Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coming to Conclusions

Another reason why we're kind of doing a terrible job at things may be as follows: Ok, Americans have a view point on things. Anything really. We all do.

But rather then letting our view point develop based on incoming information, we find incoming information to support our view point. This is our confirmation bias! We seize and freeze on information that supports our conception of the world in the need for cognitive closure rather than put ourselves in places both physically and cognitively that allow our views to be shaped by novel information.

If you're conservative you'll turn to fox news for your information and make sure to not watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If your liberal, you'll watch the daily show perchance with a side of NPR and PBR if that's still the rage. In the raging smorgasbord that is our media, we can pick and choose what  information we'd like to be bathed  in and can enter our own echo chamber. There are so many choices!

Rather than trying to reach a valid reality, we put  ourselves in a world that  is our conceptualized creation. It's mostly masturbatory  Rather then being challenged by new ideas, we let ourselves "feel good" and get real riled up about something that must be true. Rather than take a different mental perspective or develop a sense of skepticism, we sheepishly follow our feelings and follow others that hold similar feelings to a place that makes us feel even more strongly about what we already thought was  true not knowing how we even got to this place to begin with.

So much Bias! There is even one called the google effect! Fuck...

As a society, we can't even begin to function if this is how we all behave. If we can't allow ourselves to open our schema of the world to be altered by facts and new information than there  is no way that we can come together as a populace to compromise, find common ground or effectively govern. The polarization we see in our politics, which is a major factor in our congress being petulant and ineffective is caused by our tendencies to let our viewpoints shape our empiricism, versus the other  way around. We should stop this. Nobody likes this sequestration, I don't know what it is, but having such an ineffective society that lends itself to having such ineffective representatives really just makes all of us feel flaccid. No one likes that!

Let information be your quilt that is weaved from a fabric of many colors, strands and textures... Yes...Take in it's variety and complexity rather then only a part of it. Otherwise, your quilt won't be as pretty and it's uniformity will fail in it ultimately warming you for some reason.... heed these words.

Please do this as I don't think our ability to govern and ultimately function can survive if we don't.  Twitter can help actually! This too!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why we are Failing

The question of societal failure, believe it or not, was a topic of my ranting at one point. This rant was mostly aimed at some kindred folk at MIT while we were eating pizza (that tasted like delicious) and I asked them why it was that so much attention and effort from so many smart people (dealing with gamma rays and the like) was being focused on a lot of things like Iphone apps and social media, and delving further into the digital age rather then dealing with issues like water scarcity or climate change.

It then turned out there was an On Point piece with Tom Ashbrook about this similar topic. The question was, whether as a society we were capable of solving the big challenges that maybe we once were. The big comparison was  putting a man on the Moon in the 60's during the Apollo Mission... would we  be able to do something on a similar scale today?

When NPR's most wiley journalist (Tommy A. of course) and my self are on the same page, you know somethings real wicked in the water and I get the chance to wallow in feelings of vindication!

Tom Ashbrook at the WBUR Gala Oct. 15, 2012. (Mary Flatley for Liz Linder Photography)Mary Flatley for Liz Linder Photography
This cat can ball!
As follows, I'd love to discuss some of the reasons, I believe (believe cause I stole the beliefs... you know... from other people) that we might be less capable of solving some of the global challenges of  our age today, then other generations in the past. Many more capable peoples have similar pieces to this, but at least mine will be guaranteed to have poorer punctuation.

I'd point out that much of what we accomplish today compared to what we used to  accomplish is fairly useless. The development of social media and our dive into the "digital age" are neat but often don't help us deal with our unmet needs (mind you sometimes they  do!). Sure  we can develop "angry birds" and "farmville", of course the sub-prime mortgage that was developed was great for everyone. But hear me out...

Just Destroying Everything we Hold Dear

No time on a digital device will:

  • Directly provide us the food we eat or allow us to eat.
  • Directly provide us with shelter.
  • Or provide clean water. 
  • Allow you to have a real physical connection with someone (unless there is google touch).
It's not reality and it's the world of reality, the real reality, that one needs to address in our day of age so wrought with issues. Until we transport our consciousness  inside "the Machine" as some say we should be hoping for, we need to deal with the big challenges that exist in the same realm as we do.

What our government has evolved into has disallowed us to deal with a lot of large issues. First off, let me state off by saying I don't think I'm a communist and do believe in the nature of the free market as the major driver of our economic growth. That being said, government that works well has allowed us to direct our efforts into accomplishing things  way larger  than we could on our own. Whether it be the Marshall Plan, curing Small Pox, Ensuring Civil Liberties for minorities, investing in huge and new forms of energy such as Hydroelectric dams or creating our interstate highways system. Our government has been this catalyst and tool to progress and invest in our nation.

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein is Pumped about Solving Societies Big Problems 

As we now have a government that is riddled with special interest groups and infused  with a vocal vocal minority of officials who in many ways want to destroy it, this major tool has lost much of it's efficacy. The free market can and does accomplish a lot.  However, so much of what needs to be accomplished isn't always financially feasible. Instead, we get so many billions of dollars spent on industries that provide goods that are instantaneously gratifying but are not beneficial to our populace. Government, when done well has been a major tool for us to solve big problems, but when so many people want to gut it in the name of lower taxes and their is an utter lack of participation, this tool becomes fickle.

The fact that we under fund our government, largely in the name of by allowing many of the wealthiest citizens to maintain much larger sums of their wealth, has done much to erode the infrastructure that allows for the foundations needed to have a strong economy and solve our large problems. Obama mentions some of this in his State of the Union address, but if our roads, bridges, utilities, basic research, Public transportation and educational systems are  not invested in, what do expect to be able to do to have a better functioning society, economy and populace?

