Play Ethic

Being grown up means responsibility, demands on our time, buckling under the pressure of the corporate world, and becoming slaves to the work ethic. There isn’t any time for play. Why can’t we PLAY every day? Why can’t it just be a part of everything we do?

It can. When I was younger, I think I had a pretty good grasp of the Play Ethic. I worked, but the work made me happy and left me fulfilled. I was more creative and inspired. Then I, right along side my fellow drones, got sucked into the vortex of the work ethic…I hopped on the treadmill of monotony and drudgery. Well, I want off!

With all of the awesome technology at our fingertips, we should all be freed up to express ourselves creatively, to live spontaneously, to PLAY.

I stumbled across an article by author Pat Kane a while back that completely defines the concept that has been tumbling around in my own head. He’s in the process of writing a book, The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century, which is due out in 2004.

The play ethic is about having the confidence to be spontaneous, creative and empathetic across every area of you life - in relationships, in the community, in your cultural life, as well as paid employment. It's about placing yourself, your passions and enthusiasms at the centre of your world.

Sounds good to me!

The article is pretty long, but well worth the read. So, please do so. Then let me know what you think.

(And, x, enjoy your PLAY. Write something in the sand.)


Whuffie as a Complimentary Currency

Co-Published on Unbillable Hours

Steven Coffman wrote, in response to my post on whuffie and subjectivity, the following:

Hey, outside of sci-fi, people are already using something like Whuffie in the real world. One of the main people behind the Euro, an economist by the name of Bernard Lietaer has been researching "complimentary currencies" which include sorts of "favor cash", (some of which are completely different than whuffie, like frequent flyer miles). There's an interview you might want to check out:


I think Whuffie works better as a complimentary currency, rather than as a complete replacement, in a world w[h]ere scarcity does still exist.

I think Steven's definitely on the right track, that Whuffie represents a great tool to supplement an objective, hard cash economy. One question he had asked, and that I don't have the answer to, is whether, in barter economies (which takes us back to the days of the pre-Colombian Native Americans and the Fertile Crescent-era Mediterraneans), such as Potlatch and such, would there be something that would supplement trade when dealing with scarce resources. I'm not sure of the answer, myself, and I think that someone would have to be into anthropological economics to know it, but it's a good question. If you have the answer, please comment.

I think Steven points to another, presently relevant manner in which whuffie could be used in our society. In my day-to-day life, I'm a lawyer. Most of my cases involve divorce or disputes over wills, but I do some contract law as well (and, in fact, contract law figures into matrimonial and estate law quite often). Whuffie could be a great asset in contract negotiations. When dealing with someone who has a low reputation for honesty or fair dealing, I know - or should know - to have a lot of safety measures in the contract in order to protect against the negative effects of a breach of contract. Similarly, a low "whuffie" for honesty would alter with whom I would agree to enter into a contract. I'm risk adverse. I'm not going to encourage a breach.

I think the supplemental value of whuffie is, like Nick was pointing out with regard to epinions, in the way it encourages or discourages people to commit to risk, whether financial or romantic or otherwise. I know lawyers, in fact, have been working on a way to make it relevant when dealing with judges (i.e., judges with low reputations for courtesy, fair interpretation of the law, and the like are not recommended for tenure {a life appointment} in my state by the Bar Association). What would be interesting is if whuffie takes off as a concept for evaluating contractual partners, and moves into other areas. Imagine my reputation - my whuffie - as an element considered when I seek out employment. Imagine it as a factor for college applications. The honorable get into Harvard and the dishonorable go to East Newark Vo-Tech? It, initially, doesn't seem fair, until I consider the fact that I had to work - to interact with others - to get my reputation.

What other supplemental uses of reputation economics exist? Should we expect developments that point to their use, beyond rating books and movies on Epinions and Amazon?



Over on the Whuffie blog (yes, there is such a thing; no, I did not have anything to do with it; and yes, I am immensely flattered), there's a guest-blogger writing good, scholarly critical analysis of the economics of the Bitchun Society, the world in which my novel is set.


He makes a good point. The problem (OK, a problem) with Whuffie is that it lacks a lot of the critical stuff that makes up the fundamentals of democratic infrastructure, like protection for minority opinions. Some of that is elided by the lack of scarcity in the novel: it's hard to be a well-and-truly oppressed minority when every material want is answered in plenty, but the social effect of the normative pressure of Whuffie is ultimately highly corrosive

It's always pleasant to come back from a night of football (way to go, Parcells!), drinkin' and stinkin' and find out I made a much more reputable blog than mine. Thanks, Cory. Much obliged. (BoingBoing Link). I don't think you should be immensely flattered; you wrote a wonderfully fun novel.

