Questioning “Being Cool” is Decidedly “Un-Cool”
Effect on Economic Policy
A “two-section” post here. I’ve posted them rather in reverse to title. Part 1 is focused in economics, in need for a wholly new approach and is directly involved with The Institute for New Economic Thinking. Part 2 is more general and universal discussion of problems with cool/uncool practices among us. There is a link between the two: ‘cool’ (tribal membership) is a deep and powerful motivator; tribal rules are powerful forces for maintaing status quo; change in human economic practices requires change in status quo.
Part 1: I ran a browser search for “new economic thinking” and came across an initiative that holds promise: The Institute for New Economic Thinking. A bit about the Institute, followed by my comment post at the Institute’s website.
The website offers comprehensive history about its development. Video and other information raise questions on what needs to be addressed in developing at least revised, if not wholly new, economic practices and structures.
“Founded in October 2009 with a $50 million pledge by George Soros, the New York City-based Institute for New Economic Thinking is a nonprofit organization providing fresh insight and thinking to promote changes in economic theory and practice through conferences, grants and education initiatives.”
A launch conference was held in April of this year (2010), which gathered best economic minds from many countries. The conference was held at King’s College, Cambridge.
I urge readers to explore the site, which offers opportunity to give voice. Most of the voices writing have some capacity in “language of economics”. I do not! Undeterred, I voiced anyway! (And suggest you consider doing the same!)
What you read here is my post on that site in response to a question: “Problems with theories in academic economics”. There are several discussion categories, my post perhaps better suited for a different category, but when I ‘caught on’ to this, I had already posted. I decided not to try to ‘move’ it.
Part 2: In my post on the Institute’s website, I mention an issue of “cool” vs “un-cool”. Following my re-post, I elaborate briefly to you, blog reader. Our culture’s strong commitment to “cool” over “un-cool” in general behavior, language use, and choice, influences, as you might imagine, our economic practices – including our examination of economic policy and theory behind it!
My Re-Post: (submitted under : “Problems with theories in academic economics”)
On economic theory: I have an “itch” fairly driving me nuts re economics, that something fundamentally new, to fit our present and carry us into the future, must be developed, the sooner the better. I’ve long known I’m not alone in this, but like many, have limited ‘expertise’ in how the “financial service industry” works, especially once money is manipulated beyond my local bank. I “sort of know”, but would not, could not, try to even roughly sketch how to take what exists and re-shape it toward what certainly must be done. I’ve viewed the 12 minute video of some thoughts of conference attendees and am encouraged.
I strongly “see” humanity in a very new global situation, yet behaving not much differently than we have in larger societies for the last several thousand years! Newer market “instruments” are merely sophisticated versions of old behavior, which is effort to manipulate wealth for sake of garnering as much as possible – ‘ordinary’ citizens’ told it’s their responsibility to cut back – for whom, for what! It’s very encouraging to hear conference attendees speak of the function of economics as one to serve the broad society’s well-being.
I did hear some mention of psychology (emotional and/or rational decision-making, even economic theorizing as influenced by these!). This is important. We need to understand psychology of “being human” and of “individual choice” not so we can “authoritatively guide behaviors of the ‘little people'”, (cynical in the extreme), but so we can understand motivations to greed. If we can establish that psychological motivation to “greed” is a reality, and not back down in some “co-dependent softness” that keeps us from wanting to “offend, embarrass, or seem ‘un-cool’”, if we can accept “greed’ in a non-judgmental matter of fact way, we go a long way to prove need to regulate how the financial world works.
We also need to acknowledge the many innate impulses in humanity that are more noble – such as impulse to share, impulse to serve. These are often treated as if “exceptional”, but it has been my experience in years of classroom teaching with young children, that these “more noble” impulses are every bit as innate and ready for action as the ‘nastier’ impulses – until, that is, children are taught how tough the world is! We have no business trying to guide ourselves into a “new” future without giving a place of genuine honor and respect to these more noble impulses.
