A Defense of Endism

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Editor of Wired, Chris Anderson, wrote an interesting explanation of three different personality types in trend forecasting:

1) position people who judge where something is at the moment
2) velocity people who judge something compared to past size
3) acceleration people who judge something on its rate of growth

He links the sensational “endism” to type 3 and excuses this kind of analysis in the following way:

We at Wired…live in the whiplash world of acceleration space, where tiny fluctuations in trend velocity can either be blips or the beginnings of the next big thing. We’re pretty good at telling one from the other, and thus I think our occasional endism is seen as the effective rhetorical device it is. Industries really do crumble and reshape, and it’s our mandate to spot the signs first.

I’m often “endist” on the fate of Japan’s cultural industries. To be sure, from a “Position” analysis, Japanese pop culture is all swell, but from the other two perspectives, there are problems about. If you believe religiously that culture has absolutely no connections to social structures and moves in some kind of cosmic cycle, I can’t convince you that industry conditions shape the ways in which funds are allocated to artists and distributed. But if we do take structural growth into consideration, things have seen better days.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
February 27, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

13 Responses

  1. Momus Says:

    Some of you believe religiously that culture has absolutely no connections to social structures

    There’s a big gap between that statement and the belief that culture is 100% economically determined. Is there a relationship between hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic and Brecht and Weill’s “Threepenny Opera”? Of course there is. Does the fact that the Weimar economy was very bad mean that art produced at the time was very bad? Of course not.

  2. marxy Says:

    I’ve never said that “Japan’s economy is bad, and therefore, Japan’s culture is bad.” We all know that Alternative music boomed in the pre-Clinton recession. It’s not just about economy, it’s about structure, and the Internet is throwing a wrench into anything.

    In Japan, the withdrawl of funds from music and fashion in the last five years have had any effect of hurting the indie scene quite tremendously. This has in turn made the indie scene way more conservative in their offerings, and some of them have just given up completely. Instead of getting the new Trattoria, we get no Trattorias.

    Market concentration and innovation have a very interesting interplay, and they’re not always opposites. The Jpop industry seems to be the most concentrated in the late 90s and that’s where you see the most number of new artists hit the charts. The snag: these “new artists” are from the same jimusho with market power. Market structure does have an effect, but it’s not a A=B kind of thing.

  3. trevor Says:

    i think this explains slightly better then your abbreviations of the 3 types.. well, it made more sense to me after reading it. of coarse this is from the “blog post”

    “Category A people think: “4 million subscribers is a lot. Consumer Reports must be doing something right.”

    Category B people think: “It used to be 4.2 million. Consumer Reports is in decline.”

    Category C people think:  “They lost 200,000 readers in three years! Consumer Reports is dead.””

    witch type are you?

  4. Graham Says:

    I guess I’m going to volunteer my nerdiness here. I’d argue that Anderson’s three real-world examples actualy obscure his point. He says (and it’s obvious from David’s retelling) that it’s a matter of: position, derivative, second derivative. In that case, “they lost 200,000 readers in three years” would be a measure of veolcity, or the first derivative.

    Acceleration people would be more worried about: “in the last three years, it lost 200,000 readers, and in the three years before that it lost only 100,000 readers.” Again the numbers were made up, but Anderson’s categories B and C examples represent the same mathematical relationship.

    Seems like being a second derivative person would make you ahead of things a lot of the time, and wrong a lot more often. Worse yet, to be a really ahead of things, you could be a “jerk” person (not so much a wisecrack as that’s technical term for third derivatives – the rate of change of the rate of change).

  5. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Problem is, the really interesting changes are discrete, non-differentiable, and therefore nearly unpredictable.

    Change may also be caused by self-fulfilling prophecies of which manifest destiny is an example.

  6. marxy Says:

    Problem is, the really interesting changes are discrete, non-differentiable, and therefore nearly unpredictable.

    Yes, but I think some of Chris Anderson’s point is that it’s helpful to have all three types of analysis and prediction at hand for making decisions.

    I think the 2nd derivative person would have said that Japan was “over” in ’89 or ’91, which would have been somewhat true. I’m more in the second category, where I am looking at the overall trends in growth opposed to growth/change itself. The “position” person would say “Louis Vuitton is huge in Japan, so I guess Japan is still a fashion leader.”

  7. Dave Says:

    To quote a well known Japanese blogger – “The problem with ‘destroy and rebuild’ is that everyone immediately focuses on the rebuild part. What we need to do is just destroy.”

    Although it was fun, the bubble didn’t work. Time to find new ways to do things that do work.

  8. marxy Says:

    To quote a well known Japanese blogger – “The problem with ‘destroy and rebuild’ is that everyone immediately focuses on the rebuild part. What we need to do is just destroy.”

    Who specifically said that? Interesting quote.

    Although it was fun, the bubble didn’t work. Time to find new ways to do things that do work.

    The Recessionary “fixing” didn’t work either. If the Japanese system actually worked for the Japanese, it would be easier to defend.

