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Posts Tagged ‘subjectivity’

Incentivized to Action

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Maybe understanding the reasons why people do things isn’t all that difficult. Maybe we’re not as complicated as we claim to be? Do our motivations say less about who we are and more about what we stand to gain? Can we ever act without that simple question, “What’s in it for me” being at the heart of all we do? In the end, all things boil down to this simple state of affairs: what do we stand to gain in doing what we do?

To consider the incentives for action is to seek answers to this question. We do not act without incentives; though, in some cases, hidden or delayed incentives may mask our true intentions. Does one donate blood only for the good of other people? At some level that blood donor senses an incentive to give: maybe pride or maybe just a free cookie- no matter what its a personal perk that drives intention.

Of course these incentives are far from simple. Great sacrifices often accompany our actions and a simplified observation that incentives run all decisions paints a very dire, cynical image of the world. Do we limit our perspectives of society by thinking in such terms? Perhaps a better model recognizes incentives as powerful triggers and mirrors. Incentives both drive future action and mirror what makes us work.

The binary of “carrot versus stick” is often used to consider programs to drive action. Prod with the stick in the form of taxes, punishment or denied pleasure. On the other hand, the carrot here is a reward or gift for action. One who wants a group of people to stop smoking might make insurance more expensive or provide free counseling. The choice remains with leadership and depends on a philosophy of motivation. What makes people change? Is it fear of punishment or desire for reward?

Slippery Words

September 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Political skill revolves around a slippery use of language. When “civilian casualties” becomes “collateral damage” we double dilute our meaning by turning the death of innocent human beings into vague, fuzzy notions. What is collateral or citizens for that matter? The blood on the pavement is horror realized and the only way to come to terms with its existence is to muddle and hide. For those tasked with maintaining order or whose actions lead to such situations, a distortion of language might be less about the audience and more the interior of the speaker.

How do evildoers come to terms with what they do? Is evil a quality of being able to disregard disgusting acts? Kant’s categorical imperative can be simplified to ask, “If everyone else does what I do, can society function?” It expands the actions of one to the group as a whole. Doing so reveals how certain things that occur on a small-scale can only occur without damage at the small-scale. If we all disregard the speed limit the roads will be chaos, but a few speeders can be tolerated.

Likewise a manipulation of language can only occur on the small-scale. When leaders distort language there must be figures who correct them. Not all will be capable of this action and those who cannot are likely to fall victim to the distortion. The strength of society lies in those who refuse to be manipulated and utilize critical thinking to respond to what occurs. One can think but action is required. Extending beyond the ivory tower is the real act of heroism. Your papers may be published and thousands may re-tweet, like and favor but all is naught is nothing is done.

Interpretive Aging

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

When a piece of art is created, it stands as a document of its time. Inside a novel we enter a world constructed by an author. Moral concepts become instilled inside its pages along with details of everyday life: what type pf technology did they use and how did they exist? Seemingly mundane details become a record of “how things were” and function to provide a reader in the future with a sense of history.

One interprets art from this “future looking backwards” perspective. The art exist as a relic of the past, but in our interpretation we apply contemporary perspectives to historical documents. Whether we do so objectively remains unclear, but each reader evaluates the ideas of a novel with his or her perspectives. Standards of morality become tools to evaluate the morality of the characters in this works of art.

In evaluating works of art we garnish value on the basis of an unfair standard. Are the characters interesting to our contemporary ideas? Are their actions ethical or do they disgust us with their ideas. Many works of art fall victim to their contents: characters are racist or sexist or display behaviors that seem downright absurd. Time has the ability of making serious art into farce and farce into profound documents of record.

For some works of art, times functions to nominate material to the canon. What work deserves to be passed on to future generations? What is worth our reading time now in this “busy world of now.” For the great works we find time to give our time and attention. While some work lasts forever, it is a rare gift bestowed on works of art. Often we grow distant from works of old but only on the basis of their ideas. To no fault of their makers, some works of art grow stale with time. All art must evolve with the audience but does so with the curse of textual permanence. The greatest works of generations past often become drivel or, worst of all, documents of shame wherein times of old seem offensive and ignorant.

Towards A Larger Something

July 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Do all humans need something larger to believe in? Where religion falls victim to doubt and atheism takes hold the individual simply replaces one faith with another. It is often suggested that where the religious take confidence in figures like Christ, Moses and Mohammed the atheist community forms similar connects to Darwin, Marx and Shakespeare. In each “great man” the follower invests hope and the search for purpose. If every human needs guidance in “how to live” where might one find a greater sense of purpose beyond these larger figures? Is it possible to live beyond this need for something more? Is a greater power the only real source of sense in a life of seeming futility?

