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Chris Rock, Jay Z, Baudrillard & Dostoevsky: Crime & Punishment In Simulacra & Simulation

I was watching Chris Rocks: Bring The Pain special for the thousandth time in my life. As I get older, days away from my 22nd birthday, I’m starting to relate to many of the bits on a deeper level. Chris Rock uses his specials to create social commentary, which is what makes him hilarious. He’s able to convey timeless truths in our society and show us the humour in them. Bits like the one about "men surrendering" didn’t make sense to me as a kid but as I get older, I get it, he’s right and that's hilarious. This special is infamous for his “Black People vs Niggas” bit. The bit discusses the perceived negative aspects of the black community.

He talks about people who idolize the crime aspect of society, our idolization of ignorance, and the low expectations we have of ourselves. The joke also echoes the pitfalls of the white community while reminding his own community that the goal should be betterment and progression, not comparative stagnation. The joke is hilarious because of the truth in it. Crime exists in all societies, impoverished communities tend to have more violent crime because violent crime is directly correlated to financial status and people in need are more willing to commit violent crimes, it's not a race issue like the media displays. The media has historically distorted the black image to promote stereotypes and division, which has had an affect on the perception and general fear between different communities.

Violent crime is a proximity and poverty issue, and it's rampant because of poverty but also because society puts capital acquisition as its highest value. There is no objective morality outside of a law that is very obviously flawed, created by criminals, being upheld by provable criminals, that also tells you acquiring the most capital is the most important task, and it needs to be accomplished by any means necessary. This system encourages us to see people as the means to a more valuable end.

Our society tends to idolize crimes and criminals, whose crimes brought severe harm to the broader community. Al Capone, Pablo Escobar, the Godfather, the Founding Fathers, Thomas Edison, Jay Z, John Stevens and the railways. The actual building blocks of modern civilization are oppression and exploitation. The creators of the modern infrastructure and leaders throughout history, did morally reprehensible things like genocide and slavery. Through time the methods of control have changed, but human nature has not.

Despite being negatively depicted by some corporate media entities, Jay Z is widely loved and praised by people around the world, including myself. Jay Z's journey is the de facto narrative for the real face of the American Dream. His crimes just happen to be documented and promoted. Jay Z, a descendant of slaves, went from being a kid in Marcy Projects New York to becoming a billionaire, his story is of mythical proportions. Jay Z is a “criminal” but he’s praised because he avoided the pitfalls of his society by not getting caught. He also took his money and funded one of the greatest art careers in human history, one of the greatest art collectives and spawned some of the best artists for multiple generations after him, while being an inspiration to millions.

As long as humans have existed, drugs have existed, and as long as drugs have existed, people have consumed and sold them. The sale of drugs is profitable because people want to get high, and might suffer from various other untreated mental health issues. The industry is deregulated and certain drugs are made criminal, in doing so the government creates a booming criminal underbelly, a homeless problem, and mental health issues that are treated as crimes. In a profitable underbelly where your capital is not protected by police, and is sought after by the police, you have to resort to methods of self and capital protection. That is when young men create organizations focused on providing a product into the marketplace, they take loans from a supplier that they need to pay back, and they occupy the real estate, while beating out the competition. The thing with unregulated and rapacious capitalism, that is inherently based on a collective understanding that laws are being broken and people are being harmed, is that it is willing to take matters to a criminal level which includes violence.

That is the business model that the modern world is built on. Slavery, colonialism, war, bloodshed, all for the sake of capital. War is an industry that requires and incentivizes violence in order to survive. Allowing countries to go to war for capital, and hearing stories of the crimes that took place to create civilization as it stands today, makes you see the current value systems in full display and come to some grim conclusions about the nature of the nuances of power and power acquisition, which is the game society is playing. The current value system is the only one that matters on the scoreboard. The economy is widely stated as the most important aspect of human life.

In a world without objective morality, why shouldn’t an aspiring Jay Z sell drugs that harm people and destroy communities, scam people, kill people, or ruin the environment in order to achieve wealth and power, if he can get away with it, when that is exactly what those in power have done to get to where they are, that due to the current value system, is deemed as an objectively better position than their current one? This is the same question Dostoevsky tries to answer. In Fyodor Dostoevsky's ''Crime and Punishment'', the protagonist, Raskolnikov, has a great admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, which leads to his decision to commit murder.

