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Posts Tagged ‘greed’

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.

Cashing Out

March 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A fascinating discussion on transactions takes place in this EconTalk podcast from 2007. In it Viviana Zelizer discusses the confounded relationship we have with ‘intimacy’ and ‘money’. She observes that society sees these as distinct cultural norms and strives to keep them separate.

How does money taint experience? Are there moments when a cash equivalent is simply rude?  Attend a dinner party and choose to give your host a $20 bill “I know you wanted wine, but this is so much better.” Say a neighbor learns of another community member being ill. Coming to her door, she offers chicken soup and says, “I hope this kills the sickness.” Does the neighbor offer cash?” When does rudeness make its entrance? 

Money makes things murky. We pay for food from the grocery but never at family holidays. Is the fastest way to ruin Thanksgiving the act of leaving $10 on the table. “This isn’t a restaurant”, this hose might say. And yet both restaurant and family meals involve the consumption of food. In both situations another space is used. Wherein lies the difference?

Relationships are key. In family dinners the introduction of money symbolizes a misunderstanding of the transaction. Money is not working here: the family meal is one in which emotion is transacted. “I care for you so this is free.” Our grocer does not “care for us” in this sense: their business is dependent on our money to continue in its function.

What role does money play in human life? With currency we exchange one thing for another. The bottle of water is a dollar. Exchange your dollar for the water and the transaction takes place. Economies function on these most basic actions. And yet, despite this seemingly simplistic action we manage to complicate the issue. Perhaps it is because these transactions are so cold and simple that introducing them into intimate relationships spell trouble. The payment of cash is one without emotion. I want it so I give it. What function does money play? Often its a symbol of indifference that, divorced of our emotion, works to get to what we want without the murky work of feelings.

Crust Cuts

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In contemporary media, it is possible for a same-day hired employee to commit acts of such depravity that decades of reputation can be lost. Video of an employee urinating in a sink at a West Virgina Pizza Hut recently emerged. Once broadcast on local media the story “had legs” and made its way to popular “click-bait” sites where rapidly it spread. More viral than the bacteria splashed inside the sink, the story became less about the employee or his actions and more about the brand and the response from those in charge. From Twitter came their comments of “disappointment” and “regret”.

Is a corporation responsible for the actions of every employee? Surely a company as large as Pizza Hut can’t be held accountable for the habits of the few? One lesson that can be learned from this story is the peril of expansion. With greater size comes cost. As the network expands the distances between the components becomes greater. Corporate Pizza Hut (based in Plano, Texas; owned by Pepsi and Yum! brands) must respond for each of its 160, 000+ employees.

With immensity comes more hazard. What is lost as one expands? Communication and awareness. I highly doubt the employee caught on camera concerned himself with the reputation of Pizza Hut. One wonders just how close he was to his own supervisor. Certainly a pizza shop where that type or behavior occurs is one lacking in supervision.

Unfortunately the costs of this expansion become massive in contemporary society. One rogue employee’s act becomes a global reflection on the brand. The internet is a highway of sharing and its streets are filled by cobblestones of rumor. Do we benefit from such revelations? Are these bad actors at the sinks now open to… exposure? Is there really no such thing as “bad press”? One wonders just how busy that Pizza Hut remains tonight? Are employees busy slicing pizzas or bored in their bewilderment. One wonders if they’ve gathered round that sink to ask themselves just why he did it and how quickly things can change.

Dreadful Drive

January 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given that its main ingredient is human imagination, paranoia is the most powerful of human motivators. Threaten the individual with an existential crisis and desperate measures are guaranteed to ensue. It’s an evil meal to muster: whether cooked for relationships, careers or reputations, paranoia winds itself from one idea into another.

Paranoia gains significant gusto from its use of human creativity. An initial situation is exaggerated and expanded so that minor problems become crisis. Twinged with paranoia the most minor of missteps quickly becomes conspiratorial plot. What one gains from such exaggeration seems likely tied to primal ways of life. Overzealous worry liked helped the human being hunted, but in today’s world we exist in a world of endless minor threats. Ambiguous language, both textual and body, create countless moments to second guess and wonder. For many, the daily minutia of corporate ways becomes a greatest drama.