Some might question the importance of these important figures. Surely Shakespeare can be respected, but to serve as a God-like smacks of exaggeration. How might Darwin play a religious like role for the non-religious? When one’s ideas become foundational to existence than these powerful roles take hold. As Jesus framed a model for existence, Darwin has come to represent a way of thinking and seeing the world. The movement from basic theories to broad, life-guiding theories transcends the individual to a religious figure. The prophet is one who provides profound insight in a world of endless confusion.

What of the events that celebrate common bonds and aim to establish greater sense of community? Is the church service replaced by conventions or concerts? Does not one find common bonds with fellow human beings at the rock concert? The similarities are striking if one considers forms of dress, directions of focus and use of music. One might find it difficult to delineate where the differences stand and where the music concert inspired the church service and vice versa. Both have common goals and common means to a success. Certainly both events serve the purpose of bringing seemingly diverse people together for a common goal. No matter the ends of these events, the means to group cohesion are very similar. All humans seem determined to find a greater sense of purpose and seek it out in varied forms and places.

Hexing Text

July 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Orwell helped us see how illegitimate power manipulated language to gain power. The euphemism is the common tool in use: “nice words” made to replace nasty ones help dull and hide reality. It’s never “civilian casualties” coming from the mouth of leadership; instead, its “collateral damage” or “purging” to refer to the removal of those deemed undesirable.

One can recognize this manipulation of language as a signpost to hazard. Any group which seeks to distort meaning does so with a limited set of goals in mind. For what purpose would one actively work to change meaning? A manipulation of the very means of communication strikes at the heart of anyone who uses it. Communication means collaboration and where ideas are given means to expand a threat may come to life. Indeed the very Tower of Babel tale reminds us that even seemingly insurmountable power may sometimes feel threatened by words.

Where language is distorted a tyrant is at play. Any group that seeks to polish communication does so as a means to distance one from truth. In the stark clarity of truth lies a purity of language. To distort language is to confuse the means to speak.

Templates Made for Rude

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

When offended or placed into a position of heightened emotion we often slip into common forms of speech. Perhaps it is the loss of control in these moments that leave us less cognitively capable, but can we actually apologize. Consider the tirades of exasperation where a person speaks with racist terms. Both disgusted and stunned, some friends may hear these words and think “I never knew she thought like that.” And yet how might we evaluate the accuracy of these statements? Might the moment of emotion with its lack of control allow for some understanding? Can we gift empathy in times of chaos?

While many deny racist or sexist opinions, all people are aware of terms and attitudes related to these attitudes. It does not take a racist to know what a racist statement is. In our ability to identify “bad behavior” we identify ourselves as those aware of the unpure. We’re not as bad by knowing but we’re certainly not pure.

When chaos strikes and an individual reacts there is an opportunity to react. If pressed too hard the individual might react in ways beyond expectation. Human emotions often leave reason behind and give way to actions that birth greater regret and pain. Might we gain a better understanding by observing these figures and their actions? Is the secret racist revealed in her ravings or are we better served by a recognition of emotion’s power. Though we know of evil deeds we try our best to be our best. Weak though we are and as capable of failing as anyone, we can only react to what life presents us with.

Beyond Apology

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Certain individuals achieve a heightened level in society that renders bad deeds beyond apology. The Celebrity X whose racial epithets become public or the popular singer whose demands appear monumentally selfish. These are the figures whose fall comes just as fast as their rise: born via media attention they fall away in flames as the very beast that allowed them platform falls away and leaves them desperate.

Unfortunately the skills that give birth to additional attention do not provide the ability to control message. Celebrity X may write a great song or cook a great dish, but if he or she cannot control behavior than very little remains safe. Protection comes cheap in a world of public attention and a citizenry fascinated with a rapid rise is just as entertained by a rapid fall. The flames that kiss so often burn to ash.

When an individual achieves celebrity status, he or she transcends their human form and becomes a symbol. Is the Celebrity Chef really a human being or is her existence less about who she is and more what she brings to those who give her platform. Comedian Marc Maron often simplifies the process of celebrity making as essentially determined by a single question: “Have you made me money?” Those that do are granted attention because they provide the source with profit. Advertising runs media and anyone who fails to provide this capital or tarnish a networks ability to profit risks annihilation.

When the celebrity does violate the brand and his or her image has been destroyed there is little that remains. Damage to one’s reputation is damage to the brand. The Celebrity Chef may try to apologize but her position has been eliminated. She has violated the image and tarnished brand. Try though she might she has little left to save: the meals been burnt and her tables long been cleared.

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