Friday, August 27, 2010

selected quotes on advertising

Advertising has lost its power to put a new brand name into the mind. Advertising has no credibility with consumers, who are increasingly skeptical of its claims and whenever possible are inclined to reject its messages.

To be effective, advertising doesn’t need creativity. It needs credibility.

When a communication technique loses its functional purpose, it turns into an art form.

The goal of traditional advertising is to not to make the product famous. The goal of traditional advertising is to make the advertising famous. Instead of creating sales value, traditional advertising attempts to create talk value.

Advertising expenditures are often like legal expenditures. Both can be negative indicators. A company with big legal bills is not necessarily a company on the way up.

The true function of advertising is to reinforce an existing perception in the mind.

The best advertising programs have an “I knew that before, but I’m glad you reminded me” quality. “A diamond is forever,” DeBeers’ long-running campaign, is in that category. Rather than being information-laden, the best advertising programs are usually emotion-laden (the cheerleading analogy).

- Al Ries

Thursday, August 26, 2010

to become a great artist, you must create a category

Branding in art follows the same principles as branding in marketing. You become a famous artist (or a famous product) by being first in a new category. Over time art critics give the new category a name and associate it with the painter who pioneered the category. Sensationalism and Damien Hurst, for example. Some additional examples:

• Impressionism—Claude Monet

• Pointillism—Georges Seurat

• Expressionism—Vincent van Gogh

• Cloisonnism—Paul Gauguin

• Naive Painting—Henri Rousseau

• Fauvism—Henri Matisse

• Cubism—Pablo Picasso

• De Stijl or Neoplasticism—Piet Mondrian

• Action Painting—Jackson Pollock

• Kinetic Art—Alexander Calder

An artist can't get famous by painting in the style of Picasso. And an automobile can't get famous by being designed in the style of a Porsche. Each is an original. Each is creative in the usual definition of the word.

form follows fun

Some people think architecture is on the verge of losing its function and becoming art. Consider the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Instead of following Mies van der Rohe (form follows function), many architects today are following Frank O. Gehry (form doesn't matter as long as it's creative and gets attention).

life after death

One can believe in life after death without being a dualist. You might put your faith in the idea that consciousness arises not from specific brain matter but from the information that the brain encodes. If so, immortality might not be so far away. Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2040, the technology will be available to upload yourself onto a computer, so that if your body is destroyed, you can be downloaded into a robot or a cloned body.

Even if one believes that the soul is distinct from the body and survives death, it does not follow that corpses are unimportant. On the contrary, every culture treats dead bodies with some degree of reverence and care. Sometimes they are buried, often with clothes, weapons, and other cherished or useful objects; sometimes they are burned, sometimes eaten. But there is always some proper procedure that must be carried out. Many are horrified at the thought that their bodies, or those of their family or friends, will not get the proper respect.

bible is truth

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Leviticus 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what would be a good price for her?.

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

Cafeteria Christianity

There's a phrase called "Cafeteria Christianity." It's a derisive term used by fundamentalist Christians to describe moderate Christians. The idea is that the moderates pick and choose the parts of the Bible they want to follow. They take a nice helping of mercy and compassion. But the ban on homosexuality? They leave that on the countertop.

Fundamentalist Jews don't use the phrase "Cafeteria Judaism," but they have the same critique. You must follow all of the Torah, not just the parts that are palatable.

Their point is, the religious moderates are inconsistent. They're just making the Bible conform to their own values.

The year showed me beyond a doubt that everyone practices cafeteria religion. It's not just moderates. Fundamentalists do it too. They can't heap everything on their plate. Otherwise they'd kick women out of church for saying hello ("the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak…"- 1 Corinthians 14:34) and boot out men for talking about the "Tennessee Titans" ("make no mention of the names of other gods…"— Exodus 23:13).

But the more important lesson was this: there's nothing wrong with choosing. Cafeterias aren't bad per se. I've had some great meals at cafeterias. I've also had some turkey tetrazzini that gave me the dry heaves for sixteen hours. The key is in choosing the right dishes. You need to pick the nurturing ones (compassion), the healthy ones (love thy neighbor), not the bitter ones. Religious leaders don't know everything about every food, but maybe the good ones can guide you to what is fresh. They can be like a helpful lunch lady who—OK, I've taken the metaphor too far.

Now, this does bring up the problem of authority. Once you acknowledge that we pick and choose from the Bible, doesn't that destroy its credibility? Doesn't that knock the legs out from under it? Why should we put stock in any of the Bible?

