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A Reflection on Food Industry

December 19, 2014

I recently came across an article regarding the transition society has taken from the traditional farmer to industrial farming. It is a phenomena that I think most of us are at least somewhat aware of, but I thought this article in particular really highlighted the blatant presence of exploitation from those individuals in power.

Here is the link to the Article

It is obvious the writer’s negative tone towards industrial farming, but the most notable recurring theme the author brings up is the group responsible behind industrial farming.  He calls these exploiters “American Oligarchs.” We can also view them simply as the Bourgeoisie.  The writer effectively highlights the extremely negative aspects of industrial farming, but still takes time to routinely bash these American Oligarchs responsible.

At the expense of organic quality, industrialization has praised profitability over all other factors in the farming business.  As the article illustrates, methods are being used which are in no ways natural and seem to be harming both farmers and consumers.  The food industry has taken efficiency to a new level.  They in turn have no regard for the well being of the working class.  However, we often see people unable to escape processed foods, as it is often the only option left.  As traditional farming has come so close to extinction, it becomes increasingly impossible to escape this ever growing market run by oppressive bourgeoisie.

The writer of this article states- “some loveless, power-addicted oligarchs sitting atop their mountain, looking contemptuously down on us normal folk, have decided that’s just what they desire.”It is easy to sympathize with the writer in his frustration with these oligarchs.  It is a part of how Marx describes the relationship between the proletariat and the Bourgeoisie.  We feel trapped as we are spoon fed toxic foods and watch traditional organic farming die out, all the while feeling powerless to do much of anything against it.  We also see an interesting statement arguing for the traditional farming technique- “the traditional family farmer is uniquely suited to mediate with nature and us to produce food that is healthy for humans and animals to eat. No machine can replace the personal dedication or passion that I have seen again and again in every farmer I have met who truly cares about his livestock or crops.”

A crucial factor in the food industry is the secrecy of its shrouded methods.  Many people are completely unaware of what goes into the food they eat. As our society as a whole becomes more aware of what we eat, we will eventually be able to act against these powerful oligarchs.  We know from Foucault that our government is obsessed with obtaining a healthy diet of its population… so how much will that play into food regulation in the future? Perhaps it will take place in an act of Arendtian protest against food industry. Maybe even a Marxist style revolution will take place against the bourgeoisie.  Regardless I don’t see industrial food being the healthiest route for society, both in terms of diet and lifestyle.

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The Panopticon in “The Wire”

December 15, 2014

The HBO series “The Wire” is one of my all time favorites.  Set in Baltimore, the show expertly portrays the legal system of the city and captures its relationship with urban crime.  One of the most significant and interesting aspects of this relationship is the almost constant theme of surveillance.  Director, David Simon, seems to obsess over the theory of the panopticon, with its methods of surveillance as well as efforts to battle against it from its subjects.

The panopticon is an architectural structure designed, ideally for prisons, to constantly surveil its tenants.  It consists of a surveillance room, surrounded on all sides by cells with one-way windows.  Using this central room, a watchman would have the ability to watch any cell at any given time.  Although this watchman could not physically observe all rooms at once, the prisoners’ knowledge that they might be under surveillance forces them to exhibit good behavior at all times.  In Discipline and Punish Foucault uses this building as a very effective metaphor for the structure of modern governments.  With the advancement in technology, we see our society becoming increasingly surveilled by the government. Streets being monitored by cameras, wiretaps on phones, and monitoring of peoples activity on the internet.  These are just a few techniques of many exercised by governments to invade the lives of citizens.  What is most important about these techniques of surveillance, and what Simon emphasizes in “The Wire”, is that all these forms of surveillance could be occurring in complete secrecy.  What results from this is an incredibly obedient society, following laws, which we otherwise would ignore, for the fear of being caught and punished.  When writing “The Wire”, Simon was certainly aware of this increasingly apparent aspect in our society.

