Pop Sensibility

Popular psychology theories illustrated through musical examples and other half-baked ideas.

Month: April, 2013

Inciting love makes you responsible for it too.


This statement has more of a “moral” application than a real one and it will probably not find many adherents but I still think it holds some truth. Make up your own mind about it. I felt like turning into a bit of a righteous p… for a while and the following words are the result.

Encouraging love in a person makes you equally responsible for those feelings because you are co-responsible for their generation. You cannot simply walk away from somebody just because you don’t feel the same way about him or her anymore. If the other person still has deep feelings for you –and provided he or she is a good soul and in no way a threat to you- you have a moral duty to cope with those feelings too.

A friend of mine told me sometime ago the details of a break up he went through with an ex girlfriend. Quite simply, he ran out of love for her. But that wasn’t her situation: She was still very much in love with him and so, the actual break up was very hard on her. When they got together to talk and he told her how he felt she started sobbing quietly and said: “What am I supposed to do now with all these feelings inside me?” That hit him. Hard. And he deserved every bit of it. He had no small role in the generation of those feelings of love inside her. He had nurtured those feelings and encouraged them when they were a happy couple and now that the flame of love was gone for him, he simply turned his back on her and on all the feelings he was equally responsible for creating.

At some point in our lives we all do things like the one my friend did. And that is not right. We are all very sensitive when it comes to ourselves but we fail to act up when it comes to the feelings we are actively responsible for co-creating in others. And that is not right. If there is such thing as a “Moral Etiquette” then this type of behavior is very bad moral etiquette. The fact that we all do it at some point or another doesn’t justify it.

I did this same thing to a girl I dated quite a few years ago and I deeply regret the way I acted. I feel ashamed of myself for letting her down and letting her cope with all those feelings all alone. A couple of years after the break up I wrote her and said I was sorry and she –supposedly- forgave me. But that doesn’t erase the pain I caused her. And I am truly sorry for it.

It doesn’t matter if you are better off each other. It doesn’t count that you are hurting too. It’s not true that “That is the way things are”. That is selfish pseudo-psychology bullshit. If you are so certain that you are doing the best for the both of you then explain yourself and don’t quit until the other person sees eye to eye with you. Don’t quit until the other person feels the same way about it as you do. You owe it to that person. Only then, when those feelings are resolved for the both of you, you’ll have the moral right to walk away.

When you get together with someone you both need to agree on that decision. But there is no need for the both parties to agree for a break up to happen. If only one of you wants to break it up, then it’s official. Why is that? That is because sometimes we are instinctively selfish and not all instinctive impulses are good and right. Moral and instinct need to have a proper balance within ourselves. And when I say Moral I mean it in the sense of the obligations we have with the people that act genuinely right towards us and the people we have actively pursued and convinced to invest emotionally in ourselves.

You don’t just walk away from the mess you created. Emotional maturity means also being responsible for the feelings you actively generate and encourage in others. We are not used to doing it but we should definitely step up and deal with it.


Can years really fly by faster each time?


Remember when you where a kid and holidays seemed to last forever? When a year was a huge amount of time? Doesn´t time time seem to pass by faster since those days? Is it because of the fastening pace of modern life? Is it the Zeitgeist of our time? Where does that sensation of years flying by come from? Do years really fly by faster each time? How can that be even remotely possible?

I believe two factors account for this sensation: One of perception and one of a physical nature. Let´s start with the perception one:

When you are a little kid, say, a seven year old kid, one year is a huge amount of time because your entire existence is comprised into just seven of those time units. And you probably don’t remember much of the first three either so you are left with just four lousy years as a time frame to compare the rest of the time units out there to. People tend to compare everything to themselves. Either consciously or unconsciously, they compare everything to their own recolections and the measures that are familiar to them.

Holidays where amazingly long when I was seven years old. But when you have lived a number of years you realize three months is not that much time. Or at least not as much as you thought it was when you were seven. And each time one year is added to your age, that time unit ends up representing a smaller percentage of your life. As with everything, the more you have, the less it means. Each year seems less than the previous one because of that same reason: It represents a smaller chunk of your life each time one is added. Same happens with months, days, etc. You don’t think much of one year when you have already lived quite a few and neither does your subconscious.

Now, for the physical factor:

Your metabolic rate slows down as you get older. The metabolic rate and the heart determine how fast your internal “engines” work. This includes your brain and the way it processes everything.

