Realsociology

A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

Archive for the 'My ‘life’' Category

Overanalysis of my not very interesting life

Five Strategies to Help You Stop Shopping

Posted by Realsociology on 28th February 2015

I’ve developed a few money saving strategies viz shopping in order to help me reduce my spending – These are as follows:

1. Only allowing myself to shop once every 6 weeks, with the exception of food shopping which I now to once a week.
2. Constructing lists of things I’m going to try and live without for 2015/16 (which I’ll review annually) and also an ‘allowed to buy in 2015′ list.
3. Only food shopping once a week (rather than buying online and dropping in twice a week) – somewhat unexpectedly this has saved me about £50 a month so far this year.
4. Trying to have more non spending than spending days in the year.
5. Keeping track of everything I spend on a daily basis in an excel spreadsheet, analysing this once a month and publishing an overall review of spending once every six months.

The point of all this is because I think it’s more conducive to overall quality of life to not work hard-consume hard, and then work for 40 years. I think it’s better to work hard for 20 years, not consume and then semi-retire at 50 and do constructive non-consumerist things, as outline here – My early retirement strategy. Anyway – more details on my 5 strategies to help you stop shopping.

Strategy One – On only shopping once every six weeks

Once every six weeks, or thereabouts – that’s my new shopping strategy. The plan is to do one shopping trip/ online purchasing ‘binge’ on the first day of every school holiday, and the reasoning behind this is to stop compulsive shopping and be more in control of my finances. If I want something in the six week build-up, I’ll just put it on a list and then buy it on one of the 7 days I’m now allowing myself to do shopping (I’ve added one in to the end of the summer holiday, given that this is a six week period). This applies not only to shopping but also to browsing and choosing (idle surfing) so this should not only save me money, but time and exposure to advertising.

Strategy Two – Lists I’ve constructed to help me reduce my consumption

The Hold out until 2016/ 2017 list

These are things that I would normally buy because they need replacing (just due to ordinary wear and tear), but I’m trying not to for a year. The longer I can make something last the fewer of them I’ll have to buy throughout my lifetime. Instead of purchasing, I’m going to try and ‘repair put up with’ until it becomes economically irrational to do so.

Also, what I’ve just learnt from populating this list is that there’s very little I actually want/ need anyways!

Hold out until 2016

  • New day to day bag for work/ walking
  • All shoes except for running shoes.
  • New work trousers
  • New arm band for musical device
  • Headphones
  • Books (I’ve got a significant unread pile)
  • Ipad

Hold out until 2017 or later

  • All running gear except for trainers
  • Posh gloves
  • Work shoes (Docs)
  • Lap Top
  • New Winter Jacket the waterproofing on mine’s going
  • New Garmin Forerunner (I can’t see it lasting that much longer)

The just do without List

Things I want but I’m just going to try and live without for a longer time. These are just a list of wants I’ve had for a long time. Here I’ll try and find alternatives, or just do without. If I stumble on a windfall, I might buy these!

  • Replacement Polar heart rate monitor
  • Swanky coffee machine
  • Posh netting for fruit cage

The allowed to buy in 2015 allowed list

New things or replacement items I will probably allow myself to my. Most of these are already overdue

  • Two new pairs of Asics – £100
  • 6 new shirts for work – £40
  • Pair of Jeans – £20
  • Trip to the dentists – £20
  • Trousers for Summer – £20
  • Fleece-top for spring/ autumn – £50
  • Fleece Jacket – £80
  • Propagator (ideally home-made) – £30?
  • Paint to redecorate bedroom/ hall and living room – £40
  • Fruit trees and bushes (*2) NB – Bought in Feb – £100
  • Bike servicing – £50
  • Flask – £10

Total = £460

Of course I will eventually buy a lot of this stuff, but an early retirement strategy works on the basis of saving NOW – this means more capital accumulation in the long term. What was it Warren Buffet said.. A dollar spent now is several dollars forgone in the future, or something along those lines.

Strategy Three  – Only Food Shopping Once a week

This one was unexpected – but limiting myself to shopping in Sainsburys only once a week (instead of doing an online shop once every two-three months and then nipping in twice a week) seems to be saving me a small fortune – £50 month?!

I’ve also started cooking more cheaply, although not uber-frugally. I might even allow myself the luxury of doing a recipe post at some point. For now I’ll just give a big thumbs up to Dhal and Chapatis (how easy are they!); home made pizza; and vegetable stew (swede is compulsory) with pearl barley – three wonderfully cheap and delicious meals, which are bit of hassle to make but are just FAB!

Strategy four – Aiming for more non-spending days than spending days.

This is another strategy I just sort of stumbled on – It prevents me from that kind of idle spending which I used to do compulsively – Nipping out for coffees, or nipping to the shop for munchies – A few quid here and there a few times a week can (and has in the past) easily mount up to £40-50 a month, or £500/ year. Looked at another way, this could mount up to £20K over 40 years – Or nearly a year’s worth of earnings on the median salary, just because of ill-discipline.

This strategy also has the added bonus of making shopping days quite unique experiences. Something to actually look forward and be in conscious control of, rather than something you just passively do without really thinking about it. In fact, I’m not even sure that I’d categorise most shopping as ‘intentional action’. I think I’ll stop there, I’m starting to think hateful thoughts about shoppers, not very Buddhist!