Prior to the murders, an article that Raskolnikov writes that describes his political views is published without his knowledge. In it, he says,

''… legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fact that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short at bloodshed either, if that bloodshed--often of innocent persons fighting bravely in defence of ancient law--were of use to their cause.''

Based on this observation, Raskolnikov concludes that what sets great men apart from commoners is their willingness to be criminal. When Porfiry Petrovich, the magistrate in charge of the murder investigation, responds that he doesn't consider himself to be like Napoleon, and therefore doesn't understand how a Napoleon might behave, Raskolnikov fires back, ''Oh, come, don't we all think ourselves Napoleons now in Russia?'' Another officer contemplates out loud that someone who believes that way might be the murderer.

Raskolnikov goes on to feel immense guilt, paranoia, and shame until he was told to look for resolve in Christ through repenting for his sins, admitting what he did to the police and accepting the consequences of his actions. The ending was very much placed in Christian theology but the psychology behind the motivations still exists within people. Most of us aren’t Napoleon, we’re the members of his army that are wrapped up in the broader narrative, that would be just as haunted as Raskolnikov if placed in a similar situation. We tend to excuse morally reprehensible behaviour for narratives we subscribe to, be it when discussing great leaders and ignoring great crimes, or purchasing products from corporations that build products in sweatshops using child labour.

In a world without an agreed upon consensus of objective morality, there’s no empiric reason I can provide that will force you to be moral outside of the law in your jurisdiction, but that's mainly because of our current value system. Empathy is a psychological disposition that you can’t control no matter how tough you try to be, unless of course you are a sociopath. Dostoevsky came to the conclusion that Raskolnikov's value system had to change from materially based to spiritually based for him to resolve the truth of his nature. The dichotomy lies in a society of empathetic people that places wealth and material consumption at the top of its value system.

As a person who has spent most of his life traveling with the instability of life as an expat, I have no attachments to physical land or property. I’ve moved my whole life so I'm not overtly attached to a distinct local home, people are my home, people are my stability. The value in my life is in relation to other people. My love of other people comes from the relationships I have, the tools that benefit my life, the infrastructure powered by people around the world that make my life easier, my friends and family, the creativity that has added meaning into my life, people like my garbageman and my local convenience store owner mean the world to me. Those are all decent, well meaning, ordinary people, whose mere existence adds an infinite and ineffable amount of value in my life, that can't be replaced. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasizes common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems. That is what I believe in, the inherent goodness in most people. Most people aren’t sociopaths. Most people are just trying to do what's best for themselves and their loved ones, but in a society that places consumption above humanity it's easy to put those you don’t know or care about in harm's way for the sake of our own capital acquisition.

Our moral ambiguity is present because of the nature of society. Everyone is a transaction point, we're all jobs dressed up like a guy. Urban life makes us the personifications of jobs, and most of our interactions: transactions. We’re all ends to someone's means, that is guaranteed. It's either our boss, banks, businesses, bills, bus drivers. If you walk into a store and the cashier is nice to you, she has to be. If you’re in front of the mall and the tiny Chinese lady comes up to you and acts flirty, it's because she wants you to sign some petition about something you don’t understand. If a random guy is being nice to you, he’ll either tell you to buy his mixtape or he’s trying to sell you some drugs. Everyone is reading their vocational script. Cities breed a fast paced, individualistic culture, focused on fulfilling our desires, and in that sense we treat almost everyone as a means to an end. This creates a moral ambiguity that allows us to place attaining product and capital for our lives at the expense of personified jobs.

Despite the consumer nature of our value systems, people have an innate understanding, empathy and affinity to other people, there’s a certain social language that's cross cultural. You can be in another country and not understand anyone and still get yourself around based on signs and universal human gestures. You would be able to figure out how to say you want to eat, you can understand humour and laughter, or be able to explain that you need directions. There’s a universality inherent to human nature that transcends concepts of language, country, religion and culture, that is reflected in those concepts. A country is supposed to be a collection of human expressions. It's the values of the whole reflected, that's what culture is, that's what language is, that's what a religion is. It's ideally what we widely agree represents our nature. That is reflected in how I treat you and how you treat me, and how we go on to treat the broader community until we can describe what is occurring in nature. Our society removes that humanity aspect and places material value systems above people.

