The Nature of Being Human and How to Succeed in the Dynamic Human Marketplace – a combination book report on “Cool”, movie review of “Trainwreck” and Commentary on Social & Cultural Trends – by Gary S. Smolker

Introduction

The book “Cool” and the movie “Trainwreck” are about the same topics: human nature, human tendencies, human motivations, why we think the way we do, why we do what we do, why things happen to us they way they do and the forces causing  society to be visibly changing in front of our eyes.

Among other things, “Cool” is about food, sex, relationships, diets, dieting, dieters, vanity, money, power, instant gratification, why we consume what we consume, what our pattern of consumption reveals and conveys about ourselves, the dramatic changes in society that have occurred in the past thirty years including the sex life of women, dramatic changes in the status of women, the dramatic changes in women’s participation in society, and the evolving status and self-image women have of themselves and what a man should do if he wants to get the favorable attention of a woman.

The story told in the movie “Trainwreck” illustrates many of the points made in the book “Cool” and vice versa.

“Cool” is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the nature of being human or who seeks guidance on how to succeed in the dynamic human marketplace.

Any one who wants to sell anything to younger people should read “Cool.”

The authors of “Cool” discuss how young people decide what to buy.

The authors of “Cool” report:

  • “Today, young people believe that their musical taste is the best indicator of their identity…” 
  • There is a deep consensus among young people about what various kinds of music reveal about fans’ personalities, values, ethics and even social class.
  • The authors of “Cool” point out there are about 25 million songs for sale today and more than one thousand distinct musical genres.
  • Just before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the United States Senate held hearings on offensive content in records in response to Tipper Gore’s campaign and proposal to have music rating labels, requiring albums bearing warnings to be be placed under store counters, forbidding  such works to be broadcast, and asking music companies to reassess their contracts with musicians who produced explicit music (rating categories to be based on sex, masturbation, violence, the occult, and drug and alcohol use content), none other than Donny Osmond made the point on Nightline that a sticker would make an album cool and kids would want it that much more.  He even said he might have to add some suggestive lyrics to his own songs to avoid a dreaded G rating that would doom sales.
  • Madonna, whose album in 1984 Like A Virgin sealed her global recognition has gone on to become the best selling solo artist of all times, to appear on Time’s 2010 list of “The 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century, and was the highest-paid musician of 2013, earning $125 million.
  • Even as early as her 1984 “Like A Virgin” performance, Madonna parodied the social commodification and fetishizing of female virginity.

Can and Should A Woman Have Sex Like A Man?

“Cool” contains a very interesting discussion of sex therapist Ian Kerner’s 2009  article titled “Can You (and Should You) Have Sex Like a Man?”:

Writing on “Today’s” health blog, he warned that the female orgasm releases oxytocin, a hormone that predisposes women to attachment, and when attachment is not forthcoming ‘orgasm becomes a regretful reminder of the hollowness of the sex that preceded it.’

Suggesting an even worse picture of the dire emotional consequences of casual sex, the University of Southern California professor Ruth White adds that while a woman’s brain releases oxytocin, men’s brain release testosterone, which ‘drives them off  to find some other women with whom to spread their biological material.’

Quartz and Asp point out that the authors (Kerner and White) get the biological facts wrong.  They leave out the fact that male orgasm likewise releases oxytocin – indeed oxytocin appears to play a central role in male monogamy.

They also point to a study which reported that men and women college students report identical rates of casual sex, and that women were not more motivated by the thought that hookups might result in long-term relationships, indicating casual sex has equal appeal for both sexes.  They found no negative effects on well-being.

The movie “Trainwreck” takes the path cut by Madonna in “Like A Virgin” one step further by showing what would happen if women were able to turn-the-tables on men in their sexual relationships with men.

By the way, in the United States, the last forty years have seen the most dramatic and most rapid transformation of gender relations in the United State’s history.

“Cool”

The authors of “Cool”  (Steven Quartz and Anette) talk about what they have found from studying brain activity scans.

They also talk about biological and evolutionary forces that cause us to do what we do.

They talk about food – why we eat what we eat; they talk about dieting – why and how the human brain works against dieting.

They talk directly about how women choose their sexual partners, how women evaluate men.

They talk about personal, cultural, and group identities and why those identities are so important to us.

They talk about having street creed and securing the trust of other people.

They talk about how the three “identities” (our personal identity, group identity and cultural identity) impact our behavior, including what we buy and sell and how we act.

They talk about what our actions signal to others.

They talk about status (swagger and star presence), social identity, and social norms.

They talk about why social hierarchies exist.

They discuss how your pattern of consumption conveys who you are to yourself and to others.

They discuss how and why material objects are symbols with meanings that communicate values, identities, aspirations and even fears.

They even discuss Margaret Thatcher’s remark that there is no such thing as society.

They tie all of the above to (a) what we consume, (b) why we consume what we consume, (c) how we interact with (i) other people, (ii) society, and (iii) the world we live in.

They also discuss the “real reason” people work.

Economic Life and Social Image

According to Quartz and Asp our economic life isn’t about just the bare necessities.

If it were, we’d stop working as soon as we had food and shelter – just like every other animal.

According to Quartz and Asp after people obtain bare necessities what people really work to obtain is recognition from others – to be viewed favorably.

Why does that happen?

