Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Idea One: Ordinary Causes

Ordinary causes is an idea shown to me that I employ all the time when thinking about and trying to manage my life. It was introduced to me by Rod, Honda's training manager along with a lot of concepts but this one particularly stuck with me. Though not as impressive as NLP, it's one just about anybody can do, by simply reframing their thinking.

It is a simple realisation, that once accepted or assumed as fact enables you to gain some semblance of control over your life.

Enough preamble, what is it?

Say you have a machine that makes widgets or doo-dads. It can do so much manufacturing in a year, but it doesn't seem to do as well as it's supposed to. We tend to think of things cutting production as breakdowns, workplace accidents, things catching on fire. Alarms go off, workers march out into an assembly area, money is lost, quotas missed, it's all obviously fucked up.

These kinds of catastrophes are designated as 'special causes', and they are easy to identify and often have warnign systems and alarm bells built into them. Taking it out of the context of industrial economics, special causes in other aspects of life are things like - deaths in the family, car crashes, weddings, births, cancer, assualt, rape, psychotic episodes, winning the lottery and seeing double rainbows all the way across the sky.

They are rare, and considered 'high impact' events.

The key point is though, that special causes generally account for 10% of lost productivity in any system, 90% is the elusive and overlooked 'ordinary causes'. I think similarly, while major events can have a profound impact on your life, I imagine in the long run they contribute little to the quality of your life, as little as 10% compared to the 90% contributed by the constitution of your day to day life.

So going back to our machine in the factory inefficiently churning out doo-dads or widgets, 90% of the lost productivity is due to the everyday routine operation of the machine. It just isn't designed right, the workers aren't using it properly, it isn't maintained properly etc.

I once had a management consultant giving a guest lecture in my first university degree claim that '9 out of 10 times (90%) the issue in any organisation boils down to two people not liking eachother' for me, this is an example of an ordinary cause come to life.

The consultants making the big bucks generally do so, because they are looking for the ordinary cause, when everyone else is biased towards the special.

It's the same with the old question of: 'Plane Crash, Office Bombing, Shark Attack & Swimming Pool: which one doesn't belong?' where the answer is - Swimming Pool, it's the only one likely to kill you.

The bias towards special causes leads of course to overinvestment in things that aren't really going to impact our daily lives. Of course in the rare event of a plane being used as a bomb on your office (911) it is not to say that having a loved one killed, or being killed isn't an event of huge impact on your life. However the response to the special event was a society wide one, and as a society terrorism is a borderline negligable concern.

It's impact of course is greatly symbolic, the public reaction predictable and the response almost inevitable. The point being that until US citizens were put in the line of fire by being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, it was likely that on your average day (ie, not the 11th of September, 2001) Ford Motor Company killed more Americans (or allies) than Al Kaeda did. Same is true of Jack Daniels, or Mahlboro, or even probably the unlikely combination of Jack Daniels and Ford Motor Company.

The point being that we tend to get outraged and demand a ceasation of a malicious organisation deliberately planning to hurt and destroy the lives of many people, compared to the everyday impact of a company simply designing cars that aren't as safe as they possibly could be, and road rules not being designed and enforced as well as they could be.

And they would be, if we invested our energy and resources into addressing the impacts of the ordinary day to day things with the same urgency and attention we put on special once off events.

It isn't an intuitive mindset though. Firstly, the ordinary things dragging us down or holding us back are hard to notice, because they are things that make up the background noise of our lives.

Let's make it personal, rather than somewhat usellessly, societal. When thinking about how to improve the quality of our lives, I would wager we tend to fantasize up solutions that involve moving to some exotic new city, getting a big breakthrough in our careers, meeting our soulmate, buying/building a dream home etc.

There's no doubt such things have an impact, and I wouldn't even go as far as to say that just plain old stupid luck can rescue and damn some people in their lives through no effort or energy of their own. I just feel though that expecting to get a lucky break (and conversely managing to avoid any great catastrophe) leaves you with nothing to do in the meantime and is kind of a stupid approach to life in the same way that expecting to win the lottery is a dumb way to plan your retirement.

Take two hypothetical people, they both have a well paid but ultimately unsatisfying job. The first person tries to improve the quality of their life by sticking with the job and saving up for a dream holiday using all four weeks of annual leave. The second person looks for a job better suited to them.

If ordinary causes apply, the second person will improve their quality of life much more dramatically than the first.

Let's keep following the first person. They go on their dream holiday and they get assualted and have their wallet stolen, resulting in an unpleasant experience and an unpleasant finish to their holiday. Their mother never encouraged them to pursue their interests.

If ordinary causes apply, being assualted on holiday probably has less impact on their quality of life, over their lifetime than the lack of encouragement from their mother.

Not that this isn't abuse from a parent, physical nor psychological, simply a parental oversight, the same sort of oversight made by most people we know and encounter and only made important because of the parent-child bonds, the duration of the relationship, and early child development. Surely nobody would raise an eyebrow to the statement 'Jim in accounts has never encouraged me to pursue my interests' but then again, we also shouldn't underestimate the impact it would have on our quality of life if Jim from accounts did encourage us to pursue our interests.

