From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (8)—The Doorman

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
[a] Greetings   RF
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
So I was buying a few things at the 7-Eleven down the street last night, and the man behind the counter asked me how often I came to the islands (I clearly looked like an outsider). I told him I swing through whenever I can, and spend some time at the East-West Center. "Oh, you're a mucky-muck!," he exclaimed. I assured him that I was nothing of the sort—that I was just passing through for a conference. He seemed satisfied with my answer, and we went our separate ways. I couldn't help thinking about how we think and talk about employment, hierarchy, and roles in our society. And my mind turned to an encounter that didn't go quite so smoothly for one Jerry Seinfeld. Let's take a look at a few scenes from season six, episode eighteen—The Doorman.
As I have written elsewhere—and in other contexts—roles and hierarchies matter. We ignore them, and the way people tend to think about them, at our social peril. On the other hand, it would seem that several people out there, in all walks of life, perhaps think about them a little too much. Our Seinfeldian doorman is only an entrée into thinking more deeply about the ways in which we present ourselves in social life, and the interactions we have because of it.
[b] Hierarchy   RF
Think about it. Have you ever been in a position in which you did not feel that you and your worth were being fully appreciated? You know you have. We all have. People who talk about which schools they attended often encounter this, as does almost everyone who discusses the sports she plays, extracurricular activities he does, or courses she takes. "Well, I had AP Calculus, History, and Literature—and I got 5s on all of them." Ever heard something like that? Or something along the lines of "Well you are from New York City, so I am sure that I could never be as sophisticated as you."

Have you noticed that irony is often a large part of the rhetorical exchange? Yes, indeed, and there was more than a little of it in the Seinfeld clip above.

[c] Roles   RF
Let's examine a few readings that might set a little bit of context for roles, hierarchy, and perceptions of grandeur (or not). This is quite clearly a theme that has interested many thinkers, not the least of whom were a string of nineteenth century French and British novelists. Austen, Balzac, Stendahl, Hugo, Dumas, and others filled their narratives with striving, insecurity, and obtuseness. We could devote an entire blog to just this subject, of course, but let's just select three writers (not novelists, alas, since that might be too fun) and see where they take us. 

Let me remind you, as I do with every week's Seinfeld readings, that these snippets are not meant to address the topic directly. I will not rehash the details here, but suffice it to say that I believe in "intellectual juxtaposition" and the fireworks it can create. Today you will encounter Wittgensteinian ideas about "rules" (are there "rules" for doorman interaction?), David Hume's thoughts on pride and humility, and even read a bit of Thomas More's Utopia. Pride, humility, rules, and social roles—just think about 'em. That's all I ask.

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations
[d] Ludwig
198. "But how can a rule shew me what I have to do at this point? Whatever I do is, on some interpretation, in accord with the rule." —That is not what we ought to say, but rather: any interpretation still hangs in the air along with what it interprets, and cannot give it any support. Interpretations by themselves do not determine meaning.

"Then can whatever I do be brought into accord with the rule?"—Let me ask this: what has the expression of a rule—say a sign post—got to do with my actions? What sort of connexion is there here? Well, perhaps this one: I have been trained to react to this sign in a particular way, and now I do so react to it.

But that is only to give a causal connexion; to tell how it has come about that we now go by the sign-post; not what this going-by-the-sign really consists in. On the contrary, I have further indicated that a person goes by a sign post only in so far as there exists a regular use of sign-posts, a custom.

199. Is what we call "obeying a rule" something that it would be possible for only one man to do, and to do only once in his life?—This is of course a note on the grammar of the expression "to obey a rule."

It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which someone obeyed a rule. It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which a report was made, an order given or understood; and so on.—To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions).

