Happy 2019, United States and world!

We have endured much together these past 2-3 years, Team America. Thankfully our civil society is incredibly robust — and time is accelerating demographic gains in an inexorably democratic direction. As Boomers give way to Millennials — slated to happen as early as this year — we are experiencing a seismic shift in the national consciousness.

Look out, Boomers!

Our values as a nation-state have always been evolving as the political consciousness and cultural landscapes shift, but in recent political times the changes have been radical, seemingly sudden, and jarring in a way that collective memory does not easily recall. I believe we are witnessing the swan song of a generation — the largest post-WWII generation dominant demo for decades, now facing only the long decline.

Much is said of the Hillbilly Elegies of our country, but to be fair these elders are legitimately terrified: of the U.S. they see around them today — bearing little resemblance to the nation of their boomingly patriarchal childhoods; of the world outside our borders and the immigrants (theoretically; allegedly) streaming into them illegally; of long disused portions of America drying up and economically (and in some cases literally) tumbleweeding away; of their own impending mortality.

We go high

Michelle Obama was right. Is right. We should make ourselves aware of the kinds of games the other side is willing to employ, but endeavor not to play them ourselves as much as we can. But beyond a moral reason to love thy neighbor, there’s the practical matter that we may find common cause in surprising territories. Non-wealthy elder whites and young Millennials who struggled through the 2008 housing and banking crash both have reason to want a robust safety net, for example. This is the essence of democratic politics done well: coalition-building — not among special interests, but among elected leaders representing their constituents in good faith.

The arc of justice

…goes at its own pace, or something like that. Fascism has a creep (or at the moment, more of an open stride), and justice has a methodical process of evidence-gathering and weighing; we can have some solid faith in the latter to do its work. Regardless of the levels of bitter partisanship in the air, we have an enormous cadre of professional civil servants who do their often thankless jobs tirelessly for years and decades out of the limelight, for sub-private sector pay and little recognition. This cohort works tirelessly for us now, investigating the many tentacles of the Trump corruption operation stretching back years and decades into American life and foreign investment.

Mr Mueller, do your worst. By which I mean your best. We understand each other, I think. 👍🏽⚖️

Putin’s Playbook: Pull factions apart from center; exacerbate democratic crisis

While we wring our hands in the United States over whether or not such a strategy is even conceivable, the erstwhile President of Russia has been running this playbook out in the open in Ukraine and Eastern Europe for some time. With help from Propagandist-in-Chief Vladislav Surkov, Putin has leveraged the open secrets about the psychology of crowds we learned in the late 19th and early 20th century to stir up emotional antagonisms within the political spectrum — to predictable results.

It’s no accident that fascism is on the march in America. The conditions have been brewing for some time, predominantly since the Conservative movement began breaking away more militantly from democratic principles and towards authoritarian philosophy (elite rule by force: preferably invisible force via economic hegemony for the middle and upper classes, and violent force / the carceral state for The Undesirables) in the late 1970s and 1980s. All Putin had to do was make use of available prevailing conditions and tools — the rise of social media in the 2000s counterintuitively blew a gaping wide security hole in the American persuasion landscape that Cold War Soviet operatives of the 1960s would scarcely have believed.

Today, as in parts of Europe between the world wars, the U.S. has partisan gridlock within The Establishment sector of politics; this exacerbates the impatience with and contempt for the status quo (aka the Liberal world order) that in some sense naturally congeals at the far right and far left margins of the political spectrum as a simple consequence of the Normal Distribution (the Median Voter Theorem captures this tendency quite succinctly). Under such conditions, an influence campaign like the one Russia wielded against the United States during the 2016 election season was tasked merely with tilting the playing field a little further — a task that platforms like Facebook and Twitter were in some sense fundamentally engineered to accomplish, in exchange for ad revenue.

New World Order? Be careful what we wish for

“Both Italian and German fascists had done their best to make democracy work badly. But the deadlock of liberal constitutions was not something the fascists alone had brought about. ‘The collapse of the Liberal state,’ says Roberto Vivarelli, ‘occurred independently of fascism.’ At the time it was tempting to see the malfunction of democratic government after 1918 as a systemic crisis marking the historic terminus of liberalism. Since the revival of constitutional democracy since World War II, it has seemed more plausible to see it as a circumstantial crisis growing out of the strains of World War I, a sudden enlargement of democracy, and the Bolshevik Revolution. However we interpret the deadlock of democratic government, no fascist movement is likely to reach office without it.”

— Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

100 years on, it feels like we’re back at the start.

Emotional Worldview: Are you an Internalizer or an Externalizer?

Considering your thought patterns and style of interacting with the world, which set of traits seems to characterize you more:

InternalizerExternalizer
Believe it’s up to you to change things Expect others to do it for you
Mentally active; love to learn things Impulsive and reactive; take action before thinking about things, to blow off anxiety quickly
Self-reflective; learn from mistakes Avoid self-reflection; rarely use mistakes to learn how to do better next time
Solve problems from the inside out Assign blame to others; believe if others would only give you what you want, your problems would be solved
Sensitive; try to understand cause and effect Insensitive; prefer to forget and move on
See life as opportunity for self-development Firmly attached to the idea that things in the outside world need to change
Work hard to cope with reality Struggle against reality, often by attempting to avoid it
Instinctively take responsibility for solving problems on your own Feel that competent people owe you help; depend on external soothing
Feel guilty when displeasing others Fear being cut off from external sources of security
Can suffer from imposter syndrome Can have low self-confidence and/or a sense of inflated superiority
Can be overly self-sacrificing Overly dependent on others for support and stability

While striking a healthier balance is important for both personality styles, extreme externalizers have it worse than extreme internalizers. The Internalizers’ use of self-reflection promotes psychological growth, while the Externalizers’ staunch refusal to self-examine creates a vicious cycle of self-defeating behaviors and thought patterns.

An extremely Externalizing worldview has the power to stunt psychological and emotional growth, and is often a hallmark of emotionally immature individuals.

Let’s look around us and see if we can spot any examples of emotional immaturity in American culture: in our leaders, in celebrities, in the rich, powerful, and theoretically Most Successful individuals in our society. Seen through the lens of Externalization, do some of their behaviors and statements seem to make more coherent sense?

Emotional immaturity is the core problem we face in American culture

We spend a lot of time spitballing about whether the Misbehaving Elites deserve clinical diagnoses as a way of explaining the frequently callous, antisocial nature of their words and actions (there are even professional advocates in favor of lifting the Goldwater Rule inhibiting diagnoses “from afar”), but the fact is — as with intimate romantic relationships — it’s dangerous to sit around and wait for a professional diagnosis that is unlikely to be forthcoming. We don’t need an expert opinion to inform us about how their actions make us feel. We don’t need to defer to any central authority to determine if the outcome of their actions is damaging, or morally inappropriate.

We have the tools of evaluation already in our possession, each and every one of us. Whether behavior can be construed as pathological or within the ever-shifting spectrum of cultural normality (a sort of social psychological version of the Overton window), we can evaluate its effects on our psyche, our moral compass, and — as best we can — its objectively measured effects on the world.

Emotionally immature acts are net destructive (although they may greatly benefit the actor, particularly in the short term). They are the hallmark of the “easy way out,” the lazy “I shouldn’t have to lift a finger” worldview, the “effort is for other people” belief system, the EZ button mentality.

In a culture no longer wholly preoccupied with meeting basic material needs, we remain curiously obsessed with materialism, external validations of success, and hoarding wealth. Meanwhile, we completely devalue our emotional and psychological lives, inner states, self-reflection, and all the “icky, squishy” stuff of human nature — interactions that are not transactions, that cannot be measured, traded, or indexed, that are not profitable to someone, are predominantly seen as worthless. We are told that we need to become “more efficient,” which is techno-utopian speak for “able to generate more profit for America’s economic winners” who already have far more than any person legitimately needs, yet still feel curiously empty and unfilfilled (i.e. the Utility Monsters).

If we do not check this tendency; if we do not put a stop to the relentless devaluation and eradication of our inner lives; if we continue to look the other way while EZ buttons are continuously offered and implemented in lieu of deep effort — then it is probable that the inexorable march of capital’s power will continue to squeeze out anything truly sacred, altruistic, whimsical, unprofitable, and non-transactional in the world. Certainly most of our dystopias have imagined this possibility.