  9. r. Says:

    david, i really appreciate you efforts…to state in terms of your research what i think it pretty plain anyone with any common sense. of COURSE japan is a powderkeg of problems (political, cultural, music industry, etc.)…but the only thing is that i can:t really see a FUSE anywhere. so in the meantime, when i:m waiting for things NOT to explode, i:ll leave the number crunching to you. i DO believe that the sky is indeed falling, but i don:t need to wait for an equation before i run. i guess what i:m interested in most of all are the various REACTIONS to the impending NON-crisis. some appear chimerical, others realistic…

  10. Momus Says:

    I think we might also have three definitions of Japan, as it’s used in the phrase “Japan was over in 89 or 91”:

    1. Japan is a country of 125 million people, to the east of China. Example: “I’m flying over Japan.”

    2. Japan is a trend that the West embraces from time to time. Example: “Japan is really over.”

    3. Japan is a personal interest of mine. Example: “I’m so over Japan.”

  11. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    One of my favourites:

    “the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people”

    – Oscar Wilde (nearly a century before Baudrillard)

  12. Dave Says:

    The sayer was Joi Ito.

    As for the ‘recessionary thing’, there are two issues here.

    Firstly it didn’t work (or hasn’t worked yet) – in short, like I said, time to find things that do work.

    Secondly, r – well said. (Although personally, I think if Japan is a powderkeg of problems, the powder is damp. Or perhaps one could say that the government isn’t only not lighting the fuse, they have taken away the matches and are instead heating the fuse by breathing on it…. well, in the end it’s just a metaphor.)

    What I’m now wondering is how long things will stay the way they are in Japan (if you deposit $100 000 in a postal savings deposit for a year, they will give you the princely sum of $30 in interest – that’s 0.03%!), no real leadership, a national superannuation scheme that pays out less than is paid in etcetera….

    What frustrates me isn’t that there is a lack of economic growth, but the fact that so much remains to be improved in Japan that is obvious (to the Japanese, that is), yet the ‘shoo ga nai’ tribe seem overwhelmingly huge.

    How long can English lessons remain so pointless and of such little benefit to all involved?

    Ditto the Japanese maths syllabus (and I did it myself for a year)

    When will the intellectual power and ideas of women be as fully engaged as those of men in all levels of society?

    Finally (going into my deepest, angriest personal frustration), when will the senior generations of Japanese people start recognising that young people are rational intelligent people and start LISTENING to them instead of bitching about how they are no good!

    I’ll never forget how the staff in my Japanese high school, shocked by student responses to a survey on attitudes toward sex, attempted to ‘rectify’ them by means of gathering the entire student body in the gymnasium for a lecture! The contents was mostly stuff like “Gee, a lot of you said ‘I think it’s okay to have sex with anybody I want’, and we really wanted more of you to say ‘Sex should be thought about seriously.'” As if the students took away anything from that lecture apart from the tip that lying on the survey would have saved them from a boring lecture. (Although personally I suspect nearly everyone switched off just as they did in class and the subway some of the time.)

    My personal reaction is I think similar to what it is in these situations wherever they occur, namely a sense of outrage and frustration that serious efforts aren’t being undertaken to fix even the most obvious problems.

    As for ‘what it all means’, on a personal level all I can say is that if social change were to happen, being outside Japan and in all seriousness not having a truly deep understanding of what is going on, it’s not for me to start it.

    However, I lie in hope for the day that the shit hits the fan, and SOMEWHERE out there the seeds of improvement get the manure they need to grow.

  13. marxy Says:

    I think we might also have three definitions of Japan, as it’s used in the phrase “Japan was over in 89 or 91”:

    Well, no. The Bubble burst around ’91, which means that high growth rates also stopped. And if you had predicted in ’91 that the loss of acceleration was the end of Japan being an economic powerhouse, you wouldn’t have been quite off the mark. Us cultural people got another decade (or our first decade really), but the business and financial types have already set their eyes on China and ain’t looking back.

    What frustrates me isn’t that there is a lack of economic growth, but the fact that so much remains to be improved in Japan that is obvious (to the Japanese, that is), yet the ‘shoo ga nai’ tribe seem overwhelmingly huge.

    Well, the people in power have too much to lose by changin the system. Therefore, they’d rather have it sink into the sea then give up the reigns. They almost did this in ’45 too.

    How long can English lessons remain so pointless and of such little benefit to all involved?

    As long as the education system is based on judging future employment ability, not teaching actual skills themselves.

    When will the intellectual power and ideas of women be as fully engaged as those of men in all levels of society?

    This is naturally happening. In the past, there was no reward system for women outside of marriage, but now there’s a whole class of women who’ve found their own personal glory outside of the tradtional patterns. The problem, however, is that the top won’t change the structure to fit this new lifestyle into the economic system. Women should be at home having children! The working women’s answer is: fine, we won’t have children! The gov’t’s answer is: fine, we’ll built robots so that we won’t have to have guest workers!

    My personal reaction is I think similar to what it is in these situations wherever they occur, namely a sense of outrage and frustration that serious efforts aren’t being undertaken to fix even the most obvious problems.

    Again, these solutions would strip away the power of the hegemony, so they’re not going to do it.

    However, I lie in hope for the day that the shit hits the fan, and SOMEWHERE out there the seeds of improvement get the manure they need to grow.

    You’d hope that the progressive prefectural governments – like Nagano and Kumamoto – will lead the way, but Japan is so centralized that it’s hard to go around Tokyo.