Welcome to Alternative Ideas...

Providing a platform for new and different voices...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Ritual of Reality...

It is interesting to think about old debates about the importance of ‘rituals’ and about their usage today. In Ancient Chinese thinking there was a debate between two main competing ideologies of the day, Mohism and Confucianism. Confucianism was based primarily on rituals – that a ritualistic relationships and practices in everyday life were used/needed to stabilize and form society into a moralistic and virtuous place based on these customary norms and obedience to them. Mohism was against the great use of rituals in daily life and focused more on self-reflection and ‘authenticity’ rather than ‘obedience to ritual’. He believed that by ‘reflecting on one's own successes and failures, one attains true self-knowledge rather than mere conformity with ritual.’ With this, he seems to believe that spending our time following social norms – as we are ‘supposed’ to do – does not allow us too truly focus on our selves and the true lessons and moments of that self.

I agree with this concept. Today’s society is wholly ingrained within following these ‘social actions/distractions’ that have now become ingrained in our cultures. Firstly though I should say that when I mean rituals (i.e. ways of structuring society’s norms), I really mean two things: one is ‘things’ to keep our lives’ ‘patterns’ – to basically control us – and secondly, things to distract us from our daily existences. Realistically they are both symbiotic as our norms become coping mechanisms to distract us from the daily ‘crap’ we feel.

Today’s rituals as I see it are things like birthday’s, holidays such as father/mother’s day, valentine’s day, etc, social outings, drinking, smoking, escaping, etc. I mean things that take us away from the self-‘reality’ that we exist in everyday. Throughout the world’s history – regardless of the system – human beings have seemingly always been trying to find ways to increase happiness and ‘feel’ good. What is a birthday, but a ‘reason’ to celebrate? But what reason does/should one need? If ‘everyday’ is a celebration then why do you need an excuse? The problem with today is that most people are living a life that is not fulfilling to them. They are looking for escapes – distractions. Birthday’s are a celebration of another year of existence – like this milestone means something different today than yesterday, like your life is any different from the previous day based simply on the passing of this ‘day’. Yet we follow these rituals religiously. They are things to make us believe that what we see today is not actually today, but a moment away from today, away from the today that we are mostly not fulfilled with.

Rituals designed (fictitiously) to keep us ‘in-line’ or used as a distraction or subconscious controlling mechanisms that keep us from ‘reflecting on our own successes and failures,’ and ‘attaining true self-knowledge’. It is this ‘true self-knowledge’ that we should really all be striving for. For in obtaining this is the only way that we can become truly content – or even happy – with our inner selves. If we are happy with ourselves and what we do/are on a daily basis, then why would we need to live for the weekend, the next holiday, or to see another birthday? Happiness comes from within, and if we work to try to find it outside our selves via socially constructed rituals, we will never understand who we are or what our happiness can/will be. Break free of these petty rituals and find happiness in that day, that moment, and that existence.

Our reality becomes these rituals, and our happiness becomes wholly tied to these rituals rather than being tied to ourselves…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Profitable Motivation

What is profit? Simple definitions need not apply, as in its most fundamental usage today ‘profit’ is simply about motivation. Profit, is the gain of doing something. It is mostly used in financial or business terms today, and is resoundingly the first thing talked about in the business world – maximizing corporate profits to increase shareholder value and the incentive to invest in a company. But within that motivation is something more, this ‘profit’ is actually taking the focus away from the product, and putting it on the outcome of the exchange of the product. This extra incentive for investors actually adds another outlay into the end cost of a good to the consumer. Yes of course this could be said in some ways to make the entire production process more efficient, in terms of capital usage and access to efficient financial investment, but on the whole, that is again about finding stimulation for investment – i.e. motivation. In turn, ‘profit’, or the reward of investing in something, is simply a/the motivational factor to partake in it. But this ‘incentive’ requires the generation and distribution of a ‘return’ which then actually increases the amount of the good at sale.

Today’s businesses are primed firstly with maximizing profit and providing a service only so well as that it provides the greatest profit for investors/owners. The product is not the prime goal, it is the money made from the product. And in turn, this type of motivational factor increases the cost to the consumer, while not providing the greatest level of service. Of course capitalist competition keeps costs down, but what if these products could be generated at a higher quality and sold without the need to generate any profit? Relatively cheaper consumer goods, which are wholly focused on the consumer’s usage, would of course be the outcome.