Reclaiming emotional maturity as a value

Emotionally immature Externalizers impulsively act out to distract themselves from their immediate problems, instead of working to solve them. Does this feel at all familiar? Does the grand political game of Kick The Can feel perilously like the kind of group denial that snowballs into much larger problems down the line?

Yes, it does. And we Internalizers should stop feeling guilty and uncertain about calling out examples of emotional immaturity when we see them — for fear of lacking a diagnosis, power, authority, social support, or other inhibition thanks to our perhaps overly-developed good nature.

We should call it like it is: there are a frightening number of Adult-Shaped Children in positions of power. And when the de facto leader of the free world has a finger on the most powerful nuclear EZ button of all, emotional immaturity has swiftly become the greatest, most urgent threat to humanity in our time.

On the dangers of attacking the media in a democratic republic

“The most dangerous ‘enemy of the people’ is presidential lying–always. Attacks on press by @realDonaldTrump more treacherous than Nixon’s”
Carl Bernstein, journalist who broke the Watergate scandal  


“These systematic attacks on the media accomplish two things. First, they fire up the base, which believe that traditional media do not represent their interests or concerns. Second, they provoke the media itself, which feeling threatened, adopts a more oppositional posture. This in turn further fuels the polarization on which the leaders depend and paves the way for the government to introduce legal restrictions.

The most dramatic example was in Venezuela, where elements in the media embarked on a campaign of open warfare, engaging in overtly partisan coverage intended to undermine Chávez’s rule. Some media owners were alleged to have conspired in a 2002 coup that briefly ousted the president. Once Chavez returned to power, he rallied his supporters behind a new law imposing broad restrictions on what the media could and could not cover under the guise of “ensuring the right to truthful information.” Across the hemisphere, other restrictive legal measures were adopted, including Ecuador’s notorious 2013 Communications Law, which criminalizes the failure to cover events of public interest, as defined by the government. In the first year, approximately 100 lawsuits were filed under the law, stifling critical reporting.”
Columbia Journalism Review


“Brian Stelter, in his Reliable Sources newsletter, rounds up elite-media Twitter reaction:

  • NPR’s Steve Inskeep: “A journalist is a citizen. Who informs other citizens, as free citizens need. Some are killed doing it …” NYT’s Maggie Haberman: “He is fighting very low approval ratings. Gonna be interesting to see how congressional Rs respond to this tweet”
  • Joe Scarborough: “Conservatives, feel free to speak up for the Constitution anytime the mood strikes. It is time”
  • NBC’s Chuck Todd: “I would hope that our leaders would never believe that any American desires to make another American an enemy. Let’s dial it back.”

At the same time, understand that this is partly a game to Trump. His confidants tell us he intentionally exploits the media’s inclination to take the bait and chase our tails.”
Axios


John McCain:
“… slammed President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media this week by noting dictators “get started by suppressing free press.”
It was a startling observation from a sitting member of Congress against the President of the United States, especially considering McCain is a member of Trump’s party.

“I hate the press,” the Arizona Republican sarcastically told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”

But he continued, “If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” McCain said in the interview. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”


Evan McMullin:
“Authoritarians routinely attack checks on their power and sources… Donald Trump does exactly that.”
http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2017/02/05/are-trumps-attacks-on-media-authoritarian.cnn

On the upsides of being underestimated, and a call to stand

There’s something those of us in marginalized groups know instinctively, having lived lives long in opposition to a dizzying continuum of Absurd Moral Authority: from outright violence, to secretive “technical” manipulations of statutes designed to erode or remove rights, to vague and carefully unstated “wink wink nudge nudge” moments from individuals of authority who had some power to constrain us — whether it’s a boss (or potential boss), a teacher, a community figure, and/or perhaps most guttingly a family member.

We know the sting of being scolded for even daring an attempt at upsetting the Tautological Supremacist Meritocracy: “If you weren’t worthless, you’d already be here by now!”

The British thought we would just roll over too

But we should remember one of the primary reasons that we as a nation even won our independence in the first place:

We were underestimated.

