Archive for ‘Money’

January 21, 2013

Rational Irrationality

Predictably Irrational

The Myth of the Rational Voter

The concept known as rational irrationality was popularized by economist Bryan Caplan in 2001 to reconcile the widespread existence of irrational behavior (particularly in the realms of religion and politics) with the assumption of rationality made by mainstream economics and game theory. The theory, along with its implications for democracy, was expanded upon by Caplan in his book ‘The Myth of the Rational Voter.’

The original purpose of the concept was to explain how (allegedly) detrimental policies could be implemented in a democracy, and unlike conventional public choice theory, Caplan posited that bad policies were selected by voters themselves. The theory has also been embraced by the ethical intuitionist philosopher Michael Huemer as an explanation for irrationality in politics. The theory has also been applied to explain religious belief.

January 18, 2013

Antagonist Movement

Antagonist Movement

barstool prohets

The Antagonist Movement is a cultural movement formed in New York City in 2000. The group grew out of desperation and in reaction to the New York art market. The movement primarily involves visual arts, literature, film, art manifestos and graphic design. It articulates its anti-commercial politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in the art market and focuses its efforts on creating non-commercial cultural works and venues. Its purpose is to ridicule the meaninglessness, superficiality and artificiality of the commercial art world. Antagonist activities have included public gatherings, demonstrations, the publication of art/literary journals, the production of documentary films, a clothing line, weekly art shows, writers nights, and a public access television show. For many of its members, the Movement is their protest against the established commercial art market in which there is little chance for unknown artists to succeed, regardless of how talented they may be. Based in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Antagonist Movement has participants in other US cities, Europe and South America. Influenced by the punk rock and pop art and by the Dada movement, the Antagonist Movement seeks to be inclusive of all forms of art and individual artist’s styles and expressions as long as the work provokes.

Ethan H. Minsker, Sergio Vega and Anders Olson first conceived of the Antagonist Movement while working in bars in the Lower East Side. They wanted to create an event that would also incorporate their individual passions: art, film, music and writing. The first art show was held in the basement of Niagara Bar in January 2000. It featured art by Minsker, Olson, and Dima Drjuchin. The owners of the bar asked the group to do this pop-up art event every Thursday for one year. They would end up doing these one-night art shows for over 11 years, showcasing the works of more than 3,000 up-and-coming artists. The Antagonists added live music to the events, such as Lisa Jaeggi and Vic Ruggiero. Minsker used film to document the larger events of the group and events held in other US cities and abroad. In 2002, the Antagonists began a writers night on Sunday nights at Black & White Bar in New York. The actor and comedian Jonah Hill was discovered performing at one of these events.

January 16, 2013

Utility Monster

Katamari Damacy

The utility monster is a thought experiment in the study of ethics. It was created by philosopher Robert Nozick in 1974 as a criticism of utilitarianism (which argues that the morally best action is the one that makes the most overall happiness or ‘utility’). In the thought experiment, a hypothetical being is proposed who receives as much or more utility from each additional unit of a resource he consumes as the first unit he consumes. In other words, the utility monster is not subject to diminishing marginal returns with regard to utility, but instead experiences constant marginal returns, or even increasing marginal returns.

Since ordinary people receive less utility with each additional unit consumed, if the utility monster existed, the doctrine of utilitarianism would justify the mistreatment and perhaps annihilation of everyone else, according to Nozick’s argument. In his words: ‘Utilitarian theory is embarrassed by the possibility of utility monsters who get enormously greater sums of utility from any sacrifice of others than these others lose . . . the theory seems to require that we all be sacrificed in the monster’s maw, in order to increase total utility.’ This thought experiment attempts to show that utilitarianism is not actually egalitarian, even though it appears to be at first glance.

January 10, 2013

Don’t Be Evil


Don’t be evil‘ was the formal corporate motto (or slogan) of Google. It was first suggested either by Google employee Paul Buchheit at a meeting about corporate values that took place in early 2000, or by Google Engineer Amit Patel in 1999. Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, said he ‘wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out,’ adding that the slogan was ‘also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent.’ While the official corporate philosophy of Google does not contain the words ‘Don’t be evil,’ they were included in the prospectus of Google’s 2004 IPO (a letter from Google’s founders, later called the ”Don’t Be Evil’ manifesto’): ‘Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.’

In their 2004 founders’ letter prior to their initial public offering, Larry Page and Sergey Brin explained that their ‘Don’t be evil’ culture prohibited conflicts of interest, and required objectivity and an absence of bias: Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions: medical, financial and many others. Our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating. We also display advertising, which we work hard to make relevant, and we label it clearly. This is similar to a well-run newspaper, where the advertisements are clear and the articles are not influenced by the advertisers’ payments. We believe it is important for everyone to have access to the best information and research, not only to the information people pay for you to see.’

January 8, 2013


Mottainai Grandma

Mottainai is a Japanese term meaning ‘a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized.’ The expression can be uttered alone as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted, meaning roughly ‘Oh, what a waste!’ In addition to its primary sense of ‘wasteful,’ the word is also used to mean ‘impious; irreverent’ or ‘more than one deserves.’ Mottainai in Japanese refers to far more than just physical waste (resources) as in other cultures. It can refer to wasted and wasteful efforts and actions, activities, time, souls, talents, emotion, minds, dreams, and potential. It is even used to refer to thought patterns that give rise to wasteful action. Mottainai activities commonly lead to anger or protest when the person who is observing the utter waste is incapable of holding back their emotions. Those who do not dwell on the negative and are resigned to move on are more capable of sadly regretting. It can also be used as an adjective phrase (‘it feels mottainai’). The collection of mottainai things could be called mottainai koto.