This then is the power of ordinary causes. It's just an operating theory to me, based largely on self observation, but if you understand the potential impact of those ordinary non-pressing routine elements of our life you can address them aggressively and free up time and energy to handle those big events that come up infrequently and often unexpectantly.

Prioritising the ordinary, makes you more effective at handling the special.

I literally have somewhere (I haven't had to look at it for a long time) a very long list of people I should spend my free time with, and a very (very) short list of people I should actively (or at least passively) avoid. For me the people I do and don't spend time with is the biggest determinant of not just my happiness but also my success in the ventures important to me.

But other ordinary shit that has a huge impact is stuff like saving, having savings can smooth over unexpected catastrophes or allow you to seize unexpected opportunities. Same goes for diet (which I am terrible at) but what you eat every day can have a much bigger impact on your wellbeing than managing to go skiing without breaking a limb.

Probably one of the best examples, and by pure accident, of my managing away an ordinary cause was when I started cycling to work at Honda. It ensured that I always started my days on an endorphin high, as oppossed to being stressed out by peak our traffic (or shitty public transport) and furthermore it got me noticed. The bosses all thought I was some fit energetic young go-getter, as far as I'm aware, riding a bike to work is also a much more effective and much less expensive way to get recognised for your ride.

There's no real end to it either, and that is the beauty of having an ordinary cause-biased mindset. What is the impact on your career of deciding to read at night rather than watch TV? What is the impact on your career by transferring into a department of a great manager rather than sticking with your shitty manager? What is the impact on your quality of life (and career) by renting a great inner city apartment versus buying on the outskirts of a ring road? What is the difference to your esteam by eating home cooked meals versus buying takeout every night? What is the impact on your energy, by going to your friends birthday party versus staying home and going to bed?

If I'm really fucking honest, sometimes I have to laugh at the some of the lavish placebo's people chase in order to numb the pain of their existence. It's like paying for sex with a hooker to distract you from the hot coals you are standing on. Just step off the hot coals.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Terror and Paralysis

I'm terrified and it's paralysed me from doing something. I retreat to some imagined limbo in which I'm comfortable and time ticks by, pointlessly ticking. I'm not used to being dissabled like this, it's not unusual but it is rare. I want this time though to force myself through it. So that's what I intend to do. Just not today, I have given up on today already. Let me live with my own self defeat another night.

fuck me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I'm doing something right part twix

I folded and was putting away laundry before a dinner party last night, (I normally use the super effecient 'floordrobe' system) and realised my drawers are like this:

1. White shirts.
2. Colour shirts.
3. Athletic gear.

Then I have like a big basket for shorts. And then a big basket for socks and underwear, and then coathangers for my now extensive jacket collection.

I have no real people clothes. This came to light in a fine dining experience last week, where I was supposed to dress up in formal attire, you know... in order to eat food, and realised I've been able to indulge myself for so long now, I don't even own dress shoes. Or neck ties. Or jackets. and my suit pants, I got them made in China with 90's style drop crotch, so even they are kind of a joke.

At any rate, I think there was a Leunig cartoon that's punchline was 'the distance any man is from happiness can be measured by laying his neck ties end to end' I gotta be pretty close.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Anger, Anxiety

The past couple of weeks have been interesting, in that I have been feeling a range of emotions I don't normally experience. These could be described generally as 'negative'.

I mean sure, we all, everybody feels negative emotions from time to time, but its all a matter of degree and I largely don't spend much time feeling negative.

But in the next couple of days, I have to do something that I am anxious about, and it's been maybe a year and a half or two since I've had to do anything like that. I feel quesy, and strangely for me, pessimistic. I will have to draw on my Musashi inspired resolve and get my higher brain functions to force my lower brain functions through the necessary actions. I rarely have to do this. As sick as I feel now, and will until it is done and increasingly as the doing draws nearer, at some intellectual level, I enjoy this.

I also have plans. BIG plans, for my next exhibition. Just really need to secure the space. I am so very excited about it, and I'm resurrecting superfluous h, and while there is no replacing John I have a couple of artists lined up to jam with that combined should provide something interesting. And hopefully I can tie superfluous h into my next exhibition and perform at it. It's so exciting.

And in the meantime, I just have to keep working, grinding, away at this musical production I committed to way back in December last year. And it's probably more work than my first exhibition and second exhibition combined. And the more time I spend on it, the more it just feels like work, and I can't get it clicking and I've come to hate, HATE the source material.

My life currently and perpetually feels like I am stuck on a 8 hour bus ride as a supervising teacher to a bunch of really dumb kids and the chair is digging into my back. I am constantly simmering with anger, the rest of my life has simply fallen apart, I am barely even looking after myself and...

I kind of enjoy being angry. I haven't had any boil overs yet. I always assumed that if I ever snapped I would stay calm and just kill a bunch of people. You know, go crazy not angry. But there's been no boil over. Just this constant buzz where I'm not going to let anybody get away with any shit on me, I'm going to vent. I kind of enjoy this venting. I enjoy trying to channel it into positive directions.

