Not giving a fuck: an anthropological perspective on disobedience

Times have changed. When Edward Snowden warned us that the NSA could have access to your phone even when it was turned off, in plain English, nobody gave a shit. We moved really fast toward Zoom calls. But did anyone notice the friction? One could argue that times have changed because our information society has found ways to build awareness and act instead of talk; that collective intelligence is what binds us in the greatest challenges we face as we look in and out, searching for a proper outcome of conflictuous situations; that an updated repertoire of things that matter will pave the way towards a brighter future, where we don’t need glasses anymore not because of some unfortunate interest diversion that led us to a society of deconstruction of knowledge, where nobody reads (though nobody stops staring at computer screens), but simply because health care was finally made available to everyone, and surprisingly, a pair of glasses was not concerning to market inflation, so we’re all good. Yes, a Brazilian man wrote these words. But that makes all the difference: not because of health care or this random analytical machine that wants to put mustard in the first paragraph; it’s because tech evolved assymetrically. Think for a second that nobody was surprised that the government was spying on their tech. Could it be that there’s just more companies in the United States of America? Or do we take the speech freedom road with French fries and ginger juice, which is not only good for a sore throat, but a remarkable metaphor for multiculturalism? Alternatively, we may want to think about a dashing suburbian pedestrian meeting a BMW driver, who ignores the red light and nearly decimates a below-average Android user.

The car industry, for example, has been the most revisited sector of labor, power and innovation in the history of the last few centuries, probably. An Industrial Revolution. We did move particularly fast from Ford and Volkswagen to Google Analytics and Meta Business Suite. But there are more things happening. And of course, the pedestrian knows what the traffic lights mean, thankfully. The BMW owner might have other kinds of concerns, not to mention those who have Tesla. But the interesting thing is that, surprisingly or not, circumstance makes both want to dash. You wait? No, you wait. My task is more important than yours. Of course, if you think there are two cars waiting for their time to switch lanes, it might look a bit different. We don’t understand the random. We do understand there are things such as speed limits, fines, licenses, plates and a series of things that regulate this one thing humanity set out to do: going places. The president of a country made a no-fly zone. So what? Nobody’s freaking flying anyway. Now, my argument is that labor, power and innovation have an intrinsic relationship. That means to say the pedestrian belongs to one class; the car driver belongs to another; the airplane passenger, another, going higher. Is it always like that? Absolutely not. But it’s hard to convince some people crossing the street to buy cheap food that they belong at the top of society. Of course, class struggle isn’t a new term. Now, can anybody guess what the internet did to that kind of dynamics?

People want visibility. Who are those people? That’s a top level debate, but its access has become widespread enough to burst every social bubble there is. On the other hand, precisely because anyone can start make their point visible, new bubbles keep forming. And it’s great that we’re not talking about mouthwash. Is that how you raise your kids? An actual Brazilian anthropologist had a study conducted by her summarized and highlighted in a revealing statement, in the Brazilian version of The Intercept (I won’t link to an article in Portuguese while writing in English): in our country, “having your front teeth is an aesthetic pre-requisite for most employers.” Rosana Pinheiro Machado, the study’s author, has walked a brilliant academic path, but that didn’t stop her from exposing realities of a less privileged world and take on the uncomfortable subjects. Another person with a different path might be deemed an expert in making you happy. A girl whose duty in life is to bring people’s smiles back to their faces, therefore raising their self-confidence and self-love. Yes, we need to love ourselves. Not quite because the machines aren’t going to do that for us, but maybe, at least according to a few pundits, because they’ll stop that from happening. Take that in. Think about this as a dialogue, not just a text from a random person on the internet. Listen to the voice talking to you, which might be an echo of many others, and then replicated. Visibility is a smile.

But a smile costs. Maybe you can’t find people with your sense of humor. Having a sense of humor also costs. Maybe you’ll just talk about very serious stuff. Saying the word stuff actually costs. Talking about stuff? That costs a lot. The priceless gift of being understood, and ultimately, being seen, are things that machines can do for us. That is, indeed, a fact. But understanding, in a great turn of events, is debatable. Agreeing is optional. Showing who you are and what you’re really made of seems to be the media’s big task for us all; but we might just refuse it. In the midst of narratives and metaphors; academic studies and businesses; reporting and experiencing: a smirk can carry irony. People like to tell others to shut up, but in veiled ways. A literal open mouth doesn’t particularly imply you have many things to say, but it doesn’t have to mean anything at all, especially because people already know how shallow-minded our surroundings and more remote connections can be. Many of our elderly saw a showing of tongue as a sign of rebelliousness. An icon of disobedience. It literally meant “whatever”, or “I don’t care”. It might as well have meant “fuck off”, except that was never printed in a dictionary.

Leave a Reply