Archive for October, 2008

When routine bites hard: Dynamic Nominalism and the election

October 21st, 2008 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

October in Pennsylvania is my favorite time of year, and I had the pleasure of spending last weekend in Philadelphia with some of my favorite people. There’s so much to enjoy – leaves changing colors and falling, the first noticeable chill in the air, the rustling of branches under a moonlit sky. I missed it when I was away from this part of the country. There’s no feeling like it anywhere else – the atmosphere is particularly charged, the air never fresher. It almost seems magical.

Too bad then that the magic is only little more than a feeling and that everyday life is decidedly void of magic.  

A second economic stimulus package is being planned. Bush and Obama are on the same page here. Because more wasteful government spending is just what this country needs. After seeing Bush throw money around to people like the Joker in Tim Burton’s original Batman film (“Hubba, hubba, hubba…who do you trust? Me….I’m giving away free money.”), then watching it have no impact on the economy, the brilliant master plan is to try it again? I expect more than this from Obama.

I don’t know where McCain stands on this issue – he’s too busy flailing around throwing excrement against the wall and seeing what sticks. Since he has no answers of his own – what, you expected someone who’s been part of the problem in Washington for 25 years, who has consistently supported financial deregulation his whole career, who has voted with W. 90% of the time by his own admission, to have the answers? – his plan du jour is to accuse Obama of “socialism.” And that’s certainly why Warren Buffett, possibly the greatest captialist of all-time, is in Obama’s corner. Colin Powell, too – clearly another Marxist of note. Don’t forget Paul Volcker – none other than the head of the Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987 (zero points for recalling who was president then). Yes, all of these men are obviously socialists.

Which brings us to Joe the Plumber. Here is someone who doesn’t have a plumbing license, doesn’t pay his taxes,  and would get a tax cut under Obama. He’s currently being positioned by the GOP as worthy of replacing the bald eagle as an American emblem. We are all apparently Joe the Plumbers – we just didn’t realize it until now.

The philosopher Ian Hacking has written about the issue of “dynamic nominalism,” which can basically be summed up as follows: “once you invent a category…people will sort themselves into it, behave according to the description, and thus contrive new ways of being.” 

And that’s clearly the play here. I have a tricky relationship with dynamic nominalism. I fully believe that what Hacking says is true, that this is how people – specifically Americans – go about categorizing themselves. But I hate it. Is it really that easy to do? All you have to do is create a category that didn’t exist for thousands of years, that the world was fine without, and simply by the mere creation of the category…people will embrace it, bring it to life, flesh it out, and make it seem as if this is the way things always were, and that the world was somehow deficient without such labeling?

In dynamic nominalism, previously arbitrary categories come to life and become actual “real” entities solely because people treat them as real. It’s modern-day myth-making, essentially.

I guess I just don’t want to believe that people are that naive. But I’m entirely convinced it happens all the time.

This makes me think about my first year here at Smith. Every student signed up to either “Track 1” or “Track 2,” and you took all your classes with this particular group of people. There were no tangible, discernible differences between the two Tracks; assignment was random and the tracks contained equally diverse splits in terms of demographics, psychographics, and prior experience. But sure enough…soon the Tracks were at war. Track 2 was better than Track 1 for X reasons if you were in Track 2, but Track 1 was better than Track 2 for Y reasons if you were in Track 1. Professors claimed the Tracks had “different personalities” and there was mild disgust when people such as myself dared to move to another Track. (“How could you even think of leaving Track 2?”) A rivalry was created out of nothing, people talked about it all the time, and it never stopped annoying me.

Track warfare? I couldn’t think of anything more trite and stupid. But much like the supposed “culture war” in this country…does something really come to exist just because people mindlessly identify with a fictional conceit?

Dynamic nominalism is hard at work in the last few weeks of this election in weird and scary ways. It’s too bad Hunter S. Thompson is no longer around…his perspective on this would be both welcome and refreshing. 

If you thought Joe the Plumber was the end of the line, guess again. Here comes Tito the Builder, Phil the Bricklayer, Rose the Teacher, Ed the Dairyman. These are actual individuals whose personal experiences can apparently be appropriated and extrapolated to every undecided voter who still might possibly buy into the same old failed economic policies.  There’s someone for everyone! If only there were time to commission a Fisher Price line of Republican action figures, I’m sure McCain would sign off on it in a hurry. Sarah Palin even thinks people will buy off on her designation of “Barack the Wealth Spender.” This particular action figure would come complete with a black top hat and a waxed mustache.

It makes me think of the chilling scene in Fight Club when Meat Loaf’s character dies…Ed Norton reminds everyone that he was a man, he had a name and that “his name is Robert Paulson.” The collective group then declares that “in death, we all have a name. That name is Robert Paulson.” They begin mindlessly chanting  “his name is Robert Paulson.”

So while some people worry about socialism in this country, I’m a bit more concerned about increasingly bizarre manifestations of nationalism. I’ll stay away from using the “F word,” but will simply note that nationalism is a core tenet of that particular ideology.

