Tag Archives: Social economy

How evil happens

BOOK REVIEW

Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, Author: Noga Arikha.
Eichmann in Jerusalem, Author: Hannah Arendt.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, Author: Simon Baron-Cohen.
Home Fire, Author: Kamila Shamsie.

By Noga Arikha – The ‘sapiens’ in Homo sapiens does not fully describe our species: we are as violent as we are smart.

This might be why we are the only Homo genus left over in the first place, and why we have been so destructively successful at dominating our planet. But still the question nags away: how are ordinary people capable of such obscene acts of violence?

Today, biology is a powerful explanatory force for much human behavior, though it alone cannot account for horror. Much as the neurosciences are an exciting new tool for human self-understanding, they will not explain away our brutishness. Causal accounts of the destruction that humans inflict on each other are best provided by political history – not science, nor metaphysics. The past century alone is heavy with atrocities of unfathomable scale, albeit fathomable political genesis.

The social neuroscientist Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig in Germany defines empathy as the ability to ‘resonate’ with the feelings of the other. It develops from babyhood on – as imitation at first, then joint attention – into the ability to adopt the point of view of another, along with a shift in spatial perception from self to other, as if one were literally stepping into another’s shoes.

This requires an ability to distinguish between self and other in the first place, an aspect of the so-called ‘theory of mind’ that one acquires over the first five years of life.

But while empathy ensures the cohesion of a group or a society, it is also biased and parochial. Revenge thrives on it. more>

Related>

The Temp Economy and the Future of Work

BOOK REVIEW

Temp: How American Work, American Business and the American Dream Became Temporary, Author: Louis Hyman.

By Gabrielle Levy – The way people work is changing. Machines and computers reduce the need for labor. Companies have shifted to hiring relatively few permanent staff and opting instead to strike temporary contracts with outside workers.

Uber, the ride-sharing behemoth, is perhaps the best known of these modern companies, with its thousands of drivers operating as independent contractors, but it did not invent the form. The roots of the gig economy go all the way back to the years after World War II, with the creation of the first temp and consulting agencies, including Manpower Inc. and McKinsey & Co.

We will see work become less tied to a particular employer in lots of ways. For some people, that’s fantastic, If you’re a consultant or independent contractor and you have lots of control over your life and you get paid pretty well, then this is a fabulous turn. And if you are a gig worker and you are running errands for somebody else, it’s kind of a nightmarish turn.

Do people really want full-time work? Do they want secure work? And the answer is, yes and no.

Everybody likes to work when they want to work, just like every employer wants workers who will start and stop as needed.

How do we create a system where work can be flexible but we can still have a baseline level of security for our health and our families that allows us to take risks and be entrepreneurial and explore new economic possibilities? more>

Updates from Adobe

5 & 3/4 Questions
Alicia Rius – My work with animals is like an immersive experience. I like to get close to the subjects so you can feel yourself in them. The images are clean, simple, and emotional.

I’m a memory collector. I’ve been documenting my life’s experiences with photos and in writing since I was a kid. But 2010 is when I started to take it more seriously. I bought my first DSLR, and I learned everything with YouTube videos and countless hours of practicing.

One day, when I was out there, I stumbled upon an abandoned farmhouse. It was amazing to see all things they had left behind, all those memories! How could they? That eerie feeling hooked me up, and then I started to document abandoned places around Europe.

The work that I feel most identified with is the work that has the right balance of beauty and eeriness. Both my Abandoned series and my hairless cat series are good examples.

Both are personal projects, and personal projects allow me to be who I am as a photographer. more>

Related>

Is Silicon Valley’s giant foundation just hoarding money?

By Ben Paynter – In late July, the Institute for Policy Studies warned that one of the fastest growing ways of giving to charity could be manipulated to benefit super-rich donors instead of those most in need.

The charitable vehicle in question is called a donor-advised fund (DAF), which allows donors to give money and non-cash assets, including public stock, to charity to receive an immediate tax benefit, but then wait to distribute the money. It’s a clever incentive that’s particularly en vogue among the 1%, in part because it allows for contributions of non-cash assets, such as stock, private company shares, and real estate, to avoid capital gains tax.

The issue is that there isn’t any formal timetable for that money to flow back out again, or necessary guidance on how particularly large sums might effectively be spent. Both issues appear to affect the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a $13.5 billion cause fund that has received donations from Mark Zuckerberg, among other tech elite.

Among the 80% of charities that have tried to expand in recent years, half have exceeded their sustainable budgets, a precarious position for any organization that relies on (hard to access) grant money to remain afloat. Per Open Impact’s report, the region’s tech elite may be giving billions to philanthropy annually, but community groups have historically received next to nothing. more>

Looking Past GDP to Measure Economic Strength

By Sophie Mitra – GDP has many limitations. It captures only a very narrow slice of economic activity: goods and services. It pays no attention to what is produced, how it is produced, or how it might improve lives.

Still, many policymakers, analysts, and reporters remain fixated on the GDP growth rate, as if it encapsulates all of a nation’s economic goals, performance, and progress.

The obsession about GDP comes, in part, from the misconception that economics only has to do with market transactions, money, and wealth. But the economy is also about people.

Despite the media’s obsession with GDP, many economists would agree that economics considers wealth or the production of goods and services as means to improve the human condition.

One approach is to have a dashboard of indicators that are assessed on a regular basis. For instance, workers’ earnings, the share of the population with health insurance, and life expectancy could be monitored closely, in addition to GDP.