He's Ready to Solve Big Problems with His Hoarded Wealth

Some of these global challenges might make worthy targets to solve via free enterprise, but many of our catastrophic problems; like stalling climate change or having access to fresh water, like ensuring that we do much better then having 1 out of 6 American children grow up in poverty or 925 million people in the world facing food shortages, or ensuring that we have space to live and that the Earth is able to maintain it's integrity as a habitable body and ensuring a more equitable world that is able to sustain progress, have yet to be solved by the free market, as they are just not ways that an organization can work to generate the short term profits that they need to justify their efforts.

One can Doubt that The Free Market can Stop These Horsemen
The changes in our generation in the times that they inhabit also has an effect on what we're  able to accomplish. I and many others would argue that  some of our sociability has declined in our world today. We spend less time directly in contact  with other people. I would gander that there is less time where large groups of people are physically associated together compared to earlier  times, and I believe this is due to  so much of our time  being spent in a more isolated state due to the influx of technology. We can connect with others, but often these others we connect with are not in places we can physically see them. We might be able to associate with others on reddit and tumblr, and share an interest, but you can't touch these folks and much is lost in the digital association. This in itself is more then enough of a barrier to allows us to mobilize in some form of collective action to address a big problem as it's just hard enough to get enough of us in one place now.

For many reasons, elaborated on below, I think the world is more tolerant of shameful behavior and doesn't value the need to behave honorably. The financial / housing crisis might be an indicator. We're more willing to do the wrong thing to make a  buck. One big reason for this is just the complexity and inter-connectivity of our  whole world. Vested powers can screw over people they don't see. They won't have  to face these people and see the repercussion of their actions.

If lots of other  people do crappy things, or choose to do the right thing,  we can always feel that it won't matter that much if we do the right thing. If enough people taint the collective good, then really why do the right thing? If we want to deal with climate change, it's so hard to do so  if you know that your changed behavior will matter very little unless millions of other people change their behavior is well. The tragedy of the commons is more then in full effect in our very global and often unfettered economy where certain sectors can very rapidly profit and be rewarded for often crappy behavior.

There  is also the common argument that growing up in such a digitally wired world full of texting and tweets cause us to have short attention spans! RAA! Try to see me read Faulkner, it wouldn't work!

Yippy Kay Yay Motherfucker!

Through the destruction of much of our government's capacity to function successfully, through changes  in our generation that affect our behavior as it is now and through the forces that are currently in play that influence our behavior, we have many strong obstacles in place to solve large but important challenges and more so then previous generations.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Price of our Marketing

As I sit in my here in a room that can only be described as "reeking of decay", suckling on a bottle of a generic brand of Peptmol Bismol in a futile effort to stem my heartburn, one can surely reflect that there are serious flaws in the nature of our global economy. I certainly won't have solutions or anything that can be labelled as constructive here, but I sure will gripe like a hormonal adolescent denied the privilege of sleeping over at a friends house by their parents as there might be members of the opposite sex present.

I'll be concise for the sake of everything really. Our free market is based at least on some precipice that players in this economy will behave rationally and in their best interest. Each person will purchase, consume, produce, trade, invest, in a way that logically is to their benefit. Having a free market that allows us to act logically with countless other players involved can drastically fuel our growth. As players purchase or sell for items that are logical to do so with or trade in a way that is mutually beneficial, the overall economy can grow. 

Look at all them actors behaving in the global economy!
The main problem with this is that we don't often behave that logically anymore in our economy. In our consumer based economy, we are continually using our funds to buy or purchase things that are not  that useful and are  thus not that logical to invest in. The major forces in play that cause irrational economic behavior is the billions of dollars spent on marketing (464 billion is one number given in 2011).

One might say that as actors, we're just  idiots if we act based on marketing versus our logical interest. To some extent now we have to develop our ability as a populace to find ways to give as little cognitive effort to much of this marketing. However, companies would not spend this sheer sum if it wasn't effective, and obviously decades of growth and research in the Marketing industry have made them very good. 

Look at what everyone is able to build through effective marketing strategies! Huzzah!

For many people, advertisements are probably one of the largest sources  of information (albeit skewed, biased, or sometimes blatantly false) that they receive billions of dollars are spent advertising to children as they then become a major influence on their parents to buy things and literally don't have parts of their brains to understand the falseness and ill logic of whatever message an ad is touting.

Every child comes out ahead after watching this ad!

Nothing that advanced here or new, except to say that so much of society is continually trying to fuck you. Everyday, message after message  in a wide swath of formats, colors, camouflages and guises, you are a target by some institution to spend money on something that wouldn't be that logical for you to spend money on. 

Much of this leads to success for multi-billion dollar industries in things that simply harm us as a society. The fast-food, tobacco, casino, soft-drinks industries; all multi-billion dollars in pedaling bad things. 

The crossroads where Marketing Av.and Strategy St. lead to horseshit lane (sorry not that clever/ productive)

People would counter that these industries thrives as consumers choose to but their products and thus it is the nature of humans to do this. I would counter that again, these are  industries that rely on effective marketing to be so prevalent in getting people to behave poorly for themselves. Mind you, these vices do attract to us in a basal way, but without the forces of marketing (and marketing to kids) their size would be inordinately smaller. Joseph Stiglitz, wrote similarly (as many others have I assume) in his hit and feisty piece "The Price of Inequality".

"...mainstream economics assumes that individuals have well defined preferences and fully rational expectations and perceptions. Individuals know what they want.But in this respect traditional economics is wrong. If it were true, there would be little scope for advertising. (147)"