Why dissertations are great…

I was just thinking that if not for the dissertation process, I probably wouldn’t spend 10,000 hours thinking about the same subject.  (That’s a little Malcolm Gladwell reference for those of you who’ve read that book.)  Anyway, how awesome is it that I have this artificial imposition that requires me to focus so endepthly on one topic, which of course increases the chances that I might actually produce something of value?  Finally, a valid reason for higher education to exist.

I have had many thoughts in the past few days that I want to work out here.  While I’m certain they may be tedious for anyone besides me to sludge through, it’s so helpful to write them out.  This is the learning process for me.

1.  Revolution in Human Consciousness

Holy Crap, The Social Animal by David Brooks is amazing.  I got turned on to him through his TED talk (of course).  I’m part of the Ted-Ed initiative and will write more about that later, but I think it’s pretty cool too.   Anyway, Brooks’ book is about the revolution in human consciousness and…well, you should take a look if you get a chance.

2. Dream about the flaws of human capital

I had this dream about human capital the other night.  My dream was about how flawed it is because it’s based entirely on Adam Smith’s economic meta-narrative of industrialization.  It places 100% of the human capital value in the ecnomic meta-narrative:

“stock of competences, knowledge and personality attributes embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value”

and doesn’t mention at all the other realms of human existence that might be valuable, like social capital, psychological capital, physical capital, etc…  (And of course, there’s my original complaint with Mr. Smith in that his doctrine commodifies all human skill placing it squarely in the center of market norms and sacrificing all of the value that human skill can create via social norms, etc….).  Anyway…it was the kind of dream where you sit up in bed and say out loud, placing human capital in purely economic terms is so damaging and short sighted.  Good dream.

3.  Trip to Belgium

I’ve been thinking about this trip to Belgium.  At first, I just said, yes, let’s go and began passport applications.  Then, I began to think about it economically.  How much does it cost, what are the hidden economic costs, etc….  The immediate yes was predicated almost entirely on the economic reality that Google would pay for lodging thereby reducing the cost of the trip and making it worthwhile because it’s cheaper than the same trip at another time.  Then I began to engage the economic narrative of this event more fully to think about the other costs and to calculate opportunity costs, etc…

Then I was struck by the fact that once again, the economic meta-narrative of our culture was responsible for 90% of my decision making process.  So, I began to ask questions about the social and psychological capital of going to Belgium.

What impact does a trip to Europe have on a child who doesn’t remember it?  What are the social implications of a child who spent time in Europe from such a young age?  What are the social benefits of being a family who travels to Europe?  What are the benefits to a marriage and family to take a trip together as a family?  I think it might be Dan Pink who writes about the value of experiences over possessions with respect to happiness.  He talks about the importance of taking trips and having new and novel experiences.  And Dan Ariely and Michael Norton talk about the importance of conceptual consumption.  Like, how the foods you like give you more happiness than trying new things, but trying new things gives you social capital that becomes valuable in other ways.  Belgium is a big deposit in the social capital/psychological capital investment portfolio.

*interestingly, Google really seems to attempt development of many forms of capital among their employees.  I think this a good idea.

4. Market Economy Metaphor

I struggled with the capitalist metaphor for talking human flourishing for a long time and I tried on biological metaphors (which I haven’t give up on), but I’m thinking I might just try to embrace the capitalist metaphor and see what it does to the narrative.

5.  Philanthropic Marketing

I’m so CURIOUS about philanthropic marketing.  Anyone who watches Hulu has experienced this.  If you complain in their forum about commercials, the next 50 commercials you get are all philanthropic.  It’s so interesting.  You feel bad resenting a philanthropic commercial.  I really don’t know what to make of the whole movement.  I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this.  I’ve always thought of marketing as such a negative force playing on our desires toward consumption and these commercials just make my brain turn inside out.

6.  Google and Philanthropy

In thinking about philanthropy, I’ve been considering the Google effect.   Google matches employee philanthropy.  So, when I think of donating somewhere, I stop and say to myself that I should have Daniel make the donation so that Google will match it, upping the value of my donation.  Then I find myself feeling inadequate about the level of my donation.  If I want to donate $10, I feel that it’s not really enough and I might be a little embarrassed about the size of the donation and so I don’t really want to take it to Google.  Plus it gets a little out of proportion with the effort required for the donation.

7.  More on NPR Pledge Drives

Yes, I have something more to say about NPR.  At the end of the pledge drive, NPR was giving away a trip to somewhere.  I remember hearing the conversation on NPR and thinking, well, I can’t possibly go on that trip (for a series of reasons) and so, I shouldn’t donate now because I’m not really eligible for that prize.  Then I thought about all the people who had Ipads during that other pledge drive and I just basically marveled at the complexity this all causes.

8.  Is it worth $10 to drive across town?

Finally, yes, it will eventually come to an end, a word on the irrationality of humans.  Ariely is a behavioral economist railing against the traditional economists who assume rational behaviors among humans (again, see Brooks from above).  Ariely talks about how $10 off on a suit you are purchasing might be worth driving across town to get a better price.   But you probably wouldn’t drive across town to get $10 off on the purchase of a car.  $10 seems insignificant in comparison to the cost of the car versus the suit where it appears to be more significant.  He says this is irrational because either the drive across town is worth $10 or it isn’t.  It occurred to me, it’s such a simple idea yet took so long to surface, that there are many layers of capital investment in the two purchases (socially, psychologically, time, etc…).  When you buy a car, you dress a certain way, you build up the nerve, you do a lot of planning, it takes a lot out of you (aka, you’ve put a lot into it) that’s invisible.  The $10 isn’t worth it for the car because you are subconsciously weighing the other investments you’ve made that will be lost in the process of starting over elsewhere.

I can’t overstate how important this all seems to me now.

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