In the first season of “The Wire” Simon uses the Low Rises to give us a good look at the complex systems the drug crews of Baltimore use to shroud their illegal activity.  The cash transaction is always handled by a separately than the “package.”  The dealers use pagers and pay phones, going far out of the way of convenience.  They use encoded phone numbers and language. They refuse to explicitly mention anything regarding their business except in secure, trusted locations.  When these lines of defense fall through, they manipulate the legal system in order to win court cases. Similar to the panopticon, the likelihood that a given moment is actually being surveilled is low, but the prospect alone is enough to encourage the constant vigilance which is required to evade the law. All these precautions are meant to safeguard in the event that they are being watched. This idea is so engrained in the urban culture that there seems to be an unbreakable rule among the community to never take part in the panopticon.  The “snitch” seems to be among the most dishonorable titles one can acquire.  Regardless of what is most beneficial for the individual, assisting the police in their investigation is by all means unacceptable.  “The Wire” shows this when a testifying witness against a murder is assassinated by a drug crew.

Simon also incorporates symbolism of the panopticon in various shots.  For instance, in the first shot following the credits of the first episode, the camera is angled at a security television surveying the two primary characters as they walk into a courthouse. This is an appropriate way to begin the series, as it immediately gives the viewer a feeling that the characters, even on the side of the law, are already under the influence of the panopticon.  Another significant symbol Simon uses is in the opening theme. In each of the 5 seasons, the series of shots and music that begin the episode changes.  However, each respective opening shares an identical shot of a boy throwing a rock at a surveillance camera, breaking its lens.  This reoccurring shot is clearly meant to stand out among the others and is a representation of the struggle to fight against the panopticon.  Here is a link to the video of the entire opening credits.  Pay attention to 1:15, where the previously said shot occurs. As you will see, the entire sequence is littered with symbolism referring to methods of surveillance.

The last connection I wanted to make is regarding a recent theme we talked about in class.  In “The Wire” we see constant advancement in the techniques used both by the panopticon and by those resisting it.  This progression is related to the notion that these two opposing forces actually support each other.  As the surveillance methods evolve, the drug crews become more efficient in evading the law.  As a result, both parties are continuously progressing in order to keep up with each other.

In “The Wire” David Simon creates an extremely curious relationship.  Viewers shift between supporting both sides.  Simon creates a dynamic causing you switch your support between both sides of the battle:  Between the ever-present  panoptic surveillance of the law and the evasive methods put out by the drug crews.

Competitive Vs. Non-Competive Environments

December 5, 2014

This is a post going way back to Weber and the concept of work efficiency.  It is in response to a comment Sam made on my previous blog post.  Sam brought up the idea of noncompetitive gamified environments, and how they might be preferable over the alternative cutthroat competitive environment. Here is a link to the comment

Your comment on a non-competitive gamified work environment raises an interesting point.  The competitive environment certainly pits people against each other and the objectives become focused around winning rather than simply doing good work.  Obviously, when two people are competing to win, good work will inevitably follow. Yet there is certainly a moral conflict that occurs in this type of environment.  People are inclined to feel that we should be communal and cooperative with one another rather than competitive.

Non-competitive environments generally feel much more secure.  People have more control over their work and lifestyle. Although it is much more pleasant, non-competition can never achieve the same level of productivity and efficiency as the alternative.  Our Concept of Power class incorporates a non-competitive system.  We are given assignments which we then can complete it to receive the reward.  Other classmate’s achievements do not serve as a factor in this work-reward system. On the other hand,  if our professor were to add a competitive aspect and offer double points for the best final paper, the quality of writing would skyrocket among the entire class.

So why isn’t our class structured in this way?  If competition instigates higher quality work, wouldn’t professor Mackin want us to battle royal in order to produce the epitome of student papers?  There are two main reasons: the natural desire to avoid conflict, and the harsh impact competition has on those who fail.  Competitiveness is in essence conflict.  Competition can be enjoyable when put in non-serious aspects of life.  But in the context of work, where there is a bit more at stake, competition gains considerable risk.  In the same way people desire to avoid conflict in Hobbes’ “state of nature” scenario, people are unwilling to enter into competitive work so as to maintain a sense of security.  The other significantly negative effect competition can have is the way it disables the lower performing half.  Since winning is the central goal in competition, those who cannot perform well in their work, or even just those who have low self esteem can become completely unproductive. If someone were to preemptively make the judgement that their own work wouldn’t be good enough, than competition would actually cause them to become less efficient.

So it is a trade off.  I think that the competitive environment– productive but seemingly unhealthy for the soul– is certainly a more bourgeoisie tactic, and con-competitive work can be seen as a more traditionalist tactic.

