JOSÉ G. MIRANDA

jose miranda

BRUCE LEE & THE INTERNET SOCIETY

I: ENTER THE BRUCE LEE PHILOSOPHY

Most people know of Bruce Lee as a martial artist and actor. Indeed, the name probably calls to mind images like the legendary fight scene in the film Jing Wu Men, also known as Fist of Fury (1973). Bruce, playing a student intent on avenging the murder of his gung fu master, struts into the Hongkou dojo to outright challenge his enemies. Dozens of trained fighters surround him and then over the course of three minutes Bruce single-handedly defeats each of his opponents in a rhythmic, artful, and overall bad-ass fashion.

Bruce’s impact and accomplishments as an on-screen martial artist cannot be overstated. [1]. But his brilliance in each of these fields also tend to overshadow that he was a devoted student and creator of philosophy. [2]. His writings are poetic in style and pragmatic in substance; like many great thinkers before him, Bruce aimed to apply philosophy, rather than just think about it, through an ongoing process of introspection. So what does this have to do with the Internet Society? Well, the Bruce Lee Philosophy (BLP) explores important themes about human behavior. In this essay I discuss BLP as applied to our modern day behaviors on social media. In doing so, I hope to gain readily applicable insights on a question, at the core of BLP as well as countless of other philosophical traditions – how do you live your life to its fullest potential?

- Bruce Lee

“Yes, there is a difference between self-actualization and self-image actualization…[Most] people have a void, because they are so busy projecting themselves as this or that, dedicating [themselves] to actualiz[ing] a concept of what they should be like rather than [actualizing] their ever-growing potentiality as a human being. Wasting, dissipating all their energy in projection and conjuring up a facade, rather than centering their energy on expanding and broadening their potential...” [3].

II. THE SELF V. THE SOCIAL MEDIA SELF

Bruce understood deeply a fundamental concept in psychology - “the self”. The self is your awareness of your own identity; it is composed of your conscious and unconscious thoughts and experiences. In the Internet Society, for billions of people, the self also includes “the social media self.” We do not grapple enough with the significance of this.


The social media self seeks constant approval in the form of likes, comments, and attention. It is always funny, smart, beautiful, and inspiring. The social media self travels all the time and only eats good food. It has many friends and attends every event. The social media self, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., is simply a projection of who you are, not an honest expression of who you actually are. To feed the social media self, therefore, is to engage in what Bruce Lee refers to here as “self-image actualization.” This is an obvious trap, but our analysis should not stop here.


If the social media self is so patently empty, why do people continue to nurture it? Yes, we all know that social media platform companies have figured out how to hijack our attention and dopamine systems. [4]. But I contend that there is something deeper and more pernicious going on here. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc., have successfully indoctrinated masses of people to believe that nurturing the social media self will satisfy an important set of basic human desires. [5]. The image below is Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs. [6]. Social media platforms thrive in the "esteem" and "love and belonging" rungs of this hierarchy. They shamelessly profess to offer opportunities to enjoy belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization knowing full well, that they, instead, primarily promote loneliness, insecurity, and self-image actualization. [7]. 

III. BRUCE LEE V. WONG JACK MAN

In 1964 Bruce was challenged to a fight in San Francisco by various members of the Chinese martial arts community who viewed him as a race traitor, because he taught gung fu to non-Chinese students. The terms of the fight, which Bruce accepted, were that he would go head to head with Wong Jack Man, another top martial arts instructor in San Francisco. If he lost, Bruce would have to stop teaching non-Chinese students. [8]. After intense combat, Bruce ultimately pinned his opponent to the floor. Despite his victory, however, he felt physically winded and mentally discouraged. Upon reflection, he realized that in order to fight more swiftly and capably, he would need to free himself from any particular martial arts tradition and, instead, innovate. [9]. 

- Bruce Lee

"Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own." [10].

Neither of these lists are exhaustive, of course, and I highly encourage contributions to them (please comment on the class wiki).  Finally, to every individual who sees the danger of using the dominant social media platforms, but uses them anyway – I urge you to reflect on whether and to what extent it brings you meaning in life.

