Monday, April 6, 2009

Random Bits April 6, 2009

Economic Vignettes

Selling eggs door to door. A man came to the door today while I was at work and spoke to my wife. He was selling new doorbell face covers and offering installations for $65.00. Apparently, he was peddling quite a collection. I imagine brass suns or little carriage houses. My thought was this was a little like selling eggs during the depression. When there is no work, people get creative.

Minimum wages and non-profits. Two graduating students drove up to UCLA for a big "job fair" from SUA. Dressed to the nines, hoping to convey professionalism. Spoke to one in the coffee shop on campus just after they had returned. [Definite worry over an uncertain future etched in her face]. She did not want to return home and live with the family again, though she said it might be OK for a while ... Most firms were not hiring full-time but looking for interns for volunteers. Seems the minimum starting wage in this sector starts at zero. A few public sector divisions were hiring, the Federal Government needs new agents for all sorts of new work in an imploding national economy.

Students not ready ... seek lifelong learning as solution to failures of education. This report belongs in the "irony bin." Seems a colleague was meeting with some recent grads on a recent trip to the east coast. Wanted to get the low down on strength and weaknesses in their SUA experience. One student wished that formal logic was emphasized more or that he had been able to take more econ. He decided to work on his own to develop both. So, in pursuing additional learning on his own, the college succeeded by failing in the most satisfying way for an educator like me. "Give a man a fish and ..."

There are no homunculi running the system. I assigned a couple of pages from John Gray's collection, Straw Dogs, for my CORE 200 class this week. I wanted to discuss the possibility of the illusory self with the students after reading Nietzsche and Sartre last week (each building their ideas on the idea of the self as center of individual will and action). I like the selections because they deal with the illusion of central control in systems that actually have none (i.e., ants, termites, markets, human cognition). Gray writes (p. 72),

The notion that our lives are guided by a humonculus -- an inner person driving our behavior -- arises from our ability to view ourselves from the outside. We project a self into our actions because by doing so we can account for the way they seem to hang together. The continuities we find are frequently imaginary, but when they are real it is not because anyone put them there. Our behavior displays a good deal of order, but it does not come about through any inner person ordering it.

Gray quotes R A Brooks at length:

Just as there is no central representation there is no central system. Each activity connects perception and action directly. It is only the observer of the creature who imputes a central representation or central control. The creature itself has none: it is a collection of competing behaviors. Out of the local chaos of their interactions there emerges, in the eye of the observer, a coherent pattern of behavior.
Is this not also possible for systems like the "economy" or "nation"?