This post is however not about finding ways to decrease prices or increase product quality in the current world we live in, but of course to try to generate discussion about alternative ideas/systems moving forward. So in essence, this post is about motivation within the current system. If money/profit is the most prevalent institutionalized motivational factor – yet it comes at a cost to efficiency, a cost in the level of service, and in its social outcome, then why are we not seeking an alternative motivational factor for investment? If profit is what makes people invest in business – yet it decreases service level – then why don’t we look for a motivational factor that puts the service provided first?

Obviously, the average person reading this is thinking wholly within their most probably capitalist upbringing and claiming impossibility, etc. etc. etc. But think about it logically, motivation is motivation. It does not matter what form it comes in – money, emotions, compassion, coercion, etc. – the outcomes are the same: something gets done. In tribal systems social stature was a huge motivational factor, in communist social scenarios the ‘employee of the month’ concept could be the most resounding force in motivation at work, feeding one’s family, gaining the acceptance of one’s self by another, etc. Power, ability, money, kindness, these are all motivational tools. So how is it then that we can create a new system where we have a ‘desirable motivational force’ that does not adversely affect consumers, society, interests in investment, etc? What could motivate you? But not the ‘you’ that you are today – produced within the confines of the social reality only seen today – but the ‘you’ that you would like to be in the society that ‘you’ would like to live in yet prior to today may not have existed outside your subconscious?

Who do you want to be? I.e. what do you want to be your motivation?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Is Capitalism Fatally Flawed?

Decent attempt at scratching the surface... Yet, how is a system so fundamentally based on one's 'self' really NOT flawed? How can thinking about 'one', be thinking about 'all' unless that 'one' really is the collective all?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Bigger Stronger Faster

This is a movie well worth seeing... A thorough critique of some of the deepest motivational forces in American society...

Civil Responsibility and Accountability

There is a tremendous amount of money that is spent on war. The US outspends the next ten countries alone and is determined to have the world’s most powerful military. This is all to fight wars of physical intimidation. At the same time, wars of words and wars of ‘hearts and minds’ are usually interspersed throughout the physical campaigns or the saber-rattling that takes countries to the brink – the words usually before, and the hearts and minds after/during. Why? Talk is cheap and with the way arrogant countries like the US use words, they are usually little more than a prelude to conflict if tensions already allow for it. Wouldn’t it make sense to spend time, effort, and money on trying to win the hearts and minds of people first? Or maybe never even having to talk or think about physical conflict at all?

The ultimate hearts and minds campaign that the US possesses is the Peace Corps. Economic policies make a few people rich, but tend to piss a lot of people off in their delivery, while at the same time, have flat out not worked for the majority in a lot of the developing world. Of course an institution like the Peace Corps has its drawbacks and inefficiencies. But it does two very positive things; firstly it is a donation to the world of not just the country’s money, but its blood, sweat, and individual time. Sending a person abroad to interact with foreign people, cultures, and locations is invaluable to building grassroots relationships throughout the world. Fostering an awareness – on a hearts and minds level – of communal understanding that leaves an impression upon the local populace of a simple human being, with ordinary concerns and compassions, rather than a camouflaged marine with rifle in hand and skepticism in his/her eyes. The second lasting effect is the education of what has become a very ignorant American population. Each individual that goes abroad and serves will come back with an entirely broader understanding of the area they worked in, if not the world at large; in seeing and living amongst people of differing cultural persuasions for an extended time, while learning their language, one can not help but conceptualize the nuances of individual lives and the truly different ways of living them.

With these two thoughts in mind, think about the military. It is an institution seemingly as old as mankind and certainly as far back as written history goes. It is as such a necessity in the current world. However, an army divorced from the consequences of its actions and usage is one that has and accepts no responsibility for its actions. In democratic society, the decision to go to war should never be separated from the consequences. Today’s US army is divorced in character due to its ‘voluntary’ nature. If an individual does not support the war itself, then why should they support individuals that volunteer to fight it? (Obviously in a capitalist society rife with institutionalized poverty and economic inopportunity this is a debatable line, but still a valid one). The point is that by divorcing the human costs of war from the democratic decision making process, the costs are no longer directly felt or attributable to the democratic populace or their elected decision makers.

This line of thought also feeds directly back into the point raised above regarding the Peace Corps in regards to the education and enlightenment of individual civilians. These citizens – both in military and civil services – would only be factored into the democratic process if they are not voluntary – if anyone and all could/had to go. I believe that countries throughout the world – even though a great deal have just recently gone away from it – should have it mandatory for all citizens to spend either one year of military service, or two years of civil service abroad by a specific age (say 25 or 30 years old).