A film camera works as a perfect analogy here: When you reduce the number of frames per second you have a film where things seem to move faster. When your brain slows down over the years, the process is similar to the film camera. Everything seems to move faster each time because you don’t process the received information as fast or as efficiently as you used to. The deceleration of the metabolic rate slows down your brain which, in turn, slows down its perception, thus making it seem as if time is progressively speeding up.

People get used to faster things really, well, fast. The evolution of home computers is a perfect representation of how seamlessly we adapt to faster systems without almost noticing it. I got my first computer in 1992. It was a heavy, limited and slow piece of equipment but to me it was just great. The word processor really speeded things up from the typewriter, and many other functions that where performed through other devices are now almost unthinkable without the aid of a computer. The next model I got was a huge step forward both in functions and in speed. The difference was mind blowing at first but I quickly got used to it and deemed it normal. Same happened with the next upgrade.

Remember what Internet connection was like 15 years ago? I had a 56 kbps telephone modem which used to take forever to download a single image. And it was ok. Actually, it was nothing short of amazing and I didn’t think it was slow; it was the way it was supposed to be. Then I got cable modem and the difference was huge. The few times I had to revert to using a telephone modem I would get very impatient and couldn’t figure how I was able to stand such a slow system in the past. Same process happened with the next upgrade. And the next. We get used to higher speeds so fast that we almost don’t even notice it. Even if it happens in big steps, like the ones we experience when we upgrade our Internet connections.

Because of our very nature it is impossible for us to appreciate in real time this deceleration process we experience. Actually, it would be really scary if we could see or even perceive ourselves slowing down and the whole world speeding up. It would feel like dying because that’s exactly what this process is all about. Thankfuly, we only think of it as some sort of distant, philosophical sensation. But we do aknowledge it. Most of us can agree that time does seem to be moving faster each day. We are aging machines with a faint perception of our own obsolescence. We are slowing down as the world is speeding up.

I recently learned that I belong to a generation called “xennial”. A link between the -analog- X generation and the -digital- millennial generation. I am old enough to have grown up using analog technology and young enough that I was able to adapt to the coming of the Internet and embrace it fully.  I am old enough to be quite familiar by now with this feeling of time slipping away faster each day and I am young enough to expect -and pretty much ignore- the ever fastening rythm on almost everything around me. I want things to happen faster but I am somewhat aware of time speeding up.

I don´t know if there is a name for this collective perception of time speeding up as we grow older. Or if there is a more solid explanation for this phenomenon than the one I attempted here. Maybe there´s even a cognitive bias to explain it. Maybe not. But it does happen.


Why Latin Americans vote the way they do?

AmericasPoliticsAs an Argentinean who has historically voted against peronism –the biggest political party in my country and usual winner of every election- I’ve always looked at U.S.A. with a healthy dose of jealousy over its political system and the serious thought its people –at least seem to- put into their vote.

Compared to us, North Americans seem to be quite skeptical and empirical when it comes to choosing a candidate. They meditate on what that person has done in the past and if he or she has fulfilled the promises they made. They get to face them in open debates and challenge them in real time to test their reflexes and ideas. They don’t just blindly vote the same party every time for ideological reasons and they certainly don’t seem to have that kind of “unquestioning loyalty” which is demanded of peronist voters in Argentina by their leaders. Unquestioning loyalty requires, well, exactly that and it’s a precious commodity to have if you are an elected politician without many regards for a healthy democracy. That way, if the ruling party has done a disastrous administration, it can still win the next election because its voters are supposed to show their faithfulness to the party by voting for them again. Astoundingly idiotic, yes, but that’s the way it is in Argentina and that’s the way it is in most of the other Latin American countries.

Nothing of what I’ve just said is new to anybody from outside Latin America who has taken any interest in the matter. I, for one, am sick of seeing North Americans shake their heads in disbelief at the incomprehensible decisions most Latin Americans make each time they vote because I’m even more frustrated at it than they are –You think this is bad? I have to live here! – And it only seems to get worse each time. Political activism in Argentina, Venezuela and several other countries is encouraged by the ruling parties but always in the form of militant activism. That is to say, unquestioningly loyal to the party and with absolutely no personal opinions that might actually challenge the views of their leaders. Latin American populist party followers are required, above all, not to think for themselves. And as their national economies deteriorate, thus creating a growing and genuine popular discontent, the ruling parties try to simulate public support by exhibiting and relying on their zombified militant activists.