According to Quartz and Asp:

  1. Human beings are social animals.
  2. Your brain keeps track of your social image – your perception of how other people evaluate you.
  3. It’s doing it all the time, usually outside your awareness.
  4. You and me and all other human beings are exquisitely sensitive to the approval and disapproval of others.
  5. When you see a product your brain computes how much it will likely enhance or hurt your social image.

TAKE AWAY: In an economy of abundance people invest great personal meaning in their purchasing decisions.

I don’t know to what degree people invest a great personal meaning in their purchasing decisions.

Many people work hard; may people struggle just to survive (just to be able to pay the rent; many people don’t have much time to go shopping.

I expect whether or not a person invests great personal meaning in their purchasing decisions depends upon a person’s personal situation and personality, including their age, their health, their maturity, their wealth, the groups they belong to (if any), their cultural background, their success in whatever they are doing, their self-esteem, their education, their experience, their job, their satisfaction with whom they are, etc.

Brain Based Quest for Esteem

Quartz and Asp are convinced we have a brain based quest for esteem.

Status seeking is not artificial.

Status seeking is not imposed by an unjust and crass society.

Status seeking is a natural element of being human.

Products Have a Social Life

According to Quart’s and Asp’s point of view, products are valued for their imaged effect on social image.

The impact of products on social identity (personal identity, group identity and cultural identity) is discussed below in sections titled “There’s A Big Symbolic Difference Between Riding A Harley and Riding A Ducati,” “Our Social Life Is Rife with Displays of Our Value As A Social Partner,” “Communication Involves More Than The Words You Speak”,  “Car Culture and Social Identity”, “What Is Your Favorite Book?” and “Signaling Your Social Identity to Others.”

Why Do We Do Anything?

According to Steven Quartz and Anette Asp (the authors of “Cool”) our brain has three behavior control systems:

  1. A survival oriented behavior control system
  2. A habit oriented behavior control system, and
  3. A goal oriented behavior control system.

Until I read “Cool”, I didn’t realize that evolution had rigged my brain to be biased to instant gratification; or that when there is a conflict between my brain’s survival instinct (survival behavior control system) with my brain’s goal oriented behavior control system my brain’s survival control system (seeking instant gratification) wins.

That explains how the survival behavior control system in our brain results in many of us becoming overweight – Most of us prefer sweet deserts over celery stalks (because of our survival control system), because our brain justifies a second trip to the desert bar by taking note of the possibility of a famine in the future.  Most of us do not consciously realize that is the reason we prefer sweet deserts over celery stalks.

Grocery Cart Choice Architecture

According to Quartz and Asp: Two-thirds of the items in the typical shopper’s cart aren’t planned purchases.

There is a biological logic to that phenomena.

Unplanned purchases appear in the typical shopper’s cart because the human brain is a computational system which tells us for the purpose of survival it is more important to eat things with a lot of calories “while the getting is good” than to put off eating them for another time.

The sweet and fatty goods we reflexively put in our grocery cart taste good because evolution has shaped our brain to align our eating preferences with the evolutionary beneficial goal of survival by making us want to eat sweet and fatty foods.

That is why our “taste” for sweet foods and fatty foods has such a strong sway over us.

Take away:

  1. The reason why you consume sweet and fatty foods is that you have an evolutionary driven biological instinct to survive.
  2. The survival control behavior system in your brain thinks eating sweets and fatty foods will increase your chance of survival.

BEWARE: Although “fat” is the “metabolic dollar in the bank” stored for future energy needs, crucial for survival during times of food storage, the fat you eat will be the fat you will wear no matter the source.

“Good fat” like olive oil is no more attractively worn around a person’s waistline than “bad fat” from lard.

Impulse Buying

In “Cool”, Quartz and Asp explain:

  1. We buy items in a grocery store on impulse that will increase our pleasure short-term  (which is a survival oriented behavior) even if doing so will decrease our chances of meeting long-term goals.
  2. Our brain prefers “survival” (instant gratification) over long-term goals.

The physical presence of a good (such as a bag of potato chips or Cheetos) triggers programmed responses, such as the impulse to reach for the bag of potato chips or Cheetos  automatically.

Reaching for a bag of potato chips or Cheetos is the result of a survival process that launches motor behaviors to contact the bags of potato chips and Cheetos.

The Shopping Cart of Dieters

According to Quartz and Asp: “A striking example of this can be found in the shopping carts of dieters, which are likely to be filed with more calorically dense items and fewer fruits and vegetables than those of non-dieters – the very food choices that sabotage diets.  Here’s what’s happened: The dieter’s hypothalamus senses a caloric deficit.  That can only mean one thing: ‘You are starving!’ The right course of action is to adjust the Survival  value system, upping the value of calorically dense foods while lowering the value of calorically sparse foods.  These altered values create cravings for foods such as potato chips, bread, pies, ice cream, and other calorie-rich fare.  Without being aware of what the hypothalamus is up to, the dieter finds a cart full of the wrong foods.”

Confirmation

After I read the above quote in “Cool” I asked a friend of mine who is a exercise physiologist if the above quote made sense to her.