This type of mandatory service would hold the government accountable for its actions in both the civil and military sense. The democratic public may not stand for their sons and daughters being in harms way involuntarily without the greatest of defensive causes (this concept is bolstered by the prevailing theories surrounding ‘Democratic’ or ‘Liberal Peace’ theories that claim that democracies won’t go to war against each other – but these theories assume that true democratic institutions exist). With greater accountability in place, the government would be more apt to expand upon Peace Corps type policies, which would work on a preventative grassroots level, to stem the possible tides of war. The program could even be expanded to the scale of a globally inclusive program – not just within developing countries – to exchange individuals among nations of all creeds and outlooks. Imagine the good will and understanding throughout the world if everyone had spent a year or two living in another country? The level of openness and understanding would be tremendous. Of course the Right wing parties would immediately object to this idea on grounds of sacrificing indigenous culture, and then of course their would be their security concerns. But this blog isn’t about getting from A to B, it is about finding B first rather than trying to get to someplace that does not exist. The point would not be assimilation, but rather understanding. Preventative time spent abroad that increases individual awareness of ‘the mysterious abroad.’

Individuals would thus have a multilevel choice – shorter military service, or longer civil service. Once within each service category they could decide further; rural, urban, more developed, less developed; or different avenues in the military, engineering, administrative, combat, etc. Everyone serves – with choices – so that no one has to fight. Putting ‘hearts and minds’ before cheap talk and expensive weapons systems…

Health Care Op-Ed in NY Times...

I have been living mostly in Europe for the last ten years and I have had outstanding and inexpensive health care throughout. In 2002 I had a sports related hip injury and didn't have any insurance. I had it examined at the top hospital in Prague by an orthopedic specialist and had an X-Ray; total bill: about 35 US dollars WITHOUT HAVING INSURANCE. This past year I was bitten by a dog while running in Budapest and (now having insurance) had 'surgery' to clean the wound and then had to go to the hospital every day for two weeks and then every other day for two more; the doctor saw me, cleaned the wound, bandaged it up, and off I went. I had to pay there at the hospital (surgery about 115 USD, visits 15 USD) and was reimbursed easily and without hassle within a week. Granted the doctors tend to be older and sometimes locked in socialist attitudinal stereotypes, but I have ALWAYS gotten GREAT care. I get scared when I go to the US as I live an active lifestyle. Its amazing how bad the system there is and how ignorant the general public is about how much better it could be...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is the self interested actor ‘really’ a civilized actor?

This is an interesting question given our present day society’s turn towards individualism and individualistic systems of social interaction. When you think about the term ‘civilized’, what is it that comes to mind? Is it an individual ‘returning to nature’ forced to act in a Darwinist fashion for self-survival – alone within the perils of the world surrounding them? Or is it the joining together of people and communities in a situation where singular individuals ‘rise’ above basic ‘self’ interests and promote reason and rational interaction among others, to elevate the body and its actions above simple satisfactions and pleasures. Maybe a civilized society is about controlling those animalistic tendencies that intrinsically drive us and practicing self-control, self-introspection, and virtuous rationality, with a reflective and contextualized view of our self and our surroundings.

Over the last several centuries the rise of capitalism has been – in the words of virtual immortals in free-market lore such as a Smith, Friedman, etc – about ‘returning to nature’ or of ‘working within the natural state of humanity.’ Thus capitalism – and its individualistic emphasis – would seem to run counter to general perceptions of what being civilized means. This would seem to mean that the further society and humanity evolves into this ‘naturalistic’ state, the further away from civilized we become…

