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Archive for July, 2012

From This I Introduce Myself

July 28, 2012 Leave a comment

In the brief moment that defines an initial meeting, we select the details with which we introduce who we are. What terms will function to explain who we are? Ironically, this selection says less about who we; instead,it is their counter-details, the material we choose not to use, that say more about who we are and who we want the rest of the world to perceive.

One who enters a room and uses material possessions to express wealth and personal value is choosing to ignore a career. Professional life is secondary for someone whose polished appearance or possession of popular things is their focus. In these moments the person is saying “Look at these things I own” or “Look at how I dress myself” as a means of asking for reception. Will the audience sense value in this possession of objects? For some these items and means to connecting with others is sufficient while others need less distinct details to draw connections.

For some the professional life or aspirations are what define him or her. The student is prime example of this form: expressing not who they are or who they want to be; they express who they plan to be in the future. Often the current moment is insufficient to create the desired connection: the poor student likely perceives no reason to be taken seriously in his or her current state. Given this deficit it is the future or ideas of what the future holds that define who he or she is right now. These people live in a future state where the possibility of this future is in fact impossible to predict. These are the individuals who dwell within the future: a common place for students and those who aspire to more.

In our initial interactions with strangers we work to express who we are. Given a brief moment we must select the details from which we will be understood. Though beyond our control, these moments are brief revelations into who we are, who we plan to be and what it is that we see within ourselves. Do we have value and if so why and how? What are the items that define us as a person? In the snippets of introductions we can learn quite a bit about our own perspectives and, via the details we don’t select, what it is that matters least to us.

Proactive Punishment

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky Penn State scandal , some have called for additional punishment of the college. The decision on how to punish Penn State should come from the victim’s of Jerry Sandusky. Based on their perspectives the legal system should design a plan of intervention that guarantees crimes like those committed by Jerry Sandusky cannot happen again. One is best served by considering the purpose of the punishment. What is the goal of punishing Penn State?

If one aims to prevent similar crimes than proactive actions are the only effective means. The best plan would be to require Penn State to create a service for victims of sexual abuse worldwide. Working to assist those who have suffered at the hands of figures similar to Jerry Sandusky, the ideal punishment builds to better solutions.

The best punishment for Penn State provides both victims and perpetrators to move forward in a way that serves the entire public. Additional pain and suffering accomplishes nothing and serves only to out-bully a bully. Work together, make a quality program and transform Penn State’s focus from one of shock and disgust to an active focus on fixing problems.

Divorced of Form: “Real Politics”

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Politics is not about policy. Politicians work not to resolve problems, but to avoid them. Does another industry exist so divorced from that material with it deals? Apply the “real politics” or the way that politics works in America to other industries and a humorous image appears.

The salesperson at the electronic store who avoids selling the TV or who completely disregards the existence of the TV is playing “real politics”. The grocer whose indifference to the rotting apples or whose disregard that apples are actually fruit and thereby best left to rot (that is if they existed) is playing “real politics”. Placed in a position to solve problems, politicians work to distance themselves from failure by avoidance. In the end, if you never make an attempt you can’t be blamed for failure.

The contemporary political scene is one defined by avoidance. Despite running to fix problems and gaining traction by proposing solutions that gain traction with the public, many politicians avoid problems and solutions once hired. Politics is divorced from solutions and the foundation of its very existence.

Text as Credence

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

If its “based on a book”, an idea holds more power. Text-based ideas or beliefs with a connection to a document gain greater traction with an audience simply on the basis of this textual relationship. Humans seem to grant trust on this basis of connection. Why is it that certain ideas hold value simply because a text can provide support? ‘

Consider how “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and “Birth of a Nation” hold sway in racist culture and become tools for those interested in spreading racist ideas. These items of culture become tools whereby racist ideas are spread and supported. Henry Ford’s distribution of the “Protocols” text was said to be so prevalent that he kept copies in his office. Did Ford see in these texts an ally when working to convince others?

