Posts tagged with preferences

My friend and I were talking about hard bodies, which are normative in US culture.

Hardbodies Poster
Do you think it's feminine when a guy works out a lot to get a hot body?

She told me her theory that they are normative because US culture is pro-masculine in such a way that everyone has to perform masculinity in some way.

A feminine man, I was looking for a photo of a wimpy vegetarian in Birkenstocks shopping at an organic grocery store and being otherwise overly sensitive. But I was basically picturing Todd Louiso's character from High Fidelity. In this shot it looks like he's trying to appear more maculine. // The original conversation that led to this train-of-thought was about the Whitney Houston movie The Bodyguard, which I haven't seen but it came to mind as an example of perhaps a beautiful man being chased by a successful woman. But, still not having seen it, I speculate that there will be some point in the story where the man takes charge of the romantic pursuit, in order to maintain his attractiveness by recovering his masculinity.

I don’t know if I agree with that thesis or not, but it got me thinking about how a pro-masculine culture might be reflected in the economy, in the utility functions, and what an alternative on that dimension might look like.


So obviously, Estadounidenses work out; "Fitness is a $19 billion industry"; those who don’t are shamed.


But hard-ness might be reflected in utility functions in other ways as well.

  • preference of work (“I worked my #rse off to get where I am today”), busy-ness, regimens, organised workspaces, getting things done, goal-setting, achievement
    Larry Wall is disarrayed, chaotic, relaxed, embraces stillness, but I think he comes off as perhaps a bit of a feminine hippie.
  • a preference for doing over not-doing (or maybe doing over being-done-to)
  • a preference for hard-force over soft-relaxedness soft causing
  • shaming of laziness, softness, sloth, people who are too relaxed or don’t work enough, people who aren’t busy, have no career, have no ambition
  • a preference for my-own-space over shared-space
  • a preference for working hard, even if it’s to the point of overworking (overworking is actually kind of a compliment)
    "Work, work, and more work, and I expect it shall continue to be so." OK, obviously it's not _only_ US culture that preferes busy-ness to not-busy-ness.
  • a preference for individualism over communalism
  • a greater need for personal space (people stand relatively far apart from each other)
  • "I wish I could spend more time with my spouse and kids, but I’m too busy running this business empire!”
  • "I wish I could take a real vacation, or for longer”
  • Confidence, competence, winners, power over gentleness, flabbiness, passiveness, meekness, passivity, sensitivity.
  • creative destruction, building things, knocking them down, refurbishing, rebranding, striving for better, striving for more.

What about the alternative—what would a “soft” economy look like? Well, besides performing services and producing goods for each other, people can give utils to each other directly with

  • sex —the most obvious example of pure hedonic pleasure, uncounted in GDP, and “being good at it” (for men) may have less to do with a Big Man with a Big Dick, and more to do with openness, acceptance, creativity, curiosity, playfulness, sensitivity—characteristics which can be somewhat opposite to the Hard Body No Sleep Driven Successful macho man model
  • hugs
  • touching
  • softness toward each other
  • compliments
  • massages
  • Tumblr Likes
  • conversation
  • listening to each other
  • playing games together (think “childrens’ games” — why are they for children?)
  • sitting next to each other
  • holding hands
  • communicating that “I accept you as you are” or “I care what you think” or “I think you’re awesome”

(and equally they can harm each other with innuendo, bickering, hurrying or harrying each other, glares, invocation of rank/status, backhanded compliments, body language, and other perhaps “feminine” moves).

Somehow I got to think about Odo from Star Trek.
In at least one episode, the others of his shape-shifting race want him to return to live with them so they can all shape-shift into a goo and flow around in each other’s beings and experience each other. Which is one idea of Heaven. But Odo (a hero on a US TV show) wants to keep exploring, penetrating the cosmos to greater lengths. Maybe a “more feminine” economy, though, would look more like that. People touching each other, lazily hanging out,

I think there’s a reason that “California Buddhism”
looks like finding peace on a marathon instead of this:

Look at that fat guy! He’s just sitting there! So, but what do you do? I mean, what do you do, do?

I had nothing but ideas.

O.K., they weren’t strictly mine, in the sense that these ideas were acquired, arranged, styled, photographed, published and distributed by entities bearing no relation to me whatsoever.

