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Posts Tagged ‘money’

Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

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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.

Commerical Box of Soap

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

The image of a speaker on a soap box is one of the most profound images of democracy. The rugged individual, determined to be heard, climbs a box and uses it to better address the crowd. This image of a “platform” now expands to include social media sites like Facebook where individuals use the site to share ideas. Create a game on Facebook’s platform and one has access to a user base of billions. Many see this as a definite benefit: it’s where the users are and the most efficient way to reach an audience. And while this is true, it is important to distinguish Facebook’s platform from the classic image from which the term “platform” derived.

Facebook is a commercial medium. It exists to make money for its creators and strives constantly to expand its use to as-yet unknown streams of revenue. New apps are new opportunities: both for creators and for Facebook who use its giant network to distribute and collect. Herein lies the power imbalance at the heart of the relationship. For while Facebook provides access to the user base, maintains its existence and popularity, the user engaged on Facebook retains minimal rights in his or her creation. Agree to distribute your ideas on Facebook and you engaged in a trade: significant details of ownership for access to a massive user base.

When one publishes on Facebook, or any social media sites, he or she forfeits significant rights of ownership. What do these platforms say for potential intellectual endeavors? If great creations must utilize corporate platforms to gain access is something lost? In essence we have a system where, in another domain, a chef must launch his own restaurant inside McDonald’s. Yes, he’ll have access to a massive user-base and a popular platform to launch, but what is lost for what is gained?

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.

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.

Utility of Choices

June 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Just as our decisions reflect back on who we are, the utility of these choices has suggestive power. We learn more about who we are when we consider what we purchase and the reasons beyond our thinking. In Fight Club, Brad Pitt’s character admonishes us by saying “You are not your fucking khakis,” but how accurate is this statement? Are we not, in some minor sense, our purchases?

Everything we buy exists in multiple domains. A pair of Dockers khakis are at once khakis and symbols of our culture, perceived social status and the characterization of ourselves we wish to present to the world. Certainly the individual wearing a pair of khakis is seeking to suggest something different from an individual wearing frayed jeans. We benefit in our ability to use these varied symbols as we need to: everyone can wear khakis or jeans and do so on the basis of what the moment demands.

It is in this deployment of choice that we can learn so much. If each of us can posses the varied means of communication than it is in the application and selection that the real communication takes place. What pants does he wear and when? Pants are just one example of this ability to communicate. Similar options exist in what we eat, where we live and even what we choose to view on television. All aspects of life come with options and it is in the selection that the individual is revealed.

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