A cup of coffee in a café is the perfect social mediator because it's disposable, renewable, and a convenient timer
All social interactions need to be mediated by something. To help illustrate this point, consider the paradox of coffee shops. Coffee shops are incredibly effective at mediating social interactions, yet are founded on an ultimately frivolous consumer good.
A cup of coffee is like an egg timer. You will eventually consume it within 5-30 minutes after purchase. If it were infinite, then you wouldn't know when to leave or how long to stay. Coffee provides a convenient beginning, middle, and end. If you're meeting a friend for coffee, the level of drink in the coffee can vaguely determine whether you're closer to the end or beginning of the interaction. When both partners' drinks are done, it gives an opportunity to request an encore with a re-order.
Coffee is disposable. Rather than selling you a product that once you buy, you don't need anymore, you can come back the next day and still get a fresh cup of coffee that wasn't obviated by your previous purchase. You can return day-after-day, creating a pattern or ritual, thus offering the possibility of community through regular patronage.
All of this is to say that there needs to be an "excuse" to mediate social interactions. Whether it's to hear a band play, to sing karaoke, to get drunk, to share a relaxing hookah pipe, to listen to a sermon, or to have biscuits and tea, there's got to be something to rebound social interactions.
Could you imagine meeting up with a friend just to sit on two chairs and talk? It does happen, but it's unusual. And if you can form the visual, there's still usually something in the mix, whether it's a cigarette burning out, a milkshake shared with a loved one, or some pressing legal matter to discuss.
Ironically, a definition for the word "mediate" is to settle or reconcile differences between two or more parties.
Advil relieves headaches, unless everyone at work takes it, which raises the bar for taking sick days, thus creating another headache
PTO, or paid time off, is a progress trap created by the invention of personal palliatives such as Advil and DayQuil. These medicines were supposed to make life easier, but since everybody takes them, everybody is expected to show up to work all the time. Before the existence of these elixirs, you just had to white-knuckle through the day or stay home. Now, unless you are god-awfully sick or bed-ridden, you can find enough palliatives at the convenience store to help you sit at your desk and simulate a fully-engaged worker. Coffee doesn't make you more alert; It just jitters you into seeming awake. Advil doesn't stop you from being sick; rather it masks ill feelings. Sick people show up to work just to save their PTO, likely infecting co-workers and thus feeding the cycle.
There's now a trend for companies to bundle sick and vacation days into a bank of hours that represents a general, "Don't show up to work because you don't feel like it"-day. To Europeans, PTO would seem absurd, but Americans see it differently. To some, it's a godsend because it gives them control over vacation time. For them, it rewards healthy and sturdy workers who "earn" buckets of vacation they can use all at once. In theory, PTO offers flexibility benefits, but it is an invention with rotten origins. Managers just want "good" employees with perfect attendance who reach their limit of accumulated PTO and then stop earning hours. When these so-called "rock stars" leave after three years, management can cut them a check for the PTO balance which they can vaguely pretend is severance.
While it's hard to say if Advil makes us weaker since strength versus weakness is often a false dichotomy in these matters, a fairer analogy is that of a treadmill: The more we make things easier for ourselves as individuals, the standard of difficulty for us as a group rises along with it. Advil relieves headaches, unless everyone at work takes it, which raises the bar for taking sick days, thus creating another headache.
Amateur is the next step after indie, with the breakout serendipity of non-talent being the new talent
First, there was Indie. Then there was Hipster. The next logical step is Amateur. Indie was the secret power of the connoisseur who could find treasure beyond the radio and big music stores. The indie fan lived near independent record stores and coffee shops with local budding acts. Then Myspace gave indie access to anybody who was either bored with their current music selection or had some obsessive desire to deepen their cultural purview. But then Urban Outfitters and social media-savvy music labels commercialized and repackaged that access.
But the war for obscurity and cultural elitism soldiers on, and it will probably focus on amateur acts. The aficionado who is so interested in music that they have to get to its core—which is just people sharing emotion with people—will spend their time at shitty open-mics or listen to tracks on SoundCloud from anybody with at least a thousand listens. There will be no buzz-following as the nerds seek out serendipitous discovery.