NB – I am slightly behind – so March is going to be an uber-frugal month. I’d always planned it that way anwyays.

feb jan

Strategy Five – Keeping track of everything I spend on a day to day basis:

I’m just at the end of month two – I published the first month here. February has actually been quite similar, despite spending £100 on fruit trees and bushes. This is good discipline, But I won’t be publishing anymore until June, just because it gives a more representative and hence valid indicator of overall spending patterns.

 

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On Not watching TV and Meditating Instead (a lifestyle experiment)

Posted by Realsociology on 17th February 2015

 

The Dalai Lama of Tibet practices meditation four hours a day, the same length of time the average American spends watching TV. Now it’s obvious I’m not the Dalai Lama, and I’m reasonably certain I’m not his reincarnation born 40 odd years too early either, but like the DL I have recently tried to cut down my TV use and meditate more instead, although it’s taken me some time to commit to it properly.

Halfway through Le Tour 2014 I unplugged my TV and put it in the office, promising myself I would break my habits of watching TV over dinner and indulging in the occasional bout of idle channel hopping, but I pretty quickly just got into the routine of watching whatever on iPlayer or 4OD on the iPad or laptop.

On Sunday 4th January, however, I finally committed to watching no TV for a week, and I’m still abstaining. With the two exceptions of watching the final four minutes of The Dead Poet’s Society (don’t ask) and about eight minutes of a classic episode of ‘Why Don’t You’ on YouTube (again, don’t ask!) I have managed to be TV free at home ever since.

At the same time I also started to severely restrict the use of anything involving a screen. This means spending as little time in front of them as possible, and limiting the number of screens and ‘windows’ I expose myself to in any one period. Ideally, I try and limit myself to reading one book/ website at a time and writing into one Open Office Document at a time (like this!), rather than flitting backwards and forwards between multiple sources.

Also on the 4th January, I made a commitment to the following ‘evening disciplines’ –

  1. Leave work promptly – 16.45 at the very latest (I start at 7.45).
  2. Run or do circuits most days after work. (Although in fairness I did this anyway)
  3. Spend about half an hour tidying and cleaning every evening except Friday and Sunday (I even have a roster for certain rooms on certain days.
  4. Meditate for 40 minutes immediately following tidying.
  5. Do ‘soft meditation’ for 40 minutes before going to bed at 21.30 at the latest.
  6. Do a minimum of 4*40 meditation sessions on Saturdays and Sundays.*

This typically leaves me with 30 mins to an hour to do something else in the evenings, with plenty more time at the weekends.

After just two weeks, and they weren’t the easiest of weeks at work either, I’ve noticed the following benefits of not watching TV and meditating instead.

  1. I’m sleeping much more soundly. I’ve never actually had (ever!) a problem sleeping, but this last week my sleep has been even more sound. Sound is a good word to describe it actually, as would be ‘denser’, ‘heavier’, more intense, more complete, oh hang on, maybe ‘deeper’ is the word I’m looking for.
  2. My outlook on life has slowed down – I feel more centred, more stable, calmer, more in-control.
  3. Interestingly, although I only have a scant hour to cram in some ‘me-time’ I’d say I’ve been more productive in those hours than compared to double the amount of time without the meditation (I can see why the corporate world is into this mindfulness stuff, just don’t mention Right Livelihood!).
  4. On those few occasions I have gone online, I find myself more irritated by the whole experience – I am much more aware of and intolerant of the sheer amount of advertising, the explicit purpose of which is to distract me from what it is I am actually doing.

To conclude…

Technically speaking this isn’t a very good experiment because I’ve changed three variables at once (The amount of TV/ Internet Use and meditation) BUT in practical terms given that the former two are the antithesis of the later, I don’t think the benefits would have accrued as much if I hadn’t replaced the former two with the later: meditation (and mindfulness) require a calm mind, TV and the internet encourage a hyperactive mind. It may well be that had I maintained my habitual usage of TV and just increased my meditation hours (in which case I’d have to sleep less, so that wouldn’t work experimentally either), the effect of meditation would merely be to calm down the increased hyperactivity in my mind caused by media-indulgence. So it’s naff as an experiment, but it works!

In short, try it, stop watching TV etc. and start meditating instead.

*This may sound like a lot of hours – If you’re new to meditating, this much may be too much so you might need to spend a few years building up to it. I’ve been meditating for 20 years on and off, more seriously for about eight years after I spent a year taking formal Zen classes (after which I realised I didn’t need the formality), and I’m fairly sure that two-three hours a day is as much as is useful to me at the moment (by useful I mean conducive to promoting mindfulness in daily life). If you’re new to meditation, less may be more. Also, go to classes if you’re new to it!

 

Posted in Alternatives, Buddhism, But what can I do?, My 'life', Things I like | No Comments »

Early Retirement Extreme Update 1 – January/ February 2015.

Posted by Realsociology on 14th February 2015

 

It’s now been six months since I realised I could realistically (semi-) retire by the time I’m 51, and ambitiously by 48. I’ve saved a bit of cash in that time, but TBH I’ve only just got into the swing of the early-retirement drive since the start of this year, 2015, so this isn’t so much of an update, rather a starting-point statement of where I’m at, a base from which to compare in the future.

I’ve now started (since January 3rd) to keep a record of everything I buy in various categories, with the intention that this will inspire me to spend less and save more. It worked a treat in January, but that’s probably because (a) it’s still a complete novelty and (b) I haven’t actually needed to buy anything of significant value.

At the moment my data’s only in Open Office, I might move it online laters.