However, this dashboard approach is less convenient and simple than having one indicator to measure progress against. A wide set of indicators are, in fact, available already in the U.S.—but attention remains stuck on GDP. more>

The Progressives’ Plan to Win in 2018

By Elaine Godfrey – Democrats have been grappling with key questions about coalition building since the 2016 election: Should they prioritize winning back the voters they lost to Trump?

Should they attempt to woo the white voters gradually fleeing the party?

Progressives this weekend said, emphatically, no. It’s a genuine attempt to remake the Democratic Party at a time when racial and class tensions are the highest they’ve been since the 1960s—and it’s also put them on a collision course with party leaders and other Democrats.

That doesn’t mean ignoring whites and Trump voters, she says. Instead, “it’s rejecting the notion that our way to victory is having a centrist, moderate right-leaning strategy that feels like we could peel off Romney Republicans, versus investing in communities of color, marginalized groups, and progressive white people,” Anoa Changa said. “There is this notion that … we can’t address the issues of race, systemic oppression, because we don’t want to piss these voters off. We have to find a way to do both.” more>

Related>

What did Max Weber mean by the ‘spirit’ of capitalism?

By Peter Ghosh – Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe.

We use the word ‘capitalism’ today as if its meaning were self-evident, or else as if it came from Marx, but this casualness must be set aside. ‘Capitalism’ was Weber’s own word and he defined it as he saw fit. Its most general meaning was quite simply modernity itself: capitalism was ‘the most fateful power in our modern life’.

More specifically, it controlled and generated ‘modern Kultur’, the code of values by which people lived in the 20th-century West, and now live, we may add, in much of the 21st-century globe. So the ‘spirit’ of capitalism is also an ‘ethic’, though no doubt the title would have sounded a bit flat if it had been called The Protestant Ethic and the Ethic of Capitalism.

Weber supposed that all previous ethics – that is, socially accepted codes of behavior rather than the more abstract propositions made by theologians and philosophers – were religious. Religions supplied clear messages about how to behave in society in straightforward human terms, messages that were taken to be moral absolutes binding on all people. In the West this meant Christianity, and its most important social and ethical prescription came out of the Bible: ‘Love thy neighbor.’

As a guide to social behavior in public places ‘love thy neighbor’ was obviously nonsense, and this was a principal reason why the claims of churches to speak to modern society in authentically religious terms were marginal.

The ethic or code that dominated public life in the modern world was very different. Above all it was impersonal rather than personal: by Weber’s day, agreement on what was right and wrong for the individual was breaking down. The truths of religion – the basis of ethics – were now contested, and other time-honored norms – such as those pertaining to sexuality, marriage and beauty – were also breaking down. more>

Marginalized People Don’t Need Lessons in Civility

By Terese Marie Mailhot – White people tend to use the word “civilized” in its adjectival form. To them, it describes being polite and respecting other people’s opinions and beliefs. For me, as for many other natives, “civilized” is a historical verb, recalling a bloody ultimatum imposed on us by an invading army. White people were never more “civilized” than us; they perpetuated the dichotomy of civilized versus savage to dehumanize us.

Those who posit themselves as most civil are often the people with the most power and privilege, and they’re also often the most forgetful of the history of this continent, which was founded in blood. I do not believe in civility, just as I do not believe in savagery. I believe in decency and see the living traumas still unresolved in my own people’s history. There are remnants of distrust that go back to when my grandmother went to Indian residential school, and indigenous people still distrust the government, not only for the massacres throughout indigenous history, but also for parts of our history that are often neglected or overlooked, like the coerced and forced sterilization of indigenous women in both Canada and the United States, which occurred as recently as 1990.

Civility is an invention that has been weaponized against indigenous people since settlers first started coming to indigenous lands. The rhetoric Europeans used, the language settlers used, the words presidents used against indigenous people argued that Indians were savages. more>

In extremis

By Nabeelah Jaffer – to understand what has led someone to extremism it is not enough to point to ideology. Ideas alone did not bring Mair to leave his home that morning with a sawn-off shotgun and a seven-inch knife. The accounts that emerged in the weeks after Cox’s murder dwelt on many details of Mair’s previously blameless life.

‘Loneliness is the common ground of terror’ – and not just the terror of totalitarian governments, of which Hannah Arendt was thinking when she wrote those words in The Origins of Totalitarianism. It also generates the sort of psychic terror that can creep up on a perfectly ordinary individual, cloaking everything in a mist of urgent fear and uncertainty.

Totalitarian ideas offer a ‘total explanation’ – a single idea is sufficient to explain everything. Independent thought is rendered irrelevant in the act of joining up to their black-and-white worldview.

Becoming an ‘idealist’ assuaged these fears (the word is perhaps better read as ‘ideologue’). After all, if you sign up to the idea that class struggle, racial competition or civilizational conflict is absolute, then you can achieve meaning and kinship as part of a race, class or civilization without ever requiring two-sided thought – the kind of thought that involves weighing competing imperatives and empathizing with a range of people. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

By John Wasik – Finland sits at the top of the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, which ranked more than 150 countries by their happiness level. The country that gave the world the mobile game Angry Birds scored high on all six variables that the report deems pillars of happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. News reports touted Finland’s stability, its free health care and higher education, and even the saunas and metal bands for which it’s famous.

Yet abundance does not equate to happiness, according to research—even on a longer time frame. In most developed countries, the average person is rich by the standards of a century ago. Millions more people have access to safe food, clean drinking water, and in most cases state-funded health care.

And in countries with a growing middle class, millions more are now finding themselves able to purchase big-screen televisions, smart phones, and cars.

But this growth in wealth hasn’t made people happier.

People gain more happiness when they satisfy their inherent rather than learned preferences—needs rather than wants. more>

Related>