Post-Pandemic Landscapes: Behavior Modification as the New Consensus Reality
Kingsley L. Dennis, Contributor
The ‘Covid Event’ gave the unreal world its great coup over the place of the real. This perception intervention gave the final stimulus necessary to tip the twenty-first century into an awaiting technologically manipulated reality. A new landscape is emerging where, for the first time, the human mind is finding itself out-of-place within its own territory. What are now being termed the emerging ‘post-pandemic’ landscapes are likely to be hazardous territory for our mental, emotional, and physical states. The human condition is under modification.
New forms of power are on the rise, embedded within structures of health security, that are re-imagining our social lives, living and workspaces, and our physical and digital movements. Until now, the spider’s web of social control mainly operated below the waterline in a space where an almost intangible world existed beyond governance or accountability. Now the Kraken awakes and is unashamedly coming to the surface. The beast of behavior modification is spreading its tentacles through our most established social and cultural institutions without shame – all in the name of health security (the new nom de plume of social management). These institutions include the media, city life, the office, and – perhaps most of all – the online-digital world. The modification of these spaces is set to further desensitize, anesthetize, and dehumanize us. It is as if the collective human mind is being groomed and prepared for a new consensus reality of ‘normalized dissonance.’
The post-pandemic landscape is merging physical pandemics with its own viral digital epidemics that are infecting the human psyche. The Italian philosopher Franco Berardi has noted that our ‘electronic mediascape’ is putting ‘the sensitive organism in a state of permanent electrocution.’ The social body is being deliberately targeted by strategies that cause anxiety, fragmentation, exhaustion, confusion, polarization, and fear. We can see this through national and local lockdowns; social distancing; anti-social interaction; social ostracization; loss of economic independence, and more. In early July, Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society (the UK’s national academy of science) stated publicly that face masks should be worn in all public spaces (as they already are in many places in Europe and worldwide). Not wearing a face covering, he added, ‘should be regarded as “anti-social” in the same way as drink driving or failing to wear a seatbelt.’ This is nothing short of encouraging a regime of public shaming. The human condition is being subjected to a new rhythm of the modern power-machine that is breaking down our social alliances.
The established conditions that created a sense of social reality are being dissolved and replaced with processes aimed at managing the masses through forms of separation and quantification. That is, the techniques necessary to begin the formation of a technologized humanity. These processes seek to reduce human life, and its environment, to something measurable and predicable – a life ordained by algorithms. These imposed changes are creating a disequilibrium in the human psyche – a fragmentation of the human self. Furthermore, they are seeking to break down our trusted social relations.
There is something insidious creeping up into the global collective that is attempting to create a world of sleepwalkers, plied with fear-pills, updated with vaccines, programmed with nonsense, and dismissive of alternative thinking. As a conscious, biological organism we are being prepared to mimic the automation of the machine. Humanity is mentally sleeping and slipping into the void where a new form of the ‘social collective’ awaits us.
Techniques are being devised and employed to produce normalized and standardized behavior in order to create a socially managed populace. The collective human mind is being adapted and adopted into an infrastructure of control that operates largely through modes of digital connectivity. I refer to this rising mechanism of social engineering as the modern power-machine (MPM) that exerts control over human expression and autonomy of behavior. To enact this, a consortium of institutions have been selected to structure contemporary societies toward specific functions that give the promise of security and human well-being whilst developing increased social dependency. This is the post-pandemic landscape now rapidly arising and to which all future generations shall be born into.
Luciano Floridi, a professor of philosophy and the ethics of information, believes that human civilization is shifting into a phase of ‘hyperhistory.’ A hyperhistorical society that is dependent upon integrative technologies, says Floridi, could also become human-independent – that is, not needing us. Life on this planet is being developed into an infrastructure that favors machinic intelligence and artificial organisms, thus de-territorializing the human experience. Our urban environments may soon be more conducive to artificial life than biological ones. No one is yet ready for the mutation at hand. We are being programmed to take on a new position in the world that will erode the possibility of human transcendence; a world where the ‘flesh robot’ will eventually become the reality consensus.
We are witnessing an unprecedented migration of humanity from its physical space to the digital-sphere – an environment of surveillance and technocratic social management. The incoming generations will recognize no fundamental difference between the digital-sphere and the physical world as this mergence will form the reality they are born into. To the new generations, the digital-physical-sphere will be their only reality for they will have been born without the offline-online distinction. In the words of Luciano Floridi, they were born onlife. This is now their reality, and it is ‘onlife.’ The world that many of us recognized as being human will never be the same again. With the ‘onlife’ mode, a new era of history begins. Childhood comes to an end when they stop being a child and become a user. It is then that they inhabit whole new realities – realities they may believe to be ‘user-generated’ when in fact the reverse is more the case.
Connectivity and access will be part of the regime of the new power-machine. And the rights of access are going to be a matter of consensus health security (as addressed in New Dawn 180/181). To be a part of the power-machine will mean opting-in to its sanctioned, and on-surveillance, connections. Soon, opting out will be made an almost impossible alternative. Connecting into the power-machine will become the new cartography of the ‘human reality.’ Living ‘manually’ will become one of the last few remaining sites of resistance as human life becomes regulated-by-automation.
