Condensation.

I posed a question on my facebook wall, that I have now put thought into myself. I asked a novel, and hypothetical question: If there was a restaurant that charged a flat fee that was based on the average value of the same menu the last night, would diners indulge?  Would they dine as if they were to pay for their equal share? Or would they eat as hedonists of antiquity and divulge, knowing fully that the diners who follow them will have to bear the burden of their lavishness?

In discussion it was wondered: Would the temporal distance between diners be enough separation to impersonalize the diners the following night? Probably. If you do not see the immediate effects of your actions, you are not likely to change your behavior to benefit another party. It is the same reason and problem that environmentalists face when they attempt to convince the world of the incoming effects of global warming, overfishing, pollution, or any number of issues that takes longer than a blink of an eye to notice. We societal  humans demand to see immediate effects of our actions. In the computing world, if you have a process that takes longer than a tenth of a second, you lose the participators focus- that’s why you see AJAX spinners and animated loading bars.

Now, back to this hypothetical situation. Believing that the diners will be insensitive, and living in an immodest society, I can say with a small amount of assurance that there would be a fair share of gluttons. The fixed price of a dining experience will rise nightly. This constant escalation will alienate the impoverished, and the restaurants clientele  will dwindle until there isn’t a large enough constituency to support the restaurant. Alternatively, the prices will rise but there could be a large enough group of ultra rich that the establishment can survive, turning a curious social meal experiment into a Veblen good.

To escape this outcome, I modified the experiment. The price you now pay is an average of the previous hour. When you are seated at your table you see the group that sat there previously, and you have the briefest moment of contact. Perhaps the server personalizes it further and mentions the names of the diners that sat in those very chairs but five minutes before your arrival.

Now the price is very human, and there is a personal consequence to indulgence. Your actions directly effect someone you know to be alive, and in your society. Some may draw on their limited knowledge of the concept of Socialism, and call this idea as such.

There are only two options I can think of. That is why I titled this post “Condensation”. Out of the vapors that exist in the entire galaxy of possibilities I have sucked them down and compressed them into two very polarized possibilities. It is how I continually operate. I see a situation, or dream of an idea and suitcase my thoughts into the few possibilities I can think of. Here I have taken a complex set of creatures (humans, and the society they live in) and can only offer two possible choices.

Shouldn’t there be a much more infinite array of choices? My thoughts become binary, where there is an on and off. They are the absolutes, and there is no splintering into the possible, but improbable. Pity, I would guess there is much else out there to be thought of that this grey mass of goo that often are dismissed immediately.

Haidt (pronounced height, not hate) Part 1

I was presented with the option to listen to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt speak @ UF yesterday. If you clicked on the link you may be disparaged as I was: his personal site leaves much to be desired. His site may lack a stylesheet or any of the usual accouterments of a recently developed website, but it contains a plethora of information without pretense. His website is a perfect analogy for his talk.

Haidt spoke on topics generally related to his new book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”. With this topic in mind he dived into his thoughts on the current political climate. I won’t go through the entire litany of facts, statistics, and ideas he brought up- I would recommend his book for that, but I will ask you the same questions I wondered as he spoke.

Haidt provided graphic representations of how ‘good’ we are living today, compared to every other time in history. The more our race matures, the better we get at raising the comfort of life. There have been a few hiccups when our race stagnated (recently about 1000 years ago when a plague wiped out 1/3 of all Europeans), but especially in recent history we have become exponentially more prosperous. Overall, humanity is better than it has ever been. For Americans specifically, there are plenty of statistics showing that we are slightly worse off now than 10 years ago, but for the rest of our countries’ young life we are fairing better than ever.

Still, politicians (on any side, with any creed) recall the ‘good old days’. Everything was better 60 years ago, right? Streets were cleaner, less crime, less discourse and hatred, dogs cleaned up their own excrement. Sure, the country was together during these times, but it was because there was a bad, bad man killing millions and planning on world domination. It turns out that when millions of Americans are being pulled into war, their hatred for their neighbors fades.

My point: we will never return to a post(or present)-war stability without another world war. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that we have an allegiance of sovereign countries to fight,  we all get along too well. There will be dissidents anywhere, but they are deep within the minority. Going back to those good days is a mantra that can be repeated that cannot stand, as it has no legs.

Haidt offered some solutions to our political woes, and I won’t paraphrase his ideas (they were articulated much better than I ever could). I made up my mind while listening to his talk: it requires a dialogue and some level of openness for this very vile and poisonous political climate to change. Haidt spoke of a few things that bring people together, that opens dialogue: bring families together (the overwhelmingly white suburbs do the opposite), talk over food (who can avoid reasoned conversation when there is good food around). The only time I have come to appreciate an openness is with a beer or four in hand, while sitting in a hot tub. Spending hours cooking in a human sized croc-pot levels boiling tempers and ideals. Partisan bickering is reduced to reasoned (if slurred) disagreement, but understanding.

So, I offer my own mind to an openness. Should I find a pool and a beer it would ease the conversation, but I cannot continue to take part in such a vicious cycle. The man yelling at you across the picket line is (probably) a reasoned person, with ideas that are different than yours. So? You have your convictions, and take them seriously. So? Politics has become a battle over morality. Why? What is more moral than the appreciation for the person walking past you.

There is much more to this conversation, that I wouldn’t mind having with anyone who asks a question. If you don’t find your question heading my way, perhaps you will find it answered when I get to part II of this post.