Friday, February 3, 2012

Formal Chaos

My attempt is to give a suitable name to a contradictory tendency. It is contradictory to aim for Virtuous Vice, Dirty Cleanliness, Clear Murky Windshields, or the Still Small Uproar. Our culture, however, is forever trying to achieve this tottering balance. For a long time now I’ve chuckled over the Informal Formality of dress when thirty-something celebs appear on some show in a formal jacket, buttoned white shirt, maybe even wearing a tie—but they’re also sporting artfully cuffed and torn ancient blue jeans and a day’s growth of beard.
Order and disorder are clashing. We want both. We believe in artful compromise. We believe that nature knows best, read “free market,” but we also need certain degree of predictability. So we create stock markets with strict opening and closing hours, bells that ring, trading rules, and very tight qualifications for those who may play. Meanwhile these markets are ruled by collective emotions and panics—but the television pictures of trading from up close reveal that it’s a deadly serious business: not a smile anywhere in sight. But sometimes quite conscious collective efforts shape the behavior. Yesterday the markets were quiet. Why? Well, this morning at 8:30 am (it is now 8:26 as I write), the Bureau of Labor Statistics will reveal January employment numbers. And traders stayed inactive yesterday awaiting this news. Institutionalized emotions. Today it will be time to roar and rage. (Indeed I’m writing this to fill the time until 8:30. On the first Friday morning of each month, I post those unemployment numbers on LaMarotte.)

It is true, is it not, that the promises of a presidential candidate are entirely dependent for fulfillment on another body, the Congress. Yet we treat campaign promises as meaningful. If we were serious, we’d institute a parliamentary democracy where the “president” becomes a function of a party’s victory. In our case we have Institutionalized Contradiction. Chance may deliver a president and a Congress of the same party, but then the party may be so interlaced with Blue Dogs or Tea Drinkers that the outcome still remains random.

Well, it’s 8:35. Enough of this. Time to see what Randomness has Wrought on the Employment Front last month.

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