In reply, she told me:  ”

  • “Right after the Northridge Earthquake I had an irrepressible and irresistible urge to eat Hostess Cupcakes and Hostess Twinkies.
  • “I hadn’t eaten Hostess cupcakes or Hostess Twinkies or thought of eating them in over twenty years.
  • “But, after the earthquake, I realized I could die at any moment and with that in mind I went out and got myself lots of Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies and ate all of them.
  • “I have not eaten Hostess cupcakes or Hostess Twinkies since them.
  • “I hadn’t thought of them since then, until You [I] asked if that quote made sense.

Sex and Sexual Strategies Women Pursue

According to Quartz and Asp: Two forms of behavior are intimately connected to survival (our own and that of our genes): food and sex.

In “Cool”, Quartz and Asp ask: Why would a shrewd politician risk a successful career for a brief tryst?

They provide the following explanation: 

‘While we are not enslaved by our Survival system, its pull is strong and its myopia great, and we inevitably fall back into Survival patterns despite concerted efforts to avoid them.”

According to Quartz and Asp a human being’s survival instinct, biology and evolution has shaped human (men’s and woman’s) sexual activities and strategies.

Women choose men with a certain type of face (a rugged face) as a one night stand sexual partner and a woman’s evaluation of male job applicants is controlled by the type of face a man has and where that woman is in her cycle.

Female preferences for male faces are not fixed but fluctuate across a woman’s cycle and according to their own relationship status

Women’s preferences shift towards the more masculine (rugged faces) when they are in the follicular phase of their cycle, when conception is most likely.

This shift in preferences towards more-masculine faces also coincides with the frequency of short-term mating and extra-partner affairs.  Sexual affairs are 2.5 times more likely when a woman is ovulating.

What women wear to attract men’s sexual attention (how much skin they show and how tight their clothes are) shifts according to where a woman is in her cycle.

Women going to a club during this phase wear shorter skirts and show more skin than they doing during other parts of their cycle.  Women are three times more likely to wear pink or red when they are ovulating.

When presented with photographs of women taken across their cycle, independent judges are able to reliably identify when a woman is ovulating based on assessing when the women are trying to look most attractive.

According to Quartz and Asp:

These shifts in how women evaluate male faces impact more than just mating strategies. 

In one study, women were given resumes of various male job applicants that included the man’s picture (the faces had independently been rated in terms of masculinity). 

They were asked to assign the candidates to various job positions, which differed in terms of salary, perks, office size, and so on.  The assigned positions shifted across the women’s cycle. 

In particular, they assigned more high-status positions to highly masculine faces when they were near ovulation or ovulating.

In “Cool” the authors  ask you to imagine looking at the faces of Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic and Daniel Craig in his role as James Bond.  Or, if you prefer, to think of Orlando Bloom and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Craig and Schwarzenegger have much more masculine rugged faces than do DiCaprio and Bloom.

In “Cool” the authors then tell you

  • which “kind of face” people typically think is more trustworthy (DiCaprio’s face and Bloom’s face),
  • which face type heterosexual women typically judge (cuter vs. rugged) as being better potential long term partners (DiCaprio and Bloom)and/or to be a better potential short-term hookups (Daniel Craig and Arnold Schwarzenegger),
  • what women want sexually and how they behave sexually during different times in their cycle.

Unconscious Biases and Preferences Guide Our Choices

According to Quartz and Asp:

Masculine features are thought to be unconscious signals of good genes.

They are the product of high testosterone which can only be borne by individuals with strong immune function.

In one study, female preferences for masculine male faces increased as the rate of disease increased across thirty countries.

There is often a trade-off — those with good genetic resources (healthy offspring) may be less reliable long-term partners.

Women with high estradiol, the predominant female sex hormone, are regarded as more attractive.  But, they are more likely to flirt, to have an affair, to be less satisfied with their partner and to be the target of “mate poaching.”

Men with high testosterone are more likely to have an affair, divorce, and delay marriage.

They are also less likely to respond to infant cries then men with lower testosterone.

People may find certain facial features attractive in part because (typically unknown to them) they are signals of underlying genetic qualities.

According to the authors, “… what we look for in a partner[‘s face] depends on the kind of relationship we are after, and especially the duration.”

“Trainwreck”

The casting director of “Trainwreck” deserves to receive an academy award for casting men with the face types the authors of “Cool” tell us women are likely to pick for short-term hookups as the actors to play the parts of the men with whom the star of this movie (a younger sister) has short-term hookups.

In the opening scene of “Trainwreck”, a father asks his two very young daughters to repeat after him: “Monogamy doesn’t work.”

The rest of the movie is about the youngest daughter’s “sex life.”

This movie makes fun of traditional concepts of the relationship of men with women and of women with men.

In “Trainwreck” the main character is a younger sister who is an aggressive sex driven woman — she has one-night-stand-sex with many different men throughout the movie.

Eventually, the main character (the younger sister) falls in love with a man who has the face type the authors of “Cool” tell us women judge to be a better potential long term partner.

How the fact that fact that the main character is  youngest child is of import to the authors of “Cool.”

Birth Sequence Matters

According to the authors of “Cool”,  sibling competition for parental affection is a pervasive evolutionary force.

It remains so today.

Being the first born means you are more likely to be the dominant child as well as the mini-parent” to our siblings.

Later-borns (i.e., the youngest sibling, i.e. the youngest sister and/or youngest brother) are more likely to break the rules, are more liberal, and take more risk to find their own niche.