January 2015 Early-Retirement Extreme Update

Reminder of Long Term Financial Goals –

  • Be mortgage free in 7-10 years (£138k outstanding)
  • Pay over £1000 a month towards the mortgage (15 year term) with a mind to either using savings or ‘trading down’ to pay off early.
  • Save an absolute minimum of £250/ month in additional funds (=£30K after 10 years, without accumulations). Ideally this figure will be significantly higher.
  • Find additional income streams to boost the above figure. Target = £20K in five years.
  • Save £200 a month towards a ‘land fund’ – eventually to be used to purchase a van and land on which to establish a forest garden.
  • Continue paying into the Teacher Pension Scheme.

January Update 1 – ‘Spending days compared to non-spending days’

I figure that I need to internalise not consuming – to this end I’ve started keeping a record of everything I buy and (roughly) how much it costs me. One of the interesting things that’s emerged is that there are several days during which I spend nothing and my non-spending days just over the 50% mark! This is now a new goal for 2015 – simply to clock up more non-spending than spending days.

Untitled
January Update 2 – Total expenditure excluding mortgage = £725 pounds

NB – Transport was £000.

Untitled
January Update 3 – Expenditure including mortgage

  • Frivolities = beer/ coffee/ subscriptions/ transport, (because I only really use transport for ents).
  • Necessities = council tax, services, food, ‘stuff’ (because I’m not a frivolous materialist consumer).
  • Property = mortgage repayments + service charge.

Untitled2

Ratio of expenditure to income including mortgage – 30%
Ratio of expenditure to income excluding mortgage – 71%

Summary 

If I can keep this up for another 11 years, then I can basically move to full retirement – but this is premised on the following:

  1. Having a Teacher’s pension which kicks in at 60 (most of it anyway), meaning by the time I’m 51 (or thereabouts) I’ll have enough saved to simply see me through for 9 years.
  2. Continuing my very low consumption – After property my expenses come to around £600. I really don’t see why anyone needs to spend much more than this.

So – that’s me formerly started and outed on the ERE mission, bring it on!

Posted in My 'life', Retirement - Early | No Comments »

New Year, New Bathroom, New Lock-In?

Posted by Realsociology on 3rd January 2015

 

So I spent most of the ‘Christmas’ holiday redoing the bathroom – stemming from a leaky waste on the bath and mould growth mainly because of a broken extractor fan – It took me several days to rip out the old (partly rotted) frame under the bath, build a new one and put it back in, sort out the leak, degrout and regrout, de-seal and reseal, sand and paint (quite badly, thankfully white paint is quite forgiving), and it cost about £100 for the tools and various industrial chemical products.

Now I could celebrate the fact that I now have the whitest bathroom in the known universe, the fact that I did this extremely cheaply compared to ‘getting a man in’, and I could even celebrate my capital gains – lots more tools, some more knowledge, and a tiny bit of extra-skills. However, I don’t see it like this – I’ve come to realise that my efforts have really only been ncessary because I’m locked into what I think I’ll call a sub-optimal bathroom context:

For starters had the original housebuilders left the side panel off the bath (which is only on there for aesthetic reasons) I would have noticed the leaky waste a lot earlier, saving myself hours of ripping out the rotten frame. The waste was only loose, not cracked – so firstly I’ve been a victim of uncessary normative bathroom aesthetics.

Secondly, the mould-growth due to the fan being broken only occurs because I live in a block of flats and there are no windows I can open to allow the bathroom to air naturally. If I could afford a house, which I can’t around here, I could simply open a window and the broken extractor fan wouldn’t be as much of a problem. Thus I’m also a victim of relative poverty, albeit on a salary of £45K a year.

Thirdly, I’ve also got to thinking that the need to grout and seal stems from the fact that the bathroom is inside – A bathroom is a wet area within a dry area – This might sound like I’m stating the obvious but it’s actually quite an unnatural place for a bathroom to be – outside would make a lot more sense. It isn’t necessary to have inside bathrooms, or even private bathrooms, but I don’t really have a choice to buy a property without one, or to use collective bathrooms outside (nothing in convenient reach for me). Thus efficiency dictates that I need to use my own private bathroom – So here I am a victim of a conflation of urbanisation/ individualisation/ privatisation.

Now.. I think most people would look at the job of redoing their bathroom and feel a sense of satisfaction (a kind of meaningful agency if you like). I do sort of feel satisfied, my bathroom is now VERY white – but I’m also painfully aware that this sense of satisfaction is as thin as the layer of paint on my bathroom walls, beneath the surface of which is a bizareely sub-optimal nexus which has led me into having no choice but to spend time and money on doing up my bathroom.

What annoys me most about the above point is that I do actually want a private bathroom – even though this is not necessary – I’ve been socialised into this, the result is extremely sub-optimal, and this is a tough one to break out of.

So what’s the ultimate solution to all of this? Well long-term, once I’m done with my job, which does require me to wash every morning, I’m going do without the normative bathroom aesthetics – the bath panels, tiles, extractor fans, anti-mould paint, grout, sealant and so on, and live in a field and wash outdoors with a bucket.

After all, water falls from the sky and goes back to the earth, may as well cut out the middle men.

Update –

Having wrote this (TBH I never intended to write this, but it’s been cathartic) I find myself interested in the Sociology of bathrooms and bathing – if anyone knows of any further sources on this please do get in touch! Questions/ issues I’m interested in are…

How many times would the average homeowner redo their bathroom, how much money would they spend>? I’m more interested in spread rather than ranges.

Based on the above – what is the lock-in effect of the average bathroom? – How many months of a working life is spent paying for bathroom upgrades?