In ancient Japanese, mottainai had various meanings, including a sense of gratitude mixed with shame for receiving greater favor from a superior than is properly merited by one’s station in life. Buddhists traditionally used the term mottainai to indicate regret at the waste or misuse of something sacred or highly respected, such as religious objects or teaching. Today, the word is widely used in everyday life to indicate the waste of any material object, time, or other resource. Compare also the concept of tsukumogami ‘artifact spirit,’ which are said to live in old objects that have gained self-awareness and are angered if the object is thrown away wastefully.

January 8, 2013

The Story of Stuff

the story of stuff

The Story of Stuff is a 2007 short polemical animated documentary about the lifecycle of material goods. The documentary is critical of excessive consumerism and promotes sustainability. Filmmaker Annie Leonard wrote and narrated the film, which was funded by Tides Foundation, Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption, Free Range Studios and other foundations. The video divides up the materials economy into a system composed of extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. To articulate the problems in the system, Leonard adds people, the government, and corporations. Leonard’s thesis, ‘you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely’ is supported throughout the video by statistical data. Although the video itself doesn’t give attribution to her information, the producers provide an annotated script that includes footnotes with explanations and sources for some of her assertions. ‘We [The U.S.] have 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste.’ She cites Seitz (2001), who says, ‘…in 1990 the United States, with about 5 percent of the world’s population, was using about one-quarter of the energy being used by all nations.’

Leonard also quotes what Victor Lebow said in 1955 regarding economic growth: ‘Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.’ ‘The Story of Stuff’ has been subject to public discussion, especially after ‘The New York Times’ published a front page article about the video on May 10, 2009. The American Family Association says that the video is anti-consumer, and even anti-American because the video implies that Americans are greedy, selfish, cruel to the third world, and ‘use more than our share.’ Glenn Beck of Fox News characterized the video as an ‘anti-capitalist tale that unfortunately has virtually no facts correct.’

January 8, 2013

Philosophy of Futility


Consumerism by Winston Tseng

Philosophy of futility is a phrase coined by Columbia University marketing professor Paul Nystrom to describe the disposition caused by the monotony of the new industrial age. Nystrom observed the natural effect of this malaise was seeking gratification found in frivolous things, such as fashionable apparel and goods. This tendency, he theorized, could be used to increase consumption of fashionable goods and services, resulting in a vicious circle of dissatisfaction and the desire for new consumer goods. According to Nystrom’s ‘Economics of Fashion’ (1928), often cited by historians and analysts of marketing, consumerism, and commercialism: ‘One’s outlook on life and its purposes may greatly modify one’s attitude toward goods in which fashion is prominent.’

He continues, ‘At the present time, not a few people in western nations have departed from old-time standards of religion and philosophy, and having failed to develop forceful views to take their places, hold to something that may be called, for want of a better name, a philosophy of futility. This view of life (or lack of a view of life) involves a question as to the value of motives and purposes of the main human activities. There is ever a tendency to challenge the purpose of life itself. This lack of purpose in life has an effect on consumption similar to that of having a narrow life interest, that is, in concentrating human attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of fashionable consumption.’

January 8, 2013

Conspicuous Consumption

label whore


Conspicuous consumption refers to monies spent and goods and services acquired to publicly display economic power—either the buyer’s income or the buyer’s accumulated wealth. Sociologically, to the conspicuous consumer, such a public display of discretionary economic power is a means either of attaining or of maintaining a given social status. Moreover, ‘invidious consumption,’ a more specialized sociological term, denotes the deliberate conspicuous consumption of goods and services intended to provoke the envy of other people, as a means of displaying the buyer’s superior socio-economic status.

In the 19th century, the term was introduced by the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, in the book ‘The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions,’ to describe the behavioral characteristics of the nouveau riche (new rich) social class who emerged as a result of the accumulation of capital wealth during the Industrial Revolution. In that social and historical context, the term was narrowly applied to describe the men, women, and families of the upper class who applied their great wealth as a means of publicly manifesting their social power and prestige, be it real or perceived.

January 8, 2013

Packard Jennings

a day at the mall by Packard Jennings

Packard Jennings

Packard Jennings (b. 1970) is an American artist who appropriates pop culture symbols and references to create new meaning using a variety of media including printmaking, sculpture, animation, video, and pamphleteering. In his early career he modified billboards, a common practice of culture jammers. Jennings’s work often deals with the philosophy of anarchism, how it’s represented in the media, and the representation of a naive utopia primarily through primitivism, not to be confused with anarchism or anarchy.

He addressed consumer culture by creating a a fake corporation, the Centennial Society, as well as entire bodies of work that served as criticisms of Wal-Mart, the tobacco industry and the commodification of dissent. Jennings has made major contributions to the practice of ‘Shopdropping’ (a term coined around 2004 to describe the covert placing of art or propaganda into stores.) The earliest in 1998 with his ‘Walmart Project,’ which features 7 art products placed in Walmart Stores which are humorously critical of aspects of their business practice.

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January 7, 2013

Up Series

56 up

The Up Series is a series of documentary films produced by Granada Television that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. The documentary has had eight episodes spanning 49 years (one episode every seven years) and the documentary has been broadcast on both ITV and BBC.

The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child’s social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films material from those of the fourteen who choose to participate.

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