  • Among brothers in professional baseball, younger brothers are ten times more likely to steal bases.
  • Later-borns are more rebellious, often leaders of revolutions, while firstborns are those most opposed to radical change.

My experience agrees with those comments.

  • I have  three daughters.
  • My youngest daughter is very adventuresome.
  • The main hobbies of my youngest daughter are climbing volcanoes and traveling all over the world.
  • In my mind, my youngest daughter is a female version of “Indiana Jones.”
  • I have a grandson (a later-born) who is an incredibly aggressive ice hockey player and soccer player.

According to the authors of “Cool”, Firstborns are likely to be a mini-parent to their siblings.

I’ve seen and experienced that too.

The Humor in “Trainwreck”

In the opening scene in “Trainwreck” the audience sees a father asking his two daughters to repeat after him:  “Monogamy doesn’t work.”

In the next scene the youngest daughter, now grown up, is shown living a sexually active life of a woman who believes “monogamy does not work.”

The humor in “Trainwreck” comes from the main female character (the younger sister) “doing” what women complain men do after having an orgasm. asking her male sex partners to do what men ask women to do while having sex and her male sex partners’ inability to “talk dirty” while having sex with her and their other reactions to her sexual demands.

  • She “forces” the many men she takes to bed (“sleeps with”) to do things that will cause her to have an orgasm.
  • After she has an orgasm she immediately falls asleep, leaving the man whose actions brought her to orgasm sexually unsatisfied.
  • She asks a man “to talk dirty to her” while they are having sex.  He is unable and incapable of doing so.

“Trainwreck” is a “woman-in-the-sexual-driver’s-seat-movie.”

The Story in “Trainwreck” Contradicts Freud’s Theory About Women

According to Freud,

  1. Women only have sex to have children.
  2. All women are sexually passive because there is no feminine libido.

That is not the case of the main character in “Trainwreck”, a sexually active woman who “sleeps around.”

Being  a housewife and caring for children represented, for Freud, the only source of female psychic fulfillment.

Freud’s theory of women served as the “scientific” justification for the 1950s status of woman in America, despite the fact that Freud’s theory was nothing more than Freud’s own fantasy, with no scientific support.

See: Webster, Richard.  1995.  Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science, and Psychoanalysis.  New York: Basic Books.

See Freud’s 1929 Civilization and It’s Discontents.

The History of Monogamy

In “Cool”, Quartz and Asp report on the history of polygamy and the history of monogamy.

  • Historically, in about 85 percent of all known human societies, men were allowed to have more than one wife.
  • In those societies, richer men had more wives; powerful men had sex and sired children with a multitude of women.
  • Take the example of Genghis Khan: About 16 million men alive today are direct descendants of Genghis Khan as a result of his pillaging and siring hundreds of offspring.
  • See, Zerjal, Tatiana, et. al. 2003. “The genetic legacy of the Mongols.” The American Journal of Human Genetics 72:717-21.
  • The global spread of monogamy is recent – Japan prohibited polygyny in 1880, China in 1953, and India in 1963.

One interesting thing about the advent of monogamous marriage is the “theoretical” belief that it would have been against the interests of the male ruling elite since rich powerful men had the most to lose.

As a practical matter, monogamous marriage results in lower birthrates, increasing parental investment, savings and economic productivity.

Today, Aggressive Women Are In the Sexual-Driver’s Seat

Women have moved from the back seat to the driver’s seat of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

When I purchased my first motorcycle (in 1965) women sat in the back, on the back seat of motorcycles; they did not drive motorcycles; they did not own motorcycles.

Today, women sit in the front of motorcycles, in the driver’s seat, they drive Harley-Davidson motorcycles; they own their own motorcycles.

The nature of women’s participation in the world has profoundly changed in the past 50 years and is still changing.

There’s A Big Symbolic Difference between Riding A Harley and Riding A Ducati

In my opinion we are always communicating whether we know it or not.

According to the authors of “Cool” everything we do signals our identity.

For example, there is a big symbolic difference between riding a Harley and a Ducati, despite the fact that on the surface level its the same behavior.

Given a choice I would never own a Harley but I would own a Ducati.

It is a matter of life style.

I have a model of a Ducati motorcycle on the hutch on my desk in my office.

Our Social Life Is Rife with Displays of Our Values and of Our Values As A Social Partner

According to the authors of “Cool”: Our social life is rife with displays of our value as a social partner.

In our social lives we communicate to others what type of person we are and what social, economic, or political benefits can be gained by interacting with us.

As long as we’ve been around we have been using things to signal who we are to others (identity goods) to facilitate social exchange and to signal our value as social partners.

Others, use the signals we send to decide how or whether to engage in cooperative enterprises with us.

They use the signals we send to determine whether we are trustworthy, to determine whether we would make a good partner, a good friend or ally, or business associate, or someone interesting to be with.

A successful signaler is the recipient of many benefits, which may include increased social status, lucrative trading partners, allies in times of conflict, supporters in time of need, the selection of reliable long-term mates, or just a date.

Signaling is tied to creating and maintaining cooperative relationships.

Communication Involves More Than The Words You Speak.

The events you attend, the clothes you wear and the car you drive non-verbally signal who you are, what group you belong to, what your tastes are and how you relate to other people in the world.

For example: I love contact sports.  I signal that I am a “sports fan” by attending sporting events.