Of course, first-wave imitators, who in the previous generation were hipsters, will co-opt amateurism. Faux amateurism, in the form of willfully imperfect Etsy clothing, will be the style. But then this will be commercialized and re-packaged so that perhaps the Rebecca Blacks of the world, the people who just shell out a few grand for a vanity album, will dominate the airwaves.
American Power Couples
American-style love is a high-risk, high-reward act that is designed to deliver the power couple. The power couple is the foundation of the American Dream. According to Stephanie Coontz's Marriage, a History, though, this was not always the case. Before the 1950s, marriage was more commonly like a business partnership. Marriage was meant to combine properties, forge alliances between family trees, and to divvy up responsibilities for actual businesses, such as farms. In the business marriages of the 1800s, both husband and wife were farmers, just with gender-specific roles.
A key upside to power couples, besides the intrinsic rewards of that kind of arrangement, is a higher investment in child-rearing. Power couples, which are couples that can easily spend many hours together, also happen to spend more time raising children. Primatologists and biologists have long examined the correlation between high parental investment and intelligence. Children who are raised with power couples will have more hours at the dinner table, with both parents sharing lessons from life and work. Or if the parents are pedagogical, then the power couple will spend more hours tutoring children or helping them with their homework.
Another benefit is the professional synergies that arise with a partnership compared with a sole proprietorship. If the workforce is steering towards creative work, for which America is the avant-garde, then a couple that is tightly integrated with each other's work will perform better than one that is not. The benefit of tight integration isn't obvious in most settings: it's often better to have a detached couple, where each partner is not distracting the other. But the upside to synergy is unlocked when placed in the context of creativity. In America, all work is at least pseudo-entrepreneurial. For example, getting key promotions often requires a team effort, where the whole couple networks as a unit with the higher-ups in an organization.
The upsides for power couples are inherent in the name: a power couple has more power. The downsides are that the conditions for succeeding as a power couple are steeper than a functional couple. To form a power couple, you typically have to find your "soul mate," which is often compared to searching for a needle in a haystack. Those who pursue the power couple path and fail may end up losing out on coupling in general.
Ancient helicopter parents gave us the extended adolescence, which is is why we have large brains, which is why we are creative
One of the hallmark distinctions between us and other animals is the length of time we spend raising our young. Young calves are capable of standing on their feet right out of the womb, whereas human babies would die without immediate and prolonged caretaking. The transition from zero weaning to adolescent care-taking must have included an intermediate stage that would be familiar to the grating experience of witnessing someone over-parent today. Watching someone who is hovering over the sandbox, monitoring their child's every move with a hawk-like vigilance, probably has analogs to hundreds of thousands of years ago.
When different subspecies of Homo Sapiens were intermingling, there must have been a mother who held and played with her seven-year-old son, speaking kiddie talk until the wee hours, to the derision of others. Someone from another tribe might have scolded her, "By that age, our children are hunting, fighting and even having sex. Kids need to be kids!" But then this "helicopter" mom kept it up, and all this stimulation during the child's formative years helped cultivate imagination and creativity. All the time he spent playing in the sandbox when he was young later gave him the bright idea of storing grains in a dry place or for burying raw meat in ice, and his tribe then stayed healthy during a rough winter or maybe an Ice Age, whereas the other ones died off. His knowledge became valued, and so he reproduced often, and then he had many daughters who had the same "over"-parenting gene his mom had. They continued to care for their children as long, if not longer, until we wind up in the situation we are in today, with those resisting over-parenting, and those soldiering on because they can't help it.
Art is just pomp, like a royal parade, glittering in the distance and justifying the high culture that sponsors it
Art and hierarchy are intertwined. Art critics and curators determine what is good art. Art critics write for an audience of art buyers, who are the wealthiest of the wealthy, and curators work for museums, which are large, beautiful, well-maintained and air-conditioned showrooms for such art. Art is then a pomp for the masses, like a royal parade. It just glitters in the distance and justifies the high culture that sponsors it.
As long as people mate and affiliate with quality, status will always be important, even if class stops being so
The concept of class is on the way out, thanks to the rise of the creative class, which is creating this ever-expanding mélange of a middle-class classlessness that eventually consumes everybody. However, people will still mate and affiliate with quality, letting narrow status-seeking take over the role that classism once provided.
