Consumption Junction: "Forget the Money"

by Lana Lynne on November 30, 2012
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" That ubiquitous childhood refrain echoes throughout many people's lives, evolving with each new chapter of experiences. When we're young, the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. As we get older, for many these choices begin to fit into pre-molded channels, into recognizable and attainable occupations. By the time we're "grown up," what we want to be has been replaced by what we do for money. Our options for alternative lifestyles are few, and unceasing bombardments by consumerist messages tell us what to do with our money, each tailored to our socioeconomic positions. Cultural critics call us automatons of the industrial complex, and as members of "the masses," we fall in lockstep time to a soundtrack of retail therapy.

And yet, the idea of "What do you want to be when you grow up?" or, as Alan Watts puts it, "What if money were no object?" still resonates with us. A short video made by a 20-year-old "self-taught video creator" takes a snippet of Alan Watts speaking about living a meaningful life to narrate a nicely spliced montage of dreamy time-lapse images. Watts asks listeners straightforward, "What makes you itch? What would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?" For the rest of the video, he laments people's complacency with "doing things you don't like doing in order to go on living." "Forget the money," he says, "because if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time."

On Youtube, the video has gotten more than one million views. On Facebook, one posting of the video was shared over 200,000 times. Is this a whisper from within the masses of complacent consumers, breaking free of the amnesiac lullabies of monetary desire? Or has our ability to answer Watts' question been reduced to a like and a share?

Read more about Recycled Minds' exploration of similar ideas in this article about a world without money, this one about profiteering in academia, and this one on how Occupy is helping people out of debt.

Mutual Beneficience with Research Assistants

The University of Belize, Toledo Campus in the small town of
Punta Gorda. Photo courtesy of UB. 
Views from the ANThill
by douglas c reeser on November 22, 2012
A major aspect of my research in Belize involves trying to get an understanding of how families manage their health, given the various options available to them. After spending a good year in the community, I had in mind to speak with the female head of the household. Wives, mothers, and grandmothers are often the decision makers when it comes to matters of health in southern Belize, and they are most often familiar with the health issues and events faced by their families.

My challenge with this stage of the research was not so much where to find participants, but how to most effectively go about recruitment. My goal was to cover the economic and ethnic diversity among households throughout the community, necessitating the need to cover the varied geography that exists there. Going door-to-door would be the surest way to get that coverage. Time of day would be a factor in my success as well, and most women who do not work outside the home have the most flexible time during the day while their children and partners are usually out of the house.

What we talk about when we talk about hipsters

by douglas reeser and lana lynne on November 14, 2012
We started this fun conversation about hipsters after reading two articles: "Hipsters and Low-Tech" by PJ Rey and "Away from a Sociology of Hipsters" by Andrew M. Lindner. In brief, Rey’s article discusses the trend of low tech devices such as Polaroid cameras and fixed-gear bikes in relation to individualism and authenticity. Basically, Rey argues that the hipster aesthetic hinges on a desire to be unique, resulting in a socially-mandated hyper-individualism. The trendiness of low-tech devices or even the illusion of low-tech (such as can be seen in Apple ads) reflects a desire for agency and independence. Lindner’s article argues against the use of hipsters as a lens through which to do any type of critical thinking. Having become such a broad category, the noun hipster can refer to any number of groups of people: the artsy Williamsburg type, the hipster-clothes-wearing-type, or rich young people. Lindner believes that specifying factors such as age, education, political leanings and the like would be  more accurate analytic concepts. From these two interesting pieces, we indulged in our own analysis of the hipster aesthetic:

D: I get Lindner's argument, but...

There is definitely a hipster aesthetic, and I do think it probably started as a sort of counter-culture (like the hippies), but was quickly appropriated by corporate interests for profit (like what happened to the hippies, only much much quicker). So maybe there really were some authentic hipsters that held a certain anti-mainstream view of the world, but that can no longer be said. Hipster is mainstream now. So even if you were/are an "authentic" hipster, it doesn't matter; the subculture has been appropriated. If you don't want to be a part of that, best to look for a new (life)style. I mean, steampunk, skinny jeans, fixed gear, big-rimmed glasses, tight flannel shirts, librarian-esque clothes, and all the other aspects of aesthetic hipsterism now belong to the mainstream corporate world. They took and are selling it. It's no longer unique, but it remains identifiable, and it seems to include a certain subset of the population that has money to spend on things (with exceptions of course, but every [sub]culture has exceptions).

L: Yeah, this is basically what I was getting at.

There is no "being hipster," it's just a style, or a fashion. So Rey’s article strikes me as giving way too much depth to the style. People who dress hipster-like can find these "toys" (such as polaroid cameras) at Urban Outfitters. Maybe the 16-year-old hipster thinks s/he is being unique, but I would imagine most people older than that recognize on some level that it's just fun or cool or trendy or whatever

And just to go on a little bit more about the fashion... Before the internet, it USED to be that fashion did align people in certain ideological camps. Especially when you tied music to it. Hippies, goth, preppy, hip hop... it was fashion and music, and certain assumptions (and stereotypes) could be drawn from what you wore and what you listened to.

