Just a reminder to my very small handful of subscribers that this blog has been moved here to tumblr: http://yellow-noise.tumblr.com/ where I will continue my usual short posts consisting of quotes, but also hope to do more substantive writing over the next few months.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, September 12, 2011
I seem to start a new blog whenever I start a new season. (My choice of platform may also reflect changing Internet trends: self-hosted --> xanga --> blogger --> tumblr).
I started a new season over a year ago, but it's taken me a year to get back on my feet and write again. Please find me here: www.yellow-noise.tumblr.com
(I'm finally abandoning my 7th grade internet alias. No more leighcia. Too bad I still have my embarrassing 7th grade email that I still use for all those frequent buyer miscellaneous rewards programs.)
(For the time being, I will keep most of this blog up, but may be deleting some of the more personal entries.)
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I recently picked up Karen Ho’s Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Reading about recruitment at elite universities brings back memories of investment banking and management consulting propaganda. Note their profligate use of words that suggest opportunity and elitism.
David Pyle, Managing Director of Fixed Income at Morgan Stanley at a Princeton recruiting event, 2000:
Our goal is to be the preeminent global firm, to be what we already are, the top. We want people coming into work every morning knowing that we’re at the top and always striving to be at the top. We are global; if you’re not global, you can’t win…. People are our single most important asset… Our people are the smartest in the world… There is no one in the world that we can’t reach and that’s middle of everything. We have huge reserves of capital and human assets, and we want to recruit the type of person that always wants more, who is not happy being second… Our theme is “network the world”.
From a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter 2001 recruitment ad:
Anything is possible. This is where the generation of new ideas lives. Because we’ve built a global network of people who see possibilities where others see confusion and risk—and who know how to turn those possibilities into realities. And by working at internet speed- propelling dozens of companies and millions of investors into the new economy. We are propelling careers all over the world.
These messages compelled confused and anxious undergraduates into hours of resume writing, recruitment presentations and interviews. For those of us who have spent a lifetime climbing the meritocracy ladder, investment banking and management consulting is a comforting next step compared to the prospect of actually figuring out how to live our lives. These careers promise prestige, excitement, learning, wealth and endless opportunity--- who could refuse? And it is only expected that we would be attracted to institutions that reproduce the elitism and selectivity of the colleges we attend. If the future is uncertain, we should strive to preserve the privilege of our Ivy League educations in the most secure way possible. *
And so, in 2010, even after the financial crisis of 2008, investment banking and management consulting recruitment remains attractive and competitive.
* Teach for America has taken advantage of this by being super selective in order to create an “elite cadre of teachers”…. For us organization kids, we need achievement paths.
** All recruitment excerpts taken from Karen Ho's Liquidated
Sunday, June 20, 2010
The stunning productivity of the agriculture and manufacturing sectors-- the roots of post-industrialism-- should be cause for celebration. The ancient Greeks would have seen the current moment as a turning point in human history, where only a tiny fraction of the population's hours are needed to produce all the food, clothing, shelter and material goods people need to live comfortable. Surely, we were on the verge of a society devoted to a life of art, literature, and contemplation. Instead, Americans face economic anxiety and chronic insecurity about the future. Houses are going into foreclosure, food prices climb ever higher, and millions of families are one medical crisis away from bankruptcy. Why is there such a disjuncture between the economy's capacity to produce and the lived experience of Americans?
Sunday, May 30, 2010
It may turn out that the life of idiotic ostentation makes humanity quite as despicable as the life of a drunkard, and that the image of God is less defaced in a saloon of the Bowery than in those jeweled birthday parties for dogs with which the New York Four Hundred disgust all civilized mankind. That much of this is, in the face of the world's needs, an enormity for which all defense is mere shamelessness no conscientious person will deny... Take the advertisement of a present-day 'millionaire's hotel,' with the assurance it gives of 'the very last word in sumptuousness.' Is this not one of the features of our time upon which we all trust that a wiser age will look back, not only with condemnation, but with a sense of nausea?
If we allowed ourselves to see what we're doing every day, we might find it too nauseating. I mean, the way we treat other people-- I mean, you know, every day, several times a day, I walk into my apartment building. The doorman calls me Mr. Gregory, and I call him Jimmy... Now already, what is the difference between that the Southern plantation owner who's got slaves? You see, I think that an act of murder is committed at that moment, when I walk into my building. Because here is a dignified, intelligent man, a man of my own age, and when I call him Jimmy, then he becomes a child, and I'm an adult. Because I can by my way into that building.