As long as some violence exists somewhere, our outrage about it may not decline, even if overall, violence is declining
There is both relative and absolute outrage. If there is a global downtrend in violence stretching 5,000+ years, then our relative outrage should be declining. Everything is so much greater compared to barbaric times when people would duel for no reason, when world wars were continuous, and when states treated everybody like slaves. And yet, as long as there is some reprehensible thing going on somewhere, outrage may take seemingly forever to die out.
The focus of outrage might change over time, as layers of reprehension peel away. So for example, while police brutality is in the news, it may be on the decline, long-term. It gets more attention because there aren't greater injustices to focus on. There's simply no war to protest, nor a civil rights march one can join.
The total volume of outrage as a proportion of the world's population may have gone down, but it's balanced by a base layer of outrage that will always exist so long as there is some crime happening somewhere.
Austin and Portland are the secondary city vanguard, eschewing big city monoculture for quirks and bike lanes
There is currently a boom in "secondary cities" in the United States. If the primary metropolises like Los Angeles, New York, and Boston are getting tapped out, there's a new market for somewhat lesser populated cities like Austin, Portland, Madison, and Boulder.
The big-city concept is maturing. There's such an oversupply of these cities that there's room for alternatives. These secondary cities approximate the things that are great about big cities, such as having myriad options for dining, entertainment, goods, services and job opportunities. But these cities can also retain some of the charms of smaller cities, such as more bikeability, walkability, and community.
The real benefit, though, is the culture of these secondary cities. Since the big cities have been on an inexorable growth path toward modernism, they provide cover for secondary cities to carve out unique and quirky personalities. Examples include the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign or the hipster culture shown in the TV series Portlandia. Such eccentrics wouldn't be possible without the backdrop contrast of the monolithic big city, which has the same skyscrapers, same demographic stratification, and same congestion as every other big city.
Being stingy or frugal when one can afford to spend more is, in a way, like slumming. Slumming is the act of living or participating in a lifestyle that is below what one can afford. The term is pejorative because it's inauthentic. To dip into living poorly is to show a false sense of struggle, and therefore elicit a false sense of endearment. Or to dip into living poorly is to temporarily taste alternative lifestyles, without any of the challenge associated with them, making for an incomplete or inauthentic experience.
Being frugal is usually considered a good thing, but the presentation is still inauthentic in the same way that slumming is. If a millionaire eats cheap burgers at fast food restaurants, they are presenting a false image to the rest of the diners. How you consume is the most telling indicator of class, and both the slummers and the frugal are guilty of consuming beneath their station.
Class labels should be tied to how one "makes a living"
The twenty-first century requires a refreshing of class labels. Gone are traditional upper-, middle-, and lower-classes. What's needed is something that matches the way people work. Here is such a hierarchy:
Capitalists are people who live on the dividends from their investments. They, and the transcendent above them, truly comprise the "leisure class."
Experts are lawyers, doctors, and professors as well as top-notch architects, designers, and programmers. These people typically have much more money than they need, and they are usually in high demand for their expertise. Theoretically, they don't have to work but rather "live to work."
The working class includes anybody that still "works to live," even if they love their job. This label includes teachers, plumbers, accountants, and people with stable desk jobs. They have something on the order of $5,000 to $15,000 saved up plus some optional home equity.
The broke class has roughly $0 or negative in the bank. They typically include low-level service workers, such as order-takers at fast food restaurants or employees at retail outlets.
The broken class includes the homeless and those in prison.
The transcendent class includes those who hire capitalists, and as a result, live in a world completely removed from money. (Capitalists still worry about money occasionally since that's their source of freedom.)
The problem with conspiracy theories is that once they are proven out, we no longer classify them as such, but instead treat them as accidents, evil deeds, terrorism, war, or any of the myriad bad things that fill history books. There is no hall of fame for vindicated conspiracy theorists. A conspiracy theory is simply a plot or mystery that mainstream or official inquiry isn't pursuing.