On a final note, music finds itself in an interesting paradox regarding this subject.  As much as I hate the fact, we all know music has become one of the most competitive professions. Yet I can’t think of anything more cooperative.  We work so hard in order to beat out the competition, but when it comes to performing we reach a deeper level of communication with our colleagues.  Music is very passionate and soulful, yet saturated with cutthroat attitudes.  I think because of competition, musicianship has reached a higher level than ever before, but i’m curious to hear peoples opinions as to what extent music suffers from this competitive vibe.

Gamifying the World- The Link Between Gamification and Capitalism

October 13, 2014

In recent modern day society there has been a peculiar new obsession with gamifying each aspect of our lives;  Classrooms, sales, small businesses…  Gamification is growing and becoming imbedded into the more practical aspects of life.  It’s an unusual phenomenon.  In this blog post I want to relate what we have talked about in class to gamification, providing a viewpoint of why this might be happening and a couple different perspectives as to what this means.

So what exactly is Gamification?  Essentially, it is turning everyday activities into games.  Gamification usually involves a point system.  That is, doing good work will earn you more points and doing sub-satisfactory will earn you less.  It might reward a student in a class for achieving a certain pre-set goal (the same structure as our “Concept of Power” class).  It also incorporates competition,  Using co-workers and colleagues as measurements of ones own success. Competition has always been an inherent part of both human nature and games.  Having employees or teams compete creates a drive and a passion for higher performance. The overall result from gamification is a heightened work ethic.  People become more passionate, efficient, and work harder.

In Chattanooga, TN,  a young up and coming company has already hopped on this idea.  Ambition, also known as “fantasy football for sales teams,” helps other companies “Gamify” their workspace.  Using their computer and phone software, companies are given the customized lay-out needed to effectively turn work into a game, and ultimately create a more efficient work-force.  They use peer competition, scores,  teams, and a leader board  system. Ambition has found much success in this industry as well.  They have won awards, and also secured some pretty substantial clients.  You can learn more about Ambition on their website here.

What is it about this concept of gamification that is so appealing and effective?  In a world where work has become monotonous, industrious, and autonomous, one could say that gamifying people’s lives returns a lost sense of accomplishment.  People need a relevant goal to achieve in order to feel passionate about what they do, and games help inspire that.  However, In Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism, the author uses “the machine” as a unique analogy that might serve as an excuse to why people prefer games over work.

The “machine” as Weber describes it arose from asceticism– with its radical view on efficiency and productivity.  As time passed, however, the spirit of asceticism left, while its ethos did not.  The religious drive that helped this lifestyle become complete and balanced has disappeared with time.  What society is left with is the machine– an unstoppable, inescapable influence over mankind which forces those born into it to adjust with the ways in which society is run.  The hard-working, profit-producing spirit of capitalism still remains, as Weber states “‘doing ones job’ cannot be directly linked to the highest spiritual and cultural values.” (Weber 121).

From this viewpoint, we can see how gamifying might be a coping mechanism for one’s lack of purpose in society.  Humans are trapped in this mechanical society, but no longer are able to make work a part of their inherent values.  As a result, working loses its meaning, and people begin to half-heartedly do their jobs.  Gamification returns the meaning to work by giving work a more relevant factor.  Through achievement and competition, gamifying peoples lives makes them feel in control and effectively battles the machine which Weber describes.

Another interesting, somewhat funny, viewpoint that should be considered is from that of a Marxist.  This is a pretty obvious point, but not one people may think about often; that a company like Ambition serves only the bourgeoisie by re-sparking the good little capitalist in all the proletarians of society; all for the sole purpose of making more profit for themselves. The illusion that gamification’s purpose is to make our lives more pleasant is only a front for an opportunity to make large corporations more money.  I mean….. the slogan of Ambition IS “Ambition makes companies more money.”  Moreover, not only is Ambition serving the bourgeoisie, but they themselves are making a huge profit off of their business, creating a classic, ironic circle of bourgeoisie winningness.

Personally, I chose to write about this because I feel gamification, on some level truly does have a connection to the trapped state in which lower working classes are found. Obviously my thoughts are up to interpretation.  Whether gamification is a coping mechanism to deal with the way in which society is run, or simply another economic tool to benefit the bourgeoisie, or both, there is something about the relation between gamifying work and our society as a whole that is relevant to us and fascinating.  Please comment and share your own opinions of this subject!