All texts are malleable in the hands of a distributor. Beyond even the author’s own ideas, those who actually distribute a work can shape its meaning. Whether a text is created for racist purposes is moot when a distributor supplies others with this goal in mind. Strangely, bad ideas with textual connection have greater sway. Audiences invest more trust when a text is present.

Curses of Form

July 11, 2012 Leave a comment

“Comic books are for children” or “Poetry is confusing”: just two examples of over-applied generalizations. Comic books suffer the most from these assumption as the notion of viewing material for another gives rise to potential embarrassment. Witness an adult reading a “comic book” and you may send him or her blushing at the discovery. Preconceived notions are common to all aspects of life and in many situations assist us to function. Notions of risk and danger protect us on a daily basis, but when applied to forms of art our assumptions likely leave us blind to great work.

Unfortunately for the comic book its ability to be enjoyed by all ages dooms it to general assumption. If a child can enjoy a piece of art is it less valuable? Certainly a child’s limited sense of understanding is at play here and any work of art able to connect functions on a level that connects to these limitations. Do we then ignore these works of art? Many apply this logic to the comic book and assume that all books filled with graphics are “less intelligent” or made for someone else.

Limiting our exposure to art is both silly and dangerous. An open mix extends to forms (of course) and no matter what form or perceived audience a work of art seems geared to, we are best served by witnessing it all. Active members of culture read all texts. There is no reason to avoid or disregard material- read it all and reflect.

 

Where Humor’s Not to Tread

July 11, 2012 Leave a comment

An audience engages with material with a purpose; there is a reason why we read. Explore a novel for entertainment or insight, watch a movie for pure escape or puzzling stash of riddles. Two can watch a movie for different reasons just as they can find completely different ideas. Reading the “text” paper or otherwise begins with the intention of the reader and, if discarded or violated, the material’s value may be lethally compromised. Engage though we do it is not for common goals.

How does one react when these expectations are violated? What becomes of a reader’s experience when an engagement on strictly serious, information-seeking goals finds humor and silliness? How does one react when engaging with a film labeled comedy finds sadness and drama? For many this violation is grounds for exit: some leave the theater or change the channel upon finding this violation. Expectations and crucial.

Our skills at labeling and categorization work to protect us from these violations of expectations. In most cases our labels work to inform us before we engage with material. We trust Netflix when it labels a movie as comedy. When we grab a book from the non-fiction shelf we expect to read a certain amount of truth inside its pages. Fiction is fake, comedy is funny and facts abound in non-fiction. Is this true? Are we safe? How much can be trust or expect from our systems of labeling.

Because the Product Tells Me So

July 4, 2012 Leave a comment

My pack of gum reminds me to “dispose of it properly” and on the back of my bottle of pop is a graphic reminder of the importance of recycling. These products function as proxy for their manufacturers, delivering for Cadbury and Coke an image of environmental concern and notion that as user I need to be reminder. I suppose I am a forgetful customer, one whose lack of interest or attention span may lead to to incorrectly dispose of these products, but do I need to be corrected? At what point do products deliver enough?

I purchase a package of chewing gum for the product contained within. The small bits of flavored rubber perform a function in my life and warrant my continued use. Change this product and I may look elsewhere. That which I buy performs the function that I select. For gum this function is “item to chew.”

Where do products cross the line of suggested use? When does a product’s imposition of utility become more than I desire? A minor suggestion on my package of gum is too minor to warrant a reaction, but a line exists and can be breached. Products that limit my intake or connect me to greater social causes my lead to look elsewhere. Is my purchase leading to a charitable fund? Can I reasonably expect my purchase to not create harm for someone else? Though my control in these situations is limited, I find that the very act of consumerism is quickly becoming less a simple transaction and more an act of social theater.