369 Plays • Download

The Enclosures (45 min)

I had no idea that so recently people roamed about each other’s land, no fences dividing the farms and folds.

File:Mott Mounds Coles Creek culture HRoe 2011.jpg site
Mound and pit

Uxmal Mexico Map

File:View from Pyramide de la luna.jpg

The modern structure of towns, like so many things, is an outcome of economic structure.

  • When shepherds no longer roamed freely through the hills
  • and it became efficient for homes to be built in a rotary array around some kind of centre,
  • then pubs (public houses = free houses) became the meeting place

This is one of the most influential things I’ve heard, period. Think about how much longer you have to walk and how much lonelier life became once you don’t cut across another person’s land.


My pessimistic image of the culture that I live in is

  • city people all in their separate flats, with their separate computers, or separate televisions, on separate couches, alone in the space they’ve paid for with the career they fought to dominate
  • going out to a restaurant, pub, or coffee shop to experience the unexpected bumpings into people
  • so everything costs money. It costs money to have friends, costs money to hang out, costs money to flirt, costs money to meet people, costs a lot of money to meet rich people, costs money to put yourself in a place where people will happen to encounter you—unless you do it over the internet—and then people wonder why nobody makes friends after college
  • suburban people the same, except also having their own pools instead of sharing a community pool
  • having their own medium-sized lawns — big enough to keep the neighbours from peeping in the window, or seeing you on the porch and say hello — instead of sharing a large park cutting all the medium lawns down to small lawns (not that they individually choose this — the decision is made by real estate developers)
  • country people even more isolated because land tracts are so huge
  • and nobody, but nobody, knows their neighbours.

William GedneyYoung girl standing on a porch leaning against a support beamKentucky, 1964[via the Duke University Libraries]

Coney Island, 1984

More old New York


Danny Lyon/ NARA
Apartment house across from Fort Green Park in Brooklyn

On Bond Street in Brooklyn

Boys in Brooklyn

Fourth Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic
Fourth Annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic

Basketball playground in Brooklyn

Crooklyn told you what to dream

This is no 1970’s Brooklyn or 1950’s Appalachia, with people sitting on their porches and knowing each other and generally being outside and around each other at the same time.

  • When I think about more "primitive" cultures, I imagine if I’d been part of them then my identity would be so tied up in my relationships to other people—what I was born into, tight & maintained family relations, never redefining myself or my history, never escaping childhood, but with a sense of self and belonging and continuity from youth to parenthood to old age. Imagine if you slept this close together:

    (and of course, relatives and friends would hear or even—gasp—see you having sex—but which is more normal, to hide it or display it?)

    ^ Apparently the Holocene (little ice age) is the reason NW European culture with its individualism and small family norms—which propagated the world over thanks (I guess) to guns, germs, and steel—changed that NW European culture from a practice of public sex (in the manor—like a barn, sleeping to private.
  • Would people be kinkier? Or maybe it would depend on the initial conditions (if sex-copying is like an Ising spin then perhaps the first mover (wink wink) decides whether the culture becomes kinky or not)….
  • Can you imagine flirting, teasing, when you’re young, and then seeing the one you wanted to be with have sex with the one you competed with? I can’t fathom what would happen next. Would it be easier to move on? Harder? Would things just be so different that I can’t even conceive it? (yuk yuk)
  • …And I won’t even go into the sexual norms of Babylon or Sparta
  • I can’t say which culture I would prefer to live in, because my preferences are a function of the way I was raised. Economists usually leave aside where utility hypersurfaces come from and just treat them as good (or at least, unimpeachable—or, at the very least, immalleable).
  • But from a deep-past, anthropological perspective like this, it’s easy to see, “Yeah, maybe I just think monogamy is good because, duh, I live in a monogamous culture”. More broadly, I live in a culture of monogamy, where crushes and attraction are repressed, where physical attraction should not be confused with “real love”, where you probably have never met your spouse yet when you’re 16, where what the family thinks of him/her is less important than what you think, where equality among the sexes is valued, where young people don’t date anymore, they just party and eventually have sex with their friends (except for certain religions where that subculture exerts a dominating influence or sometimes the subculture itself has been magnetised toward the prevailing culture), where ambition is good, where people want to be footballers, where monetary compensation is negotiated in secret and kept secret, where compensation is based on measurable individual achievement rather than arguable perceptions of morality, where shame and guilt are not uncommonly attached to sex, where people opine about who should have sex with whom and why and when and where and how, where people break up because they finish school and get a job in a different city, where classically sexual relationships are supposed to happen with one person over a lifetime but serial monogamy seems to be taking over, where people puff themselves up to impress strangers or newly-met friends-of-friends, especially when they’re afraid or ashamed of themselves on the inside.
  • I mean of course there are various arguments you could make (at least I’ve heard some) as to why monogamy is good, or why love as it’s conceived by us is the right way to conceive it, or why everybody having sex in public would be weird, or gross, and people in my culture argue back and forth both directions about these things—but at least for me, I really can’t extricate myself enough from the expectations and the learned behaviours and the way things have always worked for me and my expectations of others and … so on.
  • Things I take for granted. Anyway, back to private property

