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Archive for May, 2014

Perils of Purchase

May 22, 2014 Leave a comment

A magical thing happens when we own something. Having made the purchase using our own money we’ve personalized the experience. This is why the computer from the employer is “junk” and why the dinner from a different cook just doesn’t taste the same. When we do it ourselves we place our skin in the game: we personalize the experience or item by connecting to who we are. Our purchases are extensions of who we are: they demonstrate a decision we have made or a preference that reflects who we are. Marketers know we do this and utilize brands as extensions of personality. Are you a Pepsi or a Coke person? Is it Apple or PC, Android or iOS?

Falling victim to the game of branding creates a paradox of experience. Though trying to express our individuality in our purchases we end up subscribing to massively popular brands. We work to select the item that best reflects our personality or that most closely matches our perspectives on life. A certain type of character is connected to brands. Technology companies are particularly skilled at creating cultural connections for its users. Are you an “Apple person”, the ad might seem to suggest. Ultimately our attempts to be unique leave us blandly like the rest. The only way to truly be unique is to build it all ourselves. Program your own operating system and manufacture the hardware in the basement. Work to escape the brands and perhaps you can be unique. Of course this is impossible. Brands are popular because they’re easy to engage with and embrace.

Of “Nostalgic Spasms”

May 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In Taming Lust, a brief study of the prosecution of bestiality in early America, Doron S. Ben-Atar uses the phrase “nostalgic spasm” to refer to a sudden shift in social norms that looks back in light of changes. Such “spasms” come in times of social change, he suggests, and demonstrates with his book how in moments of social change an older generation can grasp its power in a last-ditch attempt to stop oncoming change. It is a process we see repeated throughout history: moments of social shift occurring but only after actions of incredible bigotry and cruelty. With each change in social perspective an old view is tossed away.

Critical to these shifts are the individuals involved in making new ideas reality. Too often we look only at the actors involved with the winning side. History is, they say, written by the victors and such limited consideration is evidence of its truth. Who creates the change? Both the actors whose new ideas become enacted and the losers whose old, out-dated ideas are discarded.

In changing our social norms we look away from old ideas. In transitioning to new ideas we discard old views and shift power from those who held these views to those with new ideas. Abstraction may lead us to only view these changes from the perspective of the idea: the women’s right to vote became enacted or civil rights were extended to African-Americans. Changes, yes, but abstract ideas that only become reality when people work (and often die) to make them reality. Human beings move ideas from abstract ideas to actual policy.

Often people claim an “evolution” of thought with new ideas. The right for same-sex couples to marry is a contemporary issue where people often cite an “evolution of perspective” in explaining their delay in drawing conclusions. President Obama is one individual who has cited such evolutions. Herein is the older generation gradually coming to terms with new ideas. For some this evolution is difficult, but for others its simply too much. For those whose perspectives cannot accommodate a change in norms the “nostalgic spasm” might seem critical. Rapid action to block a social change often occur in areas where values are deeply embedded in the community. Severe punishments for crimes typically treated less severely or the creation of new, more strict rules and punishments reveal the spasm in action. Moral panic might explain their actions, but in their works we see both reaction and change. Though their fight to keep things the same hurts many, time cannot control the change. Unfortunately our greatest social changes come with painful baggage. Before we have great change we have the panic of the powerful whose last grasp for power provides them with the ability to instill a brief, painful period of suffering. Such actions are dual symbols: the older power fading and the dawning of the new ideas to come.

 

 

Community Contained

May 19, 2014 Leave a comment

The term “community” refers to a group of people sharing common values. Whether it be topics as grandiose as religion or culture or as minor as shopping preferences, the commonalities of experience become the glue for our cohesion. We float between different communities daily. From the office to the home or the stores and roads and sidewalks we exist within a framework of community. And though we often function in these groups without awareness, our behavior and expectations of these communities varies. One expects a certain type of treatment at the office that is far different from that experienced on the highway.

We can learn quite a bit about who we are simply by considering our communities. The part is often reflective of the whole. What drove us to engage with the people we do? Do they speak to some need within us or do we provide something for them. Perhaps all human relationships can be simplified to a need fulfillment basis. Life is short so why bother spending it with people who “don’t get us”? What is a stranger but a person so beyond our perspective that they seem almost alien.

Communities are signs of commonality. We can feel a sense of safety knowing that we’re surrounded by people with common ideas. The greatest threat is something beyond our knowledge. That which we know we can predict and launch an offense. The effects of our communities is so profound that its difficult to distinguish where we differ from those who we engage with. How are we different from the crowd? Ultimately our very presence in the crowd reveals a certain level of common experience. It is only when we’re on the outside of a community that we can begin to consider its features. Can we ever get a sense of who we are? Perhaps the initial step is looking where we are and the people who surround us everyday: in the crowd we find reflections and the clues to who we are.

Decision Links

May 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Events exist as links on a chain. A moment cannot be seen as independent and unrelated from the moments that preceded it. Everything that will happen in the future is determined by everything before it. There are no original moments.

Consider then how one decision leads to changes in history. A recent article discusses the “millennial” generation’s attitudes towards life. It frames its argument in comparing people ages 18-34 with older generations. Perspectives and priorities are considered and broad conclusions are presented about the group. Despite variety of attitudes, the article seeks to simply a massive group of people. We are, according to articles like this, common types of people with predictable ideas.

While comparing one generation to a next may yield interesting ideas, a more comprehensive consideration looks at generations with a common link in mind. Just as each moment is connected to the moment that preceded it, a generation is related to the generation before. Humans teach by passing down information from one generation to the next. How does one generation differ from another?
The answer here is more in finding where they are similar. What attitudes did the younger generation choose to adopt. In these selected items we find commonality and more broad perspective on the times.

The chain of existence also reveals the power of single decisions. How might the world have been different if World War II did not occur? If Hitler had decided differently how might the world be different? Without a war there are millions of soldiers who do not go to war to experience its horrors and alter their lives forever. How different is their parenting and the experiences of their children? The chain of existence spindles on and on until its impossible to imagine. With one decision the entire world is altered for centuries.

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