How have bathroom aesthetics evolved? Who are the main agencies at work in the social construction of bathroom aesthetics. What has status got to do with this?

How many people do their own bathrooms renovations compared to other parts of the house? I’m quite interested in this – It is more of a technical challenge in some ways than a living room or a bedroom, but then again if you cock it up you have to spend less time looking at it, so its less of a risk (plumbing aside).

Anyway, enough of bathrooms for now…

 

 

Posted in Alternatives, My 'life', Retirement - Early | No Comments »

The negative experience of iTime on yer smartphone

Posted by Realsociology on 22nd October 2013

Oh the irony – My intention 6 weeks ago was to get a dialogue going between Bauman and Buddhism, and here I am getting sidelined by the concepts of iTime and Pointillist Time – still, at least I’m experiencing the subject matter of this essay……

‘Whenever you are, be sometime else’. A philosophical analysis of smartphone time by Demian-Noah Niehaus

Defining iTime/ overview of the essay

In this article, Niehaus examines how smartphones create a new temporality which, (following Agger, 2011) he calls iTime (NB iTime does not represent a qualitative break with the earlier internet era, rather its evolution and intensification.)

The essay is an insightful commentary on the growing trend in smartphone use (Niehaus cites research in which users spend on average 132 minutes each day communicating and using social media on their phones.) The essay also challenges industry data citing users’ own reflections on the emotional consequences of their iTime as an overwhelmingly positive experience (sentiments such as “connectedness” are far more common than “overwhelmed,” “stressed out,” “burdened/anxious,” or “lonely”). This essay offers a deeper, darker analysis of the downside of iTime, and of time spent in hyperculture more generally.

iTime is a wonderful example of what Bauman calls Pointillist time. To cite Bauman….

‘As lived by its members, time in the liquid modern society of consumers is neither cyclical nor linear it is instead pointillist, marked as much by the profusion of ruptures and discontinuities, by intervals separating successive spots and breaking the links between them, than by the specific content of the spots. Pointillist time is more prominent for its inconsistency and lack of cohesion than for its elements of continuity and consistency…. Pointillist time is broken up, or even pulverized, into a multitude of ‘eternal instants’ – self-enclosed monads, separate morsels, each morsel reduced to a point ever more closely approximating its geometric ideal of non-dimensionality’. (Bauman 2007, p.32)

According to Niehaus, iTime has five core characteristics. It is…

a) permeated by constant interruptions, willed or imposed;

b) often structured by the addictive hunt for frissons, short instants of excitement and pleasure;

c) characterised by constant connectedness;

d) happening within the temporal and organisational structures of modernity, while each moment  is ever-more packed with contents, references, and tasks. The structures of late Modernity remain the same, but perception at the level of the microstructure is radically altered;

e) It is likely to take precedence over the linear, single-minded time of one activity.’

Niehaus analyses the experience of iTme from a range of perspectives and points to the following features of the experience of ‘being in iTime’, all related to the fact that the experience of iTime is typically attended by an intensification of multitasking, a strategy many people adopt in order to cope with  the constant influx of wanted and unwanted information. The experience of iTime is characterised as follows…

1. The moment is filled to the brim and often far beyond which means that the speed of the actual experience of living is radically altered and is accompanied by a general rise in felt urgency.

2. It works against us being in the ‘here and now’ because every moment is filled to the brim with references to elsewhere.

3. You end up doing more but find it difficult to concentrate on what it is you are actually doing for a sustained period.

4. Related to all of the above, because iTime is so ‘full’, ‘doing nothing’ becomes difficult.

In short, according to Niehaus’ analysis, the experience of iTime is fragmented and frantic, schizophrenic and agitated, and its open invitation to consume everything all at once prevents us from becoming masters of anything (because the later requires a sustained, concentrated engagement with whatever the object of attention).

Brief commentary

While Itime does encourage these tendencies, users will use iTime differently. It’s not as if every user constantly has half a dozen windows or ‘applications’ on the go. Different users will have different capacities to sustain concentration on one thing at a time while in Itime. It would be interesting to find some research on what percentage of iTimers are truly ‘addicted to the ephemeral-fragments’, lacking personal control over how their iTime is directed, and thus might be labelled as suffering from a kind of hyper-anomic condition.

Conversely, I wonder what percentage use iTime in a very intentional and aware manner, characterised by having clear information-gaining goals, limiting the amount of time they spend online, limiting the amount of windows they have on the go, and thus manage to avoid the fragmentary tendencies of Itime. My own experience today is somewhere on the later side, but not characterised by complete control. I’ve learnt a great deal by reading one essay that’s not quite related to the main topic I should be focussing on, but I’ve also developed lots of ideas that I know will gestate into something truly fruitful (and truly not that interesting to most) later on.

Also, the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their time not in ‘real time’ rather than Itime, so one has to wonder (and probably remain wondering, because this is the kind of thing that’s very difficult to research) about the extent to which being in Itime effects people’s real-world life-worlds.

Having mentioned all of these cautionary notes, I still think this is a very worthwhile philosophical essay that highlights some very real problematic, negative tendencies of the experience of being in iTime and being in the virtual world more generally.

Posted in My 'life', Postmodernism, Sociological Theory | 1 Comment »

Summary of Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity – Chapter One

Posted by Realsociology on 1st October 2013

 

Chapter One – Emancipation

168787The chapter begins with Marcuse’s complaint that, by the mid 1970s, most people didn’t see the need to be liberated from society, fewer were prepared to act on that wish, and in any case no one was certain how that liberation might differ from the then current social situation.

