Simulacra & Simulations, Cultural Capital, Hip Hop and The Matrix

As I get older, I'm beginning to yearn for a simplicity. A simple way of life that I have most definitely romanticized in my head. I dream of a life powered by candlelight, writing novels outlooking acres of land outside my window. I imagine this experience on farmlands, in a way I would like to imagine an ancestor of mine might have lived. The sad truth is many of them didn’t have time to write because as farmland owners, they had to tend to their land, crops and livestock for many hours, theoretic thinking was reserved for a small group of people, while the vast majority of people just followed their religions and attended to the practical matters of their own family lives. Their main focus was how the crops might grow this time of year. The times I romanticize are a time before electricity, before the accessibility of transportation, an era before mass communications where we didn't know what was happening everywhere all the time, where we were chained by the default settings of nature. If its dark we couldn't see and if its far it will take us a long time to get there.

Now here I am, supposedly a free man, and yet I feel shackled. This time the chains are different. 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.

Baudrillard labeled this new world a hyperreality, in which entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense and involving than the scenes of mundane 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. The manuals for the mechanics of the codes that structure society are not accessible to a vast majority of people, many books in the western canon are not accessible to a vast majority of people.

This time the chains aren’t preordained by nature, this time the shackles are imposed by men to maintain structure, order and civility. Men freed by the promises of industry now yearn for the simplicity of the old world. I am certain aspects of my life are my ancestors' dreams come true, but I can’t help but imagine that the practical nature of their lives, and the applicability of all the information they consumed, was much simpler than mine. Most of the information we consume now has no real life application but to cause sensationalism and keep us frightened so we'll keep consuming. Most people in the past had a certain autonomy with their life that we don’t possess, as kids that grew up in urban environments. We sacrifice autonomy and practicality for convenience and comfort.

The only difference between the old world and the new one is the discovery and creation of various codes and information. These pieces of information are centralized and inaccessible by a vast majority of people. Many supposed intellectuals look at most people that don’t have all these theories memorized, many of which are inapplicable in a real world context, as the bottom of some barrel, and so information that could enlighten people and progress and further communities, is hoarded by a small group of elitists. Everyone in the real world is deemed a peon, information becomes hoarded and more cryptic as the interpersonal networks get tighter, and then those people retreat into their ivory towers where they can indulge themselves with unenlightened jargon.

That's why many left leaning ideas fail, and yet these supposed intellectuals are able to mock most of everyone. People actively call all Trump supporters stupid, that's 200 million people, that's a whole lot of people to dismiss. I saw a tweet the other day that pridefully exclaimed how many difficult Russian authors you have to read to become a leftist and how you just have to play XBOX to join the right. That is absolutely true, obviously it's hyperbolized but the essence is true, and that's not a good thing. Access to information is a privilege and liberals are always talking down on people who are less informed. Progressive and enlightening ideas should not have an unascertainable barrier to entry to those it claims its trying to help.

The idea of false consciousness in a real life setting is an insanely pretentious and classist thing to say to someone, even if it might be true. False consciousness is a term used by Marxists to describe ways in which material, ideological, and institutional processes are said to mislead members of the proletariat and other class actors within capitalist societies, concealing the exploitation intrinsic to the social relations between classes. So even if people were to say that they actually genuinely enjoy the processes of their lives, and truly don't believe they are being exploited, it's because they are being deceived and manipulated by the system. The real life practice of this ideology will always be violent and totalitarian because it classifies all of its opposers as brainwashed zombies, which leaves no place for reasonable discourse.

This isn’t anti-intellectualism at all, it's actually exclaiming a class issue that needs to be resolved. Some people are actually content with the lives they lead and the families they have, regardless of how little it is, and you need to make a better case as to why one should be more informed about something, and surprisingly, telling people they are brainwashed idiots is not the best way to begin to get them on your side. Especially if you consider your ideology to be their saving grace. What's the point of all your theories if they have no real world application because it's not accessible to the people it claims its trying to help? People need to be incentivized with a good reason to learn.

In the 1970s Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, developed the idea of cultural capital as a way to explain how power in society was transferred and social classes maintained. Karl Marx believed economic capital (money and assets) dictated your position in a social order. Bourdieu believed that cultural capital played an important, and subtle role. For both Marx and Bourdieu the more capital you have the more powerful you are.

