Call for Artists to respond to research on inequality
Hosted by Dan Ariely and the Center for Advanced Hindsight
Artists from around the world are invited to attend a discussion on social and economic inequality (from the lab that hosted the “Creative Dishonesty” project), on Wednesday, February 22nd at 7 PM EST. (Artists who do not live within driving distance of Durham, NC will watch the forum streaming live online.)
Interested artists are to RSVP to the curator, Catherine Howard, at email@example.com by Tuesday, February 21st at 9 PM EST
After the forum, artists interested in creating artwork in response to the research will complete an online application, including a 1-page explanation of the artist’s creative process and 2-3 digital images of past work. To be considered, applications must be submitted by Monday, February 27th at 9 PM.
Artists will be notified if they are selected to participate by February 29th and will receive a $100 stipend to complete their piece. There is no limitation to the style or media of pieces created for “PoorQuality” but all work must be completed by May 5th.
Artwork created for “PoorQuality” will be on display at the Center for Advanced Hindsight from June 1st to August 31st with a reception on June 22nd. An exhibit catalogue, including responses and reflections by the artists and the researchers, will be published. Each artist will receive a copy.
Artists will retain all rights to their piece. Works will be returned to artists after the exhibit by September 15th, 2012. If the piece is purchased, the $100 stipend will be deducted from the purchase price.
Feb 22, 7 PM – “PoorQuality: Inequality” forum at the Center for Advanced Hindsight
Feb 27, 9 PM – Deadline to apply for participation
Feb 29, 9 AM – Selected artists will be notified
May 5, 9 PM – Drop-off deadline
Jun 22, 6 PM – 10 PM – Opening reception at the Center for Advanced Hindsight
For more information about the “PoorQuality” project, contact curator Catherine Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about this research at danariely.com
UPDATE: We have a new website fully devoted to our “Artistically Irrational” art series.
Check it out here: http://artisticallyirrational.ssri.duke.edu/
Wealth Inequality in America
Perform the following thought experiment. Remove yourself for a moment from your present socioeconomic circumstances and imagine that you are to be replaced randomly into society at any class level.
Now, before you know your particular place in society you are told that it is within your powers to redistribute the wealth of that society in any way that you choose. What distribution would you choose? This famous thought experiment is the basis of political philosopher John Rawls, as outlined in his highly influential 1971 work, “A Theory Of Justice,” in which he argues that the lowest class should be made as well off as possible. But this of course assumes that we all come to the same conclusion when we perform the thought experiment ourselves. To test this, Mike Norton and I recently conducted a study in which we asked Americans to first guess at the distribution of wealth in the United States, and then we asked them to perform the thought experiment and lay out what they think would be the ideal distribution of wealth if they were to enter society and be placed randomly in a class.
Here is what we found:
As you can see from the figure, participants rather badly estimated the current state of wealth disparity! Furthermore, they offered an ideal wealth distribution (under a “veil of ignorance”) that was even more different (and more equal) relative to the current state of affairs.
What this tells me is that Americans don’t understand the extent of disparity in the US, and that they (we) desire a more equitable society. It is also interesting to note that the differences between people who make more money and less money, republicans and democrats, men and women — were relatively small in magnitude, and that in general people who fall into these different categories seem to agree about the ideal wealth distribution under the veil of ignorance.
Maybe this suggests that when there are no labels, and we think about the core of our morality in abstract terms (and under the veil of ignorance), we are actually very similar?
There are a few topics that Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin agreed on, other than the cause for human apathy. So I suspect that both would be surprised – as I am — about the reaction to the BP oil spill.
If six months ago someone were to describe to me a tremendous oil spill and ask me to predict our collective reaction to it, I would have said that we would be highly interested in this disaster for a week or two and, after that short time, our interest would dwindle to “mildly interested.” After all, we (the public) appear only vaguely interested in a whole slew of environmental issues. The destruction of the Amazon rainforest, for example, has been going on for decades. Since 1970 we’ve managed to destroy about 600,000 square miles (www.mongabay.com/brazil.html), but we’re so used to these kinds of statistics that no one seems to care much.
