These are in addi­tion to spots for the likes of Stel­la Artois and Amer­i­can Express, the lat­ter of which starred the direc­tor par­o­dy­ing him­self.

This time reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tor Adrien Brody, pre­vi­ous­ly seen in The Dar­jeel­ing Lim­it­ed and The Grand Budapest Hotel and heard in The Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox, takes the lead role of Con­duc­tor Ralph, the man in charge of a train that has fall­en far behind its sched­ule as Christ­mas Eve becomes Christ­mas Day. Still, dis­play­ing the same atti­tude most of Ander­son­’s char­ac­ters take toward mat­ters of aes­thet­ics and tra­di­tion, he takes seri­ous­ly indeed the job of mak­ing Christ­mas spe­cial for his pas­sen­gers. We glimpse these pas­sen­gers one at a time through their cab­in win­dows from out­side the train, a sequence rem­i­nis­cent of the cross-sec­tion shots of The Life Aquat­ic’s R/V Bela­fonte.

What will enliv­en the pale greens and mat­te grays of this slight­ly for­lorn but still dogged­ly rolling con­veyance? It takes less than four min­utes, dur­ing which Ralph, and Ander­son, sum­mon all the resources of this unspec­i­fied, dream­like past at their dis­pos­al, to find out. After­ward, Come Togeth­er leaves only one lin­ger­ing ques­tion. The famous­ly metic­u­lous Ander­son who appears to demand a cer­tain vin­tage yet time­less solid­i­ty in every­thing from his set­tings to his devices to his cui­sine to his wardrobe — he can’t pos­si­bly be into fast fash­ion. Can he?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wes Anderson’s New Com­mer­cials Sell the Hyundai Azera

Watch Wes Anderson’s Charm­ing New Short Film, Castel­lo Cav­al­can­ti, Star­ring Jason Schwartz­man

A Com­plete Col­lec­tion of Wes Ander­son Video Essays

The Auteurs of Christ­mas: Christ­mas Morn­ing as Seen Through the Eyes of Kubrick, Taran­ti­no, Scors­ese & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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