Lord North offered tax relief to the colonies that would help “defend the motherland” in February, 1775 — none took him up on it. And in fact, the Conciliatory Resolution only deepened the growing sense of unity emerging against what increasingly became perceived as a Common Enemy. The attempt to divide and conquer not only failed, but backfired.

The British Parliament thought the colonists full of hot air — that a few shows of military force would quickly crumble the upstart radicals in their quest for representation and rights. But battles at Lexington and Concord only fueled further the sentiment that the colonies were inhabited by an occupying force that must be resisted.

It was widely thought to be insane to stand against the world-renowned military force of the British Empire — but the Continental Army under George Washington doggedly turned the fact of underestimation to their advantage via innovative battlefield strategy. The motherland, finding it difficult to raise sufficient troops to fight against their own former countrymen, hired German mercenaries to fight against the colonists — further deepening the resolve of the Americans to throw off an oppressor willing to bring foreign assassins to bear in a dispute formerly perceived as a conciliatory process of achieving the basic rights of citizenship that colonists’ forbears once enjoyed in England. The British overestimation of Loyalist support — combined with the general mistreatment of those who did cross the “revolutionary picket line” — only added to the troubles faced by a predominantly naval power slogging through a lengthy land war over vast territory.

Diversity does not preclude uniting to face a Common Enemy

In so many ways we’ve become more fragmented; more balkanized; more atomized in modern society. We’ve self-selected into our communities of shared values and our social media bubbles. In many ways this is the paradox of prosperity, and the Catch-22 of progress.

We may feel stronger in our own foxholes, but there comes a time when the whole choir must sing together. Now is that time.

And perhaps it is dangerous to use the language of war, and of conflict — or perhaps it may help us to better identify where our Common Enemy lies. Our Common Enemy is not the down at heel rural Trump supporter who lashes out at us in fear, and in retaliation — though their words are often hateful, these people have been misled.

It’s a very old story — older than Trump; older than George W. Bush; older than Reagan or Nixon or Coolidge or Jackson or Johnson. The wealthy white elite has a centuries’ old playbook of dangling so-called Christian morality in front of those whites left most destitute by the former’s economic policies — and winning.

We are watching reruns.

This time, fascism and foreign influence have been added to up the ante — keeping even the most blasé among us glued to our seats.

Stand up

The framers of our Constitution deliberated, debated, and agonized over the most ideal structure to support a broad pluralist power, in concerted opposition to the monarchies and aristocracies of the past. Many were shocked by — and fought bitterly against — the unprecedented act of beginning such a governing document with the words, “We the people.”
But 85 Federalist Papers later, our sovereign power was enshrined in the document that still governs our ambitions today — and acts as a backstop against those who would wield tyrannical power in our name. 

Our Common Enemy is tyranny, and we must learn to recognize where it lives, and how it acts. Even — perhaps especially — when that domicile is the White House, and that act an act of Congress.

Our Common Enemy is those who would deny the power of the people to govern themselves: through the silencing of debate in a once great forum; through casual disregard of the judiciary branch; through an endless parade of troglodyte efforts at voter suppression.

Our Common Enemy is the long litany of elected officials who act in their own best interests at the expense of We the People. It is the slew of slick sycophants currying political favor with the powerful, who continually rewrite the rules of the game the Winners have already Won many times over, to accelerate the gaping gulf of inequality that threatens democracy, liberty, justice, and most certainly peace.

Without Justice there can be no Peace.

And those who wield injustice have vastly underestimated the swaths of citizenry who can see through the ruse; who have heard the old story and seen its outcomes; who are tired of having to wage the same struggles for rights and respect over, and over, and over again.

But the tired gain strength through camaraderie in adversity; through simple acts of kindness; through humor, and through love.

These are tools the tyrannical cannot access.
Stand, and wield them, in the name of We the People.

Working Hard vs. Hardly Working: An Illustrated Guide

Much has been said regarding the so-called laziness of the poor. Hands have been wrung, glasses have been drained, Davos hotel rooms have been trashed year after year in elite consternation over The Perennially Perplexing Plight of the Poor.

Meanwhile in the American political landscape, the answer is already clear:

THEY’RE NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH!!!!

