Category Archives: Culture

“Rebellious shopping”

Keep shopping

Keep shopping

Pretty interesting opinion piece in the NYT today. In “Unequal, Yet Happy”, CalTech researchers Steven Quartz and Annette Asp make a case that unlike the past, today’s opportunities for individualistic expression/consumerism are partly responsible for keeping a lid on discontent re: the wage gap.

They start first by laying out some facts about “happiness inequality” that might surprise people:

All of the wage gains since the downturn ended in 2009 have essentially gone to the top 1 percent, yet the proportion of Americans who say they are “thriving” has actually increased. So-called happiness inequality — the proportion of Americans who are either especially miserable or especially joyful — hit a 40-year low in 2010 by some measures. Men have historically been less happy than women, but that gap has disappeared. Whites have historically been happier than nonwhites, but that gap has narrowed, too.

Apparently, conspicuous consumption was about keeping up with the Joneses (but I think the Joneses always knew you couldn’t).

The pursuit of “the cool,” in our view, fundamentally altered the psychological motivations underlying our consumer choices. In conspicuous consumption, our emulation of higher-ups means we compete directly for status because we want what they have. But rebellious consumption changed the game, by making a product’s worth depend on how it embodied values that rejected a dominant group’s status.

To me this feels related to the Wal-Mart effect. While wealth concentrates at the top, a broader group of people have access to more “stuff” than ever before. I don’t think a broad group of people are actually really “cool” in the narrow sense that they are hipsters riding fixies up hills with great looking beards and skinny jeans.  I do think that millions of people can buy Martha Stewart at K-Mart and feel some degree of fashion, and a connection with the elite. And perhaps this leads to increased contentment.

Or maybe we actually brought Millenials up well, and they realize money and stuff is far from the end all.

A NYT broadside on Youth Sports culture

The NYT has a piece today that asks hard questions about youth sports insanity in the US. There have been plenty of articles about the myth of college scholarships; large increases in concussions and ACL injuries; the massive expense involved for many families that can’t afford it; and the psychologically harmful participation for many. But I haven’t seen an article that questions the very qualifications of coaches so powerfully, or the fact that parents don’t hold them to the same bar as the other adults that they entrust their kids to.

“The biggest challenge of youth sports in this country is so many of the adults who propagate the culture have no background in child development or physical education,” he said. “Their background is they played high school sports somewhere and they watch ESPN. Those are the two worst qualifications, ever.”

More qualified coaches would seem to be the answer. But despite all the money and time parents spend on sports, coaches in many communities are held to a lower standard than educators.

“Coaches are allowed to be emotionally illiterate,” Mr. Amaechi said. “I’ve watched as a coach stood screaming inches from the face of a girl and the parents were in the stands and instead of being incensed they continued screaming at her when she came to them.

“All you need to do to see what sport gets wrong is flip that scenario indoors and make that coach a French teacher,” he continued. “Your French teacher is inches away from your child’s face and screaming because she can’t conjugate a verb? Parents would stand by and allow that? No, they’d be incensed.”

Having spent a fair amount of time in this sphere, both as a parent and in the sports technology business, I do wonder whether this frenzy is close to peaking. There is a whole industry — from athletic directors, to coaches, to personal trainers, to video production and recruiting specialists, to physical therapists, to equipment manufacturers — who are highly incentivized to make sure people don’t question whether it’s in fact good for the majority of kids and families.

Go Pope Francis

No matter what you might think about the history of the Papacy, the Catholic Church, etc. it’s wonderful to see Pope Francis weigh in on the current nightmare that is fundamentalist Islam and religious extremists in general:

“Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads or to power, money or even deviant forms of religion,” he added. “Violence is always the product of a falsification of religion, its use as a pretext for ideological schemes whose only goal is power over others.”

The pope also called on “religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community,” to “condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence.”

via France to Deploy Thousands of Forces to Protect Jewish Schools and ‘Sensitive Sites’ – NYTimes.com.

I imagine that the world’s trade and banking institutions could be deployed to devastating effect against those “religious, political and intellectual leaders” whose actions don’t go beyond the mere condemnation of the jihadis.