My favorite collaborator for example sent me a self doubting email in regards to our latest collaboration, so I shot back an intensely worded lecture on what a genius he is. Fuck it, I have no patience for insecurity in my current state.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I must be doing something right 1

I don't know what day of the week it was, but I went home ate pizza and watched a DVD, practicing in front of the TV. Then without sitting at my computer I just went to sleep didn't even read a book.

It felt like such a rare window of opportunity. There have been other times in my life where the knowledge I had nothing to do that night has made me want to cry. But when you are just aching all over, fatigued to the point of lashing out at people, and the best thing you can imagine doing on a friday night is sleeping.

Then I think I'm doing something right.

I am actually an introvert, just not a very good one. But I've been pursuing for some 6 years now, longer than this blog a life I can be proud of, that I feel value in. And now I'm at the point where often I am more likely to have 2-3 things to go to on any given night than nothing.

Having nothing to do, no place I would be better off being is like a solar eclipse at the moment, heavenly bodies just have to align.

And what's more I do all this pretty much sober and always drug free. Party-animal I am not. There is just so much good shit going on all the time. The sad irony of globalisation is that there is so much more to do in Melbourne on a tuesday night than there is quality programming to stream from project-free tv or something.

But unless I paint a glamourous picture of myself. I do most shit very much on my lonesome, if I needed somebody to hold my hand to check out a gig, exhibit or whatever I'd never go to anything. That's the introvert advantage though, I am somewhat contented to just stand in a corner being quiet. And when you go to enough stuff you are tired enough to not care how you look, whilst your mind becomes more receptive to what you are seeing and hearing.

You also need a bike, a bike enables you to get from Carlton to Saint Kilda in 30-45 minutes, From Northcote to Carlton in 15, whereas that may be just your wait for a tram on a sunday night where you just about have to go into the city to get back out again.

Then inevitably your appearances can become tokenistic. But what of it? Clashes are in fact rare, and making an appearance is always better than skipping out.

The thing I think I do right, is that I go when I'm tired. Tired is not an excuse to not go to anything. It might be my cross country running history, but tired just means more energy is required. I make my decision to go to something when I see the poster, or get a facebook invite. That makes it easy when I'm tired and shitty on the night.

I've been going on average to two gigs a week for about 2 years now, and at the moment it's more like 4. About a year ago I observed I never regretted dragging myself to a gig. It remains true.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Falsifiable Theorem

Ah, innovation I hate you.

Anyway, hopefully this post will be in some kind of readable format.

So when questioning if you can succeed, whether success is even possible at some point I feel in whatever endeavor that success or failure is going to be determined by other people.

It doesn't have to be, I mean you have two types of endeavor, one where you are just proving shit to yourself eg. can I run a marathon? Those are easy, easy to achieve, you just have to do it. All you need is feet and google maps or something to figure out a 42km course.

The other endeavor though is one where your success is determined by the reception of other people. The arts basically all depends on an audience of some kind, or will usually involve an audiance. Art is generally created for an audience.

And whatever you want them to feel, think etc. You want that audience to be there.

So you hatch a theorem 'will anybody support my art.' and this theorem can be falsified.

I imagine in some way shape or form this test has been adopted by all artists, this theorem formulated and speculated upon in their mind.

There's an easy and hard way to falsify/validate this theorem, the hard way is the most popular. It involves honing and practing your given art in dark lonely studios, printing posters and sticking them up around town, 'viral marketing' through 'social media'. Trying to attract an audience to your art.

The hard way is popular. The easy way is easier. Find some proxy art, then go and support it. By being in an audience, you prove that supportive people exist. This easy way is what Ghandi so famously said in what has become perhaps too easily dismissed cliche 'be the change you want to see in the world.'

Go to things, go see things, see and understand why people go to see things. Create new and more exciting falsifiable theorems. Expand your knowledge.

I mean if you don't support art, how are you ever supposed to figure out why people would support yours?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Punk punk pu punk pu punk punk

