Archive for June, 2013

Asterisk Provisions

June 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Are there certain behaviors best suited for a trained individual? To drive a motor vehicle we require an individual to demonstrate understanding and capability in multiple forms. One does not simply apply for a driver’s license and turn the key. Likewise we only allow certain people to perform certain tasks. A teacher must have a license and a police officer must demonstrate the needed skills.

Often these skills are documented by documents. A driver’s license is a government’s physical endorsement of one’s skills. In a sense the driver’s license communicates a single fact: “This person passed our test.” One’s skills will vary by the minute and police officers regularly launch interventions a la tickets and warnings to correct bad behavior.

And yet while many of our most important jobs in society require proof of capability one of our most critical does not. To vote is to participate in a democracy and in voting one is selecting another individual to represent one’s beliefs. A vote communicates a simple statement of “This person speaks for me.”

What type of documentation or proof of skills do we require to vote? None. The application to vote demands only that one is a citizen. Is this correct? Do the demands of picking a candidate and formulating a perspective on a topic demand a sort of test? Might literacy be a requirement to vote? After all, if one cannot read the ballot how can one possibly formulate a decision?

The Supreme Court has decided to alter how we register individuals to vote. States now possess the ability to make the process of voting not an automatic one. Many see any additional requirements to voter registration as movements to complicate the registration process for citizens. Of course any additional steps complicate a process and many individuals will likely fail to participate in their democracy because of these challenges.

While new steps have yet to be established, we can expect that many states will work rapidly to make them. This is unfortunate but highly likely in any system of popular representation. And while we may find both today’s decision and any as-yet-undeveloped requirements both sad and unfortunate, we remain bound to our duty as citizens. No matter where things fall and no matter how hard the process is, it is the individual’s duty to participate. To fail to vote is to fail as a citizen. No matter where the challenge stands and no matter how hard the process may be, as a responsible citizen one must learn each complication and battle back to counteract the challenge.

Utility of Choices

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Just as our decisions reflect back on who we are, the utility of these choices has suggestive power. We learn more about who we are when we consider what we purchase and the reasons beyond our thinking. In Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character admonishes us by saying “You are not your fucking khakis,” but how accurate is this statement? Are we not, in some minor sense, our purchases?

Everything we buy exists in multiple domains. A pair of Dockers khakis are at once khakis and symbols of our culture, perceived social status and the characterization of ourselves we wish to present to the world. Certainly the individual wearing a pair of khakis is seeking to suggest something different from an individual wearing frayed jeans. We benefit in our ability to use these varied symbols as we need to: everyone can wear khakis or jeans and do so on the basis of what the moment demands.

It is in this deployment of choice that we can learn so much. If each of us can posses the varied means of communication than it is in the application and selection that the real communication takes place. What pants does he wear and when? Pants are just one example of this ability to communicate. Similar options exist in what we eat, where we live and even what we choose to view on television. All aspects of life come with options and it is in the selection that the individual is revealed.

Templates Made for Rude

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

When offended or placed into a position of heightened emotion we often slip into common forms of speech. Perhaps it is the loss of control in these moments that leave us less cognitively capable, but can we actually apologize. Consider the tirades of exasperation where a person speaks with racist terms. Both disgusted and stunned, some friends may hear these words and think “I never knew she thought like that.” And yet how might we evaluate the accuracy of these statements? Might the moment of emotion with its lack of control allow for some understanding? Can we gift empathy in times of chaos?

While many deny racist or sexist opinions, all people are aware of terms and attitudes related to these attitudes. It does not take a racist to know what a racist statement is. In our ability to identify “bad behavior” we identify ourselves as those aware of the unpure. We’re not as bad by knowing but we’re certainly not pure.

When chaos strikes and an individual reacts there is an opportunity to react. If pressed too hard the individual might react in ways beyond expectation. Human emotions often leave reason behind and give way to actions that birth greater regret and pain. Might we gain a better understanding by observing these figures and their actions? Is the secret racist revealed in her ravings or are we better served by a recognition of emotion’s power. Though we know of evil deeds we try our best to be our best. Weak though we are and as capable of failing as anyone, we can only react to what life presents us with.

Beyond Apology

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Certain individuals achieve a heightened level in society that renders bad deeds beyond apology. The Celebrity X whose racial epithets become public or the popular singer whose demands appear monumentally selfish. These are the figures whose fall comes just as fast as their rise: born via media attention they fall away in flames as the very beast that allowed them platform falls away and leaves them desperate.

Unfortunately the skills that give birth to additional attention do not provide the ability to control message. Celebrity X may write a great song or cook a great dish, but if he or she cannot control behavior than very little remains safe. Protection comes cheap in a world of public attention and a citizenry fascinated with a rapid rise is just as entertained by a rapid fall. The flames that kiss so often burn to ash.