To understand a sentence means to understand a language. To understand a language means to be master of a technique.[1]

David Hume
A Treatise of Human Nature
'Tis evident, that pride and humility, tho' directly contrary, have yet the same OBJECT. This object is self, or that succession of related ideas and impressions, of which we have an intimate memory and consciousness. Here the view always fixes when we are actuated by either of these passions. According as our idea of ourself is more or less advantageous, we feel either of those opposite affections, and are elated by pride, or dejected with humility. Whatever other objects may be comprehended by the mind, they are always considr'd wtih a view to ourselves; otherwise they would never be able either to excite these passions or produce the smallest encrease or diminution of the. When self enters not into the consideration, there is no room either for pride or humility.

[e] Humean
But tho' that connected succession of perceptions, which we call self, be always the object of these two passions, 'tis impossible that it can be their CAUSE, or be sufficient alone to excite them. For as these passions are directly contrary, and have the same object in common; were their object also their cause; it cou'd never produce any degree of the one passion, but at the same time it must excite an equal degree of the other; which opposition and contrareity must destroy both. 'Tis impossible that a man can at the same time be both proud and humble; and where he has different reasons for these passions, as frequently happens, the passions either take place alternately; or if they encounter, the one annihilates the other, as far as its strength goes, and the remainder only of that, which is superior, continues to operate upon the mind. But in the present case neither of the passions cou'd ever become superior; because supposing it to be the view only of ourself, which excited them, that being perfectly indifferent to either, must produce both in the very same proportion; or in other words, can produce neither. To excite any passion, and at the same time raise an equal share of its antagonist, is immediately to undo what was done, and must leave the mind at last perfectly calm and indifferent.[2]

Thomas More
[f] Utopic   
They define pleasure as any motion or state of the mind or body which produces delight in accord with the guidance of nature. Not without reason do they add that the impulse must be in accord with nature...Among those who pursue false pleasures they include those whom I mentioned before who think that the finer the gown they wear the better they are. On this one point they are wrong twice over. They are no less deceived in thinking the gown is better than in imagining they themselves are. For if you consider the usefulness of a garment, why is wool woven with fine thread better than wool woven with coarser thread? But they think they excel in fact, not merely in their illusions. They ruffle their feathers; they believe that they are more valuable because of their clothes. And on that basis, honors they would not have dared hope for in cheaper clothes they demand as rightly due to their elegant gown, and they are outraged if someone passes them by without due deference.

And then isn't it equally stupid to be much taken with empty and worthless honors? For what natural pleasure is there in someone's baring his head to you or bending his knee? Will that relieve pain in your knee or cure the delirium in your head? It is amazing how some are caught up in this imaginary, specious pleasure: delightfully insane, they flatter themselves and take pride in their imagined nobility simply because they are descended from a long series of ancestors who are considered to be rich, above all rich landlords (for nowadays there is no other source of nobility except wealth), and yet they think they are not a whit less the noble even if their ancestors left them no wealth or they themselves have squandered it.[3]

[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations [Transl. G.E.M. Anscombe] (New York: Prentice Hall, 1953, 80-81.
[2] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (New York: Penguin Books, 1969, 327-328.
[3] Thomas More, Utopia [transl. Clarence H. Miller] (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 84-85.

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Books, 1969.
More, Thomas. Utopia [transl. Clarence H. Miller]. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations Third Edition [Transl. G.E.M Anscombe]. New York: Prentice Hall, 1953.

Wednesday, May 25th
George Does The Opposite
"Hi, I'm George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents."
More social psychology next week in Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for another thought provoking post.

    The question which came to mind this time was how can individuals protect their privacy in an hierarchical system? Such systems seem to be curious about any and all "details" of the individual's life: how s/he dresses, lives, decorate his/her dwelling, his/her intellectual, religious and political belief system, on and on and to such degree that other members of the hierarchy become involved in providing info.

    It is very clear that hierarchal structures are needed, but the question is how members of such structures can enjoy this last drop of privacy which remain in 21st century? Or I wonder did it ever exist?

    Thanks again for keeping us wondering.