Okay so blogger got it'self a new look in the tradition of needless innovation that is the true legacy of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. So I'm trying to type between the incomprehensible html code or something today, which was not intuitive at all and hopefully this post will come out somewhat readable unlike the past 10 or so I wasn't really aware where coming out like the unedited streams of consciousness my mental prostate has swollen and prevented from ever actually happening. With that - Punk! What is it? Well if you have say 4 hours, you could read the wikipedia page. And then write some kind of social anthropological thesis on it. But basically it was the music that emerged in the 70's with the Ramones and Sex Pistols, then again in the early 90's with Green Day, dissappeared for about 5 years, then reappered with Blink 182, Sum 41 etc. That is of course the tip's of icebergs visible from the decks of the goodship mainstream. Of course, like breakdancing went away to france and korea between 1989 and 2005, Punk never dies it is almost always underground in the substratem. Now I will maintain if you open your mind you can find good shit in any genre of music, so long as you are just receptive to it. Most shit I don't like because I just don't 'get it', punk I get, but it took me really long to like it. Like I liked Green Day, but when Dookie came out it was 1993, I was in Grade 4. Of course it was really cool to me then, the idea of colouring your hair was like textas could work on real life and not just paper. Helen Raiser was a host on Breakfast JJJ with Mikey Robbins. She sounded like she was 16 years old in my imagination a phenomanally old and mature age in the world beyond primary school, a world I simply hadn't bothered to understand. (I found out about secondary school when my brother went there in grade 5. I had assumed he would start driving some kind of utility vehicle and having kids post grade 6, how little I knew of the world). Helen Raiser did the voiceover for the TV ad for Dookie, telling me to 'Get it, or get lost' the paradime shift of getting it - get lost was not lost on my pre-adolescent mind. This was my introduction to punk. But it isn't a fair introduction to punk. Green Day may use 3 chords, but they had walking bass lines and swinging beats. They were well composed songs, structured and musical. So too with Blink 182's break out hit a seeming eternity later, but with the speed of adulthood, in reality, not much later 'Dammit' it was simply too much of a song to really reflect the whole philosophy of punk. Those that did in the pay day that followed pop-punk were simply, shit to me. They sounded shit. I had no interest in them. Then I started listening to the vandals, because I find Josh Freese fascinating. Josh Freese was introduced to me via a performance of Devo on Letterman. He dances behind the kit, but never misses a beat. I find him far more entertaining to watch than to listen to. Listening to him is for the most part, like listening to a metronome. Less so on live recordings and watching him is mesmerising. He can actually do 'the running man' on the drumkit. Anyway, Josh Freese brought me round and behind enemy lines into the very bowels of I mean not even a very hardcore punk band, but he made me enjoy the genre. I enjoy the vandals. Now that you don't have to put up with pretty boys and try hards taking the genre seriously because it is cool, many things from your youth are finally both safe and enjoyable, to explore like providing hand relief to somebody of your preferred gender. And I find the vandals hilarious. I mean, it is great to even finally listen to Dookie, and assure the what 10 year old me that I have it, and thus I will not be getting lost. And I can't emphasies enough that while sometimes its great to have somebody to discuss your interests with, sometimes its even greater to be able to explore interests without having to discuss them with anybody. Furthermore, I felt in the 90's punk was really all about playing fast, it was also really a Drummers genre, I mean playing 3 chords fast on a guitar may be harder than playing 3 chords slow, but it isn't harder than say playing an actual solo. But just playing an instrument as 3 dimensional as a drum kit must be hard to play fast. But then the Vandals guitarist said 'anybody can play a good song, not everyone can play a fast song' which I have to admit is probably fundamentally true. Not everyone can write a good song, almost anybody can probably write a punk song, infact writing a punk song I imagine is often not even necessary, you could simply describe it vagually to people who know how to locate a C on their instrument. But even so, not everybody can play a song fast. Is it an artform? I don't know. You see, I didn't get emo, and I didn't like it. I don't get hipsters, and I don't like them. In the 90's though, I got punk, I got it's ethos and philosophy, I understood it, but I still didn't like it. That's an achievement. But now, now I am going to backflip, I am going to say that I now finally both get and like punk. Will this journey take me into NOFX's backlog, or having me rocking Ramones and The Clash t-shirts? Probably not. But I get it, I always have, now I like it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Aspirational Error