But perhaps there’s some confusion over what is meant by the term “hard work” — certainly it’s ambiguous, and no one takes a pause in the middle of a vigorous, breathy debate to define their terms, curiously. So, for the barely literate cretins out there who can barely manage to hold down a job much less participate in the ever-prosperous U.S. economy — a visual guide:

Working hard vs. hardly working: An Illustrated Guide to Hard Work

Working hard

(direct link: https://tpc.quip.com/00POAlXJ6I8Y)

British filmmaker Adam Curtis explains what’s going on

The creator of the also excellent Century of the Self film series released his latest film in October, 2016. Dubbed HyperNormalisation, it offers both a history lesson of the complicated relationship between the West, the Middle East, and Russia, as well as an unflinching look at the roles played by technology, surveillance, and the media on our modern condition of general confusion, destabilization, and surrealism.

Culture is collective neurosis

There’s a popular and somewhat understandable misperception of culture as a vehicle of reproducing “normalcy” throughout society. However, each historical era makes the cognitive mistake of assuming its particular version of Normal is, well, Normal. And that all eras which came before — that were obviously ruled by stupid people who could not understand the kind of objective truths we are now privy to in the New Modern era — were a series of mass delusions in which people fooled themselves into thinking they had The Answers, when they so clearly didn’t. Because The Problems continue apace.

The twisted social psychological paradox we have not yet managed to escape is our abject failure to understand that we Moderns, too, are trapped within an enormous cultural projection of our current set of utopian delusions. We are no different, nor more special, than all the well-intentioned optimists and sad charlatans of bygone eras we love to thumb our elitist noses at. But our cursed cross to bear is the historically inescapable belief in our own Exceptionism — that we are The Smartest Guys in the Room, and that our newfound flavors of scientific rationalism will allow us to Save The Day and prop ourselves up as the hero gods of humankind we deep inside know that we must be.

For how can it be otherwise?

Whether God created us or we Him, it hardly matters — both narratives serve our deep-seated psychological ends: to prop ourselves up as the Platonically pure forms of human perfection we are eternally striving to be, despite all available evidence to the contrary. Whether mere mini-Gods or True Gods ourselves, we puff ourselves up with the pride of our uniquely gifted creationism vs. other species (and when it suits us, Other races, genders, ethnicities, or other demographical lenses that may be wielded to set The Best among us apart), which (in our minds) serves as the supremely obvious evidence of our planetary — and possibly (hopefully!) galactic — supremacy over natural reality.

All of this has happened before

But even a shallow skim through history could easily produce ample evidence in support of the opposing idea: that all such delusions of grandeur are false — which is part of the reason we (technologists, especially) love to avoid consulting history regarding such matters. The social proof of accolades in the Here and Now is far more exhilirating and, of course, less depressing.

And why look to the past, when all that is accessible can only lie before us? Yet both perspectives are false — neither the past nor the future are truly accessible to us. We live ever fixed within a singular bubbling moment of spacetime we have only barely begun to comprehend. In fact, all that our intellectual and scientific machinations have managed to reveal to us is the staggering lack of edgeness at the edges; and that the more deeply we pursue any sort of objective insight into any subject, no matter how narrowly defined, the more we only find an ever-widening gulf of ignorance opening up as if to swallow us.

Such is the fractal nature of reality, that it seems to slip further from our grasp the harder we struggle to know it — like flies in a vast inky darkness of transfixing ointment. Take for example two of the most theoretically “objective” fields known to modern scientific inquiry, and ask for their practitioners’ opinions on how the imaginary “coefficient of certainty” in their domains (that I am just now making up; bear with me — for you see, I too am a mini-God with powers of creation! Voila!) has fared over recent decades. They’re liable to tell you that physics only seems to be getting stranger, while mathematics may be brushing up against the limits of computational irreducibility, leaving a host of fundamentally unsolvable problems (although Stephen Wolfram does nonetheless leave us with ample hope of an infinite amount of discoveries to be made within the remaining territories of computationally reducible systems that we can continue to practically soldier on in. PHEW!).    

Where shall we look for the Normal?

Outside of heady intellectual computational theory and the often esoteric pursuits of hard science, there is still a planetary majority of people who simply aren’t interested in this particular method of asking questions about the deep mysteries of life. Far from being irrational clods who lack the cognitive capacity to understand engineering and complex equations, they are seeking — and many have found — their answers to the profound mysteries of the meaning and purpose of life elsewhere, in other domains.