So, why is it that we care so much about the BP oil spill than what happens on a daily basis in the Amazon? Here’s what we know about human caring and compassion. First and foremost, it is based on our emotions rather than our reasoning. Joseph Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” Mother Teresa said, “If I look at the masses I will never act, but if I look at the one I will.” In oil spill terms: We see pelicans and turtles mired and dying in oil, and we want to cry. We hear about families who have had their homes ruined and their livelihoods horribly affected or even destroyed, and we sympathize with their helplessness and want to do something to help them recover. Our compassion isn’t necessarily proportional to the magnitude of the catastrophe. It depends on how much of our emotion is invoked.
Perhaps I’m mistaken about human apathy, but it is also possible that there are particular features of the BP oil spill that influence how much we care, and that if these features were different, we would care substantially less, even if the magnitude of the disaster were the same.
Here are a few characteristics that might differentiate the BP oil spill from the destruction of the Amazon. First, it is a singular event with a precise beginning. Second, while the tragedy was ongoing (and we are not yet sure if it has ended or not) it seemed to become more desperate by the day. Third, we have a single organization that we can villainize. In contrast, in the Amazon, there are many organizations and individuals at fault, both in the countries where deforestation is occurring and abroad. And fourth, the Gulf is so much closer to home (at least for Americans).
The BP oil spill is, of course, a hugely devastating tragedy. At this stage, we don’t fully understand the magnitude of its consequences, which will likely last for decades. At the same time, it might be worthwhile to take this moment in history as an opportunity – when are caring about this tragedy is still high – to reflect on our larger relationship with the oceans, and the apathy with which we generally greet the less dramatic, but perhaps equally devastating, environmental consequences of overfishing and “everyday pollution.”
I suspect that, because our abuse of the oceans is commonly the result of many small steps by many people, we fail to become enraged with either the process or the outcomes. But we should be. And we should do our best to take better care of our oceans, and not only when the pollution is caused by a single large, easily villainized organization.
Maybe this is another case in which we want to make sure that we don’t waste a really good crisis (for a related missed opportunity see financial crisis). Maybe it is time to look more broadly at our interactions with the oceans and make it a better long-term relationship, and maybe we need to do this while we still care, and before our interest in the oceans dissipates.
Recently I had an interesting experience being poor. It didn’t last too long but it was quite distressing and I learned how difficult this is. The story is as follows. I was out of the country for a month and during that time my car insurance expired. When I got back I called my insurance agent and I asked them to renew my policy. “No, no, no, ” they said, “If your insurance has elapsed you can’t do it over the phone and you have to come to our office in person.” Well at that time I was living in Princeton and my insurance agency was 300 miles away in Boston. So I took the train up, got to the insurance office on time and I was ready to hand them a check and renew my insurance.
Well, here again, I was wrong. It turns out I could not do it by check. The insurance company would not take a check from me because, after all, I have shown I am financially irresponsible. “Will a credit card do?” I said. “Of course not. Only cash.” The limit I can take out with my ATM card is $800 a day and the insurance was almost $3,000 (needless to say they also increased my premium). So I could not solve it this way. “Luckily” the insurance agent had a solution at hand that was designed for this very particular problem. There is another company they told me that would finance my insurance fee. Interestingly enough, the cost of this financing included 20% interest rate on the loan itself plus a $100 fee just to enroll in this program.
I had no choice but to take this particular loan. So I paid the $100 fee, I paid the 20% in interest, and I got my insurance. I took the train back to Princeton. A few days later, of course, I canceled this terrible loan and paid it off. But here is what I learned from this distressing lesson, the moment you make one financial mistake the chances that you will be hit with all kinds of fines, all kinds of difficulties, all kinds of financial obstacles, are much, much higher.
If I was on the verge of financial difficulty there is no question that this particular incident would have pushed me over the edge, making my financial life much more difficult and maybe even impossible. I think that this is, in fact, what we do to people with financial constraints all the time. We impose substantial penalties on the people who violate financial responsibilities, not taking into account their viability and therefore make their lives much, much worse.
How can we get over this issue? I think we have to reconsider the punitive systems all the financial institutions use (insurance, banks, credit cards, etc.), and think more carefully about how we want to share responsibility and payment across people. After all when someone goes bankrupt, they of course suffer, but so does the whole system around them. From this perspective, it is easy to see how the punitive systems we are using are not only bad for the individuals but they can be very damaging for the whole society.