Issue 4: Subjectivity vs. Objectivity
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program

I've Met Some People and Bought Some Things I've been looking for David Mamet in Harvard Square because he's famous and a literary guidebook said I could find him there between sets of overly posturing breakdancers. (Yes, I know they're called BBoys.) It doesn't really matter who David Mamet is, whether he elegantly composes sandwiches at Au Bon Pain or instead hocks slightly damaged Harvard tee-shirts to sad yet proud parents. Whenever I take the Red Line into Harvard Square I call my wife on the bridge between the Park St. and the Charles MGH stops. The span across water is in open air so there's cellphone service. It's something like "I love you. I'll see you in five minutes." If it's cold we agree to meet in the bookstore, affectionately known as the coop (rhymes with 'dupe'). But I hadn't made that ride for a few weeks and I forgot which side of the train to get off on and so when I stood up I sheepishly chose a side and then was quite embarrassed when I got it wrong. I wanted to say, "No, no, no, I'm not a tourist. I do know which side to get off on." Or, "Ahh, I did. You don't understand, I know this place." But I know that I won't always know this place. I don't remember the name of the great bookstore in DC or where we got groceries. I know we lived on N St. but I don't remember the cross streets. I'm pretty sure we didn't live there long enough to learn how to pronounce anything. After a few years I probably won't remember how to pronounce 'coop' because it will fail to exist anywhere where I am. Money is not something of which to be frightened. It is a symbol of how a person organizes her life, of how she prioritizes various opportunities, and of what she cares about. But money is odd because it is both a symbol and an actual good. It is a symbol of how you use it. That is why I am a fairly strict budgeter: I want to bring the symbol and the reality into alignment. In this essay I mean budgeter in the specific sense of someone who (1) has a finite amount of income, (2) is price conscious, and (3) is price sensitive with regard to all goods. In essence, I mean someone : but I love smoking, it's part of the writing. : but I love drinking, it's part of the writing. When we make moral judgments about people we bracket their preferences. Preferences are particularly important in the minor ethical sphere that could be called "consumer ethics." That is, the moral breaches of a consumer are relatively minor, but breaches none the less. These breaches include smoking, eating meat, buying clothes from big chain stores (the biggest breach is shopping at Walmart), driving an SUV, and countless other minor infringements on the moral order. The magnitude of the infringement depends largely upon which moral subgroup you belong to. If you live in a vegetarian commune eating veal might be seen as a fairly major moral error of judgment. When a vociferous non-smoker (anti-smoker) sees a person smoking he doesn't think that the smoker might enjoy smoking more than the non-smoker does, he merely thinks that it's bad to smoke. Similarly, when a person quits smoking people think he's done a great (and difficult) deed, irrespective of whether quitting was actually difficult for the person. That is, when we think about smoking we do not take people's preference for smoking (or their physiological response to smoking) into account. Instead, we bracket people's preferences when we make judgments about people's choices. (he lights a cigarette) : There's no smoking. : But I smoke. (he lights a cigarette) : There's no smoking. : But I wasn't smoking. (he lights a cigarette) : There's no smoking. : There's no such thing as smoking. who makes the beautiful levers of the price mechanism function. Some people are not budgeters. This does not mean that they never have a cent to spare; it merely means that they are not generally aware of how much items cost and thus are unable to perform a cost/benefit analysis of their lives. Without this analysis the symbol and reality of money must remain apart, cleaved in two, as it were. We all should be budgeters both so that we can take stock of ourselves and so that stores can take stock of us. It makes everyone's job My dad is writing a memoir. I'm supposed to talk to the hired ghostwriter. It's all been paid for by the board. He has made transformative changes and they ought to be documented. The problem is that the first draft is all career and no personality. That's why the kids were called in: to provide those soft private touches that make a person personable. Luckily, I have a couple of cute stories. But when I recounted them to the ghostwriter they don't take that long to tell. I wish they had taken longer because my secret fear is that I'm writing my father's memory of me as he pretends to die in words. : Hey hey father figure, hey hey. : I hate when you call me that. : You can call me son figure. : I'm no figure. : Hey hey father figure, hey hey. so much easier. It should be noted that saying that someone is not a budgeter is not a moral statement about them, just a statement of fact. This type of person is completely alien to me. I know about how much most items that I buy cost where I normally buy them and also in other places where they are also sold. This is how I calculate both where I buy goods and also how I spend much of my time. For instance, I know that a gallon of milk costs $3.50 at the big store a mile away, but that it costs $4.49 at the smaller store nearby and thus whenever I buy milk I But, either way, I'm supposed to be liberal. I know how I'm supposed to feel about the news. There's not much space to be other people, but sometimes when I'm talking I find myself slipping. Oftentimes, the fact that we choose different actors