"That's the big question," says one of my rabbis, Robbie Harris. I put the question to Robbie as well as every other member of my advisory board. There's no simple or totally satisfying answer. But let me offer two interesting ideas from them:

The first is from the pastor out to pasture, Elton Richards. Here's his metaphor: Try thinking of the Bible as a snapshot of something divine. It may not be a perfect picture. It may have flaws: a thumb on the lens, faded colors in the corners. But it still helps to visualize.

"I need something specific," says Elton. "Beauty is a general thing, It's abstract. I need to see a rose. When I see that Jesus embraced lepers, that's a reason for me to embrace those with AIDS. If he embraced Samaritans, that's a reason for me to fight racism."

The second is from Robbie himself. He says we can't insist that the Bible marks the end of our relationship with God. Who are we to say that the Bible contained all the wisdom? “If you insist that God revealed himself only at one time, at one particular place, using these discrete words, and never any time other than that—that in itself is a kind of idolatry.” His point is: You can commit idolory on the Bible itself. You can start to worship the words instead of the spirit. You need to “meet God halfway in the woods.”

- AJ Jacobs

modern art is not about beauty, but theory

Much modern art comments on the nature of representation, gender roles, Western and non-Western cultures, and, of course, art itself. Art blends into philosophy, then, and good art might give pleasure for the same reason that good philosophy does.

interplay between pain and safety in narrative

Safety help us solve a long-standing puzzle of fictional pleasure, one that was beautifully summarized by David Hume in 1757:

It seems an unaccountable pleasure which the spectators of a well-written tragedy receive from sorrow, terror, anxiety, and other passions that are in themselves disagreeable and uneasy. The more they are touched and affected, the more they are delighted with the spectacle. . . . They are pleased in proportion as they are afflicted, and never are so happy as when they employ tears, sobs, cries, to give vent to their sorrow, and relieve their heart, swollen with the tenderest sympathy and compassion.

Hume is marveling at the fact that viewers of a tragedy get pleasure from emotions that are normally not good ones to have, such as sorrow, terror, and anxiety—the more of these emotions they get, the happier they are.

Fictional narrative appeals to us because ultimately we are safe from the dangers that afflict the characters. But indeed it is pleasurable and exciting because though we are safe, we are not in total control of what we experience in the narrative. And the lack of control and suspense is exactly what makes it pleasurable.

However it is important that we do have control over the intensity of the pain. The lover of spicy foods needs to have power over what's going into her mouth; the horror-movie fan gets to choose the movie and is free to close his eyes or turn his head. And in sadomasochism (S/M) it's critical for the person experiencing the M to have some sort of signal that means Stop and for the person doing the S to immediately respond. The signal is sometimes called, appropriately enough, a "safe" word.

Thus masochism isn't really about pain and humiliation, it's about suspense and fantasy. Control is essential and this is what makes masochistic pleasure so different from ordinary pleasure. In a disturbing discussion, the writer Daniel Bergnci describes how a horse buyer named Elvis chose to be basted with honey and ginger, tied to a metal pole, and roasted on a spit for three and a half hours. This is a lot of pain. My bet, though, that if Elvis woke up one morning, stepped out of bed, and badly stubbed his toe, he wouldn't enjoy it at all, because it is not what he signed up for.

The ultimate test case here is going to the dentist. One article on sadomasochism describes a woman with a high need for pain in S/M sessions with her boyfriend, but who hated going to the dentist. The boyfriend tried to get her to construe a dental exam as an erotic masochistic adventure, but failed. There was no getting around the fact that the dentist was necessary pain, in something she chose.

- Paul Bloom

Imagination is Reality Plus

Imagination is Reality Lite--a useful substitute when the real pleasure is inaccessible, too risky, or too much work.

If you enjoy winning the Word Series of Poker, flying around Metropolis, or making love to a certain someone, then you can get some limited taste of these pleasures by closing your eyes and imagining these experiences.

But in some sense, unreal events can be more moving than real ones, similar to how artificial sweeteners can be sweeter than sugar. There are three reasons for this:

First, fictional people tend to be wittier and more clever than friends and family, and their adventures are usually much more interesting. I have contact with the lives of people around me, but these people tend to be professors, students, neighbors, and so on. This is a small slice of humanity, and perhaps not the most interesting slice. My real world doesn't include an emotionally wounded cop tracking down a serial killer, a hooker with a heart of gold, or a wisecracking vampire. As best I know, none of my friends has killed his father and married his mother. But I can meet all of those people in imaginary worlds.

Second, life just creeps along, with long spans where nothing much happens. The O.J. Simpson trial lasted months, and much of it was deadly dull. Stories solve this problem—as the critic Clive James once put it, "Fiction is life with the dull bits left out." This is one reason why Friends is more interesting than your friends.