Once official inquiry begins, the theory simply becomes an investigation, and whoever leads that investigation puts their stamp of normalcy on it. All previous rumors, rumblings, and misgivings that preceded the investigation, or even agitated for the investigation, are forgotten, and the theorist is left to work on defending their craziness while working on the next conspiracy.
Disenfranchising felons takes away those felons' right to define what it means to be a felon
By denying felons the right to vote, we passively create the "tyranny of the majority," just as the American founders warned us. As a thought experiment, imagine a society with 10 people. Initially, it starts with 10 free persons and 0 in prison. Then a law passes through majority vote, 6 to 4, to jail drug users. Now there are 9 free, 1 jailed. Then a measure passes 5 to 4 to jail sodomizers. Now there are 8 free, 2 jailed. Then a measure passes 5 to 3 to jail abortionists. Now there are 7 free, 3 jailed. And then a measure passes 4 to 3 to jail anarchists. Now there are 6 free, 4 jailed.
Little-by-little, our hypothetical society went from having laws requiring approval by the majority six, to now rule by the minority four. And this isn't just hypothetical, as drug laws disenfranchise millions of Americans who don't have the power to re-define those very laws that disenfranchised them.
A literal interpretation of the democratic principle, "government by the governed," is all that is needed see this flaw.
Everybody buys the best house they can afford, which is why GDP growth alone isn't enough to end wage laboring
Sadly, wage laboring will be a permanent condition of human existence. Even if GDP keeps increasing an average of 3% every year for the next hundred years, wage laboring won't drop much, because of the simple fact that people will always consume as much as they can: nearly everybody buys the best house they can afford or borrow. And thus, the number of people living a life of leisure will not increase substantially in the coming decades, despite the indelible increase of abundance as afforded by technology.
Every generation looks at everything around them and asks, "Can we do without this?" whether it's racism, sexism, or God
Every generation has liberals, i.e. free-wheeling types who think they can get on without time-tested institutions like work, religion, traditional gender roles, etc. Just because we are moving towards greater liberalization does not mean people are becoming more liberal, but rather that freedom is becoming increasingly safer. An argument often made against atheists is that without God, people won't be able to tell right from wrong. The atheists counter-argue that people still know that murder is wrong, even without someone in a robe telling them so. But perhaps this is only true today. There must have been a tiny minority of atheists a thousand or more years ago who would have said the same things, but without a religious command-and-control structure, they couldn't thrive. We are so much more educated than our ancestors, and so the benefits of freedom from religion no longer outweigh by the costs.
In the world of economics, it appears we've made progress from a gold-backed currency to fiat as if somehow we woke up one day and invented the concept. But fiat currencies have been tried throughout history, and it's only now with the right supporting institutions, such as centralized banking and electronic transactions, that they make sense. Fiat isn't so much an enlightened new idea, as it is a retiring of an older structure that is no longer serving its purpose.
We are proud of our liberal attitudes towards women as if somehow we've cultivated a more egalitarian worldview over time. Instead, it may simply be that the costs of bearing children were too high, or the amount of income per household too little, or the alternatives for women—or anybody for that matter—too few.
Every generation has a vanguard that looks at everything and asks, "Can we do without this?" Can we live without meat? Can we live without work? Can we live without neighbors? And sometimes the answer is Yes, in which case we retire that need. And sometimes the answer is No, leading the vanguard to be ridiculed, and enlightenment postponed till some future generation can bear it.
Every sex cultivates an attractive trait well before the opposite sex has had a chance to know what's happening
When women say they dress more for other women than for men, it's because they're playing a bigger game than men can understand. In the grand scheme of things, the fashion of one sex is meant to appeal to the other sex, but men can only appreciate a sliver of the fashion acumen of women. Women want to be ahead of limited apparent male taste and appeal to man's subconscious tastes. Hence, women instead compete to be the most fetching of the fetchers. They depend on each other to create beauty contests and assess each other's skills, rewarding each other's fashion sense with status, but ultimately they are competing in those same contests.