I have signaled I am a fan of sumo wrestling to the world at large (1) by posting the photographs below of me next to a Sumo wrestler in this post and (2) by posting the photograph below of the cover of the program for the sumo wrestling competition at which that photograph was taken, and (3) by posting the  photograph of me wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a sumo wrestler on it below.

I am a big fan of speed, style, beauty, supercars, glamour and style.

I signal that in the clothes I wear, and the car that I drive.

See the photograph below showing what I wore at the sumo wrestling competition and the photograph below showing me wearing a t-shirt showing a sumo wrestler on it.

See also the photographs below of the car I drive, a Nissan GT R.

Below is a picture of me with a sumo wrestler who weighs over 600 pounds, at the 15th Annual US Sumo Open on August 8, 2015 and a photo of the program for that event.

The black long sleeve shirt I am wearing in that photograph is part of the Ralph Lauren “purple label” collection; there is no identifier on that shirt of the fact that it is a Ralph Lauren shirt.

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There Can Be A Big Difference Between Image and Reality

Wearing a t-shirt with a sumo wrestler on it does not make me a sumo wrestler, but it does indicate that I am a sumo wrestling fan.

Directly below is a photo of me wearing a t-shirt with the word SUMO on it above a picture of a sumo wrestler.

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The above photo of me was taken in my office a few days after I attended the US Sumo Open on August 8, 2015.

The sumo wrestler next to me in the top most photo was taken at the US Sumo Open on August 8, 2015.  That sumo wrestler weighs over 600 pounds.

The sumo wrestler whose photo is on the right hand side of the program for the US Sumo Open (held on August 8, 2105) is six foot in inches tall and weighs 360 pounds.

I am five foot six inches tall and weigh 143 pounds.

I am not a sumo wrestler.

Car Culture and Social Identity

I love speed and style and glamour.

The automobile that I own, a 2013 Nissan GT R, has been described as a missile with headlights and a gas pedal.

Very few Nissan GT Rs are manufactured each year.

I understand that 2,500 are manufactured each year.

The 545 horse power V6 twin turbo charged engine and rear mounted clutch box in these cars are assembled by hand.

Very few people know that the Nissan GT R exists or have ever seen one.

Below are photographs of the front and of the rear of my Nissan GT R.

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When I bought my GT R, the GT R  held the Guinness World Record for acceleration from 0 to 60 miles per hour for a four seat production car.

People I have never met, who know cars, positively identify my Nissan GT R.

When those people see me in that car, they  want me to know that “we” are members of a brotherhood, i.e. we are members of the same group (fast car enthusiasts who know what a GT R is).

They let me know we belong to the same group by coming up to me and talking to me.

  • They give me a thumbs up when they see me in my GT R.
  • They come up to me to make a comment about my GT R when I park it on the street.
  • This morning (August 14, 2015) when I parked my GT R in the visitor’s parking lot at the Cedar Sinai medical office towers a man who was driving by me in  Porsche, stopped his car to tell me how much he loves the Nissan GT R.
  • Oftentimes, when I park my car in the parking lot of a grocery store or a restaurant people come up to me to talk about my GT R.
  • A lot of people are car enthusiasts.
  • There are nuances to being a car enthusiast.
  • One person who loves the Nissan GT R noticed the fact that I don’t have a custom license plate.
  • He told me it is unusual for a person who owns a GT R not to have a custom license plates.

Me At 4:00 A.M. on Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Photo on 8-26-15 at 4.08 AM

Photo on 8-26-15 at 4.06 AM

 

Above are two photos of me taken with my Apple iMac desk top computer at 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 26, 2015.

It is completely dark outside.

I am in my living room looking straight into the camera.

Behind me are posters for three movies KILL BILL, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and SPIDER-MAN on A wall in my living room.

I took those photos this morning for a fashion design blogger who asked me yesterday (August 25) to send her a current photograph of me.

People Are Exceedingly Groupish

Consumption signals a wide variety of social traits and personal identity.

People are able to rapidly categorize various products – cars, clothing, jewelry, music, movies, books and so on – by the social groups that use them.

The experiences described above – of people coming up to me to talk to me about my GT R – are but one example of how goods (in this case an automobile) identify a group you belong to, signal who you are to other members of the same group and sometimes to the public at large and signal that you are a member of the same group as someone else, i.e., that you have the same taste, ideas, opinions, likes/dislikes, etc.

We signal a group level identity by what we wear, what we read, what movies we see, what car we drive, etc. etc.

What Is Your Favorite Book?

When someone reads the right book at the right time in their life it can have a profound effect.

My favorite book is “Never Say Die” by Harold Pinter.

I recently read that Tim Cook’s favorite book is “Competing Against Time” by George Stalk, Jr. and Thomas M. Hout and that Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite book is “The Aeneid” by Virgil.

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple.

Mark Zuckerberg is the founder and creator of Facebook.

Several prominent people in the entertainment world (Will Smith, Madonna, and Pharrell Williams) are quoted in that article saying that “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is their favorite book.

Signaling Our Social Identity to Others and to Ourselves

In “Cool” authors Quartz and Asp point out that we represent ourselves to others by what we wear, what we drive, where we go, and what we do.

Cook (the current CEO of Apple) reports that the book that had the greatest effect on him Is “Competing Against Time.”

Cook is known to hand out copies of this book to colleagues.

