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Immoral Mission Creep

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

First expressed in 1953, “mission creep” is the “expansion of a mission beyond its initial goals, even after its initial success”. Though often used to refer to military campaigns, it also provides an agile perspective to assess all social movements. Sensing success and popular acceptance, a group proceeds onward with another set of goals. In business the endless “pushing forward” is the name of the game: new products are the life line of a company and successful companies are known for multiple types of products.

Unlike businesses, where a concrete “product” is created, groups dedicated to the promotion of abstract concepts also suffer mission creep. Advocates can never solve a problem: there will always be persistent crumbs of the initial target problem. For a group determined to eliminate discrimination success can only breed new missions: “We are successful, so let’s move this campaign forward.”

Unfortunately the attributes of these movements is not always associated with goals that benefit society. For every group determined to eliminate discrimination another stands determined to continue or expand the status quo abuse. Progress is an endless battle, a constant give and take between perspectives of the greater good. For the individuals working to achieve a goal there remains only constant, infinite levels of challenge.

Certainly Uncertain

January 1, 2015 Leave a comment

In the chaos of existence comes a desperate search for certainty. From vast unknowns we find discomfort and anxiety. We fear to be mistaken and the pain of our confusion births a desperate need to know.

In The Wisdom of Uncertainty, Alan Watts suggests a comfort in confusing times. “The future is not here”, he writes and urges us to pause and think. To exist within the moment is our only saving grace. Reflection is an act of creation: remembering our memories and drawing our conclusions.

Watts reminds us that existence is a tricky thing: we are gifted with extraordinary senses that sponge the world around us. From sights and sounds to smells and thoughts the composition of our minds are overflowing streams of data. And yet, despite such profound gifts we cannot draw conclusions from this information. In reality there is o certainty in what we experience: the random is the norm.

Watts recalls an event in his childhood where he desired to send his friend a package of water. Desiring to mail it so that his recipient would open it and sense the deluge, he ultimately realizes the impossibility of the process. “The trouble is to get the water into any manageable shape”, he writes. For Watts this moment provided a pivotal insight into what he terms the “attempted solutions” of human enterprise. To simplify complicated things in neatly organized packages is impossible.

Watts reminds us of the greatest human folly: suggesting a simplicity to the endless state of chaos. We are not in control, we cannot create sense because it is not there. To exist is to be a witness to the wonderment of nature. We are better served in simplicity: recognize our limitations in drawing conclusions and simply be within ourselves. To recognize the world is not to find some over-arching rule or divinity in control. We cannot know and some “supposed secret knowledge” is hidden or non-existent. The better way to live? Present and aware, sponging with our tools and living for the moment. “It is only through silence that one can find something new to talk about”.

“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 4 comments

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

Devices: Self Control

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

In a September 15 article in Pacific Standard, David Destino writes on the powers of accountability and how a sense of being grateful leads to greater self control. Have a nasty habit? Crave the candy bar(s)? Destino says the best defense is thinking about the many positive features of your life.

Included in the article is the now infamous “marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. As part of the test, a group of children were told that by delaying gratification they would be rewarded by a doubling of the treat. A child who loved candy bars would be presented with a single bar, told he could eat it now or wait a bit and receive another, and then left alone in the room. Mischel and his coleagues watched from a distance and observed the techniques used to deny the temptation to indulge. The children used a variety of techniques: some sang songs, looked away or found some other stimulation to distract themselves from the treat. Mischel went further and continued to gather data on his participants and found that those who were capable of delaying instant gratification then went on to lead more successful adult lives: they had less debt, more stable families and a slew of other features that suggested the long term power of self control. From Mischel’s work came a sense of the importance of cultivating self control in people. Is it possible to teach self control?

Destino notes the popular belief that because self-control is so important the process of cultivating techniques to assist in self control are important to teach children. He notes movements like Alcohol Anonymous which focus less on the personal factors that lead individuals to dangerous behaviors and more on techniques to avoid the dangerous item of desire. If the item can be avoided then perhaps the individual can resist the temptation. But what can be said of the success of techniques? Are there less alcoholics in society? Is obesity now a problem we read only of in textbooks?