Likewise, men too are bonded by elaborate rituals to sort each other out. Women may never know the convoluted adventures men partake in to create novel and abundant professional and creative successes. If a man only has a few minutes to convince a woman whether or not to mate with him, that man will seek all of the advantages he can get. Are the men who run Fortune 500 companies doing so to impress women? Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, but that thought isn't what gets those CEOs up in the morning or allows them to tolerate a boring meeting. It's a sense of mission or intrinsic reward that motivates them. For if someone is driven just by the minimum needed to impress a member of the opposite sex, their genes would likely be out-duplicated by someone willing to impress the already minimally impressive.
Fearing that Google or Wikipedia makes us dumber is just as silly as fearing that abacuses or slide rules did the same
A frequent debate in American schools around the early 1990s was whether the reliance on pocket calculators would weaken math skills. The debate is similar to the debate about subsidizing dying industries. When technology replaces a job, life is hard for the unemployed, but we achieve a net benefit in the reduced cost of goods. We might say, "Well, then people won't know how to use multiplication or times tables," but we can replace that with the phrase, "Well, people won't know how to use this thing they don't need anymore." After all, we don't lament abacuses or slide rules. When we lose our facility with times tables, we more than compensate for it by doing other things mathematically.
A roundabout example is that calculators have made it easier to build computers and smartphones which have increased technological literacy, and therefore mathematical literacy. Calculators have made it simpler to make complex video games which require players to quickly count health points versus hit points, without the aid of calculators. Calculators have made it easier to make computers, which have made screen interfaces more common, which has dramatically increased the number of characters, many of which include numbers, which the average person encounters on a daily basis.
People know as much about times tables as they need to. If their situation requires them to multiply things quickly without having easy access to a calculator, then they will learn.
For Generation X, life keeps improving; for Millennials, improvement is a given, and therefore boring
For the middle-class, there is always another finishing school
The most frustrating thing for the middle-class is that all their hard work leads them to a place where merit matters less and less. They work their way up the ladder and apply their ingenuity, until at last, they maneuver into a good neighborhood so their children can go to a "good" public school. But what they don't expect is that some of their new neighbors have taken out second mortgages to send their kids to even better private schools.
But it's not enough to go to a good private high school; Your kids have to go to good private schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It's not enough to get into a good college; They have to get into obscure ones that have expensive liberal arts programs. Quality colleges beget exclusive internships beget private club memberships, followed by secret handshakes and dog whistles that only make sense to those with years of shopping at high-end grocery stores.
Middle-class anxiety is thus a Red Queen-style race, where its members run in place while the world shifts beneath them.
Gentrification might now be so fluid that no city will remain obscure enough to incubate any gritty charm worth gentrifying
The speed with which yuppies are colonizing once-obscure spots is unparalleled in history thanks to the Internet. The Internet aids in discovery, as anybody can find articles like "The Top 10 Best Small Towns", or "Why Such-And-Such Neighborhood Is The New 'It' Spot." And the Internet, combined with laptops, has armed yuppies with mobile work so that they can move on a whim. However, the gentrification rate may be so fast, now, that no city may ever even have enough runway to accumulate the gritty charm that once attracted gentrification in the first place. Potentially, this marks an end of an era in urban growth.
Hackers and whistleblowers have recovered the transparency that was undone by Citizens United
The long-foretold transparent society is nearly here, but not in the way we would have expected. Rather than voluntary transparency through an easing of inhibitions, we have an involuntary one now thanks to hackers and whistleblowers like WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden. Because of hacking and investigative journalism, campaign spending is now semi-transparent, thus muting the ill-effects foretold after the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. The rate of major leaks today is like Watergate, just with ten times the frequency.
Hipsters will be succeeded by hipostates: those whose apostasy is only to like things un-ironically
The successor to hipsters will be "hipostates," which is a compound of "hipster" and "apostate." While the term "apostate" indicates someone who has abandoned a religious affiliation (the opposite of apostle), it has relevance to the New Hipster.
Hipostates are people who like things un-ironically. They eat fast food not because they are trying to act poor, but because they think the food is tasty, reasonably priced, and an excellent delivery vehicle for calories. While as a hipster's prime motivation is to sample and remix a medley of subcultures, wearing them like a badge, with a wink in their eye, hipostates eat fast food because it's good.