to qua ourselves with means that we will literally talk past each other. This is because the actions available to certain actors might not be available or desirable to other actors. At other times, the perspectives we adopt are not made explicit either because we don't recognize them ourselves or because we have intentionally hidden them in order to make our arguments more convincing. That is, we talk past each other because we are not ourselves and sometimes don't even know who we are when we're talking. If I am the president and you are the director of a radical environmental organization we are never going to reach a consensus because by anyone's standards the actions the president and the director of a radical environmental organization respectively should take are extremely different. In fact, they should probably never reach a consensus. If you are arguing as a radical environmental activist the cost benefit analysis congress members must engage in appears reprehensible. And so, if we are acting as these characters, there is no way that we (as regular arguing political people) can reach a consensus (or even honestly disagree). These are people, after all, who never talk in real life, why should we imagine that they would talk in a speculative political conversation? The table of political conversation is large, but not large enough for everyone at the same time. And then I get it all wrong because I know how I'm supposed to feel, but I don't know who I am when I start talking. Ultimately, I've told myself that I should be a liberal. I only allow myself to slip when someone else will accept that role. : You'd think that once we were given a name that our fate would be sealed. Like when you say 'this is a table' then no matter what else, it's a table, you put your coffee on it, you do your homework on it, and when you're trying to misuse it you can have sex on it. But no matter what it's a table. : Why are we so unpredictable? I say to you, why? Because we no longer have stable roles. Back in ancient times when roles were given and fulfillment meant fulfilling your have to make a calculation about distance, about how long the venture will take, about how much time I have, how much money I have, about what other things I want to buy (if I'm buying milk do I also want to buy a pound of espresso beans for lattes?), etc. By making these calculations in my head I can arrive at a decision that I can peacefully act upon. If you don't know how much a gallon of milk costs, you cannot make these sorts of calculations and have no way of coming to a decision and tranquilly acting upon it. Or perhaps you have alternate ways of making role as a carpenter or a baker people were not nearly so unpredictable. : But they could still lie. : Yes, of course, the nature of man, and, in fact, the desired nature of man, is never to be totally predictable, but in the end of history, in the moment when the narrative of human existence ceases to move, we are far too unpredictable. Because of this I am starting the Predictability as Honor party to run for government office. : They won't win. : That's not the point. : What's the point of running then? : To make a point. : What point? : That the people are sovereign of the law, that they can control the issues. : Then it doesn't matter what party you start or what your platform is? : Of course it matters; people need to be more predictable. They need to stick with the names they were given, if I can be so bold as to make names stand in for roles, tradition, and right. "Stick With It" that's our motto. Quite catchy, isn't it. : I'm afraid you won't win. : That's not the point. : What's the point then? decisions that are just as good (and perhaps better) than my financial (and relatively dry and unemotional) method of making decisions about money and time. Perhaps people who are not budgeters decide whether to purchase an item based on its absolute rather than its relative price. An example of this would be a man who never bought anything priced over $100 regardless of his budget or the utility it would bring him. Perhaps they merely look at an item's color or note its smell or test its density. I actually have no clue how : To make a point. Look, we aren't smart, we don't know what we're talking about, we misquote, we don't know economics, but we know what side of the tracks we live on, we know what side of the fence we belong to, we know how to spit. they choose items if they cannot perform a cost/benefit analysis. The thing about talking about their purchasing habits is that they are so varied there is almost nothing to say about them. They may say interesting things about themselves, but I can say none of these things. Through budgeting a person really comes to know himself. He might believe that he really likes potato chips, but until he has to weigh the price of potato chips against the price and enjoyment of a chocolate bar he doesn't know what he really wants. Being a budgeter I'm in a car with no cassette tapes or CDs and I'm flipping radio stations rapidly between the six preordained and thus easily locatable locations on the dial. There's nothing on and I have that "There's 57 Channels and Nothing On" post-consumer, dry, sweaty feeling which is rather suddenly relieved by a song that's not too bad. It's not great, but it'll do, maybe it's a popsong that's not going to be around in ten years or maybe it's a random Motown song. But whatever it is, it's okay, and I listen to it. And it's great for maybe three and a half of the song's four minute duration. My head's bobbing appropriately, if I know the particular song I sing along enthusiastically, and I finally lose my distaste for consumer society. But then I get bored of the song and feel the need to turn the dial. After all, it's not my favorite song, just something to listen