I felt, or assume, or think, that the point of popular scientific book 'Freakanomics' was to illustrate the errors that arise from confusing correlation with causation. What is fascinating me at the moment, and I intend to discuss this with people who read more about brain/mind functioning is how people form opinions, and whether there is a variable in people's ability to form opinions. Or 'is their a neurological basis for opinion seekers, and opinion leaders?' This arises from how much hipsters are starting to get up my nose, and this in turn arises from my recent attempts to penetrate melbourne's art scene, which has increased my exposure to hipsters. But enough beating on hipsters I say, I wish to muse upon a correlation/causation error that explains to me the least attractive quality in myself or anybody - pretentiousness. I was just going to write a big rant on how much I hate pretention and then, ask a bunch of rhetorical questions as to why people aren't more aware that they are doing it, better at avoiding it, desiring to avoid it... then when pondering these questions I thought of a possibly why. Why therefore I write - Everybody aspires to something better. The majority of people in a healthy, arguably 'flourishing' society generally when thinking about the future, imagine a future that is better than the present. Optimists are often wrong, but far more functional because of it. Imagine that, where operating on faulty assumptions actually makes you more effective. This is the origin of 'shoot for the moon! because even if you miss, you'll wind up amongst the stars' and other arguably nauseating sentiments. Aspirations are good, in and of themselves. Where do aspirations come from? Probably from all kinds of places. I read this Time article on optimism and our hard wiring to be optimistic that said the primary function of our memory is not to remember the past but we use it to build our vision of the future. Our future that is better than our past. Now we know that this predicting ability is fraught with errors, and I want to talk about the error that arrises in our aspirations specifically, and how it leads not just to pretentiousness, but all kinds of fallout. One thing we take from the past (or present) to build a vision of the future are role models, heroes, idols, people we admire, and naturally seek to emulate. Take for example, a school captain. They seem charming, charismatic and popular. We want to be all those things. The aspirational error commonly made is to think 'they are charming, charismatic and popular because they are school captain.' these things seem to correlate. But in fact our logic is all backwards in fact they are school captain because they are charming, charismatic and popular. The official title is in practice just a formal recognition of the political/social leadership position that person informally holds. Same goes with management in the work place. The is a boss that everybody respects. They are the boss because they are respected, they are not necessarily respected because they are the boss. But we all know terrible, undeserving bosses, have had them, have had to work with them or had them working for us, have had to remove them (hopefully). These bosses are the ones that have pursued promotion because they make these aspirational error. They have manuevered and campaigned to make rank, 'played some game' to attain a title they thought would make them 'the boss'. However humans as social animals tend to be more informal than organisational charts. They judge people either consciously or subconsciously on their actions, form impressions and respond accordingly. Unfortunately we live in a world that still sees people promoted due to 'seniority' and a whole plethora of mistaken selection criteria 'better to hire somebody outside the company, it's a bigger gene-pool' etc. That person immediately presses upon people the authority vested in them that their reports are obliged to follow as per the job description. The boss they aspired to be though, never had to act on any authority or press upon anybody. They spoke, people listened. The respect the aspirant and ascendent boss craved turns out to be illusory. That is because it is much easier to get the title than the respect. Most people can't be fucked acting like a boss, they just want it handed to them. So too, these correalations crop up in aspirations all the time. 'Ted is cool because he wears those sneakers' and not 'those sneakers are cool because Ted is wearing them.' It's easy to buy a pair of sneakers, it is much harder to emulate Ted's behaviour/knowledge/confidence/expression or whatever it is that make him cool. 'The Jones' are happy and secure because they are rich.' should be 'The Jones' are rich because they are happy and secure.' one of the most common to plague society. In what society do you imagine my alcoholic and abusive grandfather getting rich? The market place may not be effecient, but it is effecient enough to know that somebody so irresponsible cannot amass wealth. I believe this aspirational error most often arises because of a subconscious laziness. It probably sells every endorsed product ever. It is much easier to save up and buy a Hendrix signature stratocaster than it is to actually spending the time practicing guitar. It is much easier to buy a pair of Air Jordans, than practice as much as Jordan did. These though are easy to spot. Nobody really believes that the shoes do the dunking, or the guitar does the playing. Pretentiousness is a bi-product of this laziness. I read today that Masterchef's 4th season is lower in ratings than previous ones. For me, since the first season I've found the contestents to be becoming increasingly pretentious, as is the food. It only clicked though, a couple of days prior that the difference between the amatuer chefs cooking gourmet food and gourmet chefs cooking gourmet food is that the chefs are expressing their own hard earned passion for food, the contestants are merely emulating them. They are aspirational, where the chefs are the real deal. These aspirations could be acted on, but that is time consuming and unglamorous, unlike all the chefs on the show, the contestants don't want to do a low paid apprenticeship building up skills and working their way into the very risky restaurant business. So too, it is always easy to see the Omega watch and the Zegna suit and assume they somehow do the managing, or see the crazy hair colours and op-shop attire and think they do the painting, or the fancy drum kit and guitar amps and think they do the playing and composing. At best if your attempts to emulate wind up with you sinking dollars on stupid purchases you will look like a fool. At worst attempts to emulate the lifestyles of people we admire make us pretentious.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tip of the Icebubble

Economic Bubbles are like gravity, 95% of explaining them is simple, reasonable, easy to identify. The remainder though, nobody really understands. So just as gravity is the attraction between masses that makes small masses like us fall towards a large mass like the earth. Explaining why masses attract eachother through the force of gravity, and why more perplexingly they seem to repel eachother at great distances requires at least some kind of physics degree. Event then, the jury is out on how gravity actually works. Same goes for asset bubbles. Here's the 95% simple part pretty much any economist or finance person can explain - A bubble occurs whenever prices depart the underlying value of the assett. Prices are inflated (hence bubble) with expectations they are not capable of realising. So you have a computer company valued at more than the entire state of California, and it has never turned a profit - bam, easy to identify bubble. The assets are priced far beyond what they are worth. You have property prices that have no basis in the rent generated/saved for the owners, bingo, you have a bubble. But even with an economics degree, nobody can really explain why. At it's simplest, you could pick some staple investment, like a government bond, and take it's returns (the coupon) and compare it's coupon rate to the rental returns on the property price. As soon as the returns from property are less than the returns from putting your money into a risk free bond, then you could say that a bubble has started to inflate. Where economists and finance people start tearing their hair out, is that nothing pulls the speculative assets price back to reality, the price just keeps going up. Crucially what are investors, not people who buy property but bona fide investors meant to do while the bubble is inflating? There are gains to be made on the market by investing in a bubble. But for how long? When will the bubble burst? Catalysts are pretty hard to predict even in hindsight. Even then how long between a potential catylist for a bubble bursting and for the market to catch on that it is bursting. It may take 3 months for mass job layoff to sink in to mortgage holders before they are forced onto the market. When to get out? The problem is, that bubbles occur rising from irrational behaviour by their very nature. There is no bsis for the price, no firm grounding, no reason for them to get so high. What every economist struggles with is how to explain how something that shouldn't happen to begin with, will suddenly stop.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Allow me to slip into something a little more "comfortable"