  • uphold privacy rights;
  • respect people's time and attention;
  • enable them to decide what they want to think about, watch, and read;
  • empower them to express themselves via as many mediums as possible; and
  • enable them to connect with friends and family and build a meaningful sense of community. [11].

The social media platform we eventually adopt must not commit the transgressions above, as they cause great harm to human society. They should, instead, be intently designed to:

  • spying on humans;
  • dominating their attention spans;
  • selling their information and attention to advertisers;
  • hijacking their dopamine systems to enable addiction;
  • telling them who they should be “friends” with or follow, or what they should read or watch, i.e. controlling their thought patterns;
  • using artificial intelligence to predict  and dictate their online behavior;
  • limiting them to a set amount of text or a particular medium.

IV. INNOVATING SOCIAL MEDIA

I agree with Professor Moglen when he says that we must not simply get rid of social media, we must fix it (“we’re lawyers”); I also agree that in order to fix it, we must innovate. Adopting a new social media platform, therefore, is a necessary step for the Internet Society. The slightly harder question is figuring out what that platform will look like. But it is not as though we do not already have meaningful insights.


The issue is not that people seek to build a social media self. It makes complete sense to want to express a sense yourself on the Net in the Internet Society, and we should enable people to do so in a healthy manner. The problem is that Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. exploit people by pretending to offer them a meaningful opportunity for fulfillment within systems that are ultimately structured to commodify users for profit. The platform we adopt, therefore,  must be  put humans first. It must reject what is useless and adopt what is useful about the dominant social media platforms. 


The following aspects of the dominant social media platforms, do not put humans first:

- Bruce Lee

The meaning of life. – "The meaning of life is that it is to be lived, and it is not to be traded and conceptualized and squeezed into a pattern of systems." [12].

REFERENCES

  1. Bruce Lee was the most influential martial artist of his time. His films broke international and Hollywood box office records, and they pioneered the martial arts film industry in America. He also started his own martial arts form, known as Jeet Kune, which is still practiced today. See Bruce Lee "Long Bio."
  2. Shannon Lee, Bruce's daughter, has been on a mission to reshape her father's legacy since as far back as 2000. See New York Times, Mark McDonald, "From Icon to Lifestyle, the Marketing of Bruce Lee." Shannon's latest effort to contextualize her father's life is The Bruce Lee Podcast. In each episode, she and cultural anthropologist Sharon Ann Lee discuss Bruce's philosophy on how to achieve a harmonious life.
  3. See Bruce Lee, Striking Thoughts at pp. 175.
  4. See New York Times, Claudia Dreifus interview with Adam Alter, "Why We Can't Look Away From Our Screens."
  5. Children are particularly susceptible to type of brainwashing. This is why Chamath Palihapitiya does not let his children "use [that] shit." See  The Washington Post, Amy B. Wang, "Former Facebook VP Says Social Media is Destroying Society With ‘Dopamine-driven Feedback Loops."
  6. Abraham Maslow was a prominent American psychologist and the founder of what is known as humanistic psychology.
  7. Heavy use of social media can lead to depression. See Katherine Hobson, "Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time On Social Media May Be Why" (citing study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine).
  8. This was not the first or last time Bruce took a symbolic stand against intolerance. Throughout his acting career he faced discrimination at many junctures. Despite how clearly talented he was, Hollywood refused to offer him a lead role in a film, because (and now) it viewed Asian people as subordinate to the White male standard. Rather than continuing to settle for supporting roles to White men, Bruce returned to Hong Kong to direct and star in his own film, which eventually catapulted him into stardom.
  9. This realization resulted in the creation of Bruce's own martial arts, Jeet Kune Do. See supra at note 1.
  10. See Bruce Lee, "The Philosophies."
  11. There already exists a social media platform designed to do these things. See Diaspora.
  12. See supra note 3 at pp. 3.

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