to in the meantime of consumption. But now it's boring as all meantimes become in our jaded capitalist society. So, I turn the knob from preselected station through countless unknown songs to another preselected station. Finally (and here comes this feeling that I have felt before) I hear one of my favorite songs, and not only one of my favorites but also a song that functions perfectly as a driving soundtrack (some Springsteen maybe, perhaps The Clash). I tune into the song at the chorus so it's difficult to tell how far into the song I am, but I presume it's the beginning. Unfortunately, I am wrong, it's the last chorus and the song is almost over. And this is the feeling that I have felt at this particular moment: regret that I listened to a mediocre song instead of one of my favorites, anger that too much is available and so much of it is not perfect, and sadness (at myself) for not possessing the instincts necessary to find the perfect song. The movement of my body carries the letter In coursing blood and rumors of rustling leaves, But my flesh is far and my message is a weak signal, As if you were driving alone cross-country And your favorite radio station Faded into scratches Of that song that makes you tingle. Perhaps you drive back home Or know that you will return. Whether you visit or stay forever in that house, In those limbs of spring breeze, Is a question which asks if you Are able to move freely within that house. forces a person to make choices between goods and in this way he learns what his preferences really are. Through knowing his preferences he comes to know who he really is as a person. Of course, the exception to this is the person who knows himself very well and yet buys the exact same bundle of goods every week (perhaps Eden Soy milk, Starbucks espresso, 6 12oz. can (not bottles) of Coke, 4 tomatoes, 1 package of Organic Water Crackers w/ cracked pepper, etc.) regardless of price. This person is perhaps in heaven: she Perhaps you drive deeper into the desert Never to return And let the signals of radio stations Fade in and out of your arms. Your shadow extends the far length to me And urges me to extend beyond all directions, As a poet is ravaged by extension. : Turn that music off. : Music is only allowed if it is played through headphones at a volume such that if another person is proximally seated he will not be able to discern that music is, in fact, playing. : Outrage. No solidarity anymore. No listening to the same music. Each with our own music. Each with our own name. Each at our own crossroads. : My private projects won't get in the way of collective action for the good. Our names may be different but we know what it feels like to have a name. This is what connects us in politics. knows herself without having to look at price. She glides through life with one less care than I. I do not understand this person. This article is not written for her or for anyone else in heaven. Stores do not know the preferences of the non-budgeter either. How can they be sure of his preferences if he chooses items willy nilly on the basis of color or packaging? Now, you might want to ask: aren't we all budgeters by default? In a manner of speaking we are all budgeters since we do all have budgets (finite resources), but not all of us behave as if we have finite You always think that people on the bus are going to be interesting, but they rarely are. Sometimes I'll spot somebody else who thinks that people on the bus are going to be interesting. She will look at me with baited breath waiting for me to say or do something strange, but when I don't say or do anything strange she'll still be waiting, this time for me to do something common "of the people," but I can't really live up to her wishes; I'm too busy watching everyone else. {The crowd was the veil from behind which the familiar city as phantasmagoria beckoned to the flâneur. In it, the city was now landscape, now a room. And both of these went into the construction of the department store, which made use of flânerie itself in order to sell goods. The department store was the flâneur's final coup. As flâneurs, the intelligentsia came into the market place.} Walter Benjamin I would hold the door for her, but I'm not sure how long I should hold it for. Like, for instance, if I see her back there and she's fuzzy in my imperfect vision should I nevertheless wait with my arm flexed or would that seem like I was trying to pick her up? You see the problem, I'm trying to be kind, but not too kind, not suspicious kind. resources. That is, not all of us possess criteria (2) and (3) of being a budgeter in my specific sense. Some people act as if they have infinite pools of gold, so muddled is their rationality. It is very unfair to behave that way: Didn't these people ever hear of Socrates who said "Know Thyself"? Or did they never attempt to market cheap and crappy items to a relatively un-differentiated populace? If they did they would know that neither of these tasks is possible if one is not a budgeter. One fact is surely true; consumers do not know the price of every good in every store they Could you take a shower without answers? I've never stepped out of steeping since I met you. These books are wet, you say. Yes, but I'll sell them to you. You want to sell me books after we've fucked in the shower? I need money for the train. It's subsidized but not cheap. You should write your congressman. I should. Here's a stamp. Where's the post office? It's up third and then you veer toward the coffee shop then past the light that used to be there but isn't anymore and there's the library with the free internet and the next building is the post office where you can buy stamps and stand in line. If I could only make a stamp of your ass. If any of these books were good enough for me. But they're not. I'll have