Through globalization in urban environments, all people are painted as competition in this strange game of abstract status, competing through symbols and signs, and due to globalization we are beginning to lose binding culture and moral value for the sake of divisive corporatized homogeneity. Wearing a certain bag or shirt with a certain brand, living on a certain patch of land, or driving a certain type of vehicle suddenly makes you the winner in this strange consumer game. The way to a harmonious world focused on progress and human wellbeing is to restructure our individual value systems.

Most people are just trying to do what's best for ourselves and those we love, but in a system that promotes materialistic value systems over real humanity and creates division between people, it's easy to overlook the broader community, when there isn't really an enforced community element. We’re often forced to focus on our differences, the agenda mostly pushes out things like race, religion, ethnicity, employment, class, anything that puts a barrier between people. This whole system is run through advertising, narrative crafting and marketing.

We live in made up societies, our cities are all Disneyland, many of us carry out different corporate narratives in the simulation on the quest to attain the most game tickets. In French philosopher Jean Baudrillard's 1981 book Simulacra and Simulation, he discusses the idea of images and signs, and how they relate to our contemporary society, wherein we have replaced reality and meaning with symbols and signs; he states that what we know as reality is actually a simulation of reality. The simulacra that Baudrillard refers to are the signs of culture and media that create the reality we perceive: a world saturated with imagery, infused with communications media, sound, and commercial advertising. And that's the simulated reality that forces us into chasing its ideals and values through putting barriers between us.

Baudrillard labeled this new world a hyperreality, in which entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of banal everyday life, as well as the codes and models that structure everyday life. The realm of the hyperreal (e.g., media simulations of reality, Disneyland and amusement parks, malls and consumer fantasylands, TV sports, virtual reality games, social networking sites, and other excursions into ideal worlds) is more real than real, whereby the models, images, and codes of the hyperreal come to control thought and behavior. Yet determination itself is random in a non-linear world where it is impossible to chart causal mechanisms in a situation in which individuals are confronted with an overwhelming flux of images, codes, and models, any of which may shape an individual’s thought or behavior.

Following Marx, he argues that this modern epoch was the era of capitalism and the bourgeoisie, in which workers were exploited by capital and provided a revolutionary force of upheaval. Baudrillard, however, declared the end of political economy and thus the end of the Marxist problematic and of modernity itself:

The rise of technology, symbolism and automation brought the end of labor. The end of production. The end of political economy. The end of the signifier/signified dialectic, which is perceiving a sign's physical form (such as a sound, printed word, or image) as distinct from its meaning, which facilitates the accumulation of knowledge and of meaning. As well as the end of the broader objective nature of group discourse.

This whole system is run by advertising and narrative crafting. Its storytelling, smoke and mirrors and curated cultural orchestration that keeps modern day capitalism thriving. We don’t buy products anymore, we buy what it represents, what it feels like, what it says about me socially, politically, and how attaining this product nonverbally describes my personality and self worth. Our modern world is already focusing on corporations' utilitarian functions, cultural style, emotional attitudes and belief systems of products. Wendy's political opinion would have never mattered because she is the mascot for a burger restaurant, but now I know she supports BLM.

I believe that underneath linguistic barriers, there is still an objective moral instinct. In a world that is created and curated through myth, abstraction and narrative crafting, there’s a transcendental nature. There are still those ineffable cross cultural qualities in human rules that exist underneath the propagated myths, cultures and norms that are universally moral and self evident, it's in our body language, our emotions, our care, compassion and kindness, our connections, loved ones, and universal moments of observable human decency.

Against the organizing forms of modern thought and society, Baudrillard champions symbolic exchange as an alternative. Against modern demands to produce value and meaning, he calls for their extermination and annihilation. Baudrillard’s paradoxical concept of symbolic exchange can be explained as an expression of a desire to liberate himself from modern positions and to seek a revolutionary position outside of modern society. Against modern values, he advocates their annihilation and extermination.