*Note: For professional reasons, I'd like to keep my blog anonymous. I'd appreciate it if you refrain from mentioning my name or identifying characteristics in the comments. Thanks! I am also contemplating getting rid of all my labels. They don't make any sense!
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
In the nineteenth century, there was a prohibition in the United States on banks opening branches in communities other than the ones in which they originally operated. People had to trust the bank if they were to deposit their money in it, and bankers had to assess the character of borrowers before writing loans; it was generally believed that “the bankers’ interests and the interests of the larger community are one and the same,” as a historical sociologist of banking writes. We might imagine a banker sits down with a young couple and begins to form a judgment of their credit worthiness, that is, their character. This character is knowable because there is a community. Maybe the banker asks around at the grocery and the hardware store, and notes subtle cues in the tone of voice or body language of their proprietors as he mentions the name of the applicants and inquires after their record of credit. Satisfied, he vouchsafes their creditworthiness to his colleague bankers, who live in the same community, and a mortgage is secured. A thirty-year relationship is established between the bank and the couple. The banker feels he has done a good turn, helping virtue to its reward by the diligent application of his own powers of discerning observation, and his knowledge of the ways of men. He exercises prudence; his work calls on some of his best capacities…
Now consider the reality of the mortgage broker circa 2005, whose work takes on a very different character under absentee capitalism. Knowing the mortgage he secures will be sold by the originating bank (a branch of a nationwide bank) to some other entity, he needn’t concern himself with the creditworthiness of the applicant. The bank has no interest in the ongoing viability of the loan; its interest is limited to the fees it gets from originating the loan. The mortgages will be bundles on Wall Street then these bundles will themselves be transformed through securitization… The original encounter between mortgage broker and borrower as they sit across from one another is fraught with moral content- questions of trust- and both of the original parties no doubt experience it this way, in 2005 as ever. The mortgage broker gets a feeling in his gut. But this information is discarded through a process of depersonalization. The discarding is purposeful. Indeed the originating banks get frequent phone calls from Wall Street investment houses, urging them to invent new kinds of loans in which the borrower doesn’t even need to claim income or assets, much less prove their existence. This makes a certain kind of psychic demand on the mortgage broker who actually writes the loans: he must silence the voice of prudence, and suspend the action of his own judgment and perception.
Why would a system demand the stupidification of the mortgage professional? Again, imagine it is 2005. Unprecedented concentrations of capital have arisen, and these pools of money are competing with one another to find a home, and get a return. As a result, there is an insatiable worldwide appetite for mortgage-backed securities among investors. Further, the fees to be made from all the transactions between originator and investor are fueling a Wall Street boom. Therefore more loans must be written. So our mortgage broker writes loans that he knows to be bad, and makes a lot of money. Stripped of the kind of judgments that are at the very heart of the idea of “credit,” shot through with bad faith, his work is now predicated on irresponsibility, rooted in the absence of community. Whatever lingering fiduciary consciousness he may have has become a liability, given the rush to irresponsibility by his competitors. The work cannot sustain him as a human being. Rather, it damages the best part of him, and it becomes imperative to partition work off from the rest of life. So during his vacation he goes and climbs Mount Everest, and feels renewed. The next summer, he becomes an ecotourist in the Amazon rain forest. It is in this gated ghetto of his second life that he inhabits once again an intelligible moral order where feeling and action are linked, if only for a couple of weeks.
* The original work/life balance post can be found here.
** Wow, that quote took a very long time to type up. Please let me know if I made any typos.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Speaking of the dangers valuing abstract knowledge over tacit knowledge, this American Life broadcast Two Steps Back (275) recounts how standardization efforts have frustrated a successful public school teacher's ability to teach.
(This American Life contains some very interesting programs. They're interesting enough that I'm actually willing to up to put up with Ira Glass and general NPR smugness in order to listen to them.)
The Unknown Citizen
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
Ultimately society becomes nothing more than a collection of statistical regularities and statistical categories. It makes little difference whether the category is a traditional one of social structure (age, sex, class) or a kind of person (child abuser, homeless) because the statistical category is the great equalizer—it strips the meaning from a social category and the individuality from a human kind. Society is statistical and so are the individuals who comprise it.
The main reason we measure everything human is that the concept of normality has placed that of morality, or as Ian Hacking puts it, the concept of normal people replaced that of human nature. The traditional view of human nature was a moral one. Belief in a transcendent God or in natural law allowed humans to be defined according to an ideal or to virtues. Virtue was not based exclusively on public opinion, or average behavior.
The normal is now an epiphenomenon of statistics, which when applied to human culture and the individual turns quality into quantity and imperialistically imposes the equality of standardization upon the individual and society.