Bourdieu defined cultural capital as ‘familiarity with the legitimate culture within a society’; what we might call ‘high culture’. He saw families passing on cultural capital to their children by introducing them to dance and music, taking them to theatres, galleries and historic sites, and by talking about literature and art over the dinner table. All of these works are encoded messages that can only be understood with their context. An understanding of the encoded messaging's is how cultural capital enables social mobility. Acquiring information and cultural capital can help you add value into the lives of others, help you maneuver through a variety of positions, it can help you create and solve problems and better your own life and the lives of those around you, and your added value can help you actually acquire wealth.

Examples of cultural capital would include knowledge, skills, and education. When you are a college or university student, what you learn in class, in your major and minor academic degree program, and overall, are all building cultural capital. The schools become the guardians of that information. People in higher institutions that preserve information put these inexplicable wages on information, and market themselves as the only possible path to acquiring knowledge, leaving people unable to pay those wages, oppressed, not because they lack the ability to be able to apply that information, but because the institution deemed them too broke to unlock information, and in doing that society as a whole is relegated.

Academic jargon continues to become as cryptic as possible, and somewhat of an inside joke between a small community, kind of like those later Woody Allen movies. How much you individually engage with the class materials might determine how much cultural capital you generate. It ultimately tends to become a cultural signal between rich people that shows they're somehow ‘in the know’ and of a certain social class, without any real world application.

Pierre Bourdieu suggested that our cultural capital controlled our Habitus, which is the way a person of a particular background perceives and reacts to the world. Habitus consists of both the tendency to hold and use one's body in a certain way, such as posture and accent and more abstract mental habits, schemes of perception, classification, appreciation, feeling, as well as action. These schemes are not mere habits: Bourdieu suggested they allow individuals to find new solutions to new situations without calculated deliberation, based on their gut feelings and intuitions, which he believed were collective and socially shaped. These attitudes, mannerisms, tastes, moral intuitions and habits have influence on the individual's life chances, so the habitus not only is structured by an individual's objective past position in the social structure but also structures the individual's future life path. Bourdieu argued that the reproduction of the social structure results from the habitus of individuals. Many of our habits and ideologies come directly from culture.

Useful information is kept as a luxury to be traded among a certain social class, but many world changing artists and innovators that are studied in Universities came from the depths of the worst situations this world has to offer. Most people who we revere and idolize came from humble beginnings, people like Van Gogh, they came from poverty, they fought and scraped their way up ladders, many great leaders, innovators, authors, artists and architects died penniless, only for their image to be recuperated and repurposed for a narrative supporting the very thing they were fighting. Recuperation is a concept first proposed by Guy Debord, it's the process by which the hyperreality intercepts socially and politically radical ideas and images, commodifies them, and safely incorporates them back within mainstream society where it loses all its original meaning and context, kind of like a Chez Guevara shirt that's sold by billion dollar corporations.

Nikola Tesla is revered today, but in his prime he had to dig ditches in order to maintain an income because a mad man named Thomas Edison was actively using his connections in media and business to stifle him.

Nikola Tesla was a member of the working class labourer's that many liberals, democrats and left leaning intellectuals openly mock, he’s closer to a coal mining Trump supporter than a Bernie Sanders loving college student, and he’s partially responsible for a majority of the progress in the modern world, mainly because he was able to acquire accurate information and cultural capital. The goal should be to make information accessible to everyone, because you never know where proper application will come from. The internet begins the attempt at the process of making information universal, but there are still several roadblocks like the actual language.

Now in this free life, I am only controlled by the limits of the information I have had access to. Information is quite literally the barrier between access points in the game. In a socially constructed world, every construct in the world becomes a mini game with its own list of rules and regulations of how it operates, your way to make a difference and better your life is to find out those rules and regulations, and ultimately the codes and mechanics of the operating system.

For your dreams, goals and positive aspirations to grow, they need to be watered by information, Google, YouTube and books give you that ability. You can tend to the problems in your real life through acquiring cultural capital that pertains to the specifics of your situation. Once you know how something works, you are able to stand outside it, apply it, change it and innovate it. Hoarding information is a form of oppression and enslavement, the pursuit of knowledge is a defiant act of freedom. Gaining Information from a wide range of sources, learning how to discern, critically think and then apply that information in a real life context to actual problems we face, is the key to free ourselves from our self imposed shackles of the cultural and the unknown.