to go where they're sent. I must go where the action is, where they know things like Kant and Emerson and Eliot, smart things I've seen in magazines. I wished I would have found it when I was in 10th grade and needed a new world. Instead I found Ray Gun, Bomb, Interview, and the back issues of the Paris Review, which I bought from my local library. They were all great magazines, but Cabinet would have been better for me. I would have had direction in the shower. frequent. One method consumers use to gauge whether a particular store is more or less expensive than another store is to use the price of a certain product (such as eggs, milk, juice, etc.) as an indicator of the general prices in a particular store. The general prices in a particular store might be called a store's price regime. By a store's relative price regime I mean how much items cost on average in a particular store relative to the cost of the same items in another store. For instance, I know that cream cheese costs $1.39 at Whole Foods and that the very best price When we watch movies I am by far the most gullible: don't try the ominous scene on me, I won't pick up on it (and I'm supposed to be literary and understand things like foreshadowing), like if somebody sees a ring in a dream I won't think about marriage until after they do. The characters are far more cognizant of the omen in their actions that I am. The worst is taking me to a science fiction movie when I have no clue what's going on. It's like when you first read Shakespeare and you don't know that Ophelia died but you know what they meant. I know that the Matrix is supposed to exemplify something like the realm of Plato's forms. That's the theme, but I have no idea what has just happened in the movie. Somebody should make a thriller about the case involving a commercial profiling company (the people who buy and sell lists with your name on them). They used prisoners to enter personal data. Well, it turned out that one of the prisoners took a liking to one of the people he was entering data about. She must have bought some kind of soap that the prisoner really liked. In any case, he started stalking her. In reality, the prisoner only sent the woman letters. In the movie, he should probably rape or maim her. It should be a lot like Rear Window only shorter, maybe 90 minutes. How do actors think about meaning? If they are given the script of a textually difficult play how do they interpret that text? In one sense, such interpretation is left up to the director. He will tell (or direct) the actors how to act the scene. But one way of thinking about meaning is that performance is understanding. That is, if you know how to perform a work you know what it means. This rule of thumb was very helpful when I was reading Ulysses in college and it urged me to later think about this question of how actors think about meaning in the words they perform. Most plays are easy to perform because they are relatively easy to read. Their meaning is transparent to readers of the play, the actors in the play, and the play's audience alike. But there are some plays that are more difficult. In such plays the meaning is not readily accessible to the readers of the play, the actors in the play, or the play's audience. you can ever get on Dole mixed juice is 2 containers for $4.00. So if I see that cream cheese costs $1.99 at another store I assume that all the prices in that store are going to be higher than in my store of origin. One way stores could make extra profit would be to figure out which items people generally used as indicators of a store's general price, price these items low, and raise the prices of other items which people never used as indicators. That way, a company is able to maximize overall profits while its customers still feel that the store has reasonable prices. This I've been lifting memories through all the places I've ever lived. These porous surfaces tingle. The skin warps over each job's commute, Through each stained bus-seat, beside each regular coffee shop. These rooms begin to think like mirrors. The project continues to expand And exceeds any sleeves. This is where we used to walk. That's always it, always the entrance, The walking grips objects and must connect them. I can't see it without knowing That day before we lived here when I presented my Supertasters paper At the aesthetics conference on the other river. You waited for me at the Cosi On that dirty corner, where we never go anymore. I can't see the Bay Bridge without Knowing that several relatives jumped off. I don't really know which ones, not really. Its span appeared prominently again Before you went to Stanford. We were just visiting the area, But you had to leave a day early; I spent it exploring this ancestral city That I didn't then know, But which I came to know handless, without touch. I bought a book on semiotics at City Lights And ate chowder beside the reflection. We moved and I don't know what it feels like anymore. Still, I want to say that I do. When my sister recently moved there I wanted to say You should go to Muddy Waters; You should try to work at IDEX, You should go to this bar and that coffee shop. Well, you know where The best place to see music is, don't you? I actually don't anymore. These singes want to stick to the skin but can't. assumes that there are some products that people generally use as indicators of a store's overall price level. The fact that most people are budgeters makes this a reasonable assumption. That is, the assumption must be made that the consumer cares about prices and what is budgeting but the purest expression of caring about prices. So, I say, be a budgeter so that you can align the symbol and reality that is money and so that stores can more efficiently market to you.
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