Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Big Short Review

A couple of weeks ago when a couple members of the class went to watch The Big Short, I kept thinking of what I wanted to write on. I'm still not 100% positive on what I'll be writing on, but I know that I've been wanting to write a review of the movie for a long time now. The movie was actually a lot better than I originally thought it would be. It had a lot of humor and a lot of drama combined into one, which makes the movie twenty million times better.

From time to time it would be very difficult to understand exactly what the movie was talking about because it would use terms that I am not familiar with. But the directors tried to break it down by having random celebrities describe what exactly the terms mean. I mean...they tried to but it didn't really work. How is it that even with Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie (the woman in the bubble bath) trying to explain it that it was still difficult to understand?

Overall, what I got from the movie was that the financial crisis happened because certain individuals, mostly with banks, got greedy and thought it would be nice to screw everyone else over. The people that sold the bad loans to people were just as guilty as the people that decided to bet against the housing bubble. All members involved should be just as guilty as everyone else because of the greed involved. The individuals that sold the mortgage loans knew that the people they sold to would not be able to pay them back...especially as they were selling them to people that couldn't afford one house, let alone multiple. They didn't care about the people they were selling to, they just cared about themselves. The individuals betting against the bubble saw the weakness in the bubble and decided to exploit this weakness for themselves, no matter who they screwed over.

In the end, the economy collapsed because of all of the individuals involved in this scheme. Even though the government knew what happened and who played what role in the collapse, these individuals were not arrested and prosecuted. Instead, the government decided to bail the banks out because of the close ties with the politicians involved. Had the government not decided to bail the banks out and had they forced these individuals to pay back all of the money themselves, then we would not have had as bad of a crisis as we originally did.

Shame on the US Government and the big banks that were involved in this crisis!!!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Mushroom at the End of the World

In chapter nine of her ethnography Anna Tsing describes the transformation of Matsutake mushrooms from gifts to commodities back to gifts. This process begins in Oregon with the mushroom pickers. Because the mushrooms are not a producible commodity they are classified as a gift. It is not until the Matsutake mushrooms go through being picked, bought and ultimately sorted and processed by hourly laborers they begin to become commodities. As Tsing says on page 127 "It is only because they have no knowledge or interest in how the mushrooms got there that they are able to purify them as inventory". The connection to the mushroom as a species and independent actor is severed. This process is similar in Japanese and Chinese gathering as well. The relationship between mushroom and picker and the picker and the community plays a vital role in mushroom value in small villages. It is only when processed in the larger towns that mushrooms become a commodity. After being processed and categorized the mushrooms are then shipped to the market (either from Oregon to Japan or the small villages to large cities) where they once again become a gift.  This transformation back into gifts first takes place with the buyer. The author discusses how buyers often describe themselves as matchmakers between the type of mushroom and the customer. However, the Matsutake mushrooms are not for individual consumption (this is actually seen as a taboo). Instead, they are a form of social currency exchange between people with varying relationship types. The mushrooms are exchanged as gifts to people the customer would like to honor. As Tsing claims "Matsutake is then a capitalist commodity that begins and ends its life as a gift. It spends only a few hours as a fully alienated commodity" (Tsing, 128).
     I still do not quite understand how the Tsing can argue that the mushrooms are gifts from the earth. In picking the mushrooms the harvester is transforming the mushroom through the addition of their labor. This does not make the mushroom into a commodity but it certainly is not a gift if you must labor for it. There is something between social relations being labor and labor being labor. The earth is not an cognitive actor therefore it cannot give a gift. The mushrooms are not choosing who to give themselves to. This part of the argument loses me. While being aware of the "earth" is necessary you cannot give a mushroom as a species the same consideration as human beings. They have no conception of social relationships. Is this really what she is saying in Part 2 and Four?

The Relationship Between Humans and Matsutake

The Relationship between Humans and Matsutake
Steven Rhue
Ch 18

They dynamic relation between matsutake mushrooms and humans is a very unique one. Although the mushrooms grow naturally, and appear in random and rather unpredictable manors, they are now very dependent on the unnatural “disturbance” by humans, due to the lost relationship between farmers and forest. Due to the intense industrial and urbanization of Japan, the forest which had been traditionally utilized and “disturbed” by the Japanese people, fell into a state of natural neglect. Without the consistent and balanced interaction, the forests became overgrown with growth and decimated by logging and development. This led not only to the loss of habitat for the matsutake, but a loss of the “old days” as one interview would put it. In a sense, the matsutake is a symbol of that relationship, on where there is a balance of human interference and nature, as well as a strong communal sense. The efforts to revitalize the forest are not only to bring back the matsutake, which is hard to predict if the efforts will succeed, but to re-establish a lost relationship among the community members and their forest. The sales and right to harvest the mushrooms also greatly fund the efforts to continue such projects, allowing the relation to be furthered and spread to the consecutive generation. Few other commodities share such a symbolism and relationship with humans. Often goods which become heavily valued develop a much darker relationship with those that harvest them. Yet the matsutake mushroom acts as an iconic symbol of balance and togetherness, maintaining their economic value as well as holding an equally as strong sentimental value for those that harvest them. 


