Black Mirror, but not as black as it used to be

A few months ago I briefly discussed with a colleague the changes brought about in Black Mirror during the transition some years ago from Channel 4 to Netflix. I argued that, while some episodes lived up to the quality of the Channel 4-produced seasons and to the expectations of the fans (San Junipero, for instance), a general mutation of the series created by Charlie Brooker could be generally noticed. He was instead happy with Netflix since the change meant more money for production and all that a higher budget involves – that was a step-up for Black Mirror, in his opinion. Although I was not totally convinced, it seemed a sensible opinion (expressed by a person who would have been a perfect fit for a Black Mirror episode, by the way). Now, having just watched the fifth season, I beg to differ again.

Let us consider Striking Vipers. One can see from the beginning where the story leads: a bored husband, Danny, meets his old best friend, Karl, who is still dating young girls, living in the city and acting cool and young, and gets from him a VR fighting videogame. After the first fight, they end up having a sort of hyperrealistic VR affair and daily virtual sexual intercourses, setting the conditions for a crisis in Danny’s marriage. Utterly predictable, and the final compromise is not really the dramatic plot twist one could expect. Everything perfectly linear – too linear.

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Modern Greece, or the struggle for modernity

Stathis N. Kalyvas, Modern Greece. What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, 2015

I bought Modern Greece. What Everyone Needs to Know not much time after its publication. I was curious about modern Greek history, which I did not know much about, as Greece used to be mentioned frequently in newspapers headlines during that period – but I found time to read it much later (and time to write about it only now).

I am no historian, while Stathis Kalyvas is a political scientist at Yale University: this means that I am neither willing nor able to properly judge his attempt to provide a useful resource for those approaching to Greece’s recent history. I only have a few comments or remarks, along with a short summary.

First of all, the book seems pretty convincing in expounding a trajectory made of boom-bust-bailout cycles over the last two centuries: on several occasions, Greek élites have set out ambitious goals, which then turned out to be risky or simply unaffordable in the short term. These efforts generated crisis which generally ended up with some form of foreign intervention. At the end of each cycle, Greece had found itself struggling for a while, but, at the very end, it used to find itself better than it used to be at the beginning of the same cycle – and actually, Greece has not been a late modernizer, but one of the first countries to catch up with Western Europe. If you go through the book, starting from the fight for national independence and finishing with the Eurozone crisis, you will be quite convinced – as I have been – that this recurring pattern has effectively taken place in Greek history.

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Is Black Mirror already happening?

A couple of days ago I finished watching the third season of Black Mirror on Netflix. I must say that it was pretty good, but, perhaps not as good (and, sometimes, frightening) as the previous seasons. However, as I already experienced with the episodes produced by Channel 4, I sometimes got the sense that what I was watching on my screen was not just a bleak premonition of the near future or, just as many viewers, commentators and even Charlie Brooker itself put it, the logical outcome of the current technological and social developments led to the extreme, but that it was also something that already happened or that is happening right now. Continue reading “Is Black Mirror already happening?”

Beerbohm’s ethics of democracy

I have not touched this blog for about five months. Meanwhile, I submitted my thesis, I sat for my viva and got a pass with major corrections, and I also visited some bits of Germany, spent some time in Italy, and started planning on my personal and professional future – but these are stories for another time.

Today, I am just writing for signalling my review of Eric Beerbohm’s In Our Name: The Ethics of Democracy, just published on Plurilogue, an online and open-access journal of political and philosophical review.
I quite enjoyed reading it, it is an interesting work on democratic theory, which tries to give some solutions in the field of political ethics and answering questions regarding the moral responsibilities of citizens in a democratic state.

Humans and Real Humans on tv

Descartes’ explanation of pain and motion

[SPOILER ALERT: this post talks of the British drama Humans and of the Swedish drama Äkta människor]

[Parts of this post have already been published in 2013 on my Italian blog]
I have watched the first three episodes of Humans, the Channel 4 tv series inspired by a Swedish tv series, Äkta människor (Real Humans in English). I must say I expected something better. To explain why, I will extensively talk about the Swedish version of the series, to give the idea of what my expectations were and still are.
The plot of the original Swedish drama, which is composed of two seasons of 10 episodes each and whose extension for another season is still uncertain, unfolds around the hubots (instead called synths in the British version), technologically advanced androids that almost exactly physically resemble humans, if it were not for their glowing eyes, their skin free from imperfections, and their need to recharge via a simple electric cable or a USB cable. These robots are used for household chores or for hard work, they cannot lie, they are subject to the Asimov laws of robotics and they can be turned off at any time using a button typically placed under the left armpit. However, there are also free or liberated hubots, that move independently, without a master, and who (or which?) at first glance may make autonomous choices and also behave aggressively or friendly in relation to humans. In short, although they are created and designed as machines, they do not behave, at least at first sight, automatically or mechanically, but instead make their choices and are apparently free. The story, which takes place between levels of everyday family life or of police investigations on one hand, on the other hand, it raises philosophical, legal, ethical and existential issues, and the Cartesian problem of what differentiates man – who has his own mind and his own free will and at the same time a body that performs many functions without the need for a conscious intervention – by the automaton which, although technologically refined, is unconscious, still lies in the background. In other words: what if we ourselves are machines? Are humans really different from hubots/synths or, rather, are they both different types of complicated machines, or are both sorts of beings that in some way can develop forms of freedom? These questions imply many others.

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