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Entries in Words (13)



Kenny Rogers, 1978

Research on the neuroscience of gambling featured in The Economist and  marketing practices used within the casino industry itself as detailed in the "Blackjack" episode of This American Life suggest gamblers are not addicted to winning.

Gambling addicts are addicted to having nearly won. Their brains crave losing by the smallest of margins more than winning itself. A maladaptation of the amygdala seems critical.

"The researchers found that those who scored highest in gambling severity also showed the most activity in the midbrain area in response to near misses. (They did not differ in their response to real wins, however.)

"This area of the brain is of interest to researchers because it is where dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is produced. Dopamine has been implicated in other addiction studies. It could be the near misses that enhance dopamine transmission in gamblers who suffer the most severe problems, the study suggests."

Abstract: "Gambling Severity Predicts Midbrain Respons to Near-Miss Outcomes," Henry Chase and Luke Clark, Society for Neuroscience, 2010.

PDF: "Neurobehavioral Evidence for the 'Near-Miss' Effect in Pathological Gamblers," Reza Habib and Mark Dixon, Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 2010.


Granito de Arena

A section of the nine-panel Carta Marina features this giant crustacean clenching an unfortunate soul in its pinchers, ca. 1539

Granito de arena is a Maya/Central American ethic about how one brings about social and economic change.

Translated as “grain of sand,” the phrase means poor and powerless people must recognize that they cannot change the world overnight. They cannot move mountains.

Granito de arena is thus a symbol for small, incremental, collective change—collectivo del cambio—in which to be revolutionary means to add your grain of sand wherever you can. Because you never know which granito will tip the scale, you continue to do the next right thing right, however small.

Mountains crumble and wash to the sea in this way.

Photo source: Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria, OR


No Compromise

Compromise is talk; Collaboration is action. In compromise, everyone represents his own interests and fights to satisfy them in a negotiation of terms. In collaboration, every person works together to build something that changes as it grows and defines itself.

Compromise requires opposing sides and conflict. It makes conflict the central element of problem solving and puts a premium on maintaining an asymmetry of knowledge. Cat and mouse. Cops and robbers. Court-ordered minimums. 

Nobody gets his way in a compromise, and everyone must cooperate for a payoff that is less than the sum of the parts. It’s every man for himself.

Collaboration requires cooperation, too. But in collaboration, everyone pushes his interests to the center of the table. Knowledge is shared, not hoarded. Expertise is offered, not auctioned. Self-organizing maximums, as long as social anxiety doesn't turn it all to mush.

Collaboration can create something greater than the sum of the parts. It satisfies the separate interests each participant has, while illuminating a bigger, shared interest underneath it all.

Compromisers don't share. They mind turf. In fact, that’s what they were doing the entire time you wondered what the hell they were doing.

It is difficult to collaborate with compromisers, because they cannot contribute to the actual work of a project. Contracts become the main product for compromisers, and those who plan on breaking contracts love nothing more than to draw one up. “It won’t work without us,” is a favorite slogan, because it absolutely could.

A compromiser can't imagine playing a game without any rules. Have you played the exciting game without any rules?

The words say it all. “Compromise” means to settle differences with mutual concession or reciprocal modification of demands. “Com + promise” literally means to declare what will be done, together: to promise something together.

Col + laborate," on the other hand, literally means to engage in productive activity, together: to labor on something together.

Henry Clay of Kentucky, The Great Compromiser

Beware the compromiser. Promises over action, concessions over gain, his incredible devotion to finding a balance between the slave and free state.

The compromiser fears he has nothing to offer in collaboration. He is correct. If not in the beginning, by the end, he will leave the business of enforcing rules to people who, for better or worse, never wanted them.

We think the same things at the same time. We just can't do anything about it, together.


One Thin Line

Characters by Kyoko Uchida

In Japanese, the difference between suffering and happiness is one thin line.

And these are some thin lines from the film "The Thin Red Line," written by James Jones and directed by absolute genius Terrence Malick:

"How did we lose the good that was given to us? What keeps us from reaching out and touching the glory?"

"Maybe all men got one big soul everybody's a part of: all faces of the same man."

"How do we get to those other shores, to those blue hills? Love. Where does it come from? Who lit this flame in us? A war can put it out, conquer it."

"The world is a box, a moving box. They want you dead or in their line. Only one thing a man can do: find something that's his and make an island for himself. If I never meet you in this life, let me feel the lack. A glance from your eyes, and my life will be yours."


Jargon Ain't Argot

People who speak jargon think it’s argot.

Argot is a characteristic language of a particular group. It’s quick and laden with meaning. When a heavy says, “We put the grips on him,” he’s using the argot of organized crime. When Violet McNeal, author of Four White Horses and a Brass Band, says, “Never try to trim a young handsome man; all the women will be running after him,” she speaks the argot of medicine show grifters.

However, when a corporate head says, “… generates stellar ROI for our company by optimizing our cross-functional team's blah, blah blah …” he or she uses jargon.

Jargon, by definition, is nonsensical, incoherent or meaningless talk that has an unusual or pretentious vocabulary, convoluted phrasing and vague meaning.

Q: Why do those without argot cultivate jargon instead? A: The need for high adventure

William Strunk and E.B. White sum it up in one of the sharpest passages from The Elements of Style:

"The young writer will be drawn at every turn toward eccentricities in language. Today, the language of advertising enjoys an enormous circulation. Your new kitchen range is so revolutionary it obsoletes all other ranges. It is the language of mutilation.

"The businessman says that ink erasers are in short supply, that he has updated the next shipment of these erasers, and that he will finalize his recommendations at the next meeting of the board. He is speaking a language that is familiar to him and dear to him. Its portentous nouns and verbs invest ordinary events with high adventure; the executive walks among ink erasers, caparisoned like a knight. We should tolerate him—every man of spirit wants to ride a white horse.

"Finalize, for instance, is not standard. One can’t be sure, really, what it means, and one gets the impression that the person using it doesn’t know, either, and doesn’t want to know."

Portentous is a great word, and caparisoned a huge favorite because of that passage. Tolerate works wonders, as well.

Many writers take issue with Strunk & White, but I find their advice on style valuable to review every so often. The humor in it is undeniable. Here are some selected elements from "The Elements of Style."