Whether it be hearth and home, creative pursuits, caretaking of others, careers and/or inquiries into other fields, or any of a dizzying variety of alternatives to the purely scientific-relational approach to values: these people are not wrong.   They are not misguided, or necessarily simplistic in their searches for meaning — and neither is a simplistic approach itself objectively worse than a complicated one. In fact, as the economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb so compellingly argues for via the concept of antifragility, our modern, rationalized, (predominantly) Western tendency to hyper-complexify matters often only ends up making things worse. We can’t resist the urge to meddle, and insert ourselves into the micromanagement of many processes that ought to be left well enough alone, such that the natural, organic forces of time and randomness can perform their mysterious acts of self-healing.

Instead, we exhaust ourselves with frantic over-interventionism in our quest to “smooth everything out,” eradicate the uncertainties of risk, and tamp down the erratic edges of non-conformity into the kind of straight lines and perfect curves that makes it easier for us to manipulate them within our clever mathematical models. We embark on ever more ambitious projects of forcing people to fit the models we create, so that we may pat ourselves on the back for our obvious brilliance and sophistry with prediction (and, of course, justify the collection of enormous financial rewards for being so clever).

When some people begin to rationally feel spiritually and emotionally lost within this framework, scientific rationalization once again comes to the “rescue,” via medicalization of a vast and growing array of commonly routine experiences and phenomenological traits. From the most trivial and mundane “disorders” such as “inadequate or not enough eyelashes” to the more Orwellian “oppositional-defiant disorders” that tend to land the less obsequious amongst our children on a regimen of expensive drug cocktails, Big Pharma has got The Cure for YOU! 

Whatever malaise afflicts the less engaged portion of the population that isn’t quite sure about the necessity of all this excessive (and fabulously profitable) interventionism, there is sure to be ample pharmaceutical “assistance” available in pursuit of learning to appreciate the New Normal — whatever the New Normal becomes at the behest of powerful corporations and the political minions who serve them via armies of lobbyist Slugworths whispering self-serving plans into the ears of the global elite whilst writing dark money checks in smoky back rooms (of course in my imagination, the global elite have flouted society’s pathetic insistence on protecting the plebes from the dangers of inhaling the carcinogens that afford sociopathic business “leaders” with their well-deserved profits — they retain the right to smoke indoors, goddammit!!).

In other words, Normal is merely what we decide it to be, whether by collective decision or by imposition from a cabal of powerful forces whose colossal self-interest bias has created one of the largest systematic exploits of the principal-agent problem heretofore witnessed in history.

We no longer even recognize the war we’re fighting

Our spoken or unspoken desire to dominate all of civilization through the manipulation of ideologies is no longer even a thinly-veiled attempt — we’re too sophisticated now and, in the common parlance of the often-discredited Youth, “like, totally over it.” We’re more liable to either be bored of the game and tune out altogether, leaving the fate of civilation largely in the hands of the elite forces who have only their own best interests at heart; or to make the seemingly logical decision that the best course of action is to play it, and play it well — in the hopes of making it into the upper echelons of elitedom, by which to survive Whatever May Come.

So: if we do collectively hold some deeply-seated love for Actual Reality, and seek to enjoy the pleasures of each other’s company in a more peaceably sane pursuit of gratitude at the wonders of existence (or at least, a tongue in cheek self-deprecating awareness of our utterly infinite lack of ability to directly do so), then we ought to resist more forcefully the current project we are collectively on — whether by choice or, more commonly, by being caught up in the accidental lottery of birth which placed us into this particular era at this particular time: full of self-important drudgery, decadent hedonism, pomp and circumstance, and neurotic self-obsession.

We cannot, as human beings imprisoned within the distortions of perception and cognition, in any objective sense “know” the world that is Out There. But the illusion is so compelling that we find ever more seemingly obvious ways to convince ourselves that the knowledge is ever just out of reach — if we could only move a little bit faster towards it, we will surely catch it.