Finally, the technologies of the imagination provide stimulation of a sort that is impossible to get in the real world. A novel can span birth to death and can show you how the person behaves in situations that you could never otherwise observe. In reality you can never truly know what a person is thinking; in a story, the writer can tell you.

Such psychic intimacy isn't limited to the written word. There are conventions in other artistic mediums that have been created for the same purpose. A character in a play might turn to the audience and begin a dramatic monologue that expresses what he or she is thinking. In a musical, the thoughts might be sung; on television and in the movies, a voice-over may be used. This is commonplace now, but it must have been a revelation when the technique was first invented, and I wonder what young children think when they come across this for the first time, when they hear someone else's thoughts expressed aloud. It must be thrilling.

As another case of intimacy, consider the close-up. Certainly voyeurism has long been a theme of movies, from Rear Window to Disturbia, but the technique of film itself offers a unique way to satisfy our curiosity about the minds of others. Where else can you look full into someone's face without having the person look back at you? "Some viewers thrill to the prospect of views into the bedroom and bathroom," the philosopher Cohn McGinn writes, "but the film viewer can get even closer to the private world of his subject (or victim) —to his soul."

So while reality has its special allure, the imaginative techniques of books, plays, movies, and television have their own power. The good thing is that we do not have to choose. We can get the best of both worlds, by taking an event that people know is real and using the techniques of the imagination to transform it into an experience that is more interesting and powerful than the normal perception of reality could ever be. The best example of this is an art form that has been invented in my lifetime, one that is addictively powerful, as shown by the success of shows such as The Real World, Survivor, The Amazing Race, and Fear Factor. What could be better than reality television?


Metarepresentation is central to imaginary pleasure. We know, watching the play, that Jocasta is Oedipus's mother; what makes it a good story is that we also know that Jocasta and Oedipus do not themselves know this. The literary scholar and cognitive scientist Lisa Zunshine writes about a Friends episode in which Phoebe discovers that Monica and Chandler are romantically involved, and decides, as a joke, to flirt with Chandler. Monica discovers that Phoebe knows, so, in retaliation, she tells Chandler to welcome Phoebe's advances, so that Phoebe will have to back down, embarrassing herself, but Phoebe then realizes what Monica has in mind. She tells her friends: "They thought they could mess with us. They're trying to mess with us? They don't know that we know that they know we know!"

most important leisure activity

How do Americans spend their leisure time? The answer might surprise you. The most common voluntary activity is not eating, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs. It is not socializing with friends, participating in sports, or relaxing with the family. While people sometimes describe sex as their most pleasurable act, time-management studies find that the average American adult devotes just four minutes per day to sex—almost exactly the same time spent filling out tax forms for the government.

Our main leisure activity is, by a long shot, participating in experiences that we know are not real. When we are free to do whatever we want, we retreat to the imagination—to worlds created by others, as with books, movies, video games, and television (over four hours a day for the average American), or to worlds we ourselves create, as when daydreaming and fantasizing. While citizens of other countries might watch less television, studies in England and the rest of Europe find a similar obsession with the unreal.

This is a strange way for an an animal to spend its days. Surely we better off pursuing more adaptive activities--eating and drinking and fornicating, building relationships, building shelter, and teaching our children. Instead, two-year-olds pretend to be lions, graduate students stay up all night playing video games, young parents hide from their offspring to read novels, and many men spend more time viewing Internet pornography than interacting with real women. One psychologist gets the puzzle exactly right when she states on her Web site: "I am interested in when and why individuals might choose to watch the television show Friends rather spending time with actual friends."

One solution to this puzzle is that the pleasures of the imagination exist because they hijack mental systems that have evolved for real-world pleasure. We enjoy imaginative experiences because at some level we don't distinguish them from real ones.

- Paul Bloom

why are people against plastic surgery?

What's wrong with someone getting tasteful plastic surgery? There is something perverse about the worry that such an enhancement might give someone an unfair advantage. What makes this any more unfair than the natural advantage of being born with the right genes? It is true that we have a gut feeling that there is a real difference here. But this might be because we are drawn to value natural gifts, since these are the sorts of capacities that are passed on to one's children. We admire the natural and disdain the enhanced. People prefer natural beauty to hair implants and plastic surgery. These preferences might make good Darwinian sense and are difficult to override. But this doesn't make them fair.