One of my least favourite aspects of modern capitalist life is the segregated non-interaction of private persons with each other and each other’s property.

  • Everyone lives in their own place—or cramp in with flatmates—they can at least be a network of friends, since the formula for friendship requires proximity and random encounters. That is, if you don’t work opposite hours….
  • Everyone rides the tube to work while not speaking to each other. Or goes running alone, listening to their own iPod’s, dreaming of a career success or thinness/sexiness and people liking them-which idea was implanted by yet another commercial interest….
  • Or outside major cities, everyone drives in their own car and listens to the radio by themselves. At least drivers who talk on their mobile phones are enjoying some person-to-person interaction.
  • Rich suburban people all have their own pool. (And if a neighbour drowns in it, it’s your fault—so better put up a fence.)

Things are too entangled, too complex, for me to state a preference. Although, I guess by staying where I am, I’m tacitly putting up with and agreeing to the norms I was raised by. Maybe I am being too pessimistic, or maybe someday I will seek out something new … or try to get together with people who want to make something new….

I would link this up to some other thoughts I’ve had about charity and need. In a clear sense, somebody who accepts charity (say thanking you for giving something that’s actually rather crappy but they won’t tell you that since they want to be polite) does something back for the giver; if we had an fMRI we could measure the utility upticks in the donor and if we knew all of the neurochemistry we could say which dopamines are flowing where.

That’s undeniably true but the first time someone pointed it out to me, it clashed with my simple and straightforward view that the rich giver is the one doing the good act and the poor receiver should be grateful. But human interactions are more complicated than that, clearly. And something similar could maybe be said of the ever-escalating wealth and comfort of our age—or at least how my culture chooses to make use of that wealth.

girls with dirty dresses in kentucky 1960's

When people are poor they lean on each other, and maybe in reaching the goal of standing fine alone something else is therefore symplectically lost. We should call up some of the boomerang millennials and ask how their failure to fly out of the nest really turned out—if being a loser didn’t have its upsides in terms of strengthening familial relationships. And then I’ll ask myself what it is I’m aiming for.

You can put more than one order on a set. For example, regarding salsas from the set {mild, medium, hot}:

  • mild < medium < hot, where < means the predicate “is less spicy than”
  • medium hot mild, where x≻y means the predicate “She prefers x to y”.

One could launch off into defining ≻ᵢ's for every  of the population. (This is the kind of thing one needs to do in talking about Arrow’s Theorem.) That’s when notation begins to suck.

How to split up a mortgage into pieces. Take $1000 of payments and split it up into:

  • floater $400 + interest rate
  • inverse floater $400 − interest rate
  • equity $200 of first-risk payment

These three can be sold to different types of customers, for more than $1000.

(minute 17)

"Like many great financial innovations, FNMA and FHMC were invented by the government.” —John Geanakoplos



  • I like Indonesian food better than Japanese food i ⪰ j, and
  • I like Japanese food better than English food j ⪰ e.
  • I also like French food better than English food f ⪰ e, but
  • I see French food as so different from the “exotic Eastern” foods that I can’t really say whether I prefer French food to Indonesian f≹i or Japanese f≹j.

    I would just be in a different mood if I wanted French food than if I wanted “exotic Eastern” food.

