straight on ’til morning…

Respect and trust are commonly referred to as being earned. Other aspects of human interaction are sometimes included but only these two are held in quite this regard. We speak of both, in a sense, as social commodities.

When doing so, it is often part of a critique of someone’s behavior being insufficient to warrant such credits. We also take this stance as a reminder to those who demand admiration or belief.

Imagine if society had a literal system of accounting for behavior and personal qualities. If human interaction were directly comparable to an economy, what currency buys respect and trust? What can they in turn be used to purchase? Imagine this Confidence Exchange.

Desire would drive this market just as it does real financial systems. Reputation plays a role in these hypothetical stocks in the same way real investments are effected. Given that forms of monetary transactions predate recorded history, the idea that we’ve been participating in the Confidence Exchange (and without knowing it as such) all along may not be far-fetched.

Although coin and paper currency would come later, money existed before most early legal codes. Both Hammurabi and Ur-Nammu dealt with the role of money in civil society (among other matters, of course).

The scales of the market were borrowed to serve as the near-universal representation of justice. There is then, still, an implied pessimism in the symbol – from back in the traders’ stalls where proof of a good deal was required by real measurement.

Spoken language predates barter but for the entire course of recorded history our thinking has been driven by market-based factors we don’t spend much time considering. Case in point, how we spend our time, not to mention the idea that time is money, may have grown up with the economy more than any other aspect of civilization.

There is no symbol for the intrinsic value of a person or society. There are no signs for loyalty or honor. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandic systems of weregild may have provided small, financial comfort in the aftermath of loss but the cost in coin could not reflect the nature of the person(s) lost.

Religious symbols represent institutions, tenets, and adherents but rarely (if at all) any specific virtue. Where are these signs?

It won’t catch on but I have an idea for a symbol for Hope and Optimism.

On April 12, 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia stood on Launch Pad 39A. I was in my last year of high school and four generations of my family sat in relative silence listening to journalists and scientists trade jargon and speculation. They too fell silent when the shuttle began to rumble. With seven seconds to go, the hydrogen burn-off igniters made it look like they sparked the launch into being.

For several minutes we sat without a word. My siblings and I hadn’t seen the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs; everyone else in the room had. To them this launch seemed different. Human desires that had survived on little more than hope for 15,000 years were arcing into the sky.

Finally, the eldest person in the room, my great grandmother, spoke. “When I was a little girl they brought milk to my house in a horse-drawn cart.”

I was then and remain truly awestruck by that observation. It’s probably the only aspect of my point of view that has a timestamp. If the space shuttle is a horse-drawn cart how astonishing will the future be?

So, I offer the space shuttle as a symbol of the value and virtue of hope.

Shuttle-for-blog


 

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What would Master Zhūang say?

In the opinion of this author, there is not as much value in dream dictionaries as I’d like. One can provide assistance to someone in the interpretation of their dream experience but it seems inadvisable to dictate a specific meaning for each symbol. At least four factors govern the meaning of a dream symbol to an individual dreamer, not the least of which being the dreamer’s knowledge and opinions formed during waking life. The other factors depend on circumstance and culture. An anchor may mean something entirely different from one dream to the next ὄναρ or in another 梦想. And certainly all of these would represent divergent things to someone who makes or uses anchors as opposed to someone who doesn’t.

Similarly, there are certain assumptions put forward in psychology about the meaning of doodles. Circles, for example, are said by some to indicate a desire for a more peaceful or organized state. How each person thinks of them – what they may represent during and after drawing a few – is the same as dreaming. Probably during my elementary school years the circle began to serve as the symbol of introspection. This has gradually evolved closer to the idea of an orbit – such as an electron around the nucleus of an atom held in place by electromagnetic force. A moon in the gravity well of a planet, if you will.

The moon, planet, and gravity well as a set represent my understanding of myself and the world around me. The orbital path illustrates that maintaining comprehension is an on-going process. Additional satellites each indicate a separate interest. If I lose interest in something, it has reached “escape velocity”. Those ideas that come back seemingly seasonally to distract me are comparable to long-term comets. Anything not “in orbit” is outside the range of interest. It hasn’t caught my attention – or, in this metaphor – I haven’t caught interest in it yet.

Since I became aware of the word affinity I’ve had an affinity for it. From the 1600s to the present day, it has been used to describe an attraction to something. During the three centuries prior to that, affinity was used to refer to a relation by marriage. Ultimately, the term derives from the Latin affinis or ad + finis, meaning “to the limit or boundary of” – in essence, the state of being adjacent. Affinity is a handy explanation for why people do what they do: they’ve an affinity for it, whatever it is.