 This Sunday Venezuela has a chance to turn things around and make it better for their citizens. After years of booming oil prices that should’ve translated into welfare, infrastructure, jobs, education and more liberties for their countrymen, Venezuela has the third highest inflation rate in the world, constant shortage of basic products of every sort, harassment of free press, prosecution of independent minded judges, less liberties for the citizens, a bigger gap between rich and poor and a frightening crime rate.

If elected, Nicolás Maduro, the former vice president of the late Hugo Chavez and current candidate for his party is going to continue the same government policies that have driven Venezuela for the last 14 years to its current state.

If you ask me, I think Maduro will win.

What is the voting logic behind such an outcome? And why is the voting logic of Latin Americans and North Americans so different?

U.S.A. has a nicely balanced bipartisan system with Democrats and Republicans, which can be categorized as Left Wing and Right Wing parties but we, in Latin America, have a much more disorganized arrangement. We have Right Wing parties, Left Wing parties and Left-Left Wing parties. The Right Wing parties would represent fairly well U.S. Republicans. The Left Wing parties would represent a leftier version of Democrats but –usually- with all the greed and crookedness that is commonly associated with Republicans. And the Left-Left parties are closer to the old U.R.S.S. ideals of socialism than anything else. To a Latin American voter, U.S.A. has no real Left Wing party. To him –or her- Democrats represent a sort of “Center” wing with a few left sided stands like immigration policies and same sex marriage.

By the above composition it´s easy to see that overall Left Wing supporters are a pretty big majority down here. And at least in Latin America, Left Wing politics have a deeper ideological component than Right Wing politics. Therefore, their supporters are more inclined to vote based in ideological arguments rather than purely technical ones. Or at least they do so in a bigger percentage than Right Wing supporters do.

Loyalty to a party is never a good idea for a healthy democracy. It forgives things that shouldn´t be forgiven and it generates messianic and corrupt leaders. The Heart is forgiving. The Head is not. While Latin American Left Wing voters continue to follow their hearts more than their heads elections will continue to produce inadequate leaders for the region.

Are you really hipper than your folks?

are you really hipper than your folks

I look at my Dad and I can’t help but think he’s a bit dated. He’s a smart man and all but when it comes to subjects like religion and politics he has a much more conservative stand than I do and he also seems to be less open minded regarding aesthetical opinions and new ideas in general.

You can always date the moment a person stopped growing by how old his aesthetical opinions and his stands in life are. The moment someone stops caring about new things, be it technology, art or different perspectives and points of view, the individual stops growing and “freezes” in time.

Pop music is like carbon-14 dating for people who have parked into a more conservative state of mind. My Dad is a huge Beatles fan. Specially John. And Paul. And George. Ringo not so much.  He says The Beatles are the greatest rock band in the world and everything that came after has nothing on them. I don’t think there is a single artist or whole record made after, say, 1980 that he really likes. He also thinks Picasso is crap. And that goes for the rest of modern art too. I would never even dare to make him listen to Aphex Twin -whom I believe to be the closest there is to geniality in electronic music- or show him a Basquiat painting. He’s perfectly happy with his Beatles and Van Gogh. And that is the moment he froze up in time. 1980. Not to say that Mr. Gogh was riding the wave back in 1980 but that is the aesthetic my Dad chose to settle with. Same happened with his pop music. Hearing Woman or Watching the Wheels instantly throws me back to my earliest childhood memories of weekends at home when Dad would play those songs on the stereo. As far as I can tell, that is the last “new” music he liked.

But that doesn’t mean that I am a more “modern” or open minded person than he is.

What determines how open minded a person is, how modern are his perspectives in life, is the leap he took from the previous generation. Leonardo Da Vinci would probably frown at the ideas of universal vote, same sex marriage and punk rock music but nonetheless his notions and concepts were such a huge step forward from his parents´ and probably a much bigger leap than the one you took from your folks. Therefore we can say that, despite having the upper hand on the particular subjects pointed above, you are less modern and less open minded than Leo, a guy who bought the farm almost 500 years ago.

Yes, I have more progressive views than the ones my Dad has in many subjects but if I put myself in his shoes, I realize his views and opinions are a huge step forward from the ones his father has. Not sure if the leap he took from my grandfather is bigger than the one I took from him or not. And yet I can’t help but think that I am way more progressive, modern and overall cooler than he is. But then again, we probably all feel the same about our folks, don’t we?