The practice of usury, the foundation of modern credit systems, creates debts in excess of the value represented by the principal of the loan. If there were one dollar in the whole world, and I loaned it to you, you would owe me two dollars. The same problem operates in modern finance. By charging interest on top of existing debt, usury creates more debt than exists money to pay it off. It is necessarily an apocalyptic drive. It races towards infinity, inflates towards meaningless excess. Historically, this thirst for annihilation was delayed either by jubilee or by revolution. Today there exists no authority by which blanket debt amnesty could be declared. Finance cries out to be destroyed, then – a machine for creating less-than-nothings out of nothing, destroyed by Zero. Finance calls out for its Other, chewing up the landscape until we embrace it with firearms and petrol bombs. At the same time, it scrabbles for survival. One more mouthful. Just one more. Finance deploys a dazzling array of tactics to ensure the sun will never set on its empire. It is this dialectical pragmatism of finance which we must overcome if we are to finally eat its heart.

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Monkey day care: Growing up as a child research subject

Michelle Dean knows that she was sent to a daycare alongside monkeys as part of a social science experiment in the early 1980s, but she can’t find anyone willing to fill in the details. 

The latest longform from The Verge takes a look at the ethics of using child subjects for research — drawing from Michelle’s experiences and some of history’s most (in)famous cases. One such study was designed with the specific purpose of training an infant to be pathologically afraid of small animals. 

Informed consent requires their parents to be briefed, but what if they don’t understand the information that’s given to them? And after the lights go down, how much of the study’s results and purpose are the participants filled in on? 

In Michelle’s case, the answer is “none at all.”

I drink a lot of tea, and concentrate on reading, sitting on the porch or by the stove. Books on history, science, folklore, mythology, sociology, psychology, Shakespeare, you name it. Instead of racing straight through, I reread parts I think are the most important till I understand them, to get something tangible out of them. All sorts of knowledge seeps, bit by bit, into my brain. I imagine how great it’d be to stay here as long as I wanted. There are lots of books on the shelf I’d like to read, still plenty of food. But I know I’m just passing through and will have to leave before long. This place is too calm, too natural - too complete. I don’t deserve it. At least not yet.
—  Haruki Murakami, in Kafka on the Shore

17/05/2015 - 12:48pm // Back on that revision grind again. 5 days until my Sociology Unit 2 exam but today is a good day, pretty positive!

I’ve listened to Glass Animals’ album about 10 times in the past 2 days and it’s actually such great revision music.

“If you stumble make it part of the dance.” - Unknown

Don Draper and the pursuit of loneliness.

By Jay Livingston, PhD

Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in but I do know what it feels like to be out of place, to be disconnected, to see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There’s something about you that tells me you know it too.

– Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 1

The ending of Mad Men was brilliant. It was like a good mystery novel: once you know the solution – Don Draper creating one of the greatest ads in Madison Avenue history – you see that the clues were there all along.  You just didn’t realize what was important and what wasn’t. Neither did the characters. This was a game played between Matt Weiner and the audience.

The ending, like the entire series, was also a sociological commentary on American culture. Or rather, it was an illustration of such a commentary. The particular sociological commentary I have in mind is Philip Slater’sPursuit of Loneliness, published in 1970, the same year that this episode takes place. It’s almost as if Slater had Don Draper in mind when he wrote the book, or as if Matt Weiner had the book in mind when he wrote this episode.

In the first chapter, “I Only Work Here,” Slater outlines “three human desires that are deeply and uniquely frustrated by American culture”:

(1) the desire for community – the wish to live in trust, cooperation, and friendship with those around one.

(2) the desire for engagement – the wish to come to grips directly with one’s social and physical environment.

(3) the desire for dependence – the wish to share responsibility for the control of one’s impulses and the direction of one’s life.

The fundamental principle that gives rise to these frustrations is, of course, individualism.

Individualism is rooted in the attempt to deny the reality of human interdependence. One of the major goals of technology in America is to “free” us from the necessity of relating to, submitting to, depending upon, or controlling other people. Unfortunately, the more we have succeeded in doing this, the more we have felt disconnected, bored, lonely, unprotected, unnecessary, and unsafe.