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Virtual Commons

Is it not a worthwhile idea to have the internet networks such as Facebook, twitter, Linkedin, etc, be government or at least neutrally controlled or run? In general the internet is now becoming the main source of social and informational interaction for both official and private interaction. Google, dictates what comes up when we search for something and companies can ‘move up’ their ‘Google position’. We basically are turning into a world where corporations are controlling our public contacts and usage. I mean if you think about it, corporations don’t run public spaces, they don’t run ‘the air’, or ‘the water’, they simply don’t run ‘the commons…’ This is not to say that there aren’t companies that own water and profit from it – but this has proven to be one of the great travesties of the globalizing world anyway. And yes companies pollute the air, and fight every ounce of regulation, but they still must gain government approval – which may come in the form of a payout, or it may come in democratically elected committee approval – but it is still run through the people that are ‘theoretically’ charged with looking out for the people of that area’s best interests. Theoretically, these are public goods for everyone’s usage. But more pointedly, the internet is a virtual public good. Everyone wants access to it and wants to be able to use it free of charge and unhindered by the restraints of someone or some entity that they don’t know, and whose interests are not in question. So why is something as basic and simple as the virtual commons not simply run not-for-profit or by a public entity? I mean the definition of a non-profit includes limits on the purposes of the organization's activities, a ban on personal benefit from those activities, restrictions on political and lobbying activities, the publics right to inspect corporate records, etc, and its mission is for the public good while, for the most part, must have a substantial amount of money (usually about 1/3) come from public donations based on public interests and visible to the public. In the form of a government – though this could be seen as corrupt or not trustworthy though some eyes, if it is democratically founded it is instituted by the people and in their own best interests. On the other hand, a for-profit corporation is beholden to its shareholders and it interests are based on turning a profit or losing jobs, etc. Granted, politicians want to get reelected, non-profit employees want to maintain their positions, but the inherent motives are both for the public good – not the financial interests of the shareholders. Basically, I see a conflict of interests when a for-profit company is responsible for choosing what information I am presented with.

Now, in terms of social networking sites, this is even more important. They are not just controlling information, but people. Who you speak to, how you interact with them, under what circumstances. Imagine you walked into a park – which of course was built by government funding and in many ways designed to control space to some extent, yet designed by people looking out for the public good (in a democracy of course) – and in that park there are police officers not just making sure that you don’t spray-paint on the benches or kill someone, but how you move through the park, what paths you take, with whom you may speak, where you can sit, what you can look at, etc. Now in a democratic society these police officers’ remit is to protect the public good. But imagine if in this social situation the police officers where not looking out for the public interests, but where in fact ‘rent-a-cops’ with all the authority of the police on this property, because it was privately held. Doesn’t sound too bad yet, but what if the security officers where allowed to tell you what to do where to go, where to interact, and with whom? The only thing you could do to stop it, was just not to come to this ‘park’ anymore. But what about in our lives now? With the direction that the world – especially the virtual world – is going, you can not leave these worlds. You can not ignore them, as they will soon become the life-blood of society. The virtual world is already the easiest way to communicate, shop, and interact for most people (emails, don't need to leave the house, delivery). Imagine that the layout or and our moves within this virtual park were in fact dictated by a company that was trying to channel us all in specific directions that gained them more money as opposed to us choosing our own directions based on finding our own happiness? The internet is about money. It is a business venture that is now taking over humanities social interactions. Should this be governed by someone with conflicting interests of the public good versus profit maximizing motives and shareholder rights? I would say no, I do not want my information or my social existence dictated by someone else with ulterior motives to that of my own. The government may be truly flawed, and non-profits have their critics, but at least on a fundamental level their interests are based on the public good, public financing and public trust. If they don’t succeed in satisfying their electorate or public donors, they don’t get reelected, or lose there jobs. It is not that they lose their jobs for not making several individuals enough money.

Simply put, the virtual world, and specifically the social interaction within it, are part of the global ‘commons’. There is a fundamental conflict of interests if human interaction is dictated by an entity that has motives that are not about providing the best ‘common’ area for society, but rather ‘how to get the most people from within society to visit this space so that these individual interests can gain the most ‘impressions’ and in turn the most revenue - profit maximization. They only want to satisfy you if it makes them money, and I don’t trust someone that is simply interacting with me, not out of good faith, but in trying to ‘get something from me’ – especially when it is money...

Sunday, June 7, 2009


An author states that “causes exist in the real world; they are not just human constructions to help us understand it… they have been called ‘the cement of the universe’… they are processes which, once started, end up producing a particular outcome at a later point in time.” Sure, this seems like sound logic as per today’s scientific world. But there are two issues I have with this. One, in the holistic and infinitely complex world we live in, how can we ‘really’ know causality – and especially in a scientific sense? I understand that we have measures to minimize this type of indiscretion, but they are based on the societal/scientific information we hold today. This understanding changes with every new discovery – just as we once thought the world was flat and that disease was caused by evil spirits rather than bacteria (which is even in dispute today if you look at Chinese Medicinal concepts). Science has not accounted for such a large part of the world and its social existence that it is simply not appropriate to claim causality without allowing for these unknown factors.