There is one more factor that needs to be brought into efforts to re-design how humanity handles the invention of economics in order that it serve humanity. Beyond a comfortable honesty that ‘normalizes’ human psychological factors, is ethics. We have lost our sense of ethics in the culture generally, and need to bring it back. We need strong voices to insist that ethics must permeate our ways of relating to one another; we need reverence; we need modesty. None of these in a particularly “religious” sense – but each in a way that tones down human arrogance toward the very earth which supports life, and toward one another. It is past time for us to drop our squeamishness in speaking not only truth to power, but modesty to arrogance. How “un-cool” it has been to speak of service before profit, to speak of modesty rather than to cheer arrogance! (See Susan Neiman: “Morality in the 21st Century”)
If we cannot do this, if we cannot “tame the wild ox”, then I do not think any “improvements in economic theory and practice” will be deep enough to prevent disaster on a very large scale.
My Very Best Wishes to the Institute in your work, and thank you for inviting input!
On fear of being judged “cool” or “un-cool” by tribe of choice.
Fear of “coming across as ‘un-cool’, I’m thinking, is yet another “driver” in the ways we behave “culturally”. Obviously, “cool”/”un-cool” is “tribalistic” (to being accepted or rejected by our choice of tribe). We are so mindlessly influenced by this issue, and so afraid of it, that it is decidedly “un-cool” to even raise questions about our stress over “being cool”! (I am undeterred on this as well!)
I’m not going to say a lot on this, as it seems so self-evident. But I’ll remind all of us that the young lad who pointed out the emperor’s new clothes risked tribal disapproval, so was “un-cool” in his choice. On my hero’s page I admit to hero’s who were “un-cool” by speaking out against commonly accepted beliefs, or by choosing high risk behavior to assert autonomous individual right to mind and thought.
We read and hear much about “the banks, Wall Street, and large corporate sized interests” who manipulate “existing financial conditions”. We hear “they should be ashamed”, “they should all be in jail”, and “there outta be a law”. But other than that, we ourselves want “freedom” to “be ‘cool'” rather than “un-cool”. We want to speak and blog and comment with “wit and cleverness”. We want to ignore participation in ‘serious’ discussion of how our (individual, tribal) lifestyle contributes to national and global problems of our time.
The ‘far right’ through Palin, et al, supports “ruthless” policy, and by Palin’s model enjoys doing so by “quips” rather than considered argument. The “liberal” citizen retaliates “in kind”. (Or, the liberal withdraws, avoids the “messiness” – continues “life by quip” – just not in the “social political reform arena”.)
Cultural practices, including many in the “liberal camp” are about “being cool”. We don’t “buy the junk”; we are “cool” in our selections, (Starbuck’s over McDonald’s; ‘elegant’ over Wal-Mart shopping).
Much to my disappointment, the Huffington Post, by headline and emphasis on the “entertainment world,” is continuously oriented to “liberal cool” despite its many writers and readers who demonstrate interest in quality dialogue. Face Book varies by individual, but also demonstrates much emphasis on not letting “the tough stuff” get in the way of “fun and cool” (as defined by whatever tribal sub-culture to which one belongs.)
The many practices we use in “going along to get along” perpetuate not only a few worthy social graces, (smiles and politeness, for example) but innumerable social excesses and absurdities. Among the most “un-cool” statements in our cultural realm are those that call for honest humility and reverence about who we are as individuals and as humans.
Attention of every thinking adult (all of us, the world over) is needed as we move into our global future. A ‘sea change’ level of transformation is required. Our “time” is not a “re-run” of previous “troubles”. Truly ‘radical’ creative thinking is needed – by experts, by ‘ordinary citizens’. My plea is that we “quit messing about” and apply ourselves, at least more than we seem to be!
“Economic” belief, attitude, and policy both drives and reflects “who we want to be” in human experience. None of us has ‘no’ effect; everyone participates in ‘economics’ in one way or another.
Long abandoned is the “essential humility and reverence”, expressed by thinkers and writers at the time of America’s founding. I believe there is a way for us to practice humility and reverence without loss of any celebration for our humanity, for our talent, for our creativity.
For a 30 minute podcast offering well-considered thoughts on this, hear Susan Neiman at “philosophy bites”
or read her book: “Morality in the 21st Century”
(By the way! Please keep in mind that I use “we” to include ‘most of us’ and that means me too! I’ve often said in my blogs that one reason I “know so much about” human longings, reachings, and failings is that I have made extensive study and observation most of my conscious life – about myself as well as humanity generally! Every so often I need to remind readers – I do not exclude myself from anything that can be said of “being human”!) 🙂
–My Best! Maggie Ann