I've long been a fan of this model of learning. I've never seen it presented with a 'disinterest' circle before, but I find the concept really beneficial. I can't count how many times in life I've quit something because I was too ambitious and the learning curve seemed too steep. Life's journey should be one from the top right hand to the bottom right hand. not the reverse.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


I have numerous theories on the ever changing face of 'cool' or subculture is, and why I hate its seeming direction. Occam's razor though would suggest that I am simply getting old and in the wise words of Abraham Simpson: "I used to be with it, then they changed what 'it' was. And now what is 'it' seems strange and frightening to me." and I have simply undergone the same process. Is time merely cyclical? Almost certainly not. I mean we would skoff at people who suggest that Climate change is merely some solar phase because their argument boils down to 'Earth big, people small, vis a vis motherfuckers we can do whatever we want and it will never impact on the environment.' and in the same way James May pointed out that until the transistor radio existed, neither did teenagers because young and old gathered around the same radio/grand piano and thus enjoyed the same music. And there are perfectly valid reasons to hate pretty much any subculture. The difficulty is in ranking them. I rank the last two major subcultures 'emo' and 'hipster' pretty lowly, and this could as aforementioned be simply the result of the fact that when I was a kid the subcultures of my seniors seemed cool and desirable. When I was a teenager the subcultures I could join seemed ellusively unappealing, and when it was clear my ship of coolness had sailed and the batton had passed onto younger people what cool was seemed strange and frightening to me. What then? Am I merely to exert some self censorship and not speak out about the prevailing subcultures because I am old? Am I to be governed by some fear of being more readily identified with talk back radio hosts than internet radio hosts? I honestly don't know. These are pretty unappealing labels to bring onto oneself. However if I am to be judged mostly by people whom I judge adversely, does it even really matter? Instead I am going to make the concession that for me Hipster is to Grunge as someone else might find Skater Punk to Actual Punk. Or Nu Metal is to Metal as Metal was no doubt to 70's Rock. That we exist in some continuum of desire to be part of a subculture to revulsion at the thought of being identified as part of a subculture is the natural cycle of life, and as commentator I concede I am probably no better than the people I comment upon. So I judge you and me in one. happy? Almost certainly not. Anyway onto my more beguiling theories. 'On Average People Are Average' ~ tohm This is one of my oldest aphorismic truisms. That is are subcultures and their percieved vacuousness just an inevitable social symptom of peoples general ability to express themselves? Early 1990's film 'The Crow' is one of the movies credited with giving rise to the Goth subculture, along with the music of The Cure. In it, the bad guy I forget his name does a poigniant speech that I paraphrase thusly:
A man has an idea, the idea becomes an institution.
Subcultures, being cultures involve people are always going to have fuzzy edges and be hard to define. But generally they have this originating idea or rationale and 'epicentres' that can be geographical (The Seattle Grunge scene with Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. The London Punk scene with The Sex Pistols etc.) but beyond the idea you have a swathe of for lack of a better/less/more insulting term 'average' people that subscribe to it, formalise it and make it an institution. The rest is just probability, when you interact with any 'member' of a subculture the odds of them being one of the originators or 'ideas' people is low. The odds of them being some vacuous cliched subscriber is relatively high. And whether inside or outside the subculture talking to a mere subscriber is annoying and will almost certainly result in frustration and resentment. And while the very notion of the 'average' person, or the 'norm' is kind of a fallacy, I may venture to define them so you have a clearer picture of what I'm talking about. The average person is risk averse. This doesn't just apply to gambling, but social situations as well. In any social function drawing attention to yourself carries risk - that you will be judged positively or negatively. By being socially risk averse the average person fears being negatively evaluated far more than they delight in being positively evaluated, so even while people may subscribe to the fantasy of being famous and unique and admired for it, they won't actually risk it. In the same way that almost everyone subscribes to the fantasy of betting their entire net worth on a roulette table and winning, very few people would willingly do this (or even gamble part of their net worth). The average person, as far is as useful to define for this discussion, while feeling a desire for self expression doesn't want to look stupid. Thus on average a person will look for some external reference to copy or imitate when expressing themselves. They will look to somebody they admire and imitate them. People we admire are as undiverse as fashion. They are concentrated, epicentres. A minority. The majority will almost inevitably imitate a minority. The majority of people are opinion seekers, the minority are opinion leaders. I'm not just making this shit up. The research has been done. There are academic, peer reviewed, published papers on this behaviour. With numerous examples. Like acting ability (and by extention talent in general) is often retrospectively applied. In theory an Oscar for Best Actor is the final and ultimate recognition of your acting ability. In practice, once somebody has recieved an Oscar the public will retrospectively apply talent and value to their acting career - ie, taking cues from respected authorities or epicentres. Network Theory I assume would also apply, that very few people/sources generate the opinions held by the majority. Pretty much half if not 75% of marketing research is on where people get their ideas from, it is from my marketing studies that I was first introduced to the 'opinion leaders' and 'opinion seekers' segregation. And I would ask you now to turn your attention to this website/project by dutch photographers/social anthropologists called 'exactitudes'