Next Bauman outlines his conception of liberation, noting that ‘to feel free means to experience no hindrance, obstacle, resistance or any other impediment to the moves intended or desired’. He then argues, following Schopenhauer, that feeling free from constraint means reaching a balancing act between one’s wishes (or imagination) and the stubborn indifference of the world to one’s intentions. This balance might be achieved in two ways – through either expanding one’s capacity to act or through limiting one’s desires (imagination).

Distinguishing between these two strategies to emancipation makes possible the distinction between subjective (to do with how one perceives the ‘limits’ to one’s freedom), and objective freedom (pertaining to one’s capacity to actually act). This highlights the fact that people may not be objectively free but feel free because they either fail to realise they are not free, or, more worryingly in Bauman’s mind, because they dislike the idea of freedom given the hardships that come along with that freedom, which brings him onto the ‘mixed blessings of freedom’…

(P18) The mixed blessings of freedom

This section begins with an episode from the Odyssey in which Odysseus manages to trap a sailor who had been turned into a hog by Circe. Odysseus (through the use of a magical herb) manages to release the sailor from his bewitchment. However, the released sailor, Elpenoros, is far from greatful who complains

‘So you are back you busybody? Again you want to nag and pester us, to expose our bodies to dangers and force our hearts to take ever new decisions? I was so happy, I could wallow in the mud and bask in the sunshine, I could gobble and grunt and squeak, and be free from doubts… Why did you come? To fling me back into the hateful life I led before?’

Bauman now poses two questions (NB this isn’t that clear from the writing!) – Firstly, why has freedom been slow to arrive? Secondly why, when freedom does arrive, is it so often seen as a curse?

Bauman explores one possible answer to the first question, which is that men are not ready for freedom. These types of answer tend to be accompanied by either pity for the men duped out of their freedom or anger at the masses unwilling to take up their liberty. Such answers are also accompanied by attempts to explain why men do not perceive the need to be free, with the blame being laid variously (by other commentators) at a modern culture which replaces ‘having’ with ‘being'; the embourgeoisement of the underdog, or a culture industry which makes us thirst for entertainment rather than spiritual fulfillment.

A possible answer to the second question (the answer that Elpenoros would have given) is that men are not prepared to face liberty because of the hardships it brings. This type of answer criticises libertarian notions of Freedom such as those outlined by the likes of Charles Murray in which happiness is related to individual resourcefulness. Murray argues that what fills an event with satisfaction is that ‘I’ did it, but this is flawed, Bauman points out, because being thrown back on one’s own resources also portends a paralysing fear of risk and failure without the right to appeal and seek redress.

On a personal note, I would generally agree with this critique of libertarian notions of freedom. The thought of working on projects such as moving house, or clearing my allotment,or, on a larger scale, building an eco-village are much less daunting, and actually only made possible with the co-operation of others.

Bauman now draws on the legacy of Hobbes and Durkheim to argue that we are right to be skeptical about the benefits of libertarian notions of freedom. He seems to sympathetic with the Durkheimian idea that a degree of social coercion is actually an emancipatory force. To quote Durkheim:

‘The individual submits to society and this submission is the condition of his liberation. For man freedom consists of deliverance from blind, unthinking physical forces; he achieves this by opposing against them the great and intelligent force of society, under whose protection he shelters. By putting himself under the wing of society, he makes himself also, to a certain extent, dependent upon it, But this is a liberating dependence, there is no contradiction in this.’

In other words, there is no other way to achieve freedom other than to submit to the norms of society – the individual needs society to be free. Total freedom from society means a perpetual agony of indecision and uncertainty about the will of those around you, whereas patterns and routines condensed by social pressures give us road markings, inform us how to act, give us a sense of certainty in this life.

Bauman now outlines arguments which support the view that an element of routine is necessary, citing Fromm’s notion that we need certainty, Richard Sennet’s notion of character, and Gidden’s concept of habit.

Having established that the individual needs some sense of norms, some sense of routine to ground himself, Bauman rounds of this section by introducing one of the central problems of living in a post-modern society – that such norms and routines are much less stable than they once were. Citing Deleuze and Guatari’s and Alain Touraine’s ideas he points out that the time has come when we no longer have a social definition of the self, and individuals are expected to define themselves in terms of their own psychological specifity and not society or universal principles.

The individual has already been granted all of the freedoms he could have ever dreamed of, and that our social institutions are more than willing to cede the worries of self-definition to individuals, while universal principles which might guide our lives are hard to find.

Bauman rounds off this section by suggesting that Marcuse’s pining for communitarianism is outdated because there is no social aspect in which we can re-route the individual, all that is left is the psychologist’s couch and motel beds. The individual has become disembedded and there is nowhere to re-embed.

(p22) The fortuities and changing fortunes of critique

Bauman’s main point here is that our society is still hospitable to critique, but the focus of critique has shifted from criticising society and positing viable ways of changing that society to ourselves and our life-politics. Today, we are reflexive beings who constantly question what we are doing and express dissatisfaction with various aspects of our lives.

The problem is that at the same time as us becoming more self-critical, we have lost control over the agenda which shapes our life-politics. Our reflexivity is shallow, it does not extend in any meaningful sense to our having control over the system in which we are embedded.