There are billions who eat cheap hamburgers, but that doesn't mean they deserve the label "hip." What distinguishes the hipostate is their awareness. They know that their interests may not be cool, but they partake regardless. They seize them, wear them nonchalantly, and that unabashedness is the next trend after hipsterism.
This new movement is similar to willful philistinism, which describes the behavior of the 1980s British upper-crust who didn't have time to read books. They proudly celebrated their dislike of opera, poetry, and all things intellectual to compensate. But hipostates may like opera and the finer things; They're just not "for" or "against" any broad categories like the Sloanes of Britain.
Whereas hipsters are into emulating the general feel of cool tastes, hipostates do them one better by being extremely particular in their tastes. The hipostate takes the time to delve into subcultures, picking and choosing pieces to suit their individual tastes. The hipster, on the other hand, is too busy partying to calibrate their consumption.
If the lower-class of today can eat better than Charlemagne, then the lower-class of tomorrow will somehow live better than Bill Gates
Trickle-down economics is working in the sense that each rung on the ladder of prosperity is gaining better and better simulations of what the upper rungs used to have exclusively. It's no doubt that a high proletarian American can eat better every day than Charlemagne occasionally did. And the once-unique perks of Google, with signature chefs, back rubs, and on-site dentistry, is spreading to many unknown start-ups with significantly less significance than Google.
Perhaps the Singularity won't be this punctuated heavenly moment, but a rising golden tower of continued social stratification, with each strata fulfilling the once wildest dreams of the others.
If you build a sandcastle in Canada it will still be standing the next day. In the US, it wouldn't
A friend of mine was pondering the differences between Canadians and Americans, and he described a telling observation. While walking on the beach in Vancouver, he noticed someone stacking rocks into neat little columns. Fine, its perfectly normal for people to make sandcastles and similar works of public art. But what baffled him was that the next day, the columns were still standing.
In America, if you build a sandcastle or some public art project, someone will eventually troll-kick it. If someone doesn't, and some cop on an early morning stroll notices it still standing, he might sense something eerie was going on, and maybe call in backup. Hell, you might troll-kick it yourself, to preempt that from happening.
America has an F-U culture, which in America's defense, is probably why we're so successful in the first place.
In a way, not teaching about contraceptives adds a fearless edge to the abstinence pledge
Are abstinence pledges and condoms mutually exclusive? There is a cognitive dissonance necessary to pledge not to have premarital sex and yet carry condoms on your person. To do so would be like hedging your bets. One could say, "I'll try my best not to have sex before marriage, but if I do, I'll make sure it's protected sex." While that would be an emotionally mature and realistic thing to say, it lacks the focus or commitment inherent in a pledge, especially a public one. It doesn't exactly inspire the locking of arms. And so perhaps abstinence pledges are only meant to bind those already close to avoiding sex altogether in the first place, or lock out those close to or already having it.
In some ways, living in tribes was more free, since we didn't need the existence of subcultures to protect our deviance
Today some subcultures support and nurture those who deviate from heteronormative sexuality, but in the past, such subcultures weren't necessary. If two men were caught having sex in a small tribe, even if they were ridiculed or molested by their group, the harassment wouldn't have carried the force of code. The tribe wouldn't have had a book describing what is or isn't wrong. Even if they had a collection of traditions or principles, the tribe wouldn't have encountered enough gay acts to condemn it. In the tribal world, the distinction between subculture and culture didn't exist. One could create a polygamist society in one or two generations without the fear of interference from external forces. The presence of one monolithic society that coexists alongside smaller tolerated/oppressed ones is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of humans.
Instead of ending poverty, trickle-down economics has given the middle-class bike lanes, 401(k)s and iPhones
If GDP growth is constant and unending, then Utopia is imminent. Optimistic futurists imagine that as technology continues to reduce the cost of producing food, clothing, and shelter, then humankind will eventually be free to live lives of leisure and creativity. And even though these futurists are not naive to assume a uniform GDP distribution, they assume that even with conservative estimates of trickle-down economics, the widespread end of long-standing human ailments is at hand.