Secondly, what is defined as a cause? If A ‘causes’ B, but C causes A, then is it not C that causes B theoretically? It is less direct, but B does not happen without A. This can be traced back to the/a ‘point of origin’ of existence and that is COMPLETELY unknown (though there are obviously plenty of theories for it out there). So what is causality then? Stated above, ‘they are not just human constructions’. Yet if the original causes are indefinable – or at least indefinable with today’s knowledge set – then we are really just clutching at a singular slice of temporal space of understanding and saying that A causes B without understand or knowing C. So this to me seems like a constructed center of existence as per the knowledge (i.e. socially accepted information) that we hold at this moment in time. Yes, perhaps some could say ‘causes’ exist in some form, but I would think of this as indefinable today. Yet by labeling things in the world as such today, what we are in fact doing is constructing our ‘best guesses’ at ‘causality’.

The author then addresses a point of critique on people that say ‘causality’ doesn’t exist. I am not saying that. This point is valid, we can see tendencies – as in an example on lung cancer being caused by cigarette smoking – but in this model we take several instances and we try to isolate how those ‘several’ incidences rank in causality to one other incidence. Of course there is a relationship, of course it matters, but one of the problems that I see with the social sciences today is that they are spending a great deal of time working on these ‘temporal/special slices of reality’ and ‘defining’ causes. Does smoking cause lung cancer? A to B, studies have shown that it increases the chances. But why do people smoke, what are the social origins of this, why aren’t we looking at the systemic structure of the world that puts people in a position to smoke, drink, or partake in other forms of real world ‘distractions’ and other forms of escapism? Do we smoke due to historical/cultural issues, is it a physical thing to ‘calm the nerves’, or is it perhaps because the capitalist system profits from it and has shown it to be ‘cool’? Is it a mixture of all of these things plus another indefinable everything else? All of these are interesting questions, but not asked in any form of consequence in the ‘real’ world (by this I mean the world that actually matters – the public, non-scientific community). This simple causality used in the social sciences to me is an excuse; it’s an easy way of assigning basic relationships to infinitely complex things so as to miss the bigger picture – which the author ascribes flippantly as only known to ‘God’! But doesn’t this inference completely corroborate what I’ve just said? What is God? Debatable topic today I think?!? Is it perhaps today’s ‘term’ for what causes everything, yet is indefinable?  The speaker's line of reasoning on causality turns out to be an excuse not to trace things backward very far, and to simply rely on what we can ‘quantify’ and then pawn it off as ‘fact’ – even though, as the author repeats throughout, we really can’t ‘control’ for everything in the social world. Thus, to me, it seems we just can’t/don’t really know (despite what the sciences say). The author summarizes it well: ‘most social science data is not experimental, and this leads to some challenging difficulties with the process of drawing causal inferences.” Whoops…

I guess perhaps I am thinking about the issue more in semantic terms on some level. Doing research on society and deducting possible relationships between things is important for attempting to understand our physical and social environment better. But, I don’t think the word ‘cause’ should be used. As the author said, the word ‘cause’ implies that everyone that smokes gets cancer – as it implies a perfect cause/effect relationship – and this is obviously refuted as soon as one smoker doesn’t get lung cancer. If you look up ‘cause’ in the dictionary it is said to be: “the producer of an effect, result, or consequence” or “the one, such as a person, event, or condition, that is responsible for an action or result”; and this wording implies to me that one leads to another with certainty - and it speaks in the "singular" form. The ‘producer’ or the one ‘that is responsible’ are both quite definitive terms. What is ‘the producer’ of lung cancer? If it was that you smoked and you got lung cancer, then smoking would produce lung cancer, but as it is not absolute it is not the cause, it is one of an indefinable number of ‘causes’ (as used in today’s terminology).

This connection should be redefined linguistically. Perhaps ‘induce’ is a softer way, but still there can be an ‘absolutist’ connotation there under certain circumstances. One thing affects the other? My point is, that ‘cause’ as a word to me implies an absolute. This is problematic as I don’t think we know anything as absolute, so we should probably find a new word to describe these less than concrete relationships. But then again, this type of absolutism can be powerfully alarmist; if you didn’t say ‘cause’, people might not get scared enough to stop smoking. And this of course is our goal, as breathing in the smoke from someone else’s cigarette ‘causes’ other people to get annoyed… ;)

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Why would you ever ask someone to do 'high quality work' within a time frame that does not truly allow for high quality work? Is it the fact that something was 'produced' that is most important, or should it be the actual 'product' it self that counts most??