The people in the Islamic Golden Age had an understanding of this concept. This was a period of cultural, economic, and scientific flourishing in the history of the World, traditionally dated from the 8th century to the 14th century. This period is traditionally understood to have begun during the reign of the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (786 to 809) with the inauguration of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, the world's largest city by then, where scholars and polymaths from various parts of the world with different cultural backgrounds were mandated to gather and translate all of the world's classical knowledge into Arabic and Persian. The reason they did this is because they understood the key to mastering the Matrix of life was acquiring all of the information available, outside of their local culture, so that the individuals who make up society can understand the mechanics of different systems and how to, on an individual and communal level, incorporate and apply it with their own cultures, understandings, backgrounds and associations to create new innovations, creations and information, that helps society operate in the most optimal way.

They mapped the stars, they built sophisticated structures that actually resemble iPhones called Astrolabes that helped them grasp the universe, centuries before the European enlightenment. They built incredible architecture, poetry, art, philosophy and created breakthroughs in medicine, chemistry and algebra. They understood the building blocks of a utopian freedom for individual men was information and positive aspiration, backed by moral guidelines. Many men were polymaths, which means they dedicated themselves on an individual level, to multiple fields of science and art. In fact the Muslims were a large factor in the European Enlightenment, Muslims preserved many works from the Western canon from Homer and Aristotle during Medieval times, when the Europeans were still burning books and suffering from plagues.

The Muslims, and later the enlightenment era Europeans, understood that information was the key to alchemy in reality. It was the pathway to men's liberation. Once you understand the mechanics of an object, then you can recreate it, disassemble and reassemble it into its optimal form, and create better models. As an aspiring artist, finding out that various crafts have fundamental mechanics that I can learn and improve on was empowering. That is what everything is, it's a set of codes waiting to be learned and decoded and then applied correctly, ingeniously and innovatively. The key to life is information, but information still has a passcode on it right now.

Freedom from the mental shackles of men requires understanding how the shackles work, how they got there, and how to open and lock them. That is why we should learn to read and think, because it's the gateway to infinite possibility. It is important to think because action based on thinking is likely to be far less painful and more productive than action based upon ignorance. So, if you want to have a life characterized by competence, productivity, security, originality and engagement rather than one that is nasty, brutish and short, you need to think carefully about important issues.

When you only think, you are limited by what you know, you are unable to develop the best solutions because you have no frame of reference to compare it to, but if you read you realize that many problems are ancient and universal, and many people have formulated solutions based on a lot of trial and error, to your particular problems. The reason why ancient civilizations would destroy each others libraries was to destroy their capacity to understand, be informed, and think. People in modern higher institutions of learning that preserve information put these inexplicable wages on information, and market themselves as the only possible path to acquiring knowledge, leaving the average person who is unable to pay those wages, oppressed, not because they lack the ability to be able to apply that information, but because of factors that they can’t control like what jobs their parents had. It's ultimately an attack on poverty.

At the same time, true and insightful information and conversation is clouded by so much nonsense, deliberately, by ourselves. I play a role in this system. We all play a role in it. We all love headlines and sensationalism. I know I do. I walk around with just headline information in my head all the time. The problem is that, when that is our only form of information intake, our brain and habits become clouded by unnecessary and harmful, sensationalized bits of information.

It's also just not stated enough how fun learning can be when you want to learn. The problem with school is how it has been conducted. In public schools you are one in a small wave of thousands of other kids, in one year, of the centuries this school has been open, and one poor teacher who gets paid nothing is supposed to drill everything about everything into the brains of hormonal kids, against their will, for 40+ years, and most of it is not applicable to their everyday lives.

Paulo Freire, a 20th-century educator and educational theorist, and the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed argued that education is a practice of freedom, which Freire contrasts with education as a practice of domination by existing class cultures. He believed the goal was to adapt people to their oppressive conditions. I really think the goal of our modern institutions, as they exist today, is positive in its intentions, but it's just a nearly impossible structure to teach adequately within. I didn’t really start learning anything till I left high school and started reading for its own sake again, because school stripped me of that joy.