How can one cope with paranoia? Its likely impossible given its wiring to our primal states. We may work to rationalize or to question, but we’ve little defense against our ancient tools. What protected us for centuries, and made it possible for our genes to exist these thousands of years later, was never cautious confidence. To be alive today is to be a latest link in a long chain of survivors. Perhaps we’re just the latest edition of the paranoid humanoid: always worried, but breathing nonetheless.

Relative Success

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

When a child yells, “I’ll be the greatest ever,” a parent might grin and pat her on the back and work to further an encouragement. And yet, while noble and respectable, much remains unsaid in such a statement. The greatest what? Certainly the greatest mob boss, terrorist or pornographer and what the parent had in mind. Success is relative and our notions of what defines it based on culture and the social norms within it.

Success is measured in many ways. Robin Hanson argues in this podcast that the ability to control is one of the most common. In our need to demonstrate our ability to control other people we invest significant amounts of time and energy. Minor tasks like picking what to eat or what to wear function less as decisions of detail and more as minor battles won in a war of control.

Worse yet is our tendency to measure the success of others via our own sense of success. A child might possess musical skills destined to make him the greatest rock guitarist of all time but what becomes of him if he is born to a great politician? Might a mother whose daughter shows signs of immense interest in baseball steer her otherwise for fear of some social stigma? How does a parent’s need to be perceived by others lead to manipulation and delusion of children. Many parents would likely shudder at the idea of their child becoming a gifted artist in some lewd activity. While many desire their child to have power, money and happiness they do with exception. Success is counted sweetest but only in some ways. Better to be poor and normal than successful in some weirdo way.

Impossible to Luddite

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Technological change comes fast. Consider the number of phone numbers you held in your memory a decade ago. Was it more? How has GPS affected your ability to give directions. Many often respond with “Do you have GPS?” when asked to give directions. Technology changes who we are and how we live.

But what of those who loathe technology and instead desire “good old days”? Is anyone capable of existing in a world divorced of technology? Technology is everywhere and impossible to avoid. From grocery stores to libraries every location in society has been affected by technology. One cannot be a Luddite now.

Perhaps most profound about technological change is this inability to avoid it. We need not own technology to be affected. Pew reported in 2013 that just 56% of Americans have smart phones. What of that 44%- are they floundering alone and lost in their world without a data plan and killer apps? Does the user of the “dumb phone” flounder in a world without GPS and data plans? Of course not. Technological change is inherent and profound.

Perils in Pursuits

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

For a select category of products, consumer trust defines the relationship. Mary buys kosher beef with the confidence that her religious beliefs are not contradicted in her use of the product. In a sense, her need for the product stems not from solely her desire; instead, she purchases the item because it allows her to meet religious expectations and deliver pleasure. There is a dual role for products in many transactions- situations in which consumer desire involves multiple needs and expectations.

Consider violations of this trust. Vegans are shocked to hear of animal by-products in Chipotle’s beans. Jewish consumers are stunned to find that their supposedly kosher beef contains horse. The examples are numerous and spread throughout time; though, what remains common with each is this common violation of consumer trust and expectation.

Product failure happens all the time. A battery dies or a pixel fades to black. Consumers have come to understand planned obsolescence and regularly buy new phones, devices and toys despite having working models. Capitalism benefits from this system as innovation drives progress for both consumer and manufacturer. Perhaps the ideal economy is a world in which this dance is perfectly balanced and paced.

Despite this sense of what defines ideal, a world of competition creates benefits to cheat. To cut corners means to reduce costs and severe competition leads to a world where all cuts are on the table. The recent horse meat scandal in Europe is a prime example of the dangers of complicated networks and expected low costs. Expand the network out and more links become involved.

As we work towards greater levels of global competition we will see more violations of this consumer trust. Despite a greater concern for public health, as seen in America’s Affordable Care Act, the networks from which our health and society function grow increasingly less concerned with users who consume. When price becomes priority and reducing it the most valuable accomplishment there are no limitations to the means to reduce cuts. What today may shock us as appalling will likely pale as we demand more for less and blind ourselves with complex networks.