There is a parallel here between the individual in a state of constant disaffection with the Buddhist notion of the individual being in a constant state of Dukkha, the feeling that something is just not quite right with one’s self. The difference in the two conceptions, however, is that in Bauman’s conception of the self, the disaffection emerges because of the individual’s social disembeddedness, while in Buddhism, it is part of the human condition itself, a universal personal experience that emerges because of the delusion of the true nature of non-self

Bauman now provides a ‘caravan park’ analogy to describe the way we tend to interact with society today. According to Bauman, we are mostly content to limit our concerns to what goes on in our own individual caravans, and we only want to engage with other caravan dwellers occasionally and in a non-commital manner, reserving the right to up and leave when we choose. We only ever complain about the caravan park when certain services break down, such as the electricity or water supply, otherwise we are happy to let it run itself, without feeling any need to to commit to it, or question the way it is run the way it is. (I like this analogy so much, I reproduced the full version in a recent post – one or two earlier from this).

This is very different to the type of social engagement that was the norm when Adorno developed his critical theory. At that time, Bauman suggests, many more people treated society as if it were their house, and they the house-dwellers and, feeling as if it were their house, they acted within it as if they were permanent residents who could, if necessary, alter the structure of that house.

Moving onto one of the central themes in Bauman’s work, he now argues that this changing mood of critical engagement with society (or lack of it) is because of the shift from heavy to light modernity which has resulted in a profound transformation of public space and, more generally, in the fashion in which the modern society works and perpetuates itself.

Bauman notes that Heavy modernity was endemically pregnant with the possibility of totalitarianism – the threat of an enforced homogeneity, the enemy of contingency, variety and ambiguity. The principal icons of the era were the Fordist factory, with its simple routines, and bureaucracy, in which identities and social bonds meant nothing. The methods of control in this period were the panopticon, Big Brother and the Gulag. It was in this period of history that the dystopias of Orwell and Huxley made sense to people (which they do not any longer) and that the defense of individual autonomy and creativity against such things as mass culture offered by critical theory appealed to a wide body of citizens.

However, in Liquid Modernity, we are no longer constrained by industry, bureaucracy and the panopticon, no longer does Orwell’s dystopia seem possible. Liquid Modern society, however, is no less modern than it was 100 years ago, because it is still obsessed with modernising, with creative destruction… with phasing out, cutting out, merging, downsizing, dismantling, becoming more productive or competitive, and something else which is continuous with heavy modernity is that fulfillment is always somewhere in the future

But two things make the Liquid Modern Era different to the Heavy Modern Era: –

Firstly, there is the end of the idea of perfectibility. We no longer believe that there will be an end to the process of modernisation – it has become a perpetual process.

Secondly, we are now expected to find individual solutions to our problems. Gone is the idea that reason applied to social organisation can improve our lives, gone is the ideal of the just society. No longer are we to solve our problems collectively through Politics (with a capital P), but it is put upon the individual to look to themselves to solve their life-problems, or to improve themselves.

(p30) The Individual in Combat with The Citizen

Bauman starts off with something of a homage to Norbert Elias (and fair play, History of Manners was a terrific read!) for shifting the dualist sociological discourse of self-society to one which focuses on a ‘society of individuals.’

Casting members as individuals is the trade mark of modern society and this casting is an activity re-enacted daily. Modern society exists in its incessant activity of ‘individualising’. To put it in a nutshell, individualisation consists of transforming human identity from a given into a task and charging actors with the responsibility for performing that task and for the consequences (also the side effects) of their actions.

Bauman now points to another difference between heavy and liquid modernity. In the period of ‘heavy modernity’, having been disembedded from previous social-locations, people sought to re-embed themselves in society, through, for example, identifying as a member of a stable social class. By contrast, in today’s modernising society, we have no stable beds for re-embedding, we just have musical chairs, and so people are constantly on the move. In the liquid modern world, there is no end of the road, nowhere for us to ‘re-embed’.

Having established what individualisation is, Bauman now goes on to make three further points –

  1. In the age of liquid modernity the option to escape individualisation and to refuse to participate is not on the agenda -Individualisation is not a choice – to refuse to participate in the game is not an option.

  2. In the Liquid Modern society, how one lives becomes a biographical solution to systemic contradictions – risks and contradictions go on being socially produced; it is just the duty and the necessity to cope with them which are being individualised.

  3. A gap is growing between individuality as fate and the ability for genuine self-assertion. The self-assertive capacity of men and women falls short of what genuine self-constitution would require..

Bauman now distinguishes between the citizen and the person – the former seeks their well-being in the city (read ‘society’), while the later is unconcerned with collective well-being. and basically makes the argument that part of individualisation is the ending of citizenship

Another unfortunate aspect of the Liquid Modern era is that, rather than being used to discuss public issues, public space is brimming with private problems – where people’s individual problems and their individualised biographical solutions are discussed, without any consideration of the social conditions which gave rise to those problems.

Bauman rounds off this section by pointing out that in today’s society, the chances of being re-embedded are thin, and this means that new communities are wandering and fragile, and he alludes to the fact that newly-emerging networks with low commitment are not sufficient to empower individuals.

 He ends with a rather bleak quote from Beck ‘On the Mortality of Industrial Society’… ‘

What emerges from the fading social norms is naked, frightened aggressive ego, in search of love and help. In the search for itself and an affectionate sociality, it easily gets lost in the jungle of the self.. Someone who is poking around in the fog of his or her own self is no longer capable of noticing that this isoloation, this solitary confinement of the ego’ is a mass sentence’.

