Friday, August 05, 2005

Commited / There's no place like home

The story so far...

[Playing Star Wars theme]

In a blog far, far away, Falstaff, the last surviving Jaded-eye knight, is fighting a desperate battle to protect the magical forces of Pscyho Anal Isis from falling into the hands of Princess Meditative Rose and her evil henchmen. After a few inconclusive skirmishes on the planet fingeek (ruled by the indomitable warlord known as He Who Shall Not Be Flamed), the rebel forces find their home base under attack and are forced to withdraw to the mystical, inhospitable world known to the faithful only by the numbers 2x3x7. Here, in the dark jungles of Comments, the battle continues unabated...

P.S. Now if only I could find myself a woman in a gold bikini


Falstaff said...

On 4th August, iteneranting said:

Itineranting said...
F, linked to the debate on Fingeek's post -
My point was not that economic/pragmatic factors explain variance. The point was that the article seems to negate the existence of thinking individuals who can be credited with enough common sense to take decisions based on an assessment of real factors in their lives.

It would have been prudent to link the variance to an appetite for risk. Again, whether financial theorists or a psycho analyst chooses to theorise the same, I would still believe (without any kind of professional expertise on the matter) that to generalize specific behavioural traits pertaining to risk aversion, would be a misnomer.

And for the 10 people who can subscribe to any established theory in support of specific behavioral pattern, there will be another 10 who don’t. And at that point the same experts will need to look for factors of aberrations, that set the latter 10 apart.

If your premise of subjectivity extends to a decision on real estate, one can similarly extend the perspective to each and every other decision making activity.
But ofcourse every decision is subjective! To that extent it obviously involves a deeper interspersion of the thinking mind and the sub-conscious.
However, I fail to see why one needs to therefore, extend a basic extension of how a human mind works to such an extreme, that the existence of a logical mind is undermined to provide supremacy to the sub-conscious. Are you then saying that a human being can never separate emotion from action? That a thinking mind does not exist without a translucent sheet of psychological factors always affecting every decision? Ofcourse we’re shaped by our upbringing, one way or the other. But it insults my thinking mind to be told that I am not buying a house because I have a fear of commitment. I know how much I earn; I know what EMI I need to pay; I know what my requirements for a house are. Till these factors match, I cant buy a house; It’s a personal decision. I cant afford it. I wont buy it. I don’t want to stretch myself; Why does that have to be made into this big deal and a study of psychology?
To specifically single out this one decision & link to theories that the Article does, only perpetuates a growing trend to establish deep rooted dysfunctionalities as being the prime motivator for diverse behavioural traits; I would perceive psychological factors playing a role in committing to a real estate purchase, to the extent that it would play a role in most other decision making; I am very tempted to write an article theorizing why people choose almond fudge over caramel fudge? Or maybe someone beat me to it already!

Small print: we must at some point discuss your aversion for the term ‘pragmatic’…am curious to know why a term like that would bring such extreme reaction :)

Itineranting said...

Most amused :)but isnt there gonna be a response from the knight or shall my comment be the final word??

Falstaff said...


yes, I am saying precisely that objective decision making is a myth - all the 'analytic' decisions we make pass through an emotional screen (the trendy term in academia is 'affect', I believe). There is no such thing as a purely objective thinking mind.

I agree with you, however, that there's no reason to single out this one decision as being somehow more symptomatic of psychological issues than anything else. The reason you don't buy property is almost certainly linked to a whole bunch of genetic, social and historical factors - with a different mental make up you would have chosen to buy a different house or had different criteria in choosing one - but precisely because there is no decision you've ever made in your life that wasn't influenced by the same factors (and that's as true of everyone else as it is of you) there's no reason to feel insulted about this. As I said in my earlier comment, it's not clear why fear of commitment is such a bad thing - you could easily flip the argument to say it's not clear why commitment is so important and it's those people who are afraid of not making commitment who have issues. Which is why I'm uncomfortable with the term dysfunctionality - there's nothing dsyfunctional about having preferences or recognising that those preferences are reflections of deeper psychological facts. Where the article goes wrong, in my opinion, is in making the assumption that there is a RIGHT attitude / psychology.