Teachers attempt to control thinking and action of the students, who are treated as passive objects. In doing that, they take the inherent joy out of learning and structuralize it to mundane nonsense with no real world application. Learning about things that you can apply to your real life is literally hacking life. It's like that scene in the Matrix where Neo learns Kung Fu through getting information plugged directly into his head, books and the internet can be that matrix hack. All of a sudden I can learn how to build a plane in my garage, set up Ikea furniture, learn how to make beats, or learn some chemistry, I can do it all, all thanks to YouTube, Google, Amazon and the local library. But that's not how we use the internet most of the time.

If someone outwardly tells me that they have no intention of solving problems in their lives or their broader community, I would politely tell them to go on with their day. I believe everyone is inherently just trying to do what's best for themselves and their loves ones but I also believe everyone has an equal right to self destruction so long as it is not imposed on the broader community. I just don't like the idea of people accidentally self destructing from a place of systemically induced ignorance and misinformation, because they don't have access to information on how to better their lives.

Our headlines misinform us through sensationalism, which is a recent phenomena that has entered every aspect of information consumption, including 24 hour news. Sensationalism has also taken a grasp of Hip Hop, which is a cultural movement that has decisively taken over young peoples Habitus, it's not even close. It's the largest movement since romanticism to dominate the cultural narrative with such velocity. Hip Hop is still young so high intellectuals are allowed to look down on it now, and history will prove them utterly mad because it is the single biggest communications tool in postmodern history. The youth speech pattern, fashion, music, cultural, social, economic and political movements around the world have been turned upside down by Hip Hop. As Bourdieu said, culture has an overwhelming effect on a society. It can influence how people behave, how they act morally, dress, and even how they relate with each other. Moreover, music can be effectively used as a channel for airing societal issues, and that is precisely how hip-hop started.

Hip-hop is more than just a genre of music. In fact, many people, especially, but not exclusively, black people in America, consider it a culture. Over the many years since its inception, Hip-hop has influenced the world by providing a platform for delivering important messages to the masses directly from the economically disenfranchised. While many critics of the hip-hop genre cite its aggressive lyrics to support their claim that it promotes rebellion in the society, the provocative libretto does not nullify its potential as an effective vocal platform for airing views, be it on politics, social norms, and other issues that impact the world in general.

Hip-hop is a powerful social medium for raising awareness, spreading information and speaking to the masses. Since its inception in the streets of South Bronx in New York, the influence of Hip-hop has been felt widely all over the world. It has been applied effectively as a channel of social mobility, especially for marginalized communities like Black people in America.

Hip-hop is more than just entertainment, even though its elements include MCing, graffiti, Deejaying, and break dancing; it forms a significant part of modern identity networks in terms of principles that are based on poverty, power resistance, and expression. There is graffiti all over ancient European buildings in Rome and Barcelona because of Hip Hop.

Hip-Hop has been a powerful social medium for raising awareness throughout its history, considering that it tends to reflect the ideals, societal conditions, uplifts behavioural progression, and influences social change. Therefore, Hip-Hop is taken as a response designated to addressing the state of joblessness, government control, and poverty in society today.

This isn't to lie and say all Hip Hop is positive, but all Hip Hop is a reflection of the society that encloses it. If you look at how Hip Hop became extremely popular during the nineties, when black people in America were experiencing high rates of unemployment and felt disempowered by their government, and how Hip-Hop was applied to express these conditions to the masses, it could be considered a crucial social revolution for the marginalized group, since it was the only effective vocal platform for airing their condition and expressing how they felt during that period. People like Tupac Shakur were martyrs for a movement.

Even today, the communities that feel oppressed are able to use music to express their circumstances, and somehow rebel against the oppressive systems within those communities as seen in Lil Baby's 'The Bigger Picture' speaking about the George Floyd Riots and police brutality.

Hip-Hop is a significant force governing global urban culture. Hip-Hop has developed to the extent that it contributes significantly to modern culture. The power of hip-hop music has continued to increase in contemporary society, and its influence continues to rise through the expansion of markets and consumer base.