Known Formerly Known As Known

October 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Popular culture offers two distinct techniques for artists seeking to exist as “alternative identities”. Musicians often do this- creating new characters from which a new style of music can be offered. Perhaps just sneaky marketing, these moves are often less about the music and more about the figure “behind the song.” Whether contemporary music is actually about music remains ripe for debate, but the methods used to advertise music and its makers remain. Ultimately music in popular culture is created and sold by distinct entities whose work to stay relevant involves complicated maneuvers to both maintain and evolve an image. We do not consume music without an awareness of its makers. Songs are linked to artists and albums are collected expressions of these makers.

Madonna and Lady Gaga utilize the first technique of alternative identity. New “personalities” are created and loaded with new types of clothing, makeup and stylings that act to contrast a previous form. Here an image is adjusted. New albums and new songs come packaged with a new type of talent. These artists often disavow a relationship with the previous characters and strive to cast this new creation as something different from the previous form. This is not an evolution on display: a disavowal of older forms suggests a desire to re-appear as relevant and smacks of less artistic notions and more a desperate attempt to re-seize the excitement of debut.

Bob Dylan best evokes the second technique of alternative identity: effusiveness. One never actually exists if the personality conveyed lacks distinct features. Dylan mumbles as he speaks, refuses to answer questions and avoids direct inquiry as much as possible. His albums do vary, but at their core still work towards the classic inspirations of his youth. Though Dylan often changes his appearance, his personality remains constant.

Jurassic Dreams

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

The United States government’s shutdown allows one to consider perks and perils of privatization. Privatize a National Park and get Jurassic Park? A private company is the only way that a fantasy land like that displayed in Jurassic Park could exist. The Federal government functions to “protect and preserve” the nation’s interior. While possible, a private company might think otherwise and function instead with the goal of customer desire.

What if the market demands a more exciting use of national landscapes? Do we need another waterfall to photograph? Might we benefit more from some white water rafting parks? Maybe that beautiful field is just perfect for a roller coaster. For some the goal of “preserving and protecting” is the most important role of the government. Save those sacred places for the future. Such glad handing strikes one as insulting- are we truly unable to resist some latest desires to destroy the landscape? Do such suggestions and goals underpin a belief that greedy capitalists will seek out any and all square inches for monopolization opportunities? Some seem convinced that Walmarts on every corner could actually happen.

A government that goes away allows us a moment to consider its value. Might some areas of government be reduced or eliminated? How might a world of less government work? Let’s consider areas where government might trade its role to industry. No, we still need some regulations as in meat inspection and the countless other areas of consumer protection. We do not need no government; but let us muse on where we might adjust. A little tweaking never hurt anyone.

Pre-Conditioned Curses

July 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Might a royal life be one of accursed drudgery and pain? Desires be damned in a life born into royal pomp and responsibility. The child king merely waits to take control. Nothing really matters when destiny is determined. By his very exit of the royal womb he initiates his first transition from royal portal to portal. From womb to tomb he will exist as the king to be and function less as individual and more social symbol.

The greatest tragedy in life is to become symbolic. To transcend the flesh occurs with two forms of individual: victims of crime and children of esteem. Whether by famous parents or the manipulation of another, an individual becomes divorced from his or her identity when society finds something more in one’s details of existence. The victim of the murder becomes meat for media consumption. As we most recently saw with Trayvon Martin, the media is adept and creating stories out of limited details. That which we know of Trayvon Martin stems not from our own personal experience but from the details the media provides. How much do we really know?

As the royal birth delivers the latest actor in the drama known as “British Monarchy” we start again the process of de-individualizing the person. Will this baby ever be provided with a unique identity? Will his personal desire ever be allowed to be considered? Certainly his fate has already been sealed, but how much will his individual personality be allowed to exist? One wonders whether the luxuries of a royal birth are outweighed by the inability to truly exist. Can a wealth of financial resources and opportunity function as enough or is a royal curse at play. If he’s never to emerge as the individual have we witnessed not the birth of a future king but a modern day slave cursed to pre-defined identity and denial of desire.

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