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To Starve Our Feudal Overlords of Attention

To Starve our Feudal Overlords of Attention


If there is one subliminal message we are sent again and again in the course of our days, it is that almost everything we think or do is measurable, and that by carefully collating all the data relating to these measurements, wise “experts” will give back to us the means to streamline our various life processes, and in this way, bring us to ever greater levels of health and happiness. 

This is, to take just one of many examples that could be adduced, the premise behind instruments like the Fitbit. You hand over all of your private bodily data to the experts and they will give you back the outlines of a “data-based” philosophy for living a more healthy and happy life. 

Whatever else they do with that personal data—like for example selling it to companies interested in bombarding you with new fears and would-be desires, or conjoining it to other databases in ways that might eventually cause you to not be able to get a decent mortgage rate or affordable health insurance—well, I guess it’s best not to ask. 

No, your job is to be a “good kid” who blocks all that out and optimistically fixates on how much healthier and happier that device will make your life.

But have you ever noticed that those same commercial entities are much less interested in talking about the many other types of data they undoubtedly have collected from and about us? 

For example, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about how much extra profit they gain—while effectively robbing us of the same number of hours that we could use to make money, think, or simply relax—by keeping us on hold for hours at a time in the hopes of having a simple query answered, or problem they caused rectified? 

Or how many billions they earn by having a poor Filipino or Indian with nothing more than a smattering of English and a script to repeat over and again—as opposed to someone earning a living US wage who is actually trained to resolve problems through dialogue—on the other end of the line?

Or exactly how long they have to keep us on hold to get us fed up enough to end the call in frustration, something which, of course, effectively exonerates them from the need to redress the problems caused by their poor work or poor service? 

Or how long it takes you to cease and desist in your desire for a resolution of your problem when wrestling with a stupid AI chatbot that mindlessly runs you through circle after stupid useless circle? 

The big holding companies that now control the majority of the services we use and the retail outlets where we buy most of our consumer goods never talk about these things, and needless to say, do not allow the commercial media they effectively control to fixate on these subjects. 

And why should they?

Over the last several decades, the BlackRocks and State Streets of the world have steadily lowered the bar in terms of the attention we can expect after turning our money over to them. 

During the first years of what I’m sure they surely categorize as a wonderful revolution in efficiency, you could still find a telephone number or two that would lead you to a living breathing human being more or less capable of responding to your needs.

But since the so-called pandemic, even that’s gone. 

And I don’t think I’m alone in believing that eliminating the last vestiges of the belief that a merchant has a moral responsibility to back up their products and services was one of the key goals of those who planned this contrived social emergency. 

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the governments we sustain with our taxes have gone down the same path, treating the copious information they collect on us as their own private patrimony, erecting barrier after barrier to prevent us, the stupid louts we are, from seeing what they know about the actual results of their brilliant programs, or how they are otherwise spending our money. 

Here again, sadly, but also understandably given the day-to-day difficulty of their lives, most people eventually desist in their efforts to get answers to these queries. 

And if you are one of the stubborn few who continue to insist on getting reasoned responses, and begin to enlist fellow citizens to your cause, well, they have a solution for that too. They’ll use the media they control to slap a pejorative label on you (racist, populist, anti-vaxxer, it really doesn’t matter which), then send an algorithmically-directed lynch mob your way to execute your social death

There is a name for a social order of this type. It’s called feudalism. 

In the feudalism we learned about in school the lords lived behind thick manor walls that separated them from the serfs in the field. Sure, if a dangerous enemy came along they’d open the gates and let the serfs huddle there until the danger passed. 

But in general, most of the traffic went in the other direction; that is, the lord would go out of the gates to take what he wanted from the serfs: their daughters for sex, their sons for soldiering, and of course the fruits of their labors for their well-cladded warehouses within the gates. 

And what if the serfs didn’t like this and some of the braver ones got the idea of scaling the walls and taking justice into their own hands? 

Well, that’s when the boiling oil and rocks would usually rain down on them from the ramparts. 

Today, our lords ostensibly live among us. But it’s not really so. 

Over the last three to four decades, and with a special intensity since September 11th, 2001, they have built cyber-barriers that are every bit, if not more, impregnable than the walls that protected their medieval progenitors. And they have actively fomented the idea through their control of the media, that, as wrong as we might feel it to be, there is nothing we can do about it

And maybe they’re right. 

But then again, the first feudalism eventually did end. 


When growing numbers of the serfs realized that the threats “out there” that the lord claimed he was protecting them from with his occasional offers of refuge and safety within the walls, were not nearly as bad as he and his noble friends, and their in-house clerics said they were. 

And with this realization they began to turn their eyes away from the thick walls that towered over their hovels and toward the horizon leading to the burghs, where one could live much more fully on the basis of his beliefs, skills, and convictions. 

Our modern age, undergirded by the idea of linear time and linear progress, has an obvious bias toward doing; that is, toward resolving problems through purposeful, forward-looking actions

This can obscure the fact that many improvements to our vital circumstance can also be achieved, not by doing more, but by simply ceasing to do many of the counterproductive things we have, out of laziness or unconsciousness, turned into key elements of our daily life. 

Of all of these negative habits, perhaps none is more counterproductive than passively accepting the parameters of “reality” as articulated by supposedly wise and benevolent others. There are, of course today, as there were during medieval feudalism, a number of wonderfully wise and benevolent people out there. But in times of cultural disintegration such as our own they tend to be rather few and far between. 

As Covid showed us, an unusually high number of those trotted out to us by our “noble” class as possessing inordinate wisdom are little more than self-interested charlatans. 

But they retain much of their prominence because many people, having been told again and again that their own observational and reasoning skills are terminally inadequate, hand over those tasks to those presented to them as inordinately wise. 

How about if we stop doing that? 

If we do, we’ll strengthen ourselves and our fast-fading skills of discernment while depriving the self-interested charlatans of most, if not all,  of their remaining aura of respectability. 

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  • Thomas Harrington

    Thomas Harrington, Senior Brownstone Scholar and Brownstone Fellow, is Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where he taught for 24 years. His research is on Iberian movements of national identity and contemporary Catalan culture. His essays are published at Words in The Pursuit of Light.

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