Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Habit and Myth

by the Sandwichman

Why do you think what you think and do what you do? Habit. How do you explain why you think what you think and do what you do? Myth.

What do you want?


Daro said...

A core set of self-imposed values variously decided upon at certain points in time during the points of crises and other experiences all collated to make me feel just moral and noble enough to pretend I'm a unique individual and then everything after that is the lowest common denominator that doesn't breach these baselines. Combine with a mild yet constant self-loathing of obvious hypocrisies that then impels me to try and improve the set a little day by day. That covers the self-actualisation angle.

ugh.. feeling a little cynical today but it's probably accurate.

Daro said...

"What do you want?"

Oh.. well. 6/10 people here in Tokyo couldn't answer that question. I think the disconnect is a modern day phenomena. The last 30 years have been unique in societal history. There are no more campaigns or causes to fight for. No rulers or kings to serve and for us to have a sense of purpose for. Religion is a crock (finally). The psychopaths are all chasing power and money but they've always been doing that since history began. That's why the birth rates are falling. What's the point? It's not Utopia, it's ennui.

Martin Langeland said...

Perhaps that applies to you, sir. As for me, all my thoughts evolve from the best credible scientific evidence and are completely rational as certified by unanimous vote of an extensive panel of Nobel Laureates meeting at an undisclosed location.
What do I want? Well I happen to have this bridge, late model, nice detailing, I think you might enjoy the experience of pure ownership ...

Daro said...


Ah.. The scientific "Star Trek" approach to life. Tried that. Problem was I ended up logically rationalizing all my actions down to instinctive, robotic self gain.

Giving money to charity? Simply reinforcing your self esteem.

Respecting elders? Belief systems conditioning and a hope for reciprocal benefit from future youth.

You end up Marvin The Paranoid Android.

Martin Langeland said...

Daro: I like the phrase "Star Trek Approach." After all Star Trek was science fiction.
As fictional as the classic economist conceit of a "rational actor" in a system that is demonstrably irrational -- not to mention thoroughly rationalized in its self serving explanations.
I speak, as so often I do, incoherently as my tongue keeps getting wodged in my cheek.

Sandwichman said...


I'd be careful about that pendulum swing from rational actor to "irrational". The displacement I would argue for is from calculation to habit. It can be perfectly reasonable much of the time to be predisposed to act according to habit. And then other times it's not.

There is a surprisingly deep and venerable tradition even in economics that views habit as the primary motivational force rather than the presumed rational maximization of utility. You might want to have a look at Geoff Hodgson on "Reclaiming Habit for Institutional Economics." Of course one could always say that there is utility in not having to decide but that reduces the notion of rationality to pure tautology.

Daro said...

Sandwichman opens a can of worms and calls "lunch!" What is rational? Adam Curtis (The Trap - The Lonely Robot) argues that the only person who complies with the classic economic model is the psychopath.

ML; I was all wrapped up in the Star Trek model of the future. It seems reasonable and liberational enough until I got a job in the corporate environment and realised in the real world it would last 20 minmutes before you hit Stalinism. In point of fact,

Star Trek's world is a proto-fascist universe. How many colony worlds shape the policy in the wars with other races? How many secretaries on The Enterprise get to vote on some suicidal death plunge into the heart of the enemy? But we do all get to wear the uniform! Make it so.

Daro said...

I suppose the gentle readers here (both of them!) have already sen the Adam Curtis BBC documentary I linked above. If you haven't - get to it, man! One of the best documentaries I've ever seen.

Sandwichman said...

"The Corporation" makes the same psychopath (or sociopath) argument about the actions of its eponymous subject.

Daro said...

Ah yes.. Th Corporation. Probably the one video that makes the point we all suspected was true. Enjoyed that one.

The Trap tackles the same point from a government POV. Starting with Nash and his "Game Theory".

Sandwichman said...

Yeah, I watched the first half of the show. For me, it was too tightly-coupled narratively. A little bit like Great Man or Great Ideas. Things are a lot messier than that. As for starting with Nash and game theory... I'd push it back to Hicks, Samuelson, Bergson and the algebraization of economics in the late 1930s.

The key thing that I argue is that there's not just "an assumption" going on here about rational actors but yet another "simplifying assumption" about how things work out for the rational actors that discounts the very inconvenient findings already found with the model.

In short, if the model shows us something that we can't assimilate into subsequent iterations of the model, let's just pretend it didn't show us that.

That's why I say that Chapman's theory is so goddamn paradigm bustingly important. If you follow from Chapman to Hicks you'll find Hicks saying, in effect, "Chapman's right but let's just pretend we didn't see that -- because if we did we wouldn't be able to take this next step."