A Kula ring, as a gift, makes relations and reputations. Through the exchange kula gains value, but only due to their role.  Usually made of necklaces and arm shells, kula’s different type of worthiness disrupts typical economic standards of ‘value’. The difference between value making in kula and normal capitalist standards is substantial enough for many to wish for separate logic for making value. The idea that things and persons are together a gift, creating personal relations because of such, means that ‘things’ do not just have value in use and commodity exchange. Rather, kula has higher value in the social relationships and reputations gained from such a trade.
This idea seems obvious yet I have never gone in depth on how it effects typical standards. Gift giving has been around for quite some time, and gaining credibility is no new feature behind it. But when comparing it to capitalistic ideals, I noticed it would probably change how the whole system is viewed.
Taking it back to the main feature of this book, Matsutake, a type of mushroom, starts and ends its life as a gift. Due to its nature of only growing in only certain conditions and under no human control for recreation, the Matsutake is unpredictable especially compared to corporate rhythm. Business pushes forward as the pulse of progress, “effectively reshaping the world according to its goals and needs” (page 132). On the opposite end the spectrum, Matsutake has no rhythm besides a picker giving to a receiver. If the “economic system is presented to us as a set of abstraction requiring assumptions about participants…” (page 132) then the business world wants nothing to do with kula, as it upsets ‘what is.’
I enjoyed this part in particular: “However, it seems to me that capitalism also has characteristics of a machine, a contraption limited to the sum of its parts… But not just any translation can be accepted into capitalism. The gathering it sponsors is not openended. An army of technicians and managers stand by to remove offending parts…”  What confused me was following this sentence with “This does not mean that the machine has a static form.” When it seems to me this is kinda what she’s trying to prove?

Matsutake: Love and Middlemen

    I am fascinated by the role that matsutake mushrooms play in the world. In Japan they are given as gifts representative of long-term commitment. They are mentioned by Tsing as being involved in business partnerships and families. I noticed that romantic relationships were not mentioned. I wonder if the West has a similar culturally-universal token that represents long-term commitment that is not specific to romantic love (such as wedding bands)?
    Another important note is that the matsutake undergo a strange transition from gift to commodity as they travel overseas. Once they reach the Oregon foragers, they are less commodity again. It is the middle man process that transforms the matsutake. Is it an inherent fact of capitalism that a transportation/middle man process changes the nature of the commodity?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

There is still a controversy around what Albert Einstein apparently said: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Though this quote seems dramatic to many people, we do know that the problem of climate change is real. We understand that the extinction of some species, transformation of nature, and more importantly the industrial society (factories, excessive use of oil and gas, and other luxurious commodities bring to us by capitalist society) is one of the primary causes of the climate change. As Anna Tsing says, “Industrial transformation turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods and damaged landscapes." She highlights a fascinating topic that is very relevant to our biggest problem, climate change, today. She makes an excellent point solely using one product, Matsutake. She describes that how only one commodity can be this powerful to ruin the face of the earth.

What really intrigues me about this reading was Tsing’s approach to ethnography. She mostly focuses on the relationships. She describes how one product can carry so many layers of relationships; the relationship of mushroom with the plant, the plant with land, land with forest, mushroom with human and human with the land. Using the various layers of relationships, she precisely focuses on how these interactions between fungi and trees, between trees and land, trees and forest contribute to changing the landscape that affects the multispecies living in it. She also explicitly states that the earth doesn’t only belong to the human. If they ruin it, they ruin it for other species as well. She demonstrates that knowing about multispecies interactions is a way to understand who we really are.

She refers to mushroom as a “White Gold”. Though she doesn’t explicitly talk about the “Gold Rush”, she speaks of the mass migration for seeking employment. The evolution of Gold Rush is also another story that started by individuals and fell into corporate hands. The evolution started by individuals but, later, it was ruled by corporates, and they got the power to move the mountains through cheap labor. Most people who returned home with no benefit called the evolution myth. However, the myth influenced people in both positive and negative ways. First, it transformed the landscape, which was basically destroying the land and changing the nature in search of gold. Second, it boosted the local economy. What I am trying to say here is that the Gold Rush evolution is another example of what Tsing’s call is “capitalist ruins.”