We're genetically programmed to favor the natural over the fake; we have developed sophisticated truth-telling devices to determine whether one has the genuine goods or is faking it by employing the right signals. Having the signal is not important, because one can fake the signal, really possessing the qualities that would display such a signal is what matters, because that's what ultimately gets passed down genetically.

love is irrational, it has to be

Attraction is essentialist in nature. As Shakespeare put it, "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind."

If you stick with me for my intelligence, wealth, or beauty—as opposed to for me, myself—then our relationship is fragile. The psychologist Steven Pinker outlines the worry here:

How can you be so sure that a prospective partner won't leave the minute it is rational to do so—say, when a 10-out-of-10 moves in next door. One answer is, don't accept a partner who wanted you for rational reasons to begin with; look for a partner who is committed to staying with you because you are you.

This commitment might seem irrational, but it is an attractive irrationality, and if the person is interested in you as well, this can be very attractive. "Murmuring that your lover's looks, earning powers and IQ meet your minimal standards would probably kill the romantic mood," Pinker notes. "The way to a person's heart to declare the opposite—that you're in love because you can't help it."

- Paul Bloom

Thursday, August 19, 2010

religion is narrative, a form of language and communication

The language of morality, love, and meaning for christians is christianity. The language of morality, love, and meaning for muslims is islam. The language of morality, love, beauty, and meaning for naturalists is materialism.

For an atheist to go to a devout christian and say christianity is wrong is like some white person telling me that the korean language is wrong. "The Korean language is bullshit!", he shouts. How offended would I be?

"Why is korean wrong?! You're wrong!! English is wrong!"

Just like how there is no point in going around debating who has the best language, there is no point going around debating who has the best religion/worldview, even if you can prove your worldview is the better one.

Religion like language is ultimately a tool, a means to an end.

The best way to approach a korean person is to speak his language. Likewise, the best way to approach a christian is to speak through his language, christianity and its narratives. Try framing what you want to get across using christian narratives and vocabulary. That I believe, is the most effective way we can start building bridges between us rather than destroying them.

See below for an example in a different context:

We are reluctant to change our worldviews For the most part, when we are confronted with a challenge to our worldviews, we react by rejecting it out of hand. This is due to the dissonance of this new worldview to the one we already possess. Rather, what we prefer is to confront worldviews that coincide and amplify our own. However, on occasion we do change. This is when we confront a worldview that overlaps our own in certain critical respects and then veers in a different direction. An example of this sort of worldview change is found through the leadership of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Starting in the 1950s, King found an America - particularly the South - that was mired by Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans in a second form of slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed equal protection under the law to everyone—not just to people of European descent. King took on the monumental task of challenging the shared community worldview that allowed Jim Crow laws to flourish and for segregation to seem natural. This was no easy project. As argued above, people are inclined to be conservative in changing their worldviews. But this does not mean that it is impossible.

Dr. King was the perfect candidate for instigating worldview change by overlap and modification. This is because Dr King overlapped with much of the dominant white culture: (1) by being an ordained minister in the Baptist Church; (2) he was a man of intellect as evidenced by his doctorate from Boston University; (3) he led marchers non-violently singing religious hymns familiar to most Americans. In these ways, his worldview was like theirs.

On the other hand, what he was suggesting was racial equality and integration, which was not a part of the dominant culture’s shared community worldview. But when mainstream America watched the scenes on their televisions of these non-violent protestors being savagely beaten by armed police, being bitten by vicious police dogs, and physically assaulted by fire hoses, then Americans began challenging their personal worldviews. In 1964 a major civil law was passed while in 1965 the voting rights bill was passed. Both pieces of legislation would never have occurred had not there not been a dramatic shift in the personal worldviews of most Americans. It took a crossover figure like Dr. King to effect such a change through the overlapping worldview and modification approach.

- Michael Boylan

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it.

- George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

beauty as a sexist tool

Early on, I was in love with beauty. I don't feel less because I'm in the presence of a beautiful person. I don't go [imitates crying and dabbing tears], "Oh, I'll never be that beautiful!" What a ridiculous attitude to take!—the Naomi Wolf attitude. When men look at sports, when they look at football, they don't go [crying], "Oh, I'll never be that fast, I'll never be that strong!" When people look at Michelangelo's David, do they commit suicide? No. See what I mean? When you see a strong person, a fast person, you go, "Wow! That is fabulous." When you see a beautiful person: "How beautiful." That's what I'm bringing back to feminism. You go, "What a beautiful person, what a beautiful man, what a beautiful woman, what beautiful hair, what beautiful boobs!"