Symbolic exchange is a form of exchange that maintains and organizes social relations and hierarchies. The difference to other forms of exchange is that the value of an exchanged object does not value the act of exchanging it. Baudrillard championed actions that brought intrinsic value. We are often moved by external factors such as reward systems, grades, evaluations, products, symbols or the opinions we fear others might have of us. Yet, just as frequently, people are motivated from within, by interests, curiosity, care or abiding values. These intrinsic motivations are not necessarily externally rewarded or supported, but nonetheless they can sustain passions, creativity, and sustained efforts.

The interplay between the extrinsic forces acting on a person and the intrinsic motives and needs inherent in human nature is the territory of Self-Determination Theory, which would be an antidote to the randomness of non-linear external determination. The theory states that conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including an enhanced and fulfilled quality of life.

Restructuring our value system from extrinsic to intrinsic is the pathway to maintaining autonomy and integrity in the hyperreality. Things like giving someone a gift without expecting anything in return, or practicing a craft because you felt like it. Learning a craft that interests you or practicing any task provides you a different relationship in the hyperreal because you are able to be competent, autonomous, capable of critical thinking, discerning, and drawing intrinsic value from practicing your free will as opposed to exclusively a consumption clone controlled by marketing, acting desperately to attain extrinsic value and harming people on the way. I believe in consistently practicing crafts that you are truly interested in, you tend to connect with your moral instincts, learn patience, discipline and the transcendent fundamentals of life through the craft.

Miyamoto Musashi said "if you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things." When you learn anything, you elevate everything. In using your interests to learn new information, learn any craft or better any circumstance in your life, you elevate your existence, you make life run smoother and better, and seeing those results pushes you to continue creating, learning and elevating your life and the lives of those around you to achieve the inherent value in that path that ultimately betters the broader society.

When you have a situational problem and have solved it creatively, you can apply the process of solving to other problematic situations. You see everything as connected and it helps you keep an open, mindful and creative mind. That realization enhances your ability to critically think past or through symbolism, discern through the wide streams of information that are accessible, learn how to make decisions from within, and solve problems in a creative and elegant manner. Everything from exercising, to writing poetry, making music, even juggling, if you are interested, and your goal is to learn and get better, you begin to make more autonomous decisions based on your actual interests, you become more confident and are able to solve problems in other areas of your life, by learning the constants of mindfulness, practicing, learning, failing, adapting, evolving, and creating you learn about the fundamentals of life, and you gain an intrinsic value that inherently benefits you and the broader community, both internally and externally, with profound value that extrinsic value systems can't reproduce.

The reason why the simulated narrative forces us to focus on our differences is to continue ancient methods of divide and conquer, in order to keep people controlled and focused on competition and consumption.

“He (The Prince) must separate the people. And if the people cling to one another and refuse to part, then you must picture them as if they were in a pit and eventually they will push one of their own to the top to be their leader. And when they do, you must grab their hand and fling them to the mountain top with the villa. And if they refuse the villa, you must cut his head off.”

A majority of us play in the metaphor of capitalism. We live in the communications media infused consumer narrative metaphor that centers around product consumption, capital acquirement and social interaction. Then there are people who are running the content of the communications media and products we consume, who are playing the mechanics and infrastructures of capitalism. They are the people who design the codes that we interpret as reality through media, advertising, branding, marketing, movies, music, and more. I don’t think that's inherently negative because there are beautiful symbols, metaphors and narratives that help people's lives, but there are also metaphors and narratives that have harmed people's lives.

Our postmodern world needs a restructuring of value systems that place human progress and wellbeing as the priorities, and those are values we can all uphold on an individual level to create a better world, regardless of the external factors. I believe astounding truth is an entryway into objective morality. I would agree with Baudrillard that bringing down the villa is vital to achieve freedom, but what then? A delicate balance should be maintained between standing for something and standing against something.

If the people in the pit climbed up and brought down the villa, by brute force and rage, how long would their eyes take to adjust to the light. Where would they begin to build? Sincere knowledge will always flow towards Truth. Before we train bodies to be great soldiers, we need to train minds to be wise architects and that comes from creating, learning, critically thinking and discerning while placing human wellbeing and progress as the ultimate prize. For the villa will always stand, but its occupants should have a heart of Truth.

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