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.

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