Wednesday, October 17, 2007

You Scratch My Back, I'll Just Sit Here, KTHX!

I was infuriated by two things in last Sunday's New York Times. Yesterday my internet connection was fucked, leaving me extra time to ponder which of these things most deserved the sustained attention of Commonwealth and Commonwealth.

I decided on this opinion piece about Radiohead's "pay as much as you want" download scheme.

Here's an extremely brief outine:

1) Economists tell us paying nothing is the only rational choice.
2) Those who pay more than nothing -- as many people do -- are behaving in a way that is mystfying and cries out for explanation.
3) The best explanation for their behavior is altruism, and the reason they act altruistically is that they get a warm glow from doing something "good."

The author boasts he paid nothing. Ha ha, suckas!

There are at least two things infuriating about this.

First, it's a good guess that a lot of people are thinking something like, it's fair all around if I pay more when I have more and pay less when I have less, and if I'm honest about it this scheme will work out for the best all around.

I know they're thinking other things too, but this is a commonsense starting point. And it's supported by what the Times author describes in an analogous case of a book: the people who paid nothing often wrote to justify it on grounds of being poor.

The thing is, this commonsense idea is not only familiar, ordinary, and known to everyone, it's one of the fundamentals of economic game theory. If I cooperate when it's not in my immediate interest to do so, and you do too, we all do better. It's just like the old Prisoner's Dilemma.

In this sense fairness and honesty in cooperative dealings seem rational and unsurprising.

How do people decide to be fair and honest in such cases? I don't know much about it, but it's not hard to imagine that humans evolved to have impulses toward fairness and honesty partly because these were successful strategies -- successful in this basic, game-theoretic sense.

So it's hardly mystifying or strange if people employ these basic attitudes of respect for fairness and honesty when they're participating in a process with other like-minded people -- that is, other fans of Radiohead.

The Times author kind of comes around to something like this in his piece, but he continues to sound amazed, and he denigrates the impulse to pay as based in "touchy-feely" reasons. Good lord. Since when did acting honestly and fairly in a cooperative enterprise become "touchy-feely"?

The second infuriating thing about this is what the opinion piece doesn't say: they never mention that the fact that some people are paying basically supports what teenagers have been saying for years: that free downloading of music can co-exist with paying to download music, in such a way that the former doesn't undermine the latter.

I'm not saying this will work in the long run, just that this one fact about Radiohead fans would seem to support this long-held belief. How come this doesn't even get mentioned? Evidently, no one listens to teenagers. It's kind of infuriating.

OK, that's it for the opinion piece. The other thing I got all mad about in the Sunday Times was this Modern Love column in which a guy wrote slightly sheepishly but mostly comfortably with the following narrative: I was 24; she was 41; we were in a class together; we dated; she got upset and drunk one day and I had to help her home; I was disgusted and knew then that it was over; I ignored her to her face after that in class; I then dated another classmate right in front of her. Now, were friends. Yay for me!

Good heavens!!

But the truth is, if you were going to write about all the things in Modern Love that drive you crazy, you'd need a whole blog just for that.

1 comment:

Captain Colossal said...

Is the author also mind-boggled that people don't cut in line?

That Modern Love piece was goddamn depressing. Especially the patina of vague self-satisfaction from having had an unconventional romance and then ended it like a jerk. As though it makes him more interesting.