Just as the definition of affinity has evolved – symbols change their meanings over time. The anchor in future dreams may have little in common with interpretations today. Literally today, in the field of psychology, there is debate on the veracity of the theory of ego depletion. (For those who are more curious, consult next month’s Perspectives on Psychological Science.) Mention is made of it here because this could signal an evolution in certain theories of human behavior.

And while I likely won’t abandon the “orbital” mechanism for introspection, I do think I’ve a new metaphor for affinities — they’re a quite specific form of pocket or niche. There’s engineering behind why a honeycomb looks the way it does. Comparable principles dictate that any three bubbles that connect will form 120° angles between them. If oneself is a pocket of interest, one’s range of interest would include adjacent pockets.

In a honeycomb, this would result in just six interests – all of equal proportion even to the central or “self” pocket. A globe in a volume of identical globes will touch twelve others at a maximum.

The visual metaphor for one’s range of interest is probably pockets of air in a volume of bubbles. Foam. Not all of our interests have equal attention paid to them. They don’t all last for the same duration. The adjacency still applies; anything non-adjacent to the “self” bubble is out of range. In a volume of foam, whichever bubble represents the self (and self-interest) is surrounded not only on one plane but above and/or below as well.

Bubble theory

Funny story… Guess what the universe looks like at the grandest scale presently possible.

foam

It’s a bit of a foam. I’m not saying anything. I’m thinking a lot, though.

The other handy think “bubble affinity theory” provides is the idea that if bubbles could overlap instead of mutually building walls they would form lenses. Almost a year ago I was struck by the notion that we see each other through a lens defined by our respective sense of self.

We should expect this to evolve as well.


Takin’ it back…

Having been a member of the Boy Scouts, the presumption that all badges and patches were meant in celebration of both enjoyable experiences and the accumulation of experience could be a forgivable error.

When I first learned about the Star of David badges that the Jews in WWII Germany wore, my preliminary surmise was that they must have been voluntary symbols of resistance and pride. My mother responded in horror at the idea. She was neither an historian nor particularly skilled teacher but I did learn the truth about the Nazi intent. They were meant as marks of shame and easy identification of “undesirables.”

It wasn’t until high school, however, that I learned of one more such mark. By the end of the 1970s, gay rights advocates adopted the pink triangle – as reclamation, as an emblem. At that time, I suspect I should have suspected there were more triangular signs.

That prompt – to know the full list – came when I joined the Freemasons. In that case, as with all non-Jewish political nonconformists, the Masons detected and captured by the Nazis were forced to wear a red triangle.

In the United States these days, we hear all parts of the political spectrum engaging in hyperbolic assertions that one party or another is bordering near fascism. While we must always be vigilant to oppose the rise of another Nazi party, the ubiquity of accusation makes it difficult to see the lines that must not be crossed.

repeatDuring the time of the original Nazi Party, a declaration of loyalty was required. Not making such a pledge “earned” a triangle at least. If the same system were used today, the image at the left might be on my sleeve and pant leg.

It would indicate a Mason who continued to meet after a presumed warning, internment, and intent to escape.

The E stands for Erziehungshäftlinge, which designated intellectuals and suspected organizers of resistance.

In addition, everything seems to be dubbed “the civil rights issue of our time”, including – most recently – the impact of climate change. More hyperbole. More blur.

Meanwhile, there is a group quietly making use of this information. I am not affiliated and only discovered the white triangle while trying to find an image of liberty that was not a photograph of the statue stood on Ft. Wood, Bedloes Island (i.e., The Statue of Liberty).

Liberty Symbol describes itself as an association with the goal of support, development, and promotion of individual and collective liberties. This effort has adopted a white triangle as a symbol for those who see themselves as promoters of said liberties. The symbol serves a dual purpose – also being an emblem for those who have had their liberty curtailed unnecessarily.

Too quietly, Liberty Symbol offers the symbol as a public domain icon and encourages its use. The white triangle was chosen in another reclamation of a sort. I’ve purchased a fair few and given two as gifts and tokens of kinship.

lsWhen placing an order for a white triangle pin, two are shipped. “Because if I am, one of my friends certainly is too.” The pair cost just $5.66 (US) or 5€. And if an order is placed, avoid a delay in shipping by sending an email to the maker noting your order: contact@libertysymbol.com

Note: Acheter is the French word for to buy.

Liberty Symbol’s fine print ends with the following:

All the earnings, if there are some, will be used to pursue the association object true publications and event organization. The association has no employee and will regularly publish its accounting book details.”