In today’s world, the major force that transmits culture in most societies is music, and none has been so powerful compared to the effect that Hip-Hop has in the world. In fact, Hip-Hop has the power of a formidable force of culture that significantly influences both communal and personal identity constructs.

Hip-hop artists have played the role of national icons in the scene of pop culture, which demonstrates the influence the genre has on culture. Artists such as Tupac Amaru Shakur and Pulitzer prize winner Kendrick Lamar have taken the role of spokesperson for the millennial generation that needs guidance in terms of having a strong voice and identity. Most recently Grime artists like Dave and Stormzy have used Hip Hop to shine light on real social issues in the UK, Hip Hop is global.

Not everyone is aware of Hip Hops power, or messaging, nor do most people care. Most people only flock to the sensationalized aspects of the culture. Most people just like the music. They like the bop, they turn up with the dance moves, and then they go along with their day. But we should never forget that many of these young rappers today are going through some of the most hellish, warlike environments, and not only do the powers that be not care, Donald Trump threatened to stick the military on Chicago. The war on Hip Hop is a war on poverty, all of the recent murders, deaths and arrests of rappers are a representation of the terrible states those societies are in, as it is with any crime of need that is rampant in a society. Any critique of the music is a critique of the society that incentivizes it.

While back in the sixties, when Black people in America sought racial solidarity through intensively pursuing their civil rights, and formed several Black-oriented unions for fighting civil injustices such as the Black Panthers, this approach has been echoed in recent years through Hip-Hop culture.

However, while unions such as the Black Panthers fought for the recognition of the civil rights of the minorities, particularly Black people, and recommended resistant actions through which the marginalized communities could influence both political and societal changes, the same cannot be said of most modern era Hip-Hop artists. Most of them are not, and do not claim to be, spokespersons of the marginalized communities, nor should they. This is particularly because, while they tend to voice the existing oppression within the society, they do not provide precise lines of action for the contemporary societies to take in fighting for their civil rights, because they are actively living in warlike boundaries and don't have time to theorize solutions. So when you listen to a King Von song are you listening to it in that context?

That is the dilemma of the audience. How are we interacting with this culture? What do we want to add to it? are we trying to learn from it? Is it furthering us positively or negatively? That is my dilemma as the curator of a Hip Hop media movement. There are Hip Hop artists that I love who are the antithesis of my ethics, do I stifle and ignore their screams of oppression, because of how dangerous the content is, and how detrimental to the broader culture the messaging in the music is because of how it affects the minds of the youth? Or do I let them be heard and promote them so the world can hear what is really happening in these communities, how these communities have been failed by the system, how they are products of a regular public school, a regular house, with regular families, just like you, and anything represented in the music that is true is a representation of a systemically induced poverty.

I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Hip Hop has the ability to ingrain the collective consciousness of urban youth with as much cultural capital as possible, so those individuals can go on to better themselves and their broader communities. I believe that artists that depict their real life trauma in their music are necessary to raise awareness about the systemically induced struggle, but I also believe that as a culture we need to restructure our messaging again. Media brands need to promote those voices that preach for the betterment of the culture more often, because like Uncle Ben said before he got shot, with great power, comes great responsibility, and Hip Hop is the most powerful communications tool in existence today. Information is very important but inaccessible, due to various systemic issues.

If people were more informed on how to solve problems that directly affect their life, the world would be a better place, we can learn on an individual level and teach ourselves, and we should express ourselves and teach others. Hip Hop is a highly accessible way to teach, but like everywhere else a lot of the profundity is covered under the sensationalism. But there is truth, there are problems, there are solutions being proposed, there is information that can better our lives and our goal should be to seek it. The Hip Hop generation, armed with the internet and the influence, needs a Renaissance and Islamic Golden Age level of a shift in the cultural narrative, that goes back to promoting knowledge, curiosity, expression and education. Education is the key to freedom, and information is a form of capital, thinking, research, reading and learning is the ultimate hustle.

Links to the books mentioned above:

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra & Simulations

Paulo Freire: Pedagogy Of The Oppressed

Guy Debord: The Society Of The Spectacle

Islamic Golden Age

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**Edit: Listen to my Beat Tape "HyperReality" based on the Baudrillard premise and simulation theory

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