The City as Machine Cradle
Modern living, especially within dense urban metropolises, as well as within poverty-stricken neighborhoods, severely affects the human psychological condition, as well as affecting the nervous system. Journalist Naomi Klein has noted how a form of ‘Pandemic Shock Doctrine’ is emerging where city metropolises are forming suspicious partnerships with large tech conglomerates to re-design city living. Klein has stated that the quarantine lockdowns were not so much to save lives ‘but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.’ One tech CEO that Klein interviewed commented that: ‘There has been a distinct warming up to human-less, contactless technology…Humans are biohazards, machines are not.’ Several local city governments are in negotiations with large private tech companies to create a ‘seamless integration’ between city government, education, health, and policing operations. Further, the individual home will become a smart-enclosed hub for the urban dweller. All this, and more, as a ‘frontline pandemic response.’
Online learning, the home office, telehealth, and online commerce are all now a part of an emerging investment landscape to convert existing physical-digital infrastructures to cloud-based ones that will be incorporated into the arriving fully-completed 5G network. All in the name of providing citizens with a securitized ‘virus free’ landscape. Erich Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google/Alphabet and now chair of the Defense Innovation Board that advises the Department of Defense on military A.I., announced publicly with a straight face:
‘The benefit of these corporations, which we love to malign, in terms of the ability to communicate, the ability to deal with health, the ability to get information, is profound. Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon.’
Schmidt has now been hired to head up the task force commissioned to reimagine New York’s post-Covid reality. And he won’t be alone. High-tech is now jumping to get into partnerships with local governments in order to bring a safer, more ‘securitized’ landscape into civil society – all for ‘our’ benefit.
The business office landscape is also under re-organization to further regulate and isolate the social interactions of working colleagues. It can be said that a new form of business behavior modification is in the works. In a recent business analysis published in Bloomberg by Jeff Green and Michelle F. Davis, they suggested that:
The pre-Covid workplace, with its shared desks and common areas designed for “creative collisions,” is getting a makeover for the social distancing era. So far, what employers have come up with is a mash-up of airport security style entrance protocols and surveillance combined with precautions already seen at grocery stores, like sneeze guards and partitions.
The authors of the report also foresee that the newly returned office worker will likely be encased in a makeshift cubicle made of plexiglass sheets. A new mode of anti-interaction is clearly in the works.
Hundreds of major companies, at least, are planning what they call ‘employee re-orientation programs’ and have already hired ‘thermal scanners’ to monitor employees for fevers, according to the article’s sources. The authors also noted that there has been a spike in job postings for ‘tracers,’ who would track down the contacts of anyone who tests positive for the covid-19 virus. In short, companies are now looking for a range of solutions to keep people away from one another throughout the working day. IBM, for example, is looking into using existing sensors or finding new technology to detect when people are too close together or ‘trending’ in that direction. Another report from the UK noted how companies were looking into developing their own specialist employee smartphone apps that would operate elevators hands-free. The language employers are using includes creating ‘safe bubbles’ around employees and monitoring so that these ‘safe bubbles’ do not overlap. How would they manage such monitoring?
Various companies, the UK report goes on to say, are looking to teach artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor the video cameras that are monitoring the employees. Dr Mahesh Saptharishi, Motorola Solutions’ chief technology officer (based in Boston) explained that AI algorithms can offer feedback about ‘pinch points’ where people are too close together. Instead of employers (read ‘humans’) having to spend time (read ‘waste time’) watching the actual video, they can ‘ask’ the AI how well social distancing is being observed overall, and where problem points are. So that’s the issue solved then. We’ll just rely on AI algorithms to tell us how to ‘social distance’ in our non-interacting bubbles and we can modify our behavior accordingly. Job done!
What this also signifies is that in order to be able to modify our behavior, machine intelligence will need to gather ever greater datasets about us. That is, ‘smart cities’ and ‘secure offices’ equals increased surveillance which equals expanded datasets. The ‘Black Iron Prison’ that Philip K. Dick saw coming is now hitting us squarely in the form of surveillance capitalism.
Professor Shoshana Zuboff, the author of the widely acclaimed The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, has said that digital connection is now a means to others’ commercial ends. With the rapid rise of data collection for commercial gain, Zuboff says that: ‘The result is that both the world and our lives are pervasively rendered as information.’ People are reduced to being less than products because they are rendered into being a mere ‘input’ for the creation of the real product which is the data. Predictions about peoples’ futures are sold to the highest bidder so that these futures can be profited from or altered to favor better commercial gains. Zuboff considers surveillance capitalism to be, at its core, parasitic and self-referential – a parasite that feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.
Human experience is considered free to be taken as raw material and it is this that becomes the product of value. From this material, organizations decide to intervene in our lives to shape and modify human behavior in order to favor the outcomes that are most desirable for commercial gains. Behavioral modification is now in the hands of private capital – and undertaken with the minimal amount of external oversight. At its most basic, humans have been reduced to ‘batteries’ that produce datasets for algorithms and machine learning to process. What is most worrying is that, by and large, the general populations are ignorant of what is going on quite literally beneath their fingertips. As Zuboff notes, people unknowingly end up funding their own forms of domination.
