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Consensus Conversations

June 20, 2014 Leave a comment

While cultural values vary from community to community, it is society’s role to facilitate discussion and enforcement. Varied and wide-ranging, the perspectives we hold stem from numerous sources.

Perhaps a religious group believes in varied rights between the genders, or another feels that certain foods should not be eaten. These are real examples from our society that we allow to exist and often celebrate as unique features of the group. Of the Amish or other orthodox communities we recognize a unique way of living and see their existence as a sign that we live in a rational and fair society. Only tyrants squash any sense of “other.”

Who is to say that one group’s ideas are better than another? As a society we collectively discuss the varied ideas and come to a consensus about ideal rules. Such “universal values” come as products of consensus. We allow for massive differences and yet work to make sense of the diversity. What is best for the group is not decided by a specific person; instead it is a concept determined by a massive conversation. One of our greatest accomplishment as a society is this allowance for diversity.

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Rooted Rewards

June 16, 2014 Leave a comment

The tingling of success at having accomplish something often inspires the very act itself. We do the chore because when finished we’ll feel better. Bit the bullet; take the ride: its in the completion that the pleasure kicks in. One wonders where such sensations come from. Are these feelings baked into our minds or are we educated early in life to feel these things? When we finish a book we feel we’ve done something, we’ve accomplished a task. But have we? Perhaps the challenge is the source of our joy: in being tasked with a chore we can succeed or fail. Read the book or give up; understand or completely be confused. Do we conquer a text when we read it? Is the author’s work to challenge us and our success in having flaunted her attempt?

In childhood there are many attempts to inculcate good behavior. Often classified as “carrots” these are benefits that stem from good behavior. The candy after “being good” or provision of a favorite food after academic success. Contrasted with these are actions often classified as “sticks”- the punishments for bad behavior. No matter one’s style, both carrots and sticks are designed to influence behavior on multiple fronts. To both cease the current bad behavior and encourage better, future behavior. Is this where we can locate our sense of success? Is the satisfaction following the completion of a symptom of these programs? Rewarded with a coupon for a free pizza, the young child participates in the Pizza Hut’s Book-It program and somewhere finds the drive to read another book. Sly or just great marketing. Whose the victor in this books-for-pizza-pie gimmick? One might answer the society.

Incentives are the roots to our behavior. Often we consider these incentives obvious and clear. But what if we can’t actually trace these incentives? What if these powerful drives are so baked in or rooted in our early development that our current mind doesn’t really know them at work? Perhaps the evidence of these “buried incentives” comes in our failure to meet them. Guilt, shame and embarrassment are sour reminders or personal failings. Steal the candy bar from the store? Fail to return the library book on time or buy generic when name brand was desired? Minor crimes, of course, but ones that often inspire deeper emotional responses. Might we find the clues to our incentives buried in our failures? Maybe the most profound experiences of guilt reveal less about who we are and more about the hidden, buried drives that run our brains and soul.

Insulate and Celebrate

June 3, 2014 Leave a comment

In 2010, the documentary “I’m Still Here” purported to show the retirement of actor Joaquin Phoenix. In the film he is shown using drugs, ordering prostitutes and experimenting with a career in rap. Though later disclosed as a hoax or work of “performance art”, the film does display a grandiosity of self-flagellation that celebrity works so well to insulate. Despite his seemingly mental instability, Phoenix remains supported by his friends and in fact enabled by those around him.

“I’m Still Here” seems less about objective documentation and more interested in both mockery and celebration. Phoenix is the fool but one whose artistic drive takes place regardless of popular perspective. He is an actor poised for greater success but seemingly determined to look away. Is he angry with his success? Does it somehow suffocate his artistic sensibilities? Though never answered, the film displays one (fake) attempt at carving out a new artistic life in the shell of one already existing.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy displayed in this film is the hemmed in status of the actor. No matter his intentions, the public refuses to actually believe in Phoenix’s decision. Existing as a film star, the public’s definition of him seems locked in this identity. Would he be able to change careers if he was interested or is such a radical change of life impossible? Does one abandon identity with celebrity? Much remains unanswered in the film and despite its “mockumentary” status and post-production explanation as an act of humor or performance art, much remains uncertain. Is this mockery a reality and perhaps a glimpse into the shallow world we celebrate? Wherein lies the parody when such antics are both allowed to occur and celebrated by the public?

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