Two other points: I agree that the article could have been less psuedo-scientific by linking the variance to something more analytically sound than 'fear of commitment' (what does that mean anyway?). Things like risk aversion or need for closure could have been more useful dimensions to think about. I'm not entirely sure what you mean by specific behavioural traits pertaining to risk aversion being a misnomer (??) - but I do think that you could predict that risk averse people would behave in certain specific ways; unfortunately the article doesn't do that.

Second, notice that, ironically, implicit in the article is the idea that these behaviour patterns are not dispositional - that if you could somehow recognise that you were unwilling to commit, you would suddenly change your behaviour. I'm not sure that's true. a) Just because you recognise something about yourself doesn't mean you can change it and b) going back to my point about nothing being dysfunctional, I don't know why you would want to. So I'm happy to admit that I prefer bitter chocolate to caramel and that this may well be linked to my early childhood, but just because I admit this to myself doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to start liking caramel or that I should start liking it.

Bottomline: I don't want to buy a house. I wouldn't even if I could afford it. And yes, that's almost certainly because of my childhood and my life experiences. But so what? I don't need to justify my feelings to anyone - either by making up some faux logic or by blaming it on someone or something in my past. This is just who I am. Someone who refuses to commit. And I like it that way.

Falstaff said...

IT: Oh, and pragmatism is one of those terms like Platonic (see post from three days ago) that I feel people get very wrong. I don't think anyone who hasn't read William James should be allowed to use the word at all.

Falstaff said...

And finally, MR:

I don't see why renting / buying should be any less of an emotional decision. what about the pride of being a home-owner? Of having "your own house"? Face it, whether you rent or own can be as much a statement of self as anything else - it's the whole "I'm settled" vs "I refuse to be tied down" thing.

You're going to say that you built an analytical model in excel and that's how you decided to buy your place. But a) we both know that all it would take would be a few quick changes in the right cells and the answer could be completely different - so I would question how 'objective' your model really is. b) The bigger point though is - why do you assume that economic benefit is the only 'rational' benefit? Even if you are doing this purely to maximise financial value - isn't that a behaviour pattern in itself? Why are you doing that, why do you care? What is it about making the most efficient economic decision that is so important to you? the very decision to base (or pretend to base) real estate decisions on 'objective' analysis vs subjective feelings is, in itself, a fundamental psychological trait. You're emotionally hooked on being unemotional.

Itineranting said...

Oh fear of committment - never a bad thing. Thats just a personal choice people make. And although I've made committments so long term, I would never judge one who would rather not. So no judgement is being passed on the issue of committment at all.
The discord lies in the linkage.
And what I meant (refer "??")is that one cant always classify specific behavioural traits to being a classic case of risk aversion. Or a similar stereotype.
And ofcourse one doesnt change just coz one realises that one is a certain way (unless one thinks that the certain way is not a good way to be and wants to change..blah blah)..
Anyhow, I think this discussion cant continue if we reach an agreement..and I'm beginning to think that we are...somewhat..reaching some common ground. Damn.
And that last comment is presumptous & outrageous - "I don't think anyone who hasn't read William James should be allowed to use the word at all";
Incidentally, I happen to have Mother who uses William James's basic premise of emotion being the mind's perception of physiological conditions to describe most things, including "love"! (the mother has studied WJ, inter alia;)
I am also noting trait of Knight to say things to incur reaction..In re: last line to MR!

Falstaff said...

"That last comment is presumptuous and outrageous".

Thank you. So?

I'm not really saying things to get reaction - I'm just saying what I think without bothering that other people might be outraged or might react. Their problem.

The ?? was because I'm not sure how the argument you're making is for a misnomer (a mistake in naming) - you could say it's a logical error and I'd agree with you completely - of course human behaviour is unpredictable - that's practically a survival technique. I can't think of a single piece of behavioural research where a single factor explains more than, say 30% of the variance. The whole point is that it does explain 30%. And risk aversion is not a stereo-type, it's a dimension of personality.

Oh, and just in case you're thinking of using William James against me, let me say that I don't actually agree with James, I just think that if people are going to call something pragmatic, they should know what the word means.