(p38) The Plight of Critical Theory in the Society of Individuals

The modernising impulse means the compulsive critique of reality, and the privatisation of that impulse means compulsive self-critique, and perpetual self-disaffection. It means that we look harder and harder at how we can improve ourselves.

I’m in two minds about what to make of Bauman’s idea of perpetual disaffection – On the one hand I’m impressed by the sympathy for the basic plight of the individual – it is, after all, an experience of the perpetual suffering that accompanies the human condition; on the other hand I’m concerned that what Bauman’s going to try and argue later on is that this disaffection will disappear once individuals gain some greater degree of control over the process of their self determination. In Buddhism, the fact the individual seeks to self-determine in the first place is the source of the disaffection, so this won’t be remedied through merely reinventing one’s relations with one’s social context (although this is part of the process in Buddhism – through right livelihood) – this disaffection is probably better seen as individuals en mass realising their true nature – and this needs a deeper solution, which will combine the various factors found in the Noble Eightfold Path.

The problem with this is that there are no ‘biographical solutions’ to systemic contradictions – except for imaginary ones, and as a result, there is a need for us to collectively hang our fears on something – and so we scapegoat ‘strangers’, and go along with moral panics, it is these kind of fears which fill the public space voided of properly public concerns.

The job of critical theory is now to repopulate the public sphere – to bring back politics with a capital P – to bring back the two groups of actors who have retreated from it – The person and the elite.

People do not engage because they see the public sphere as merely a space in which to private troubles without making any ‘public connections’. The elite meanwhile now exist in ‘outer space’ and remain for the most part invisible, their favourite strategic principles being escape, avoidance and disengagement.

The job of critical theory is to figure out how to empower individuals so they have some level of control over the resources which they require for genuine self-determination.

(p41) Critical Theory Revisited

Bauman starts with a section devoted to Adorno’s view that the act of thinking is itself freedom, but that any attempt to give thoughts a market value threatens the genuine value of thought.

He then talks about the tension between ‘the cleanliness of pure philosophy’ – drawing on the notion of the withdrawn intellectual contemplating life and refining systems of thought and the problem of then applying the ‘truths’ found to the ‘dirty business’ of getting involved with the world of politics as one attempts to enact one’s ideas. He essentially argues that thought in isolation from society is useless – In order for it to have any value at all, thought has to be applied to society.

Bauman concludes this section by pointing out that the unfortunate corollary of this is that whatever truths come to power will inevitably be tainted by those in power.

(p48) A critique of life-politics

In this summative section Bauman points out again that it is up the individual as an isolated actor to themselves find individualised solutions to social problems… He points to a range social situations, from us being called upon to adapt to neoliberal flexibalisation at work, to our efforts in seeking romance, and he rounds of my reminding us that any search for liberation today requires more not less public sphere, so any critical theory today must start from a critique of life-politics – a critique of the paucity of individualised solutions to systemic contradictions.

And 3,2,1 drag - that's a wrap.

And 3,2,1 drag – that’s a wrap!

Part Two – Individuality

Part Three – Time/ Space

Part Four – Work

Part Five – Community

Bibliography

Bauman, Z (2000) Liquid Modernity, Polity Press.

 

Posted in Buddhism, My 'life', Neoliberalism, Sociological Theory, Things I like | No Comments »

My Life Analysed – The madness of my mortgage

Posted by Realsociology on 25th September 2013

I bought 25% of my lovely brand new, 2 bedroom flat in Surrey about 4 years ago now, and in that time I’ve saved £22000  ready to buy it outright. A recent valuation ‘valued’ the flat @ £190 000, so when I buy outright I will need to borrow about £120 000 to buy the 75% I don’t own, which, added to the roughly £20 000 I still owe on the bit I already own will mean an overall mortgage of £140 000….

Based on the best deal available (with The Post Officce according to Money Supermarket) if I take this mortgage out over a 15 year* period, I will pay £44 000 in interest, meaning I will pay back a total of about £184 000. Based on my take home pay which is just over £2400/ month, or about £29000/ year, this equates to about nearly six years of my life.

The only ‘rational’ response to this situation is one of anger. Anger at the fact that in this social system where land ownership is concentrated in the hands of the few and where a handful of financial institutions are given the right to generate money and thus interest out of thin air, I end up giving away 5 years of my life in order to make profit for the propertied elite and a further 1 or more years to pay the rentiers.

If I were given a quarter of an acre of land, some tools (which I could borrow not own), some people to work with occassionally, and the odd bit of expertise for the techy stuff, and I could build my own place for less than £10 000 – and do it in six months – so less than a year of total work-money-time.

Instead of this, however, restricted by Britain’s archaic planning regulations and the near certainty of not being gifted a quarter of an acre in a Tory heartland, I’m forced into a situation in which the only means** whereby I can meet my basic human needs results in my giving a further 5 years of my time to pay the profits of the various institutions surrounding the construction and financing of my flat – the original landowners, the construction company and the financiers.

Given all of this, I think people should not see ‘getting on the property ladder’ as something to be celebrated, not when our efforts to climb it are fast followed by the shaft-pole of capital.
To go a bit Baumanesque on this, housing is a basic human need, but the housing market in the UK is, I believe, a great example of one of those parts of the system that most of us have very little control over, and we are forced into accepting an extremely inefficient individualised solution to meeting this basic need – Renting in insecure accomodation for the first decade of our adult lives while we scrimp enough for a deposit, and then paying a hugely inflated sum when we finally purchase the property.