They call their series Exactitudes: a contraction of exact and attitude. By registering their subjects in an identical framework, with similar poses and a strictly observed dress code, Versluis and Uyttenbroek provide an almost scientific, anthropological record of people’s attempts to distinguish themselves from others by assuming a group identity.
I warn you that exactitudes can be confronting, I mean to learn that people dress exactly like you in Rotterdam, Netherlands, it's not even New York, the place you get your cues from. Their rational on the 'about' page tends to suggest that these subcultures sort of spontaneously occur, as a flash mob might appear to. The names applied may not be the generally used ones or even the label identified by their photographic subjects, but if you have photosets of 12 people, I would guesstimate that 12 is probably not enough subjects to contain 1 opinion leader. In summary, any subculture is only genuinely a subculture until it hits the critical mass where the membership is large enough and the identity formal enough that joining the group presents sufficiently low risk of embarrassment. Prior to this critical mass, a subculture looks cool. Post this critical mass, a subculture looks sad and pathetic. Depending on whether you are an opinion leader or an opinion seeker. This sadness may be experienced from inside the subculture and outside. Technology The theory of averageness is one we can all agree on. Subcultures will inevitably get up your nose. The details of which subculture don't matter. Lets get more contentious. Are subcultures getting shitter? If I say 'Hipster' a subculture named after a cut of jeans invented/popularised by Mariah Carey, on average people would probably say 'Yes' to the above question. I am lead to believe they would say this even if they are a hipster. But evolutionarily speaking there's no reason for humans to have gotten somehow 'worse' at expressing themselves. Generations aren't dumber, or less capable of getting dressed. Their drive for self expression and its competing need for group affiliation hasn't changed. We have the same reasons to try and forge our own identity and imitate our peers as any proceeding generation. Why then would I stick my neck out and say: 'Yes, subcultures are getting shitter'? Because of what has evolved. Technology. Specifically the internet and its role in globalisation. The exactitudes site above was forwarded to me by a buddy pal shona after reading my post that I am pretty much going to rehash in this section: Basically though for recent generations the fashion cycle has gotten far more effecient. That is the number of opinion leaders you need to create a critical mass for opinion seekers to form a subculture has shrunk. Basically, the internet has shrunk a lot of things, for one thing, fashions can spread and reproduce with higher fidelity, because a kid in Melbourne can easily look up what a kid in Williamsburg, New York is wearing on line. The local bookstore is now Amazon or Book Depository, the local record store is now Itunes or the Pirate Bay. The process by which Ballarat shoe stores knew to stock Dock Martins when grunge was big remains mysterious to me. But basically it used to take time for the Seattle Grunge scene to make its way out to regional Victoria. No longer. The difference between New York and Melbourne is no longer 3 years, nor even 6 months. It is the 10 day postal time. And if you really care about fashion you can pay for express post. When wrote up Hipsters they mentioned this shrinking time frame between cool and passe:
Hipsters also attempt to stay on the cusp of their perverted version of fashion. Are black framed glasses out? Try 60's horn-rims. Does your friend have his lip pierced? Try cutting yours off. This isn't about beauty or even basic hygiene. This is about looking like you traveled back from the not too distant future. A future populated by douchebags.
The not too distant future is probably literally the future the nearer you are to the epicenter of the scene. But if you leave in a country with an inferiority complex like Australia, the future is New York, the 'not too distant Future' - London. My experience of hipsters is probably more stationary than the cracked article. Skinny jeans for example seem to have been in for about 5 years. Ironic facial hair at least 3. But the cycle has sped up, the epicenters of fashion and culture haven't changed, they are still New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo etc. They have never been, and the chances of are diminishing rapidly, Australian. But it used to take somebody with genuine curiosity about the world and some kind of rare opportunity time and resources to tap into these epicenters, then their attempts to reproduce these exotic cultures would be frustrated by the materials they could obtain to recreate them. Thus a subculture used to take more time to form, and was subject to more mutation. In the 90's the kid with both an internet connection and a credit card was a slim minority. In the 60's you used to have to fly to London to check out the scene. Now any old nobody can tap into any subculture anywhere within approximately a week. The chances that you can buy the exact articles of clothing being worn by somebody on the sartorialist is probably 50/50 at this stage and in 10 years will probably become 1 (that is, certain). Last week or the week before, I caught up with a friend that has done the relatively retro-cool thing of moving to London, in discussing what opportunities London had that Melbourne didn't, whether they were real in practice or just psychically etc. lead to the observation that Melbourne is the kind of town where so little is going on that even if something cool and new does crop up, the time between it being cool and underground and becoming a pretentious 'scene' is perilously short. Conceivably in cities as large as London and New York, there is enough competition in the underground that it isn't really 'the' underground but many, and scenes can remain relatively thin. But regardless, technology enables us to import a scene really quickly and in