The book is about how time management is one of the most important aspects of a company.  When a company organizes its time, it cuts down on costs and makes customers happier.

In an interview in The New Yorker, Mark Zuckerberg (the  founder and creator of Facebook) said his favorite book is “The Aeneid” by Virgil.  Zuckerberg said he first read that book in high school.  Zuckerberg said that the one thing that stuck with him was Aeneas’s drive to follow his fate to build a city that “knows no bounds in time and greatness.”

When I am at my local Starbucks and see someone reading a book, I walk up to them and ask them, “What are you reading?”

According to Quartz and Asp we have three levels of representation:

  1. Our Individual Self: the collection of traits that make us a unique person;
  2. Our Relational Self: The way we think about ourselves in relation to significant others – as a spouse, a friend, or in work or in other relationships;
  3. Our Collective Self: The way we think of ourselves in terms of larger groups that we identify with such as our identity as a member of a nation, or our identity as a member of an ethnic or religious group or political party or as the fan of a particular sport or sports team or as a person who loves speed style glamour contact sports and fast cars.

Who we are (our social identity, the collection of traits that make us a unique person, etc.) carries over into what we do, how we behave, our personality and what we say.

For example, a certain type of person owns a Prius.

My two youngest daughters own a Prius.

Owning a Prius signals environmental concern.

It is an identity good more than a status good.

The purchase price of a Prius is several thousand dollars more than many standard-fuel cars, and the difference is typically not made up in savings from increased efficiency.

My middle daughter bought her Prius drives a lot and purchased her Prius to save money on gas.

She lives in Orange County, California and was not consciously aware of the fact that the fact that its cost to own is higher than for many standard cars is a costly signal that its owner has sacrificed financially to drive a car that has less of an impact on the environment then a cheaper alternative.

By the way, places like Berkeley and Boulder, Colorado are crawling with Priuses.

Will Smith, Madonna, and Pharrell Williams, besides being some of the highest-charting musicians of the past three decades, all credit “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho with changing their lives.

The social theory promoted in “The Alchemist” is that everyone has a Personal Legend – what he or she has always wanted to do with his or her life – and if you follow your Personal Legend the universe will work in your favor and rise up to meet you; if you follow your Personal Legend, you can achieve the impossible, like alchemy, which is turning lead into gold.

I don’t agree with that theory at all.

The best advice I can give anybody is: Learn to do something well that you like; remember to be yourself and be good at it.

If I saw someone in Starbucks reading “The Alchemist” I would not attempt to strike up a conversation with them.

If, on the other hand, I saw someone in Starbucks reading “Conversations with Eckermann” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe I would immediately strike up a conversation with them.

Here is a quote from that book:

“A man of talent is not born to be lefty to himself, but to devote himself to art and good masters who will something of him.  I have lately read a letter from Mozart, in reply to a baron who had sent him a composition.  He writes somewhat in this fashion:

‘You dilettanti must be blamed for two faults, since two you generally have: either you have no thoughts of your own, and take those of others; or, if you have thoughts of your own, you do not know what to do with them.'”

We Are Products of How We Were Raised and Our Environment

How we were raised and the social norms in our environment count.

We can’t escape who we are, how we became who we are, how we are becoming who we are or how we are expected to behave.

That explains how brilliant people can seem to be so stupid or insensitive and act to act stupidly/insensitively to other people who were raised differently.

An recent article in the Los Angeles Times illustrates this point.

In the August 12, 2015  Business Section of the Los Angeles Times, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is quoted as having said last year when he was the first male CEO to address the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, “Women shouldn’t ask for raises but rather trust that they will come their way.”

In my opinion, Satya Nadella’s upbringing and culture were showing when he made that statement; what Mr. Nadella was taught to believe as he grew up is responsible for him saying that.

This Los Angeles Times article goes on to claim Nadella’s generation of Indians benefited from coming from a culture that has respect for people of all walks of life.

In my opinion, nothing could be more untrue than that.

Read “The Billionaire’s Apprentice – The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund” by Anita Raghavan if you are interested in that topic.

India is a Hindu country.

The Hindu castes system of India is the most extremely hierarchically socially stratified status system in existence.

The Hindu caste system is described in “Cool” as follows:

  • Hindu castes of India society are segregated according to hundreds of rigidly defined groups, they are segregated by occupations according to those castes; there is physical segregation among those castes and strong social norms regulating interactions (such as marriage) among social groups.
  • In such a world, individuals and groups are not merely different: one’s place in the hierarchy corresponds to one’s social status and determines one’s access to valued resources including income, prestige, and prominence.

Beware of what you read in the Business Section of The Los Angeles Times.

Here is a description of how people get along in India in the same article.

“Venktesh Shukla, a venture capitalist and president of the Silicon Valley networking group the Indus Entrepreneurs, said even in the smallest of villages Muslims live next to Hindus and white-collar professionals next to weavers.  Languages, dress and hobbies diverge.

“Shukla said they were taught to see the ‘different’ people as neither superior nor inferior.

“‘Treating people with respect comes very naturally to Indians, he said. ‘People from homogeneous societies need that as an acquired skill.'”

That is contradicted by, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella in the same article being quoted as telling women that women ought not to ask for raises.

The happy fun rainbow gum drop feelings expressed in that Los Angeles Times'” article aside, all has not been smiles and rainbows and gum drops and lollipops in India during its history as an independent country.