For those interested in the discussion, check it out here.


King Croesus and Reputation Beyond Death

Co-Published on Unbillable Hours

In Persia, well before the time of Christ, well before Julius Caesar, and long, long before any of us, lived a king named Croesus. Croesus ruled the Kingdom of Lydia, part of the Persian Empire. It came to pass that Solon of Athens, a wise thinker, was traveling through Lydia. Croesus heard this, and had Solon brought to his palace in Sardis, in what is now Western Turkey, just south of the Dardanelles.

I thought of that story, told by Herodotus in his History of the Persian Wars, when X asked me to guest-post on his "Whuffie" blog.

Croesus sized up Solon, and thought for a moment before asking Solon who he thought was the happiest man on Earth. It was the Classical Era. To them, Earth meant the land that bordered the Aegean down to the Fertile Crescent, now Iraq, and Persia, now Iran, and east to Libya and Morocco, then known as Carthage. Solon told him that he thought that Tellus of Athens was the happiest man on Earth, for he had a large, happy family, moderate wealth, and had died well during combat.

Croesus, a rather wealthy king, was disappointed with Solon’s answer. He thought that, given his wealth, Croesus himself should be the happiest man on earth.

Croesus asked Solon who, in his opinion, was the second happiest person on Earth, after Tellus of Athens. Solon thought again, and answered that Cleobis and Bito were the next happiest people. Cleobis and Bito, Solon explained, were beloved sons of their parents. One day, their mother needed to get to a temple for a festival honoring Hera. Because the oxen were in the fields with the father of Cleobis and Bito, the boys hitched themselves to their mother's cart and pulled her to the temple. There, the worshippers saw the devotion of the two boys, and had a great feast in their honor. The gods saw this too, Solon explained, and in homage to the boys' devotion, put them in a deep sleep at the end of the feast. Cleobis and Bito never awoke from that deep sleep, as the gods had taken them from the Earth. They would never know sorrow, Solon explained, or betrayal, or want. They were happy because the gods had preserved them in the greatness of their youth.

This drove Croesus mad, as Herodotus noted.

When Solon had thus assigned these youths the second place, Croesus broke in angrily, "What, stranger of Athens, is my happiness, then, so utterly set at nought by thee, that thou dost not even put me on a level with private men?"

Thus, Solon realized that Croesus did not understand happiness as he did. He finally explained to Croesus why he was not counting him as happy along with Cleobis, Bito, and Tellus of Athens.

For thyself, oh! Croesus, I see that thou art wonderfully rich, and art the lord of many nations; but with respect to that whereon thou questionest me, I have no answer to give, until I hear that thou hast closed thy life happily. For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs, unless it so hap that luck attend upon him, and so he continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life. For many of the wealthiest men have been unfavoured of fortune, and many whose means were moderate have had excellent luck. Men of the former class excel those of the latter but in two respects; these last excel the former in many. The wealthy man is better able to content his desires, and to bear up against a sudden buffet of calamity. The other has less ability to withstand these evils (from which, however, his good luck keeps him clear), but he enjoys all these following blessings: he is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfortune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If, in addition to all this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom thou art in search, the man who may rightly be termed happy. Call him, however, until he die, not happy but fortunate. Scarcely, indeed, can any man unite all these advantages: as there is no country which contains within it all that it needs, but each, while it possesses some things, lacks others, and the best country is that which contains the most; so no single human being is complete in every respect- something is always lacking. He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, is, in my judgment, entitled to bear the name of 'happy.' But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes God gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin."

Herodotus, History of the Persian Wars, Book 7

Reputation, in a sense, is a lot like the happiness Solon spoke of in Herodotus' Histories. It is fleeting, and the full measure of reputation that we possess is not known until after death.

This is precisely the problem presented to us in Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. In Doctorow's novel, I find myself dealing with the concept of "Whuffie" as a commodity based on reputation. However, the reputation spoken of is fleeting. It is the same sort of reputation that Croesus would have sought. I am of a mind to assume that Doctorow recognized this by giving this reputation-based economy a comic element.