Far from it.

Instead we live in a world rattled by addictive temptations. From food to technology it seems our every human feature has some item designed to stimulate our pleasure. We exist in a world of plethora filled with countless ways to find just what we want.

Destino offers a second way to defend ourselves from temptation. Choose instead the path of gratitude. Consider what you have to be thankful for and focus on cultivating these benefits. He notes of programs that force an individual to do a good deed if some undesireable action occurs. Termed “pre-commitment” some common actions are an automatic donation to a charity if an expensive item is purchased. Would less people buy the latest IPhone if in purchasing it a equally priced donation was sent to a charity? Might the dreaded candy bar consumed require an hour of service at a soup kitchen? While such actions can seem cruel they do create a greater sense or accountability. We might think we know what’s best for us but faced with the myriad of temptations we are weaklings in the struggle. Studies now show that our self control is like a muscle: use it frequently and it gets sore. Destino writes of a study where subjects were more likely to commit an undesirable act after fighting the temptation for a plate of chocolate chip cookies. We get worn out, it seems, and need something outside of our brains to keep us on the course.

 

An Island of Catharis

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Are men less emotional than females? A 2012 study of Irish males who attempted suicide found that, despite their experience of emotional vulnerability, a cultural hegemony discouraged their expressions. The men, according to the study felt emotionally vulnerable but were unable to speak to their emotions and chose suicide as a viable solution. What restrained their expression? Their sense of “masculinity norms” that constricted their ability to speak of what they felt.

One wonders how broadly these conclusions can be applied to global masculine behaviors. Does a global hegemony of masculine norms constrict male expression of emotion? One need only listen to a Sunday post-game show to hear a fountain of emotion. Listen to sports radio and one can hear a buffet of dread, concern, alarm, and stress that borders on a funeral.

On the morning following the loss of a local NFL football team, this author writes of an experience of hearing incredible expressions of male emotion. Sunday is, it seems, a day of great catharsis for the bevy of local football fans whose hopes lie pinned to a roster of fifty three professional football players. My goal is not to mock these men; instead, I seek to indicate a stark phenomenon of culture. Is sports radio an island of catharsis?

No Photos, Please

August 17, 2014 Leave a comment

The cameras are everywhere. From pockets to street corners, to concerts and games, the world is full of image and video capturing devices. One can venture into the eyes of these devices without willingly participating. Walk the dog on the trail, take a friend to a concert and one might just be photographed.

Given that one might not desire such “captures” to take place, modern technology should include an option to protect the identity of those involved. If one does not want to be captured, he or she should have the right to be blurred or distorted in some form that renders the captured image free of identifying marks.

As Native Americans were suspicious of the photograph, contemporary citizens might find similar concerns with technology of today. For whatever reason one feels uncomfortable it is to the benefit of all involved that technology work to embrace the rights of privacy and establish means to remove the unintended subjects of photography.

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.

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.

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.

Saying Nothing: “Lethal Aid”

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Political leaders are perhaps experts not at making policies or making important decisions but in abusing language. President Obama’s white house spokesperson used the odd phrase “lethal aid” in a press briefing today. The entire quotation, “We’re not actively considering lethal aid” came in response to a question regarding the United States assistance to Ukraine. Certainly an odd phrase, “lethal aid”, but what does it mean?

What is “lethal aid”? Rearrange the words to read “aid that is lethal”. Of course the “lethal” nature of this aid means that it’s not lethal to it user. The lethal features of such aid stem from its application to another. In this case the lethality of the aid would only be experienced by Ukrainian protestors who would likely not consider it aid. This “lethal aid” term is a perfect creation of two opposed ideas. It is the paradox perfected as it works to both convey a gentle act of strength and the violent act of killing. It is both cold and warm, boiling and frozen.

The art of politics: saying something that says nothing.

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