Now, it seems all those categories are gone. It's just about the way you look, and there's nothing of substance behind it at all.

Occupy your Debt

The People's Bailout - a variety show in support
of the 99%. Live online and in NYC on November
15, 2012. 
by douglas reeser on November 12, 2012
In case you haven't heard, Occupy is back in the news and this time it doesn't have to do with protests, sit-ins, or police violence. And to the surprise of many, it seems that the potential for Occupy is actually growing, as the movement is working on at least two fronts, and certainly in terms of public relations, Occupy is scoring some points. The movement has shown the public a different side of itself through its relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in early November. The hurricane resulted in extensive damage throughout much of New York City and New Jersey, so much so that the traditional governmental and non-governmental relief agencies have had difficulty responding to all the needs of those affected.

With so many in need, members of Occupy were able to quickly mobilize a response that other relief organizations were unable to do. According to a piece in the Nation,
"Occupy Sandy, as the effort has been branded, arose quickly in the aftermath of the storm, setting up local community hubs to dispense water, food and aid, and form groups to help communities pump water from their houses and clean up the vast quantities of rubble left in Sandy’s wake. Distribution centers have been set up in numerous locations in New York and New Jersey, and they continue to help those in need... While federal mobilization efforts can often take weeks—sometimes months—to reach citizens, Occupy was one of the only local groups capable of quickly mobilizing to help victims. Organizing volunteers and supplies is no small task, but Occupy Sandy has been able to generate a large amount of aid. On Sunday, Michael Premo, one of the volunteers, estimated the mobilization effort included 2,500 volunteers, 15,000 meals and 120 carloads of supplies sent to recovery sites."

There's Oil in those Hills: Fracturing Land and Communities in Southern Belize

Aerial view from the sea of Sarstoon Temash National Park in southern
Belize, where US oil interests have begun to drill.
Photo courtesy of News 5 Belize.
by douglas reeser on November 8, 2012
As some of our regular readers know, I've been working and living in southern Belize for most of the last year and a half. Spending so much time in a place begins to provide insight into the day-to-day lives of the people that live there. An understanding of the strengths of the community and the challenges it must face begin to emerge. The south of Belize has historically been the region in which poverty is most concentrated in the country. In 2009, nearly half of all households (~47%) in the south were living  in poverty, and in 2010, unemployment in the district was over 21%. These statistics sound alarming, but probably remain abstract to most readers. Living in a place makes the abstract real.

During my time in Belize, the ways in which these types of economic statistics are experienced have become evident. Many of my closest friends have struggled financially, to the point that the economics of providing the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, a roof to live under) were everyday challenges. Jobs are scarce, and when they do open up, the applicant pool is always huge and usually includes more qualified or better educated applicants from outside of the region. In many cases, people are forced to turn to a more informal economy in which they may do things they may not otherwise do given the choice. I have seen people struggle immensely in this type of position, but when it's a choice between a home for you and your family or no home, there really isn't much of a choice.

First Friday Picture Show: Papua New Guinea by Alan Maschek

by Alan Maschek on Friday, November 2, 2012
~ Picture #8 ~
Young boys play rugby alongside the big field. The girls tease them as they play.
photo by Alan Mashcek.    

Last November I found myself lucky enough to travel to Papua New Guinea for field research in the Coral Sea. I wouldn’t say that I visited Papua New Guinea having only stayed in the city of Port Moresby for a few days, but I did get to drive around the city, visit the university campus and watch a rugby game between local teams.

Alan Maschek is a chemist working on marine natural products.

~ Picture #11 ~
Another handsome kid hangs out.
photo by Alan Maschek.

View in Full Screen for Optimum Pleasure!

You can also view this show on Flickr >

Žižek on Reconceptualizing Nature

by douglas c reeser on November 1, 2012
In some of my recent articles, I've brought up the need to begin rethinking the world around us. The current capitalist-driven approach is likely to more deeply embed the problems and issues that we currently face. Most appear eager to continue down this path, but there are a growing number who are beginning to question that wisdom (or lack thereof). But how do we rethink what has become so normal, so routine, so everyday?

One of the more popular social critics of our time is Slavoj Žižek, and he has a gift of being able to identify large-scale social problems and offer new ways of examining and addressing them. What follows, a 10-minute clip of Žižek from the documentary Examined Life, is such an example. Žižek offers his views on the environmental problems facing humanity (appropriate now, considering the destructive hurricane Sandy that just battered the northeastern US). He then goes on to offer a reconceptualization of nature, and the start of a different way to move forward to address one of our most pressing predicaments.

Check it!