So what, then, do we make of the fleeting, changing, commodifiable reputation system put forward by Doctorow? It is a system that I find fascinating, despite Herodotus' classical refutation. First off, it seems logical to deal with the elements of this reputation economy in a manner that was not refuted by Herodotus. What is recognized by both Doctorow and Herodotus is that, because I am measured by the final quanta of reputation I possess, it behoves me – at every moment of my life – to preserve and do my best to improve the reputation I possess at all moments of my life. In every action, I must remember to be that which garners myself the reputation I desire at the end of my life.

I won't even begin to address the implications that are raised by the fact that Herodotus points out that the second happiest people in the world were snuffed out by the gods. Perhaps I should not work too hard to improve my reputation.

Herodotus and Doctorow differ significantly with regard to another issue concerning reputation. Herodotus' version of reputation was based on the "objective." It was based on the glory of the gods (at least in the Hellenic system). So long as one believed that the gods were pleased, it was reasonably verifiable that one’s reputation would improve accordingly. Within a religion, a belief that satisfies the divine is effectively a true belief.

Outside of religion, when beliefs are dealt with in a social context, as was done in Doctorow’s novel, reputation is inherently subjective. So long as my reputation is tied only to the beliefs held by others, it is no more verifiable or objective than the opinion polls used by major media to address political issues. It is based on the moods, whims, and ideals held by a diverse group, namely, the world around me.

The subjectivity of reputation poses the central problem dealt with by Doctorow’s protagonist, Julius. Julius' reputation swings up and down the scale throughout the novel based on the wrongheaded conclusions of others concerning his involvement in the various projects in Disney World and in his adversary’s attempt to take over part of the park.

This is how you hit bottom. You wake up in your friend's hotel room and you power up your handheld and it won't log on. You press the call-button for the elevator and it gives you an angry buzz in return. You take the stairs to the lobby and no one looks at you as they jostle past you.
You become a non-person.
Scared. I trembled when I ascended the stairs to Dan's room, when I knocked at his door, louder and harder than I meant, a panicked banging.
Dan answered the door and I saw his eyes go to his HUD, back to me. "Jesus," he said.
I sat on the edge of my bed, head in my hands.
"What?" I said, what happened, what happened to me?
"You're out of the ad-hoc," he said. "You're out of Whuffie. You're bottomed-out," he said.

Cory Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Chapter 9

The danger, pointed out in this passage from Doctorow's novel, in having a completely subjective, reputation-based economy is that it is quite possible for someone like me to be made an outsider from the economy due to actions for which I had no responsibility. Granted, similar problems exist in a cash-based economy. The market could bottom out, as we all certainly know, and I could be left with stock in… nothing. Still, there are objective factors, along with the subjective ones that move the market, that justify such occurrences. With a reputation economy, the threat of being ostracized unfairly is very real, and very much free from the protections of objectivity. Thus, this points to a problem with such a system. I do not think it is a problem that would defeat the system, as a general concept, but it is one that may justify eschewing it as a device for commerce.

The subjective nature of reputation is an interesting issue that goes beyond Herodotus. It is one that troubles modern politicians and entertainers, sometimes rightly, and sometimes wrongly. It's for this reason that I think X's website, and Doctorow's novel, are such interesting topics of discussion. Reputation is a matter that merits consideration, because it is a value that, subjectively, has massive impact on our life -- and on the lives of the ancients.

FOR REFERENCES, GO TO http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/herodotus-creususandsolon.html

unbillable reputation

Hi, folks. I thought I would give a brief introduction to myself before my first post. I'm TPB, host of Unbillable Hours. The gracious host of this site is off gallivanting in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, and asked me to do some sort effort to shock, titillate, and mystify you. I'm a lawyer, so titillation isn't exactly my forte, but I'll do my best. I'm also a long-time student of Jesuits, though, and that means that I'm burdened with what is likely an asinine interest in the classical world (pre-Middle Ages). So, you'll have to endure my view on reputation, and whuffie, through the eyes of men and women that died long before the days of Charlemagne and Barbarossa.


Misunderstanding Micropayments - Scott McCloud

I must compose an article for my college paper tonight, so Epinions must wait for tomorrow. To tide you over, here's Scott McCloud's defense of micropayments, specifically the BitPass system McCloud uses. McCloud is a visionary, and I foresee a spot for him in the Internet history books of the next half-century.

I'm a regular McCloud reader (especially his Morning Improv), but props for the particular article are due to Fimoculous.