British Colonial India was divided into modern-day India and Pakistan, in 1948.

For a accurate view of life in modern day India see the movie “Midnight’s Children” or read the book of the same name or read “The Billionaire’s Apprentice – The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund” or research the history of what led to the break-up and the division of British Colonial India and what happened in India immediate after that.

There was extreme violence during the break up of India into modern-day India and Pakistan and extreme violence during the breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan.

The reason British colonial India was broken up into modern-day India and modern-day Pakistan is because Hindus and Muslims could not get along.

During mass migrations of Muslims from what became the independent modern day (post British colonial) India to Pakistan and during mass migrations of Hindus from what became Pakistan to the modern day Nation of India, close to a million people were killed.

There are still sporadic acts of violence by Hindus against Muslims and by Muslims against Hindus in India including bombings of Hindu holy palaces by Muslims and bombing of Muslim holy places by Hindus in India.

The Exploration-Exploitation Trade-off

People make choices all the time.

In “Cool”, Quartz and Asp say explain why men have affairs in terms of a “exploration-exploitation trade-off” and relate that to why branded consumer products go down in value and their companies go out of business unless they continually improve.

Here is what they say:

  • Our brains face a basic conundrum that affects all foragers and shoppers, from bees to us.
  • In science its known as the exploration-exploitation trade-off; everywhere else, it’s know as “what have you done for me lately?” and “the grass is greener on the other side” problem.
  • Our brains treat a brand that is not constantly improving (exceeding our expectations) as if it’s getting worse.
  • According to Quartz and Asp – The only way a brand’s value can increase is when some brand experience exceeds your prediction.
  • In other words, it is “natural” for men and women to want to have “new” sexual partners.
  • Contrary to what President Jimmy Carter said about “sex”,  you are what you think about.
  • The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act.

Quartz and Asp are well aware of the strong interest people have in the topic of sex and in sex itself.

They point out that Kinsey’s early reports on male sexual behavior and in 1953 on female sexual behavior showed that what was going on behind closed doors was a lot different from the public profession of traditional “sex as procreation within marriage.”

Kinsey’s report reported that two out of three males had premarital sex and about half of all females did too.

According to Quartz and Asp, in 1953, only the Bible and a popular book on positive thinking sold more copies than Kinsey’s report on female sexuality.

Social Emotions

Quartz and Asp explain how and why your emotions are a critical factor in control of your behavior, as follows:

  • If your predicted award is greater than what you actually experience – if the brand disappoints you – your Habit pleasure machine (behavior control system in your brain) downgrades the brand.
  • These negative experiences are much more important to your brain than positive ones.
  •  Have you ever gone back to a restaurant that gave you food poisoning?

Take away:

  • Emotions and emotional memories are critical to consumption.
  • In the business world, brands build emotional connections between our memories and our consumption, shaping our beliefs, desires and feelings.

In the world of dieting we need to pay attention to what we want to accomplish, keep our survival instinct that drives us to impulsively reach for foods that are bad to eat while we are in a diet.  We need to keep our urge to eat cake in check.

We need to override our instinctual pre-programmed reaching for cake on the shelf at a grocery store, if we want to lose weight.

Without focus our brain will ruin our life.

Body Fat

In the early twentieth century, the actress and singer Lillian Russell was considered the most beautiful woman in America.  Russell weighed two hundred pounds, and her body mass index (BMI) would classify her as either overweight or obese today.

In Russell’s day, more body fat was a sign of health because food was less abundant than it is today, and a high BMI was relatively rare.

Likewise, wealthy men of her day were known as “fat cats” because they could afford to put on more weight.

Today, the opposite is true. 

The amount of body fat that is considered attractive depends on the economic prosperity of a country.

The richer the country, the lower the body fat that’s considered attractive.

Income Inequality and Portion of Time Spent “Working-Out”

Where once “prosperous” was a synonym for overweight, being fit (and thin with it) is now a marker of success in prosperous countries.

According to the US Center for Disease Control, in 2013 a quarter of adults engaged in no leisure-time physical activity at all beyond the bedroom.

According to the “American Time Use Survey”:  In 2013 the 20 percent of the richest full working people in America spent on average  40 hours per week exercising, in 2014 they spent on average about 60 hours per week exercising.

The 20 percent of the poorest full-time working people in America spent an average of about 20 hours per week exercising in 2003 and about 10 hours per week in 2014 exercising.

Exercising means working out, weightlifting, using cardiovascular equipment, yoga and aerobics.

According to figures from the International Health and Sports Club Association, gym members now number 54 million, up from 45 million in 2009.

Twice as many Americans subscribe to gyms as in the mid-1990s.

But the population has not got visibly healthier.

Between 2001 and 2012,the age adjusted proportion of the population who are obese or extremely obese grew from 36% to 41%.

My source for the above statistics is an article subtitled “Sweating Is Becoming An Elite Phenomenon” on  page 27 of the August 1, 2015 issue of “The Economist.”

Diets Alone Don’t Work

Diets alone don’t work.

Exercise alone doesn’t work.

You need (a) self-control, (b) the right amount of sleep, (c) the right diet, (d)  the right type and amount of type of exercise and (e) to not spend you time sitting for prolonged periods of time day in day out in front of a computer or a TV set or any other screen.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Sitting is not exercise.