And if you really want disagreement, then let me say that one doesn't change even if one wants to - one may not be able to. So on the whole it's probably better not to realise how pathetic a person you really are, than to figure it out and then have to live with the knowledge without being able to do anything about it. What was it Shelley said? "Lift not the painted veil that those who live call life"

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Lucy: Linus, don't you think that cloud looks like Michelangelo's painting of man in the Sistine Chapel version of the Creation?

Linus: Actually, it reminds me more of an illustration of the principle of limits in Leibniz's notes. What do you see in those clouds, Charlie Brown?

CB: I was going to say I saw a horsie and a doggie, but I changed my mind.


Falstaff said...

J.A.P. :-). What say we let Joni Mitchell have the last word on this?

"I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down, but still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all"

- Joni Mitchell, 'Both Sides Now'

Heh Heh said...

Arre, while i get busy for a couple of days and you folks have a nice party and even conclude? Hello??
In the interests of further disagreement, here's pointing out a few implicit assumptions being made here:

1. "Risk-aversion" as opposed to "objective thinking". What metric of objectivity are you using here and why does objective thinking have to be opposed to risk aversion? I thought objective thinking was *supposed* to person specific. The outcomes of objective thinking are bound to vary from person to person.
A risk-averse person might (objectively) decide to stay away from a gamble with positive expected payoffs and a risk loving person may objectively take a gamble with negative expected payoffs.

By a similar logic, a decision to stay out of a committed relationship because one is risk-averse may be perfectly objective.

I have to disagree with Falstaff on one thing, though. There are *wrong* ways of making decisions.

Specifically, decisions that are made which run counter to what one knows is good for oneself. I know of atleast one person who was in a committed relationship, inspite of the fact that it was not good for her, simply for the sake of putting up appearances in front of people who did not even really matter to her. Eventually it led to a break-up, but it put her through some years of misery that she would not have had to face if she had thought *objectively* ( and by that I loosely mean "in her own self interest").

Itineranting said...

Touche JAPda! Clouds are always the perfect antidote to most disagreements.. :)
Falstaff, somehow an argument doesnt have the same steam if not in person...if I meet you ever, I promise to pick up the argument from where we left off..for now I just have one simple point of view - I believe that it would be incorrect to state that not buying real estate is caused by a fear to commit.
Small Print: ofcourse you're entitled to say whatever you want and its upto the reciepent, on how they choose to deal with it. And I do agree with your last para... :) And am not using WJ against you..but you know what...I've begun to believe in his premise.
HWSNBF - that 'her' that you mentioned, describes lots of people I know, including some 'hims'!

Falstaff said...

HWSNBF: I want you to know that the only reason I'm disagreeing with you is because you're a good friend and I'd hate to let you down. But let's this keep this short, okay (famous last words).

I agree that objectivity is a person-specific thing. Essentially I think what's at issue here is frame of reference - given that human beings are boundedly rational, they may do things that seem like the best option to them but may not be the best option in some more universal sense (assuming such a sense exists).

Where I don't agree with you is that it's not clear to me that your friend wouldn't have been unhappier if she hadn't stayed in the relationship. The fact that she was unhappy is irrelevant - it's all relative, after all.

You could argue that prioritising social approval over individual happiness is 'wrong' (and personally, I would agree with you) but i) for her the two things may not be seperable and ii) what does it mean to say that that is wrong - why shouldn't we prioritise society over the individual?

Two other critical assumptions you're making:

a) That there is such a thing as free choice (I must get around to putting my post on determinism soon)

b) That happiness was what she was after in the first place. This is probably true, but it need not be. i) Lots of people sub-consciously crave suffering ii) It is possible to consciously want to suffer - I know Aristotle and all the Greek philosophers would argue that man's purpose on earth is to be happy, but I'm not sure I agree.

All that said, I'm not necessarily saying that people don't do inconsistent or wrong things - only that things may be 'wrong' only if they are opposed to what the individual wants for himself, not because the results are things that you or the NY Times or society in general disagrees with.

IT: Let's just say that fear of commitment (whatever that is) is not the only reason that someone doesn't buy real estate - it's just one of many possible competing (or convergent) explanations. And if you seriously intend to pick up this argument if we ever meet, do bring a print-out along - I'm sure to have forgotten what I said by tomorrow.

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