So my restaurant preferences are shaped like a poset. In a poset some things are comparable  and some things ain’t . Popularity is shaped as a poset and so is sexiness. Taste in movies is a poset too. The blood types have the same mathematical form as a poset but only if you reinterpret the relation  as “can donate to” rather than “is better than”. So not really the same as ethnic food.


Partial rankings | orders are transitive, so

  • (indonesian ⪰ japanese and japaneseenglish) implies indonesian ⪰ english.

That means I can use the “I prefer " symbol to codify what I said at the outset:

  • Indonesian  Japanese English
  • French English
  • neither⪰j nor⪰ f … nor⪰ f nor⪰ j (no comparison possible )

Posets correspond nicely to graphs since posets are multitrees.



Total orders — where any two things can be ranked  — also correspond to graphs, but the edges always line up the nodes into a one-dimensional path. So their graphs look less interesting and display less weird dimensional behaviour. Multitrees (posets) can have fractional numbers of dimensions, like 1.3 dimensions. That’s not really surprising since there are so many kinds of food / movies / attractiveness, and you probably haven’t spent the mental effort to precisely figure out what you think about how you rate all of them.

Rankings | orders are a nice way to say something mathematical without having to use traditional numbers.

I don’t need to score Indonesian at 95 and score Japanese at 85. Scores generated that way don’t mean as much as Zagat and US News & World Report would like you to think, anyway — certainly they don’t have all the properties that the numbers 85 and 95 have.

It’s more honest to just say Indonesian ⪰ Japanese lexicographically, and quantify no more.

When faced with a choice, cost-benefit analysis asks:

  1. What are the possible outcomes?
    \{ \text{outcomes} \}
  2. Who benefits and who is harmed in each of these outcomes?
    \{ \text{outcomes} \} \to \scriptsize \begin{pmatrix} \text{person}_1 \\ \text{person}_2 \\ \text{person}_3 \\ \vdots \end{pmatrix}
  3. How much is the benefit or harm in each case?
    \{ \text{outcomes} \} \to \scriptsize \begin{pmatrix} \text{person}_1 \text{ ---}  \ \$_1 \\ \text{person}_2  \text{ ---} \ \$_2 \\ \text{person}_3  \text{ ---} \ \$_3 \\ \vdots \end{pmatrix}
    (Sometimes the harm might be multi-dimensional — measured in money, health, outrage, opinions about what happens to others, & more. But you ultimately must reduce all of that to an actionable ranking of alternatives — mathematically, a total order.)
    \scriptsize {\begin{matrix} \text{health} \\ \$ \; \$ \; \$ \\ \text{outrage} \\ \text{envy}  \\ \text{concern} \\ \vdots  \end{matrix} } \  \to \ \, \succeq
  4. What is the likelihood of each outcome?
    \begin{pmatrix} \text{prob}_1 \leftarrowtail \text{outcome}_1 \\ \text{prob}_2 \leftarrowtail \text{outcome}_2 \\ \text{prob}_3 \leftarrowtail \text{outcome}_3 \\ \vdots \end{pmatrix} , \quad \sum_i \text{prob}_i = 1

This is a pretty reasonable way of doing things, I think. It lays out why hard choices are so hard.

(Should I harm this one in order to aid this one? Is it better to do this kind of harm, or that kind of harm? Etc.) I’ll write more about cost-benefit analysis, Pareto optimality, and morals another time.

Here’s another example of a quasimetric.  My girlfriend was arguing that winter is worse than summer.  Her reasoning was this:  if the ideal temperature is 72 Fahrenheit, plus or minus, then winter deviates much further from ideal than does summer.  In Indiana, temperatures often get down to daily highs in the 10’s, 20’s, 30’s in the winter — but they don’t get up to 110’s, 120’s, 130’s in the summer.  (And that doesn’t even take nighttime / lows into account.)

But since people do choose to live in cold places, their preferences mustn’t be symmetrical.  It must be that colder-than-ideal is not as bad as hotter-than-ideal.  Probably because you can wear a coat, but not an anti-coat!  Well, I hate wearing coats, she said.

So her preferences are more or less symmetric. But other people’s climate preferences are a quasi-metric.