Sitting too long is dangerous to your health

According to the Mayo Clinic, sitting is now the new smoking.

Quartz and Asp report: Sitting too long, up to three or four hours at a time, is now equivalent to smoking a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes a day. See, James Vlashos, “Is Sitting A Lethal Activity?” The New York Times, 14 April 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17sitting-t.html?_r=0 Believe it or not, the average American employee will sit anywhere from 7.7 to 15 hours a day without moving.

Momism

Quartz and Asp also give us something else to worry about, overly protected moms, momism.

In his 1946 book Their Mothers’ Sons, Edward Strecker, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, argued that more than 1 million men had either been rejected from military service or discharged during the war because of psychiatric disorders that were rooted in overprotective moms.

Willpower is Hard to Build

Two parts of your brain are constantly at war: (1) the part that wants pleasure and gratification now [the survival instinct] and (2) the thoughtful part of your brain that formulates goals, knows what is good for you in the long run and knows what you should do.

In “The Daniel Plan”, Rick Warren D. Min., Daniel Amen M.D. and Mark Hyman M.D., address how to win that battle.

According to Rick Warren D. Min., Daniel Amen M.D. and Mark Hyman M.D.,

  • When it comes to you health everybody needs a buddy.
  • Research shows that people getting healthy together lose twice as much weight as those who do it alone.
  • Success dramatically increases when you are connected with others, receiving constant encouragement to stay focused and motivated toward your goals.
  • Social connections are critical.
  • When you are surrounded by people who have the same values, goals, and health habits, you are going to progress further than you could on your own.
  • You thrive when you are connected to others.
  • It is possible to achieve outcomes with other people that aren’t possible alone.

Every great achievement began when someone saw it in advance.

I have personally experienced how difficult it is to lose weight, with and without the cooperation and support of others.

I know, from my own personal experience, it can be done.

An Encouraging Thought

“The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.  As you think, so you shall be.” — William James, philosopher

Copyright © 2015 Gary S. Smolker – all rights reserved

About Gary S. Smolker

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: No enterprise can exist for itself alone. Every successful enterprise ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others. Otherwise, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. Imagination, open mindedness and flexibility are the most important factors in unlocking potential. Those who embrace innovation, improvisation, continuous learning, time management, are action oriented, high energy, passionate, creative, purposeful and intense individuals are best equipped to succeed. We all have ideas and the ability to make progress by sharing information and our ideas and also by changing our ideas when appropriate. We should always be on the lookout for teaching and mentoring moments. We hold time like water in our hands; however tightly we clench our fingers, it drips away. But, if it falls on a seed, a seed may grow to become something that will have a positive social impact. PERSONAL INTERESTS: I have a passion to learn, to innovate, to lead, to mentor and to teach. I seek to write things worth reading and want to do things worth writing about. I enjoy (a) driving a fast car, (b) having intense conversations (c) teaching/mentoring, (d) reading and (e) being involved in productive activity. PERSONAL: I believe in cultivating and backing passionate people, innovation, and old fashioned good ideas. I love making human connections and spreading good ideas. I am strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence of thought and action are called for. PERSONAL GOALS: I want to live life vibrantly, to be as sharp as a tack until my last breath and to change the world by being me. My personal goal is to be fully engaged in life, to lead by example, to set high standards and to continue to amass firsthand experience and knowledge in all that interests me. PERSONALITY: I love fun and mischief. I relish absurdity. I have an irreverent, facetious and satiric disposition. I dread boredom. I have spent a lifetime reading. I have no bias against people who have lived successful and/or complicated lives. I write to release tension, to get things off my chest. SOCIAL MEDIA: I post articles on the "Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange" blog at www.garysmolker.wordpress.com, and "Dude's Guide to Women's Shoes" at www.dudesguidetowomensshoes.com. I also post images and comments on Instagram @garyspassion. CONTACT INFORMATION: Gary Smolker, Smolker Law Firm, 16055 Ventura Blvd., Ste 525, Encino, California, 91436-2609, USA. Phone 1-818-788-7290, e-mail GSmolker@aol.com.

Posted on August 2, 2015, in dieters, diets, exploration-exploitation trade-off, how the brain controls behavior, human instincts, human nature, impulse eating, income inequality, lifestyle choices, monogamy, pleasure, sex drive, sexual strategies women pursue, social change, social identity, why diet don't work, why monogomy doesn't work, women in the sexual driver's seat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting article. You bring up some very good points that I haven’t even considered when dieting.

    PS . I like the shirt in the sumo wrestler photo! Very Nice!

    • Robert,

      I like the fact that the shirt shown in that photograph is a very comfortable chic shirt which doesn’t have a distracting logo on it.

      Once upon a time I would have liked to dress like Ettore Bugatti did in 1900.

      Clothing signals many things, including discretion, refinement, connoisseurship, taste, and discernment.

      I know a woman in Manhattan, who is a fabulous dresser.

      Often, when I look at her (with her clothes on), I ask myself — Where did she get that dress, etc.?

      I know a man who astounds me by what he is wearing, how he acts and by what he says.

      When he is home with his wife, he and his wife get dressed up to have dinner by candlelight in their home.

      I love good taste, refinement, and discernment.

      Thank you for your comment.

      Gary

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