- Camilla Paglia

expanded consciousness

…I feel that the Sixties have not been fully understood. That is, the Sixties were looking for a fully expanded consciousness, and that's what the drugs were doing. The drugs were a means for the Sixties to expand the mind. But unfortunately the drugs turn on you. Drugs turn on you. And I think that that was one of the problems of my generation, the loss of the visions and the knowledge obtained by the most daring members of my generation through their drug experiences. They damaged their brains, and they never came back. In fact, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac said a few months ago on Entertainment Tonight about the founders of that band that he feels very lucky to be in good condition, because when he goes to see them—he went like this [knocks on forehead]— "They're not the same people I knew once." And I think that's true of many people I know. Some of the most brilliant minds I know did not continue in academe, the ones I talk to still. The drugs gave vision, but they deprived the person of the ability to translate those visions into material form. I feel lucky I never was attracted to drugs. I am an addict of my own hormones, obviously, my own adrenalines! So, I thank God, that's why I'm alive today to be telling the story, or trying to tell the story.

So what I'm saying is that what happened in the Sixties, "the mind's liberation" in the Sixties, was something that has never been fully documented. The psychedelic element of the Sixties is a joke today, like Donovan or tie-dye shirts and so on. I'm saying it was no joke, okay? I'm saying that that was one of the most creative moments in Western history, the moment of that clash between Western religion and Eastern religion. I'm not a practicing Hindu, I'm not a practicing Buddhist, I'm not a practicing Catholic. But for me as a Catholic that coming together of all those world-religions at that moment was profoundly liberating. I feel that we hear it in Jimi Hendrix's guitar, we hear it in the music of the Sixties. That story has never been fully told. I want to do that. I can sense in my students for the last five years, I've been sensing, when I talk about the Sixties to my students, they all are listening, they're listening very intently. Something is happening. The whole Sixties thing is returning through the students of today. I feel very, very hopeful about the end of the century and the millennium, very hopeful.

- Camilla Paglia

in draft: asian art

For many in China, marriage is about social obligation, not a matter of personal love, which is a Western idea. Similarly, perspective is abnormal in non-Western traditions of art. Perspective assumes that the human eye is the measure of the world.

avant-garde art

At the time, Manet’s Olympia was extremely controversial and was rejected by the Salon establishment. Because the nude is wearing small items of clothing: the orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and mule slippers, these items accentuated her nakedness, comfortable courtesan lifestyle and sexuality. The orchid, upswept hair, black cat, and bouquet of flowers were all recognized symbols of sexuality at the time. This modern Venus' body is thin, counter to prevailing standards; the painting's lack of idealism rankled viewers who noticed it despite its placement, high on the wall of the Salon. A fully-dressed black servant is featured, exploiting the then-current theory that black people were hyper-sexed. That she is wearing the clothing of a servant to a courtesan here, furthers the sexual tension of the piece.

The flatness of Olympia is inspired by Japanese wood block art. Her flatness serves to make her more human and less voluptuous. Her body as well as her gaze is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out as her servant offers flowers from one of her male suitors. Although her hand rests on her leg, hiding her pubic area in a "frog" gesture-also another sex symbol, the reference to traditional female virtue is ironic; a notion of modesty is notoriously absent in this work.

Olympia immediately launched responses. Caricatures, sketches, and paintings, all addressed this nude. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Gustave Courbet, Paul C├ęzanne, and Claude Monet all appreciated the painting's significance.

Similarly, Mapplethorpe's sadomasochistic photos were controversial when they first came out. It can be argued that Mapplethrope’s photos had a similar effect on the art crowd that Manet's Le Deeuner sur l'herbe had with the Salon establishment. While rosy nudity was permissible in academic Salon paintings of Greek and Roman themes, the fiat, sallow flesh tones of Manet's nude female picnicker disturbed first viewers by a harsh contemporary realism and immediacy. There is no attempt to soften or idealize. This sexual flesh is frankly available and unromanticized. The casual air with which Manet juxtaposes brazen open-air nudity with the raffish workaday costume of the two young intellectuals, lost in discourse, is exactly the tone of many of Mapplethorpe's photos, where libertines pose in relaxed moods amid the bizarre discontinuities of their sexual underworld. The original shock of Manet's painting is surely reproduced, with the greater explicitness of our age, in Mapplethorpe's extraordinary photograph, Man in Polyester Suit, with its large black penis poking from an otherwise fully clothed torso. Finally, Manet goaded respectable sensibilities by the cool, appraising look on the face of his nude woman, who, like his self-possessed courtesan Olympia, meets our eyes without apology or embarrassment. She is practical, efficient, a bawdy woman of the world who knows her market value. She has, I submit, the same unsentimental sexual efficiency as Mapplethrope’s jaunty sadomasochists.