We never even imagine that we can change this system – And for many of us we think we’ve  ‘won’ when we ‘play hard ball and get 10k off the asking price, or we might feel smugly satisfied when we ‘save’ a few grand from shoppping around for a good mortage deal, failing to face up to the fact that a few grand is nothing compared to the £100K in interest we’re facing over the next two decades.

Having settled into our mortgage repayment schedule, our house then becomes part of our ontological security, and we go about filling it with our identity-markers to further make ourselves secure….We forget about the fact that this object which ties us to the system more so than any other object only does so if we allow those with more power than us to leech years of our lives from us.

What is really grim about this situation is that although the house, that locus of ultra-individualised privatism offers a very insecure security because the same system that ties us into the 25 year mortgage is also the same system that can generate both high unemployment in the interest of short term profits or high interest rates in the interest of long-term (relative) stability, not to mention the current issue with inflation.

Someone remind me again while I’m going along with this>>>????**Actually I am being somewhat melodramatic, there are alternatives… As I’ll outline later.

*Over the more standard 25 year term,  I would pay back £84 000 in interest – brining my total life-work up to about 7.5 years…..

 

 

Posted in Capitalism, My 'life' | No Comments »

Some Thoughts on Renata Salecl’s The Paradox of Choice….

Posted by Realsociology on 2nd July 2013

In this RSA Animate, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice


Summary

Especially since the collapse of Communism, more people have tended to associate increasing freedom of choice with positive social change, however, psychologists have found that too much choice has negative consequences

  1. It can lead to feelings of anxiety
  2. It can pacify us as we are frozen in indecisiveness

Why does choice lead to anxiety?

Firstly, Because our choices are not simply an individual action: when we make a choice we are thinking about how others will judge us on the basis of  those choices and the critieria we used to make those choices, so choice is social. To illustrate this she used an example of someone who agonises over a wine choice in a restaurant – too expensive = showing off, too cheap = skinflint and so the range of actual choices narrows to something in the middle.

Secondly, because we are always trying to make an ideal choice – Switching partners or electricity bills for example

Thirdly, choice always involves loss: when we make a choice, we lose the possibility of another.

Another process at work in a society obsessed with choice is that we look at our own lives and know that they are mundane compared to the fantastic lives of those who have made the ‘right choices’ which are presented to us in the media (mainly through celebrity culture where people get famous for just being rather than doing). But we do not state how mundane our own lives actually are, we keep quiet because we feel  a sense of shame, a sense of personal responsibility for our own failures – We think that if we fail it is our fault, our fault for making the wrong choices.

This all goes back to Capitalism cashing in on the idea that anyone can make it, anyone can become a self-made man (despite the fact that. structurally, this is impossible), and today this same idea is perpetuated through the ideology of choice, both in terms of consumption, and in every aspects of our lives (‘I should be free to choose my job/ partner/ sexuality/ etc.’).

To round off, Salecl draws on Freud to point out that Capitalism, a system that ‘progresseses’ through ever faster changes, and through making us work longer hours, and through turning us into consumers, creates subjects who at some point come to think that they are in control of their own lives… But they understand this control through ‘consumption’, and at some point they start consuming themselves – which is why there is so much Bulemia and workaholism, so much addiction, in society…

Finally, Salecl argues that the ideology of choice prevents social change.. because when we mistakenly think we are in charge of our own destinies, when things go wrong, this turns to self-criticism and strategies for making our lives better or just coping.

Brief comment -

Some nice ideas here that bring together themes from Giddens (addiction) and Bauman (individualisation, and I even get a smattering of Jamison’s postmodernism as the cultural logic of late capitalism… but TBH I don’t actually see that much that’s actually new!

Posted in Capitalism, Changing Britain, My 'life', Neoliberalism, Postmodernism, Sociological Theory, Sociology on TV | 2 Comments »

Three Buddhist Inspired New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by Realsociology on 1st January 2013

1. Be mindful

2. Be compassionate

3. If you fail at either of these, just try again

(Not necessarily in that order, and with thanks to The Buddha etc.)

Posted in Buddhism, But what can I do?, My 'life' | No Comments »

Christmas Survey

Posted by Realsociology on 24th December 2012

I don’t celebrate Christmas because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Instead I meditate a lot and do my annual spring clean. If you’re also alone this Christmas, I recommend this as a coping strategy. It’s still pretty bleak, but waking up on 27th having had no Christmas with a clean flat is definitely better than waking up on the 27th with a not-so-clean flat.

This year I’ve decided to really go to town and literally clean EVERYTHING. Although I’m starting to wonder whether moving the fridge and physically washing the walls down with soapy water is maybe a bit excessive. Even though I’ve been in my flat three years, the walls behind the fridge don’t look dirty to me, so my present dilemma this Christmas Eve is should I wash them or not?

I think I will, because I have committed to washing everything, but I got to wondering, is this excessive, how often do people wash the walls behind their fridges?

Anyway, I created this survey to find out, so please if you’ve found this site, humor me and complete it, thanks and for what it’s worth, Merry Christmas.

 
NB: The survey refers to whether you wash the walls behind your fridges at any time of year, not just at Christmas time. 

 

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

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This is also my first embedded survey, something of a practice run… So apologies if you can’t see the results, I will update later as I’m sure they’ll be a lot of interest in this….

Also if the survey just doesn’t work for some reason, do let me know, as I say, this is a trial.

Actually just in case the embed doesn’t work – here – Click here to take survey

Posted in Alternatives, But what can I do?, My 'life', What is Sociology? | 3 Comments »