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Baker’s Block

March 31, 2015 1 comment

Indiana’s “Freedom of Religion” law reminds us that, despite our democratic notions, we do not live in an egalitarian society. Aristocrats will defend the status quo by all means necessary. Even as society undergoes changes in cultural perspectives and popular support for these groups wanes they will battle to maintain control. Such groups do not go gentle into that good night: they fight to maintain power.

Aristocrats do not recognize their passing. Even in light of new ideas and perspectives a battle will be mounted to reverse the changing trends. Often, discrimination is a common utility for such figures. To deny access to a service allows a powerful group to manipulate resources; to complicate the day-to-day operations of an undesired faction to focus on their goals. “If I don’t like the things you do, I’ll make your life a challenge”, they might say. Ultimately the means to defeat such actions is to swell around the new ideas and work to quell aristocratic abuse of power.

For the cake maker who refuses to sell cakes to homosexuals there are various methods of response. One might create legislation to ban or allow such limitations. Another option is to recognize the power of the market. For a baker to limit his or her customer base is to sacrifice a source of revenue. Beyond the denied couples a portion of other populations (heterosexual couples) will choose to purchase cakes elsewhere in response to these ideas. Though not directly affected, the belief that someone else is being abused warrants a response. “I would never pay a baker who refused to sell to homosexuals”, they might say.

In the end we are faced with variable responses. Legislation might provide for a desired end, but the more powerful response resides in the market. Let the dollars make the statements. In order to defeat aristocrats whose ideas have waned we are better served by popular response.

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Aging Out

October 3, 2014 1 comment

On the Econlog website, Bryan Caplan writes on “aging out of addiction” and highlights other research suggesting that at some point people make the decision to not be addicted. He concludes with an idea that addiction is a “choice to be immature” and one that ends ultimately when a person decides enough is enough. Included in his brief post are selections from an article that tracks the stats of high profile addictions: “cocaine addiction lasts four years”, “alcohol addiction is resolved within fifteen years”, among others. And yet despite this presentation of averages (not his, but used to support his claims), the choice to limit one’s perspective to an averaging of numbers smacks of cruel disregard for the millions forced to suffer. Yes, while optimistic and ultimately written to suggest that addiction is not an insurmountable problem, the battles of addiction stem from such a wild variety of factors that a consideration of these and the comprehensive network of support that exists warrants something more than claims of choosing to grow up. What is said for human struggle?

As the so-called “winner’s bias” fools us into thinking that risky decisions are more worthwhile than they really are (start your own business in college- it worked for Mark Zuckerburg!), the choice to limit one’s observation of the successful ends discards the tragic tales of loss. Hume wrote that our “dignity demands” that we treat others not as the “means to end” or as tools for our use, but as “ends” or independent creatures deserving of our respect. Are we not viewing the humans hidden in these stats as tools who have been repaired? So complicated is the human mind that to simplify its functions and the chaotic array of experiences that it must navigate down to a procedure of “choosing to be immature” strikes one as misguided and quite cruel. What must be said of the battles of the addicted? Of the countless family members and counselors who fought to help those addicted to these substances? While sobriety will come (for some) and a day arrive when the individual is able to decide to get help or to defy the temptation, such decisions come with immense amounts of work. To disregard these efforts is a mistake and eerily discards the dangers of the substances at play.

Outrageous Acts of Outrage

September 15, 2014 Leave a comment

In Totem and Taboo, Freud writes on the role of outrage and its response. He writes of a “violation of taboo”, an action where a social rule is broken. What follows these violation is the issue, existing in a world where immediate punishment does not follow, there is no lightning bolt from the clouds, we must take upon ourselves as a society to enact punishment. The reasoning for this, Freud writes, is to “deprive the envied transgressor of his enterprise”. He describes the pleasure that stems from these violations as “fruits” whose infectious nature make them behaviors which if left unpunished will, placed into contemporary terms, go viral and increase in our behavior. If no-one pays for gas, if everyone steals the candy bar, will everyone do the same?

A certain level of paranoia permeates this perspective. Freud links these actions with “the savages”, a group without specific historical placement and one whose actions closely mimic those of “the neurotic”. Here again Freud uses an entity to represent the collected mass. These specific cases representative of the populace at large are the basis of science (experiments of a few derive conclusions from which larger actions can be taken).

Back to outrage though and this recent news story of a t-shirt company printing a college logo with blood stains. The college, Kent State, was the scene of “the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard on Monday, May 4, 1970 (Wikipedia). Though never explicitly communicated by the shirt, the blood stains suggest the shootings and aim to convey to the viewer the historical event. We see the blood and see the Kent State logo and remember the event on May 4, 1970.

In response to the shirt, Kent State issued a press release expressing their “offense” and “great outrage”. Using collective pronouns like “our” and “we”, the press release expresses the opinion of the University at large, seeming to include some unknown quantity of individuals associated with the university. And yet on what basis does this outrage extend to those involved? The authors of the release do not write on their experience with the event. It remains unknown how those directly affected by the events of May 4, 1970 feel.

Perhaps they are offended and perhaps anyone who has ever attended or even heard of the Kent State shootings is included in the press release. Are we to specify who is allowed to feel outrage at the t-shirt? Of course we’re not, but in this immediate response one wonders how far the extension of outrage goes. What is the purpose of Kent State’s response? Is it outrage or a collection of needs? Might Freud’s observation that the need to punish also extends to a need to control future insults? Would another company violate the norm and print similarly themed shirts if Kent State didn’t respond with this release?

All of this remains a mere observation of a series of events. One cannot fully comprehend the intentions of all involved. Why was the t-shirt made? “There’s no such thing as bad press” is often cited and is perhaps linked to Oscar Wilde who wrote ” the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” Was the t-shirt’s aim to  upset one to garner more attention? One will never know the reasons but inherent in these actions are the raw, exposed emotions that lurk beneath the surface. Contained within our tragedies and lurking in our memory is a raw fuel. Companies might choose to engage with this fuel and ignite it with an action, but in doing so the reaction will be unpredictable and intense. Do they want this reaction? For what purpose was the fuel engaged? Offend to sell a t-shirt?

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.

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.

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.

Locks and Maturation

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

One model of maturation is the lock system for boat travel. Via the system, a boat moves through a series of water chambers that allow it to move directly over land despite a lack of level surface. No longer dependent on a flowing current, the boat can move quickly by flowing through the system of locks.

slowly, the boat moves further in its journey by progressing through each channel. In each chamber the boat starts near the bottom but the rises higher and makes its way forward.

Applying this model to maturation, consider the young person working through stages of experience. A child learning to drive will begin with basic steps of adjusting mirrors and the interior of the vehicle. Gradually more advanced skills are explored and conquered so that in time the individual who begins without any experience becomes capable of moving the vehicle at an incredibly rapid rate of speed.

As the boat moves through each channel its progress is individually tied to status. Likewise the child’s development is tied to personal progress. Difficulty at a certain level means the student does not progress.

This model of maturation is helpful in understanding the ideal progress of education. Learning is inherently an individual process and any system that presumes progress disregards reality. No reason exists for a student to be considered below or above grade level.

On the boat it is the sailor who is in charge of moving the boat towards its destination. For the student this guiding force begins as the parent but gradually becomes the individual. With maturation comes both the capability and responsibility to direct one’s progress.

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