Today’s capitalism is one in which transactions exist on multiple plains. Enlivened by the greater knowledge that technology provides, our purchases now can be linked and tracked beyond our simple use. Products and purchases become complicated when we can see where the money goes and, given the variety of sources that can provide us with similar products (for example a cup of coffee) our selection of who or where allows us to endorse or deny causes connected to our purchase. No longer do we simply buy a cup of coffee. For many companies our act of purchasing becomes a complicated link to greater actions. Are we ready for these connections or do we rather prefer the simple “I want this so I buy it” relationship with companies. I only wanted a stick of gum but my purchase of these sticks of rubber has become something more, something far beyond my individual needs. Do I want this relationship to exist? Can I control it? Chew on.

In Common Community

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Communities are as much about inclusion as exclusion. Via links of commonality we form our communities, but how similar are we to our commune neighbors? Often we use single factors to establish our community: religious belief, racial makeup or financial status, while complex, are far too vague to symbolize commonality. Many of our communities are made up of incredible diversity, variances in perspectives that leave us linked by only minor features and vulnerable to disagreements.

How do we decide what determines community? At what point does a trait become important enough to determine human relationships? Security is the common factor in all relationships and by extension all communities. We group with others for our own benefit. Clustered we are more secure and protected from factors that could destroy the individual. Strength in numbers comes as we can gather more food, utilize diverse skills or simply exist as a larger mass of humanity. The benefits of community come not only in the ability to gather and do more but also just exist as a cluster larger than another. Significant power comes simply from larger mass.

Assume we cluster and begin to function as a united entity. How successful this “we” are becomes dependent not on the strength of our bond but in our ability to navigate our differences. Links are not comprehensive and we will certainly be less similar than we are similar. What really matters in determining our success is the strength of our connection and desire for the greater good of the whole. Herein lies the role of sacrifice and risk: in order to reach a level of success higher than we might as a lone actor we cluster together, absorb the risk in doing so in order to achieve something more. This is community and the high risk/ high reward at play in all potential bonds.

Coy Categories

July 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Our relationship to objects hinges on categorizations. Food is for eating, ice cream is food and therefore ice cream is for eating. A simple syllogism that automatically occurs, but what happens when the clarity of these categories becomes distorted? What about ice cream for dogs? Toys for boys or tea for weight loss? Suddenly these objects are different; though not by form or perhaps content, but instead by the suggestion by which we should interact with the product.

Is ice cream for dogs not for humans? Can a non-dieter still drink tea for dieting? Of course they can, but in consuming these products we take on the categorization. Eat the ice cream for dogs and we are a person eating ice cream for dogs? If someone were to observe us doing this we might be embarrassed. We are doing something wrong in consuming this product for another. We violate the category and bring about the reaction of one who violates. Rules are being broken when we consume products categorized as something beyond who we are.

While many categories are clearly established, ie by branding like “Frosty Paws”, the ice cream for dogs, other items are less distinctly categorized. Fashion is categorized far less loudly and many often err by donning the fashion of a different culture or group. Certain fashion items are distinctly “one cultured” (think kimono) while others breach all boundaries and have nearly global acceptance (think the hooded sweatshirt). These distinctions are less for the utility of the item and more for the associations that come from them. A culture possesses its fashion protects itself by controlling those allowed to wear the item. Insiders are those allowed to wear these clothes, listen to this music or even appreciate this food. Often it is the outsider whose lack of understanding or ability to properly utilize the item that perform this action of distinction. The individual unable to use chop sticks at an Asian restaurant is communicating more of his/her lack of belonging to the culture than a lack of awareness. Afterall, he/she isn’t from that culture. Is it offensive to even attempt to use these tools?

Objects are never simple items we encounter in life. Everything we encounter carries with it a load of meanings. Categorizations inform our relation to these items and when certain categorizations blend we may find ourselves confused. Imagine a freezer stocked with ice cream. Does anyone other than the dog consume the ice cream for dogs? Unlike the French Vanilla, which both human and fido enjoy, the dog ice cream will only ever reach the dog mouth (given normal, non-starving, situations). We’re far safer buying items of simplest categorization. Complexity comes with additional expectations and in many cases confuses how we interact and understand the objects in our world.

 

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