caution and love
May 29, 2013, 10:59 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , ,

thCAKASWLTOf all forms of caution, caution in love is perhaps the most fatal to true happiness.

Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness


feedback and failure: solutionism
May 28, 2013, 11:29 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

jouro.583.A favorite professor in architecture school – Prangnell – gave a favorite lecture on gifts.  He told us how making a building is like giving a gift, and how the motivations behind giving gifts closely parallel how we design for the public realm.

There are many ways of giving gifts:  give something I like; give something I think she will like; give something I want him to like; give to assuage an emotion, like guilt or longing; give to feel better about myself; give to increase attention and a feeling of love; give to show off a sense of taste or wealth.

Prangnell’s lecture was better than mine is turning out to be; but of course his point is that giving a gift well is an act replete with intentionality and emotion: of not knowing, of empathy, of deciding and acting and of hope:  that this thing will delight or ignite a passion or spark a memory, or unite us in some way.

Following is a dystopian view of giving gifts in which the joy of not knowing, the pleasure and pain of thinking, choosing, doing, risking and giving are all removed.  By none other than the kings of social media – and who knows maybe soon also the world –  facebook.

From Morozov, The Perils of Perfection:

LAST month Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s former marketing director, enthused about a trendy app to “crowdsource absolutely every decision in your life.” Called Seesaw, the app lets you run instant polls of your friends and ask for advice on anything: what wedding dress to buy, what latte drink to order and soon, perhaps, what political candidate to support. Seesaw offers an interesting twist on how we think about feedback and failure. It used to be that we bought things to impress our friends, fully aware that they might not like our purchases. Now this logic is inverted: if something impresses our friends, we buy it. The risks of rejection have been minimized; we know well in advance how many Facebook “likes” our every decision would accumulate. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher who celebrated the anguish of decision as a hallmark of responsibility, has no place in Silicon Valley. Whatever their contribution to our maturity as human beings, decisions also bring out pain and, faced with a choice between maturity and pain-minimization, Continue reading

good taste is often in bad taste
May 25, 2013, 8:47 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

house-good-taste-contemporaryThis is Granta editor John Freeman offering a clear and challenging definition of taste.  I studied literature and design, both of which are disciplines heavily invested in taste as an idea and also no doubt as a commodity.  I came to see taste as the safe, prescribed, status quo solution.

Freeman thinks otherwise.  In his definition he says taste is loyal and unfaithful: so, contradictory and unpredictable.  It is not safe nor prescribed but an anti establishment stance.  He says:

Could my job have been done by a computer? I suspect someone at Google or Amazon would say yes – why don’t all creative writing students upload their files to a server and let a program look at their language and score its uniqueness? The reason we care about taste, however, is because it is a human trait. Good taste is erratic, irrational, passionate, wrong-headed, determined, loyal, unfaithful, grumpy and pleased with itself. Good taste is often in bad taste. It is foul-mouthed, marginal, irreverent, unpatriotic, and deeply inappropriate. You know it when you see it.

Then and now: Granta’s best young British novelists, John Freeman, The Guardian

Read the linked article Then and Now at the Guardian on four decades of British novelists.

the odd homo economicus

comprendiendo-el-verdadero-valor-del-dolarHomo Economicus sounds urbane but is really more of a hick.  He wears blue suits, but disapproves of civilizing constructs like the law.  You could safely call him provincial and nativist.

But the economic man isn’t just a rube; he is really the dominant, everyman figure in contemporary life.  Perhaps it is the slick exterior which has convinced us that Homo Economicus – you could also call him theamericanmba – is the great model figure we are to emulate in our own lives.  Slickness and every last economics department in every university the world over for the past half century.

This is a reductive view.  A life well lived draws from other wells – not just the money and status well, and Economic Man in this view is an oddity.

From an article in the mouthpiece of Homo Economicus the Economist:

“SOVEREIGN in tastes, steely-eyed and point-on in perception of risk, and relentless in maximisation of happiness.” This was Daniel McFadden’s memorable summation, in 2006, of the idea of Everyman held by economists. That this description is unlike any real person was Mr McFadden’s point. The Nobel prizewinning economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wryly termed homo economicus “a rare species”. In his latest paper* he outlines a “new science of pleasure”, in which he argues that economics should draw much more heavily on fields such as psychology, neuroscience and anthropology. He wants economists to accept that evidence from other disciplines does not just explain those bits of behaviour that do not fit the standard models. Rather, what economists consider anomalous is the norm. Homo economicus, not his fallible counterpart, is the oddity.

The Debt to Pleasure, The Economist

via Reason & Existenz

the unschematized existence

bank of london buenos aires clorindo testaTimely, predictable, exact, intellectual, modern, money:  the qualities and modes by which we live in the modern city; which squash the irrational, instinctive, sovereign world of contemplation and inner awareness.  Great artists have taken issue with the life of the city for this reason.  Urban life, which I love, becomes a tension between the two; one must not let the schematized overwhelm.

By Georg Simmel:

“Punctuality, calculability, exactness are forced upon life by the complexity and extension of metropolitan existence are not only most intimately connected with its money economy and intellectual character. These traits must also color the contents of life and favor the exclusion of those irrational, instinctive, sovereign traits and impulses which aim at determining the mode of life from within, instead of receiving the general and precisely schematized form of life from without. Even those sovereign types of personality, characterized by irrational impulses, are by no means impossible in the city, they are, nevertheless, opposed to typical city life. The passionate hatred of men like Ruskin and Nietzsche for the metropolis is understandable in these terms. Their natures discovered the value of life alone in the unschematized existence which cannot be defined with precision for all alike. From the same source of this hatred of the metropolis surged their hatred of money economy and the intellectualism of modern existence.”

-Georg Simmel “Metropolis and Mental Life”

notes from dystopia