Mapplethrope’s distinction at the time was that he revived the idea of the avant-garde at a moment when it seemed buried forever. The avant-garde tradition was terminated in the Sixties by pop art, which closed the gap between high and low culture. The art world since then had, in my view, sunk into naked hucksterism and puerile mini-fads, a toy-train rat race of mediocrity and irrelevance. American creative energy was flowing instead into popular culture, which was sweeping the world.

- Camille Paglia

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

the authenticity ethos

Authenticity is a matter of genuineness, a hallmark of the unalienated original self. In his brilliant book Sincerity and Authenticity, literary critic Lionel Trilling identifies the ethos of authenticity, of individual impulses that are expressed freely and spontaneously without concern for propriety or others' reception. This value is associated with the 1960s—the generation to which many of today's college faculty belong—and the rejection of convention. It abounds in such mid-twentieth-century literary classics as The Catcher in the Rye, with its disparagement of "phoniness"; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, with its search for "quality"; or On the Road, with its rejection of conformity and its celebration of spontaneity. A logic of authenticity seeks a singular self, a unique individuality that does not change or yield according to circumstances. The roots of this ethos can be traced through eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art and thought, from Emerson's notion of self-reliance back to the roots of Protestant Christianity, in which a person's history and family become irrelevant to the notion of the soul, and all that matters is individual faith, not ritual action.

The authentic self is often characterized by solitude. Groups are anathema to the authentic self, because participating in a group requires compromise, while authenticity requires consistent loyalty to one's own principles. As Freud pointed out in Civilization and Its Discontents, because we are members of society, individuals can never attain complete happiness, for we must always compromise our desires. The authentic self therefore celebrates separation of the person from society. It is distrustful of convention and even of success, since achieving worldly success means meeting the expectations and desires of the populace at large. Vincent van Gogh was the perfect authentic self: he had his own distinct, original style, suffered during his lifetime for his singularity, and was never commercially successful.

For authentic selves, the concepts of originality and authorship are critical. Since each self is unique, so are its words. In the celebration of authenticity that began in earnest in the eighteenth century, each text had to have a singular author. Authorship might have to be "authenticated" in order to ascertain precisely the identity of the originating individual.

Authentic individuals are especially prominent among the literary and musical geniuses whose oeuvre is perceived to have bubbled up spontaneously from their souls.' Unlike in earlier times, their inspiration was not thought to derive from a muse or from God; their creativity came from the internal inspiration of the writer or artist herself or himself. As these moments of inspiration "are increasingly credited to the writer's own genius," writes Martha Woodmansee, "they transform the writer into a unique individual uniquely responsible for a unique product. Wordsworth was the quintessential author, forever emphasizing his originality and creativity. And because authors are originators, they own rights to their work." Johann Gottfried von Herder's view, which guided this idea of authenticity, was that "one ought to be able to regard each book as the imprint of a living human soul. " Thus it is not just possible but essential to trace the book back to its originating soul.

- Susan Blum

God is dead, truth is dead. There are only multiple truths, depending on perspective. What is then important is our perception of reality. Because reality is determined ultimately by our mind.

Also, man is born without sin but is then corrupted by society and civilization. Parents, politicians, and preachers are hypocritical moral figures. Thus to be truly moral, one must look to nature and to one's heart for moral guidance and not to authorities such as the family, the state, and religion.

This I believe is the central essence of the authenticity ethos.

On a different note, let me say one thing. We can posit that objective standards of beauty and morality exist because biologically we are essentially built the same way. We are motivated and driven by the same desires. Gender roles are not socially constructed. They are a direct result of our biology and our genes. Our taste in art is not socially constructed. Humans tend to find similar things beautiful (a sunset vs. a pile of poop). Our moralities are similar (rules against incest, murder, and theft are found in all cultures). These things might not be "truths" to an alien species that come across our planet, but these are essentially truths for us, because we have been built to love, want, and desire the same things.

The reason why we have religion, family, and the state is because we need them. Communism forgot this. Communism was based on a false belief in human nature.

In an age of science, religion and myth are still relevant because science can not address the universal God-shaped hole in our hearts. We humans have evolved to seek fulfillment regarding questions of spirituality, meaning and purpose. But just because we have this need, does not mean that the object of this need exists. Nevertheless, we have this need and we have to address it, even materialists and atheists. Like their religious counterparts, they have their own mythic narratives that they believe in.

Can we ever know and experience the true reality? We begin our search for meaning with this question. Once we have found a narrative that sufficiently addresses this question of reality, then we have found our reality. Is this the true reality? Probably not, but by then, we don't care.