numbers. The defining (and I guess, negative) trait of hipsters seems to be this hypocritical self consciousness about being cool, for cool's sake. And yet, I can actually relate to this desire to be ahead of the curve and getting frustrated by shit going mainstream. In Ballarat the fashion cycle was both slower and easier to observe. Without knowing the specifics of how it worked, to use a catch all term, the indie kids would go and buy their clothes from op-shops. In 6-12 months, the 'op-shop' finds would have a surf-brand label stitched onto them and be worn by everyone else, whom not only would steal the indie kids identity, but ridicule them for the new identities they had adopted. This I imagine happens to hipsters in the space of about a week, now. And everything has escalated because now instead of buying clothing at 1990's opshop prices ($1~$4) they have to buy them from internet warehouses at $70 plus shipping and handling. And buy them almost constantly. The idea doesn't even get time to enjoy itself before it's an institution. Imitators get frustrated at imitators, because it is hard to get undeserved kudos for imitating somebody when everyone else is imitating the same people at the same time. I was first introduced to Hipsters through Adbusters write up of them in the damningly titled 'Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization' They summarise the effect of technology and globalization thusly:
Hipsterdom is the first "counterculture" to be born under the advertising industry's microscope, leaving it open to constant manipulation but also forcing its participants to continually shift their interests and affiliations. Less a subculture, the hipster is a consumer group – using their capital to purchase empty authenticity and rebellion. But the moment a trend, band, sound, style or feeling gains too much exposure, it is suddenly looked upon with disdain. Hipsters cannot afford to maintain any cultural loyalties or affiliations for fear they will lose relevance.
In the same way that the transistor radio first brought teenagers into existence, it seems the rise of internet shopping and it's rapid, high fidelity dissemination of culture has frustrated the teenage existance. Talking 'Bout Your Generation My most beguiling theory and least thought about, backed up and documented comes from the depths of my irrational prejudices. Like technology it is an argument that is contentious in saying that subculters are getting somehow shitter. In the 60's you grew your hair long and took drugs to rebell against the social script handed to you by your parents that you find boring and suffocating. But very few individuals were relatively risk seeking enough to do this. 'Get a job you hippy!' presumably suggested that rebelling and growing your hair had significant costs associated with it back in the day. Like you literally couldn't get a job unless you cut your hair. These basic economic pressures probably gave rise to the seeming lifecycle that you rebelled as a teenager and then through university, then it was time to grow up, cut your hair and join the workforce. The risks have gradually reduced, just as the fashion cycle has sped up. Thus if you were a Gen-Xer growing up in the 80's the chances were that your parents hadn't been part of the minority that actually rebelled in the 60's, had probably never tried drugs and thus the tried and tested ways of rebelling were still good for you. The Gen-Xer's grew their hair and took drugs and none of it seemed to passe. But over successive generations, I theorise that the chances of your parents having experienced the forging of their 'self-identity' in the exact same way as people have been doing for 5 decades increased. You saw in the 90's a rise in the number of children whose parents let them smoke weed and try shrooms because they had at their age, and they turned out fine. In short rebelliousness needed to occur in a different way if one was to entertain the fantasy that their life would not somehow resemble their parents. At the same time, the rebellious phase seemed to have become less about not doing what your parents did, as to not doing what the generation directly preceeding you did. You don't care about rebelling against people that were rebels in the 80's, you care about rebelling against people that were rebels in the 00's. Here is where my prejudice comes in. To me the subcultures have gone roughly as follows - Rock, Hippys, Prog, Punk, Geighties, Glam, Grunge, Alternative, Skate Punk, Nu-metal, Emo, Hipster. I know this is very white subcultures and I know it is not exhaustive (for example I don't know where the New Romantics fit in). Generally though you can make an argument for cycles, but that doesn't reveal my prejudices. Let's just look at the end, so after the 80's you saw a rise in bands playing the loosely defined 'alternative rock' that coincided with a recession - in response to 80's rock like Guns & Roses and their ballad singing ways. It was defiant and rebellious in it's responsiveness in ways that I associate with strength (my prejudices) it was harder, louder, less commercially viable, dressed down, less self conscious, masculine, unappologetic etc. It asserted itself. If the generation proceeding you defined itself in a defiant way that I associate with strength, and had it pretty much covered? How do you following it define yourself in a defiant way? In ways I associate with weakness (again my prejudices) narcissism, pretentiousness, quieteness, synthesiser, commercialised, dressed-up, self consciousness, emasculation, irony etc. That's basically my extremely prejudice and unresearched theory. It is far more likely that music and fashion is cyclical. That contrary to rebelling against our parents we probably imitate them. My parents record collection was music largely from the 60's and 70's when nobody played synthesiser. The generation that followed me's parents probably had record collections that consisted of music from the 70's and 80's when everybody was fucking playing synth. Synth's will perhaps dissappear soon as an upcoming generation of children of 90's record collections (where the synth was once again abandoned) gets it's turn. Or perhaps not, since technology and youtube in particular means that the first largest record collection you discover is no longer necessarilly your parents.