When an individual achieves celebrity status, he or she transcends their human form and becomes a symbol. Is the Celebrity Chef really a human being or is her existence less about who she is and more what she brings to those who give her platform. Comedian Marc Maron often simplifies the process of celebrity making as essentially determined by a single question: “Have you made me money?” Those that do are granted attention because they provide the source with profit. Advertising runs media and anyone who fails to provide this capital or tarnish a networks ability to profit risks annihilation.

When the celebrity does violate the brand and his or her image has been destroyed there is little that remains. Damage to one’s reputation is damage to the brand. The Celebrity Chef may try to apologize but her position has been eliminated. She has violated the image and tarnished brand. Try though she might she has little left to save: the meals been burnt and her tables long been cleared.

A Super Mario Generation

June 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Are we living in a Super Mario moment? Soldiers, contractors and hackers release data and breach codes of conduct out of a “sense of duty.” Discarding “codes of honor” for the cause of information freedom, they discard one set of abstractions for another. “Information wants to be free!” they say. But at what point does this swapping of abstraction read less an act of patriotism and more an act of misguided motivation.

The story of the lone actor casting himself against an insurmountable force is a common plot line of many hacker/leaker stories. One figure with access to secret information feels a need to reveal the secret detail. Doing so violates his/her code of honor but such violations are seen as justified for the benefit of the public. The lone actor sacrifices himself for the better good: throwing it all away for our benefit of knowing.

In these quests of individualism we see a lone actor working against a far stronger enemy. The hero works to liberate a perceived purity being held by perceived tyranny. This game of abstraction reads well in certain lights. The minor hero works despite the odds and is our classic underdog. And yet, what source for this narrative can be trace to this generation? Is this a generation of Super Mario brothers whose quest against the American government mimes Mario beating Bowser?

Who is the Princess here? Are we so distorted that abstract concepts like freedom of information, the right to keep private data or other perceived ethical rights recently developed by technology at play? Has this generation fallen so far into post-modern malaise that the great causes are less about protecting the innocent and more the rights to hide your photos or keep your secret chats a secret?

Of course there is a great importance to the privacy of data. Users must be made aware of how their information is used and be provided with ways to opt-out or function without the data being collected. Knowledge is power and if once enabled he/she chooses to provide this data for the benefit of free software so be it. Perhaps the market for more secret data via paid software can develop from this world.

What remains different though is this data deemed secret. If provided with access to secret information it remains a duty to protect it. Do you object? Do you feel its collection is a violation of the law? So be it, but the worst action is to release it. A fool is one who senses a hole in the dam and decides it best to blow it all away. A bad system needs fixing, not destruction. A real hero works to resolve a conflict. See a hole? Fix it! Do you sense a violation of privacy laws? Then leave with honor and work to gain real access to the avenues of change. Become a leader and be a fix.

The Bad Touch

June 8, 2013 1 comment

Representation often means connection. We elect figures to represent us in government; effectively nominating them as symbols for us. For some these representations are pleasing. Was the winner who we voted for? Often this is not the case and despite our best intentions we are forced to accept a different symbol. In a system of such binary choices this can often be a challenge- suddenly the figure whose character we questioned deeply becomes not the villain but a symbol for ourselves.

Do some adjust with ease or do others react with violence? How might the election of a drastically different symbol affect one’s reaction? For example, how might an individual react when a candidate directly opposed to his/her view gains power? Can a racist come to accept symbolic representation by a different race? How might one who is disgusted by homosexuality come to terms with a homosexual representative?

In some cases an adjustment can be made. Though difficult and challenging one must come to terms with an election. Though we vote with best intentions our desires go unfounded. No matter what results we are best served by a populace both aware of these conditions and willing to respond. Growing though we are, some must work harder than others to develop skills to compromise. Learn to adjust or face a greater crisis.

Knowledge Is Metaphor

June 8, 2013 Leave a comment

In educational psychology, “constructivist” refers to a philosophy of learning whereby an individual “constructs” knowledge by adding new information to what is known. Under this perspective, the human is presented as abstraction- a sort of structure compiled by memory and information.

Under such a model we can frame a cityscape as a community of individuals. The New York city skyline becomes friends and family with taller structures representing age and experience and new construction being the newly born.

The image is quite suggestive, but at what point does metaphor become too much? Are we complicating the idea with such an effort? At what point does the metaphor bloat simplicity and work against the idea’s intention. Do certain ideas defy metaphorical explanation by their simplicity? With many ideas we reach to create metaphors of explanation but do so at the cost of simplicity. Despite our best intentions much of what we know is far simpler than we assume.


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