To the successful American, the sense of his own greatness is quite unrelated to the people surrounding him, and certainly he does not feel that it depends at all upon the community of his origin. The dream of the ambitious person is to have the world at his feet, not at his side.

- Francis Hsu

authenticity vs performance

We live in a "cut-paste" culture enabled by technology.

- Lawrence Lessig

The concept of "academic integrity" presupposes wholeness, oneness, "ownness," an identity between the writer and what she or he has written, but this value is not dominant among today's youth. Moral judgments of plagiarism, as we shall see, depend on even more fundamental views of personhood and the relations among selves.

Those motivated by the ethic of "authenticity" insist that their words are theirs alone and that all utterances derive from their own, their singular, their individual, integral truth. Nothing could make them pronounce what is not intended as an expression of their own thoughts and feelings. These authentic selves would never plagiarize because they believe to their core that all they say should be theirs and theirs alone. Their key concepts are own, genuine, essence, integral, means, undivided.

By contrast, those motivated by the ethic of what I call "performance" accept that their behavior is mutable, depending on circumstances. All that matters is the effect of their actions, including their speech and writing. Thus they are not wedded to the notion of a singular relationship between their inner feelings and thoughts and their outer expression. They will say what is expected, whatever suits the occasion, whether it is their personal truth or not. Performance selves say and write whatever works for their practical purposes; it need not belong to them alone. They don't feel a tight connection between their words and their inner being, so they don't sweat it if others use their words or if they use the words of others. For them the notion of "self" is multiple rather than singular and unified. Their key concepts are efficacy, nimbleness, comfort, circumstance, ends, goals.

Technology plays a role in the generational transformation that has occurred between the emphasis on authenticity and the emphasis on performance, but it is not an entirely causal one. The shift from authenticity to performance—with all the accompanying desires for play and so on—has in turn led to the development of certain technological innovations.

The authentic self celebrates uniqueness, individual contribution, essence, fixity, and authorship. It is inner-directed. Its words are its own, and are always meant and sincerely believed. The performance self celebrates collaboration, incorporation, fluidity, appearance. It is goal-oriented. Its words are derived from many different sources and may be spoken or written in earnest or in jest, with conviction or just to get along.

- Susan Blum


I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.

- Madonna

Since the 1980s, a new ethos has been arising, associated with a concern for achieving set goals and constant consideration of observers' reactions. The "performance" ethos refers to young people's emphasis on goals and outward behavior, a meaning I draw from ordinary usage, industry and business, and anthropology and other human sciences. In literary, cultural, and queer studies a kindred term, "performativity," points out that social categories are enacted in behavior rather than following from preexisting, abstract realities. "Performance selves" focus on knowing what the expectations are in particular contexts and are adept at meeting those expectations. It is insufficient to learn a single role, or even a sequence of different roles along one's lifespan, because contexts may vary from moment to moment. This ethos is often an anxious one, for the performance self must constantly worry about the judgments of others, must constantly wonder if a given set of actions is the most effective, or is even appreciated, and what the consequences will be of her or his actions.

In terms akin to postmodern understandings of literature and science, the performance self does not regard itself as possessing the sole truth but rather sees itself existing in and with multiple truths, multiple roles, multiple purposes. The performance self is exemplified by an artist such as Madonna, who changes her style and appearance with great frequency. When asked whether they would dye their gray hair when they got older, many students said they hoped they would not but probably would. Whereas an authentic self might regard aging as the natural condition of life and accept the accompanying changes in appearance as inevitable and genuine, a performance self seeks to improve her appearance, no matter what the biological reality. Performance emphasizes change, embracing methods such as plastic surgery. Performance selves, male and female, are often sleek, toned, tucked, decked out in synthetic materials with no concern for practicality. What matters is the result, if only an image.

- Susan Blum


an amazon wish list as identity

a collection of quotes as identity

an iPod playlist as identity

a set of clothes as identity

sampling, remixing....

one view of education

A child is not a vase to be filled, but a fire to be lit.

- Francois Rabelais

an iPod playlist as identity

There is creativity and self-expression--uniqueness—in pastiche, a concept quite different from the traditional academic value of originality in thought and expression. A Facebook "Favorite Quotations" section, consisting entirely of other people's words, supposedly displays the uniqueness and creativity of the compiler. And though an instructor might disagree, so would a composition made up nothing but a string of quotations.