Meanwhile the individuals most drawn to the pursuit of wealth and power — the most arguably useful symbols one can wield in one’s pursuit of planetary domination via ideological colonization — have us zealously convinced of the above fallacy throughout every age. Playing on our deepest psychological weaknesses, it gets easier and easier to do so via application of all the modern tools in the toolbox of propaganda at our disposal, that only increase in number under the guise of the “progress” that curiously seems to benefit the wealthy and powerful in an asymmetrical way, versus providing promised benefits more broadly.

This is why we can’t have nice things

Or rather, why we can only have nice Things, and we can’t seem to find a way to enjoy the suspiciously elusive things which are not Things. The simple and ephemeral joys that only well up from In Here, from love to joy, empathy to compassion, are simply not measurable by the sophisticated rational-scientific methods we have thus far been able to invent. Not indexable, not capturable by market predictions or mathematical modeling, they teeter on the edge of a steep precipice inside of an aggressively advancing value system that resists being unhinged from the comforting certainty of statistical analysis — left flapping out in the harsh, unpredictable winds of uncertainty and risk.

Paradoxically (and somewhat hilariously), we often wonder why we’re so terribly bored and full of ennui at the whole otherwise astonishing business of life (once unmoored from the over-interventionism of the Business of Life). We cannot seem to grasp that all of our efforts at stamping out variability and disorder work precisely against us — distancing ourselves from the organic, unplanned diversity of the natural world that did just fine on its own, thank you very much, before it perhaps made the mistake of running into the set of random conditions that proved hospitable enough to produce our tragedy of a species: so well-intentioned, so brilliant and well-meaning, yet so horribly, pathologically, depressingly Quite Lost.

What Ellen Pao and Obama have in common

Both are subject to an extra heaping of criticism, skepticism, and scorn because there is some culturally-validated argument to be made about how they are different from some perceived status quo.And in modern mercenary America, the mythology is “win at all costs” whether it’s politics, business, religion, education, or Returning That Thing You Broke even though it’s out of warranty because goddammit we’re entitled to All The Things!!!!Ergo:

  1. To gain or preserve power, you need to win
  2. It is acceptable — even laudable — to win by any means necessary (legal, ethical, loophole, grey area, “disrupting” or otherwise)
  3. To win you must be good and work hard, but plenty of winners take shortcuts, cheat, break rules/laws, harm others, and/or fraud their way to the top — so in order to stay on the field, you need to become open to those tactics whether you believe it’s right or not (see: Lance Armstrong). Meanwhile internally, you have built-in psychological mechanisms that enforce your justification and carve out a special view of yourself as being ultimately a good person (see: Jonathan Haidt) and even, more twistedly, a “good person who does bad things” (see: BTK serial killer) — whereas other people who do bad things are not simply constrained by their environments (as you are); they are just bad people.
  4. In the struggle for power, those who have (or want) it aggressively seek out any thread of weakness, real or perceived, in whatever individuals or outgroups appear to threaten their dominance.
  5. Difference from the norm is widely and cross-culturally perceived as weakness and carries a negative connotation socially.
  6. Anyone who suggests or espouses difference is subject to derision and confrontation, as a matter of course.
  7. Those who have “outward difference” characteristics — i.e. women, members of different races, religions — therefore tend to be the subject of derision and confrontation as a matter of course: because it leads the Normal to winning, and therefore preserving power.
  8. Any method of fomenting confrontation and contempt is acceptable in the noble pursuit of power, even including vociferously denying and decrying the unethical tactics used by other Normals championing for the same outcome (see: Gamergate).
  9. The age of Political Correctness took some tactics off the table, namely the overt invocation of gender or race (to a lesser extent, religion) to “name” the difference and call out the offending anti-Normal, immediately discrediting any perspective they put forth via ad hominem attack.
  10. …but the underlying game remains the same. Identify and publicly shame a perceived difference — they “kill the buzz” or they “aren’t aggressive enough” or conversely are “too pushy” or they don’t lean in enough or they don’t have the mind of a hacker. Whatever the red herring is, it’s often a derivative of a stereotype we apply to a marginalized class — but it’s trumped up and re-packaged, perhaps with some shoddy, easy to find pseudo-evidence in support — not terribly dissimilar from the way Wall Street made subprime mortgage loans appear like the bedrock of America’s financial future via complicated and inscrutable re-branding.

Stinks just as bad.