Through its operations of technocratic ‘normalization’ and the deliberate breaking up of social alliances, the power-machine age is manufacturing a new standardization of the human body and mind. With the encroachment of socially managed interventions, people are made vulnerable to the increased destabilizing of the human self. The human sense of ‘self’ and identity has become a fragile thing; it is analyzed, scrutinized, and criticized through social media; it is modified through surveillance capitalism; and it is increasingly being rendered by AI facial recognition systems such as Clearview. As these post-pandemic landscapes become increasingly rolled out in more social environments, we are likely to see, as a consequence, an ever-greater fragmentation of the human self.
The Fragmented Self
It is no exaggeration to say that humanity is entering a period of existential crisis that has perhaps not been last witnessed since the Middle Ages. Only this time, we don’t have our religious institutions to offer us salvation. The responsibility is upon our shoulders of finding salvation through becoming fully human in the face of dehumanizing forces. At present, we are being bombarded with such contradictory information that many people are unable to find coherence or to make a whole picture out of the shards. That is, the human mind is finding it increasingly difficult to see the patterns and to connect the dots. Many people will also now be experiencing forms of cognitive dissonance. One definition of this state is: ‘Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. This produces a feeling of mental discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.’
The result of this is that the mind desperately wishes to reduce this discomfort and restore balance by seeking – or being provided with – a coherent picture, or closure. The danger here is that this ‘closure’ or ‘coherent picture’ may be provided by an external source, institution, or body (a structure of orthodox ‘authority’) and many people will jump onto it as a way of gaining closure, and thus comfort. When, in truth, we need to find this coherence and closure within ourselves, through our own resources. With the increasing breakdown of social relations and an interactive human environment, people’s consciousness is being further pushed into compartmentalization where events are seen as random rather than interrelated and meaningful. This lack of meaningfulness will be compensated for by the rise of virtual attractions as the digital-sphere increasingly becomes the ‘safe and secure’ home that people turn to. Critical thought, perceptive observation, and intuitive knowing will be under the onslaught of nullifying behavior modification.
As we are now seeing in the public space, self-identity (race, sexuality, etc) is becoming a target of division, further creating doubt, anxiety, and social polarization. Psychologically, people are being pushed to acquiesce, submit, and accept the measures that are being implemented as the ‘new normal’ post-pandemic landscapes. And the more we submit, the more we become vulnerable to further submission and disempowerment. Bureaucratic regimes and administrative structures will creep further into our living, work, and leisure lives until a form of what French philosopher Michel Foucault calls disciplinary power will dominate over the human condition. New forms of social discipline and collective obedience are fostering an artificial and engineered state of perception. We are right in the middle of a time of intense ‘enforced socialization,’ or what Edward Snowden recently referred to as an ‘architecture of oppression.’ For some, the only response to this overwhelming ‘architecture of oppression’ will be to find their comfort zones – such as sitting in their chairs at home with their ‘surrogates’ roaming the digital-physical landscape on their part. Or, as the 2008 computer-animated sci-fi film Wall-E depicted, growing lazy and obese while robots cater to all their needs, while indulging in infantile entertainments. We can only hope this shall never be the case.
Humanity has entered unprecedented times. Such times demand an unprecedented response. It appears that we are now being asked to ‘step up’ to accept our responsibility for our human becoming, and so to become fully human. By doing nothing, we are allowing our behavior to be modified and our self-identities to be splintered. In these post-pandemic landscapes, the choices we make will be choices that, like never before, determine our future as a human species. I suggest it is time now for declaring our unity as an empowered fully human species – by not accepting the push of the power-machine into distanced and disempowered individuals.
About the Author
Kingsley L. Dennis is the author of Bardo Times: hyperreality, high-velocity, simulation, automation, mutation – a hoax?, The Phoenix Generation: A New Era of Connection, Compassion, and Consciousness, and The Sacred Revival: Magic, Mind & Meaning in a Technological Age, available at Amazon. Visit him on the web at http://www.kingsleydennis.com/.
 Berardi, Franco. 2015. AND: Phenomenology of the End. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e), p88
 See – Coronavirus: Wear masks in crowded public spaces, says science body – http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53316491
 See – http://theintercept.com/2020/05/08/andrew-cuomo-eric-schmidt-coronavirus-tech-shock-doctrine/
 See – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-01/the-office-you-left-is-not-going-to-be-the-office-you-return-to
 See – ‘Horrible’ offices look to tempt back workers – http://www.bbc.com/news/business-53056585
 See – http://theintercept.com/2019/03/01/surveillance-capitalism-book-shoshana-zuboff-naomi-klein/
 Taken from www.simplypsychology.org
 See the sci-fil film Surrogates (2009) or read the book Kiln People (2002) by David Brin
NB. This essay first appeared in ‘New Dawn’ magazine (Sept-Oct 2020)