Most of those adjectives could apply to Don Draper at this point. In earlier episodes, we have seen Don, without explanation, walk out of an important meeting at work and, like other American heroes, light out for the territory, albeit in a new Cadillac. He is estranged from his family. He is searching for something – at first a woman, who turns out to be unattainable, and then for… he doesn’t really know what. He winds up at Esalen, where revelation comes from an unlikely source, a nebbishy man named Leonard. In a group session, Leonard says:

I’ve never been interesting to anybody. I, um –  I work in an office. People walk right by me. I know they don’t see me. And I go home and I watch my wife and my kids. They don’t look up when I sit down…

I had a dream. I was on a shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off. And I know everybody’s out there eating. And then they open the door and you see them smiling. They’re happy to see you but maybe they don’t look right at you and maybe they don’t pick you. Then the door closes again. The light goes off.

People are silent, but Don gets up, slowly moves towards Leonard and tearfully, silently, embraces him.

On the surface, the two men could not be more different. Don is interesting. And successful. People notice him. But he shares Leonard’s sense that his pursuit – of a new identity, of career success, of unattainable women – has left him feeling inauthentic, disconnected, and alone. “I’ve messed everything up,” he tells his sometime co-worker Peggy in a phone conversation. “I’m not the man you think I am.”

The next time we see him, he is watching from a distance as people do tai-chi on a hilltop. And then he himself is sitting on a hilltop, chanting “om” in unison with a group of people. At last he is sharing something with others rather than searching for ego gratifications.

And then the punch line. We cut to the Coke hilltop ad with its steadily expanding group of happy people singing in perfect harmony.

A simple product brings universal community (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company”). It also brings authenticity. “It’s the real thing.” Esalen and Coca-Cola. Both are offering solutions to the frustrated needs Slater identifies. But both solutions suffer from the same flaw – they are personal rather than social. A few days of spiritual healing and hot springs brings nor more social change than does a bottle of sugar water.It’s not that real change is impossible, Slater says, and in the final chapter of the book, he hopes that the strands in the fabric of American culture can be rewoven.  But optimism is difficult.

So many healthy new growths in our society are at some point blocked by the overwhelming force and rigidity of economic inequality… There’s a… ceiling of concentrated economic power that holds us back, frustrates change, locks in flexibility.

The Mad Men finale makes the same point, though with greater irony (the episode title is “Person to Person”). When we see the Coke mountaintop ad, we realize that Don Draper has bundled up his Esalen epiphany, brought it back to a huge ad agency in New York, and turned it into a commercial for one of the largest corporations in the world.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter

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There has been construction going on around my apartment building for a few months now and one thing that has been bothering me is the signage posted in the buildings and outside along the fences. Every 10 metres or so they have a “Danger Men Working” sign, about 10 signs in total.

I think what bothers me isn’t just the fact that this construction company has posted these signs that seem to (and want to?) exclude women from their construction site, but also that some manufacturer has mass created these signs, implying many construction companies expect (or want) no women to be working on their sites?

After hearing me try to express my issues with these signs for several weeks, my girlfriend and I were walking past them one night and she happened to have a permanent marker in her bag. So she made some edits to them, which is what the top picture is of. She wrote ‘Or Women’ between where it says “Men Working” on them.

But a week later, and the ‘Or Women’ additions that she had made have now been somehow removed from all the signs she wrote on. So I am going to try to find a marker that is harder to remove, and re-edit the signs until they stop erasing it.

youtube

The Science of Compassion: Kindness Is a Fundamental Human Trait

Throughout his life, Thupten Jinpa (the Dalai Lama’s primary English translator) has studied the connections between science and compassion. In his latest book, A Fearless Heart (http://goo.gl/5Ysblw), Jinpa builds off a landmark lecture given at Stanford Medical School to explain how we can take a scientific approach to train our compassion muscle to relieve stress, fight depression, improve our health, achieve our goals, and change our world.

Read more at BigThink.com: http://bigthink.com/videos/science-of-compassion

By: Big Think.