February 28, 2012

Greed may be bad, but is shopping good?

I've been combing through my stack of issues of Wired over the last week, so do forgive me for being inspired by an article from December's gift-themed issue.
The article in question, "Why Thou Shalt Shop," by James Livingston asserts that shopping is good... for everyone.  I for one shop like the stereotypical sitcom husband.  I get in and out of the stores as soon as possible, and whenever possible, I have a detailed list prepared of what I need (and if buying gifts, for whom). I'm gradually getting used to making these lists on my phone with handy check-boxes.   I like to be efficient, and I like the feeling of having acquired things, but I do not enjoy the "looking around with slow-moving bastards in my way" aspect of the mall or big-box store shopping trip.
I'm the first to admit that I am not the average consumer.  For one, I don't carry a balance on my credit cards. Second, I don't drive, so I'm unable to purchase more stuff than I can carry (unless I order stuff online, which I'm not inclined to do.) Third, I'm especially cheap.  I don't like to buy anything that's not on sale and will regularly search online for the least expensive alternative.  Only if that alternative comes with free shipping will I order online. So this is the frame of reference that I have.
Livingston appeals to the basic "stupid American" stereotypes like the inability to control oneself or to plan for the future and declares that one ought not be ashamed of these qualities.
The point that I latched onto (and highlighted) was that when you are shopping, particularly for others, you are treating them as ends in themselves.  This is a Kantian idea, required, according to him, for ethical action.  The quick explanation is that if you are going to be good, you must not use other people as means to your own ends; you cannot manipulate them in order to further your own status, but instead, you must act, if not specifically in their interest, you ought to consider their interest.  Livingston holds that when you are buying gifts for various individuals, you are acting specifically in their interest and not your own.
That sounds nice, but in many cases, gifts are purchased out of obligation.  Consider Valentine's day;  I doubt that many people would have bought their significant others chocolate, flowers, and teddy bears on that day were it not marked as a holiday.  They would not have been overcome by the spirit of giving and love and other such sappy things.  Instead, they bought these gifts, in many cases, in order to keep their S.O.s from being angry with them.
Is that too bleak? Fine.  Scratch the "being angry at your partner" bit.  Let's say that they bought these things because it is polite.  Everyone ought to be polite, regardless of who might get angry if they didn't.   Desiring to be polite still is not the same as "I saw this and knew you'd love it, sweetie," and wanting to see the surprise and joy on someone's face when they open their gift.
Livingston, however, declares: "your goal in interacting with others is the acquisition of an emotional surplus, not money in the bank."  He doesn't specify who the emotional surplus is for: you, or the giftee. If it's you, then you're using the person as an end to your own emotional surplus (whatever that is).  Even if your goal is to give the other person an emotional surplus (along with a trinket), is that case when you find yourself buying a stack of Starbucks gift cards for your coworkers so that they won't do horrible things to your coffee?  I'm afraid not.  

I do plan on checking out Livingston's book,"Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, The Environment, and Your Soul," but I'll admit the reviews I've seen haven't been stellar (and that's including the ones that aren't by crazy right-wingers). Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit Google Bookmark

April 15, 2011

Vim sans Vigor

A few days ago, I came to realize something: Nobody says Vim on its own.

In my experience, and that of a few people whom I've since consulted, people don't say "vim" without coupling it with "and vigor."

Merriam-Webster defines "vim" as robust energy and enthusiasm, and notes its first known use in 1843.
It comes from Latin, "vis," meaning strength.  Their webpage says nothing about using it in combination vigor, instead including it among the synonyms which I found encouraging.  Not only is "vim and vigor" just kind of silly, but it's redundant.

I say that we should bring vim back, and give vigor a break.  In addition to helping you look like a smartypants, you might be able to educate somebody who thinks it can only be used with "vigor."

Spread the word, with vim!

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March 29, 2011

Atomism took some nerve.

So, atomism.  Yes, this is something that I think about even though it was proven obsolete This is an ancient Greek concept for the makeup of objects and substances and such. It's generally attributed to Democritus, and sometimes also his alleged teacher Leucippus, but I don't recall ever reading anything written by Leucippus, and from what I've retained of my ancient philosophy course there may be some question about his existence.

Because all of this ancient Greek business happened before the sciences were well-defined, all of the math and sciences fell under the "Philosophy" umbrella, which makes sense because the majority of folks working on any kind of science were mainly sitting around thinking about things.

An atom was originally posited to be the smallest possible particle, and therefore indivisible.  A series of other philosophers added onto this basic concept with thoughts on the different types of atoms to explain different substances (hint: they were all wrong).

I feel like this kind of speculation is both foolish and commendable, in that it requires a lot of guts/balls/gumption/whatever to hypothesize about the physical world without any means of proof or references other than analogy, and perhaps knowing that somebody else would eventually be able to see what the facts were (what sorts of tiny things there were, how they fit together, etc.) 

Of course, you might respond to me with the idea that any philosophical speculation is in exactly the same precarious position.  I would however, have to draw the line between theorizing on the physical world versus theorizing on more abstract concepts (e.g. ethics, epistemology, etc).
While there may in fact be a future invention to objectively measure, say, a full catalog of what someone knows, I must say that as it has not yet come about, it requires (required?) a great deal more planning than, say, the tools that allowed for the first inspection of an actual atom.  

To clarify, I will run with the epistemological issue.  I find myself concerned with the added difficulty of the jump from brain composition to composition of thoughts, which may be a speed bump in solving that particular problem, or may turn out to be insurmountable.  These potential barriers lead me to believe that we may be arguing these topics forever, though Democritus probably thought that his concerns were just as murky and unanswerable.

(Note: I'm really going to post more again.  I had a pretty strange Winter, but I'm back.)

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November 24, 2010


It's November again... which means it's NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  I've still not finished a novel, since beginning last year.  

Currently, I've got three short stories that are all semi-written.  I feel kind of like a failure about it, but I console myself with the knowledge that I keep having awesome story ideas. =)

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June 11, 2010

Less Vs. Fewer.

Welcome to grammar lesson two in the Nerdhappiness series on appropriate use of terms.

For our previous look at the nuances of "i.e." and "e.g.", click here.  This clarification may be a bit simpler than that, however it may be more important given the more frequent use of comparisons in speech and writing. (For example, people would say "less" and "fewer" significantly more frequently than they might choose to say "i.e." or "e.g."  Most folks that I know would choose "like " or "such as" instead.)

Over time, these two terms are being blurred together more and more.  I find that kind of annoying.  

My colloquial understanding has always been that "less" is to be used when you're talking about unknown amounts of a substance, while "fewer" is appropriate when you know the exact quantities of whatever you're describing.
For example,  "Susan has three fewer apples than Nate," and "there is less water in my bottle than in yours" are both correct.  
Imagine those statements with "less" and "fewer" switched. How awkward is that?

Upon some research, I have found that "fewer" refers to number, while "less" refers to scale. Which is than what I had previously thought.

M-W.com provides the following examples:
"Their troubles are fewer than ours," meaning "Their troubles are not so numerous as ours."
"Their troubles are less than ours," meaning " Their troubles are not so great as ours."

I like the revised definition better. It still accounts for my previous notion, but  it's more elegant.  So, remember. Fewer => Number, and Less=> Scale.

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