When we asked students about tracing the origins of amusing quotes in conversation and whether the quoter has ownership of the lines, one insightful person responded, "You don't own it, you own the quickness of mind to associate" the lines with the situation. The prevalence of this attitude toward pastiche or collage is evident in the collections of songs that students compile on their iPods. One student claimed that his playlist essentially defined him. Like wearing clothing emblazoned with corporate logos as an expression of personal taste, the selection of songs, none of which the student composed, defined his identity: "When it comes to the iPod, I think your personal little soundtrack is almost representative of who you are and where you come from and what you're doing and where you're gonna go."

- Susan Blum


Footnotes persuade the reader that the author has done an acceptable amount of work, enough to lie within the tolerances of the field...

plastic surgery, bodybuilding, diamond rings, and gold-diggers

Sexual selection creates a psychological arms race in which the signaling capacity of one sex is pitted against the critical, discriminating powers of the other. That is why we have elevator shoes and push-up bras. That is what the cosmetic, body-building, and vocabulary-building industries are largely about: accentuating, highlighting, or faking desirable signals.

Sexual selection theory sees these urges to improve or enhance fitness signals by any available means as utterly natural strategies: they are straightforward Pleistocene adaptations. In this, sexual selection theory goes dead against many forms of cultural constructionism that have prevailed in intellectual discourse for the last half century. For instance, it has for years been widely argued that women dye their hair and apply wrinkle creams only through cultural pressure, and that wrinkles and gray hair are "natural." A Darwinian view maintains that, on the contrary, a woman's desire to look younger, like a man's desire to appear stronger, taller, or more wealthy, is adaptive and innate. Such strategies will take different forms in different cultures and epochs, but they are prehistoric in their origins. Contrary to gender theorists who have tried to argue that women's use of creams and dyes makes them dupes of the cosmetic industry, the converse is more the case: industries that produce lipsticks, mascara, and hair colors only exist because the values of youthfulness and "looking good" are products of evolution. Approve of them or not, these values persist because they represent our deeper, innate nature.

The essential requirement of Darwinain fitness indicators is that they function reliably and honestly: they must pose authentic tests. If they can be faked, they are useless as indicators. If unhealthy peacocks can grow massive symmetrical tails, the tail loses its value as an indicator.

Human obsessions with what is fake and what is genuine in skill, eloquence, beauty, and intelligence thus merge into another fitness indicator that is encountered high on the female list of mate-selection indicators and rather lower on the male list: wealth, along with its closely associated feature of social status. Women normally cannot help paying attention to how rich a man is—or how potentially rich, if he has not yet set out on a career—as well as his conscientiousness, social standing, and generosity. As a fitness indicator, wealth is open to dishonest signaling, and women are especially keen to distinguish honest wealth signals from faked or exaggerated ones. From the standpoint of sexual selection, whether that really is a Rolex watch or an authentic Princeton diploma is not trivial. Selective pressures in the Pleistocene seem to have combined with cultural expressions from the Holocene to put in place elaborate systems of resource-demonstration rules that are intuitively recognized by females—and ignored by males at their reproductive peril.

How does resource-demonstration work in courtship? Here is where the spontaneous, universal characteristics of an adaptation make themselves apparent. One of the best ways for the boy to prove he has resources is to give girl something is both expensive and useless. Hence flowers: they wilt, and except to look pretty have no use. They can communicate "I love you," but more important is what they signal: "I have the resources to buy thoughtful and beautiful but completely useless things for you, my dearest. And please also enjoy these fine, expensive Belgian chocolates." Consider the alternative: if natural selection governed courtship, the boy would show up at the girl's apartment clutching, instead of flowers and chocolates, a lovely potato, or perhaps a couple of thick steaks, or, being even more inventive, a new ratchet wrench set for her. After all, natural selection favors practicality and efficiency. (The young couple would then go out to a serve-yourself, all-you-can-eat restaurant, since natural selection also favors economy.)

That we smile at this indicates how counterintuitive it is. The real world, operating according to the imperatives of sexual selection, works very differently. If the male is serious, he will take the female to a lavish, overpriced restaurant serving mere smidgens of food. He will order champagne and make sure she notices his large tip. (The all-you-can-eat cafeteria comes later: after they've married and have to feed the children.) With respect to proving access to resources and commitment, nothing beats the gift of a diamond, particularly as an engagement ring. Diamonds, since they are both expensive and useless, are indeed a girl's best friend. They prove one of two conclusions: either he has the resources he claims—money to waste on useless minerals—or, if he does not, he is so committed that he has gone into debt. Any way a woman looks at it, the gift—not just the promise—of a diamond marks a significant step in a courtship situation. (The De Beers slogan, "A diamond is forever," is widely regarded as the most inspired single advertising statement of all time, and Darwinian theory explains why: it connects serious wealth display with the loving commitment women seek in establishing a household.)

- Denis Dutton