Can anyone stop Barack Obama from being president at this point? It looks more and more unlikely. But someone could have possibly prevented (or at least delayed) the whole Obama phenomenon…and would you believe that person is Mike Ditka? Alternately comical and fascinating:

Quote: “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans – unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.” – Karl Rove


“Love Will Tear Us Apart Again” Joy Divsion. Obviously the opening lyric is in my brain as evidenced by the title of this post.

“Step Right Up” Tom Waits

This song simultaneously uses and destroys every tired  advertising cliche, and even invents a few of its own. It’s an especially relevant listen in this seemingly never-ending political season. Christmas starts in September now, and presidential election cycles last upwards of 20 months…ridiculous.


It's Always Sunny in America

October 9th, 2008 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Except when it’s not.

I have a test next week in Service Marketing. I’m not exactly in test-taking shape right now. So there is significant work to do.

I had four interviews in two days and hopefully will have more to follow. One of the interviews veered off somewhat unexpectedly into a broad discussion of the economy. This however was a welcome detour and I relished the conversation; both the interviewer’s reaction to my insights and hearing her own observations were fascinating. It underscores the magnitude of the financial crisis; being asked “Do you think we’re in a recession?” is not a left-field question in an interview in the current climate.

(Aside: this conversation arose out of my response to her question as to what my favorite class has been so far at Smith. I replied “Global Economics” rather than reverting to the default setting of picking a marketing class, and the conversation progressed from there).

And then a question came up that frighteningly enough also wasn’t from left field. I don’t think I ever considered I’d be in a situation, be it an interview or otherwise, where I’d be asked this question. And the question was:

“Do you think we’re heading towards a depression?”

A depression.

Do I think we’re heading for a depression? No. But is it a valid question to ask? It is, and that’s scary as hell. Nobody has any confidence in the people running the show, and it’s not like the Democrats have any concrete solutions.

I do think it’s ridiculous that the second presidential debate featured the two candidates simply repeating their stock phrases and vague bromides. The “big story” was that Mr. McCain referred to Mr. Obama as “that one.” I have no idea why this is controversial or newsworthy or interesting to anyone. It seems the media needs to create a story where one does not exist due to the lack of any new insights on the part of the candidates. I don’t care about William Ayers or Charles Keating or “that one.”

(I was going to write this entire blog entry about how the media and America have both become too PC, but I’m sure I would offend somebody, so I refrained from doing so. I don’t really believe you can say anything to anybody anymore, which is absurd. I’m saving this for the book….I could write about this topic for days).

Doesn’t any politician have any answers? Or are they all just making it up as they go and trying to distract us from the real issues along the way?

I can’t believe I’m agreeing with Mitt Romney on this but he’s right – “Washington is broken.” Everyone at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is responsible, yet no one is accountable.

The national debt hangs over my generation like Sylvia Plath’s bell jar. The economy will recover – this may not transpire until 2010, but I certainly don’t think this is the death of global captialism. However, we as a country are in over $10 trillion of debt, debt that is accumulating interest every day, debt that will certainly come due someday in the future.

The W. administration alone has increased the debt by over $4 trillion dollars. Clearly, previous adminstrations did a poor job of managing debt (the debt was $1 trillion in 1980), but Mr. Bush, a friend of this column, has done an astonishingly bad job:

On the bright side, I am looking forward to a new episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” We all need distraction and this is one of my favorite forms of it. The title of tonight’s episode is “Who Pooped the Bed?” and I am curious to see how the show’s five protagonists resolve this vexing issue. It is easily the best thing Danny DeVito has done since “Taxi” (I will not accept arguments for the Penguin). Additionally, Diandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds is in my mind the second-greatest female TV character of all-time, trailing only Elaine Benes.

Quote: “I’ll try to find you some and I’ll bring them to you.” –Sarah Palin, asked by Katie Couric to cite specific examples of how John McCain has pushed for more regulation in his 26 years in the Senate, CBS interview, Sept. 24, 2008

I eagerly await what Ms. Palin is able to turn up on this front. I imagine that her search for such examples is going as well as the search for Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” OJ’s search for the killers, and the search for proof of the Loch Ness monster’s existence.

Song: “The Silver Tongued Devil and I” Kris Kristoferson.

I’ve rediscovered my love for Kris K as of late. This may stem from a recent evening of catching up with an old friend; a “few” beverages were consumed, and some albums of old vintage we listened to and laughed about back in college were spun once more (via actual vinyl where possible).

The events depicted in this song are rumored to have taken place in the town where I grew up, heretofore refered to as “G-.” “The Tallyho Tavern” was purported to be a establishment of “various repute” in G- (this is plausible) where Mr. Kristofferson,  drinking heavily one night,  seduced the bar waitress, and then subsequently penned this song about his dupliticious nature (not quite as plausible). As mentioned before, G- is about the size of Wasilia, Alaska and the nature of what business Mr. Kristofferson had in G- is not specified or confirmed.

My sole source for this story is my friend D-, who most likely heard this tale from his father, who is not only my former high school biology teacher and cross country coach, but also a member of the shadowy Round Table, a secret G-ian society on the par of Skull & Bones and the Illuminati.

Either way, it’s an immortal song offering such sage observations such as “I’ll only live till I die” and this chestnut in regards to the titular imp: “Some people swear he’s my double, and some even say we’re the same.”