And yet the most visible result of this GDP growth has appeared on the high-end. Now we have bikeable cities, elaborate prosthetics, lavish vacation packages, and smartphones. And these perks are concentrated among technocrats and their support class, which includes lawyers, accountants, architects, and city planners. So for a certain group of people in certain locales, utopia is already here, and GDP growth could exist to compound their pleasure ad infinitum.
In the U.S., every odd-numbered class is pitted against the evens: middle-class against the 1%, lower-class whites against blacks
It's our obsession with Freud's theories that validate our mommy and daddy issues, not the theories themselves
The durability of the long-since debunked Freudian philosophies, speaks less to the quality of the psychology behind those ideas—and also less about the pioneering nature of them—but more to our natural human biases. We are all critical of the way our parents raised us. It's not very often you hear someone proclaim, "I was raised well." Freud is now less a part of the world of psychology than of literature, or perhaps mythology: animistic gods gradually replaced by bare descriptions of human bias.
Labels like the "radical" 60s or the "conservative" 50s only applied to the trend-obsessed middle-class
Victorian England was too repressed. The 1950s-era Atomic Age America was too repressed. These are historical conceptions that supposedly define an era, but really they only affected a narrow band of people: the middle-class. They are the obedient class, the ones who want to stay in line lest they fall into disrepute, or those who want to stay in line, on the off-chance they can gain a promotion. The poor and the wealthy, those who have nothing to lose and nothing much to gain, have been more independent from the tidal forces of social conservatism vs. liberalism.
Historical eras, like the Romantic period or the Radical 60s, also only applied to the middle class. The 1960s hippies were people who wanted to live beyond material possessions. But the poor have always lived off of the land in desperate times. And the wealthy, who own farms, ride into the countryside on weekends whenever they please.
Historical narratives are often just totems. They are discursive short-hand serving the purposes of the speaker: "We should return to the 1950s, with traditional family values," as if that's how we once were. Or, "What happened to the freedom rides and free love?" as if freedom ended when the movement ended, or that the only meaningful protests happened then. There are people who no matter what era they find themselves in, do as they please.
Life-extension is matched with life-reduction: new cures matched with new risks; penicillin matched with skydiving
One way to predict the future is to take every begrudging, "kids these days" statement, and assume that that will become the new normal
When you are young and rebelling against your elders, it's hard to imagine that you will grow old and turn into those same oppressive elders. It's especially difficult if you believe everything you did when you were young was rationally justified. How can the mere act of aging affect your reason for doing things? So when you do get older, the grouchiness has to be a complete surprise or relate to unanticipated changes to culture and society.
For example, there is a common saying of the form: "In my day, we had to walk 3 miles in the snow to get to school." The implication is that children are getting weaker. Today's corollary could be about mental toughness: "Kids these days have everything taken care of: Their video games play themselves, and if they get poor grades, they can always pop an Adderall."
Another common elderly complaint is about the decline in neighborly love: "Nobody knows their neighbors anymore." Today's corollary would be: "Kids these days feel that spending time on Facebook counts as 'socializing.'"
Probably the most common complaint has to do with the coarsening of culture, which has endured for so long, you would think that culture would be all but obliterated by now. And yet, it's easy to find new ways of being offended:
- Kids these days aspire to be Internet famous, even if it's just a 30-second clip of them hurting themselves.
- Kids these days don't know the difference between camp and crap.
- Kids these days can't focus. They just watch random clips on YouTube, the equivalent of America's Funniest Home Videos, ad nauseam.
- Kids these days go to online forums and call each other racist and homophobic slurs as a way to test their lack of sensitivity.
- Kids these days don't grow out of playing pranks or trolling.
- Kids these days think being offended is for losers.
Peaceful societies can afford more individualism, which paradoxically means more lone gunmen, which then means more surveillance
If war requires constituents to give their lives in concert for the greater good, then peace should lead to individualism. As peace expands, so shrinks our susceptibility to mass control. But the new peace is not absolute, and new outlets for violence against communities have emerged in the form of lone shooters and home-grown terrorists.
Pre-peace, we controlled violent people via broadcast, with religious or community leaders—who for most of history were the same people—pushing an agenda to the receptive masses. Post-peace, we have to control violent people via the network. The potential school shooter has to be watched by a web of faculty and parents, looking for telltale signs. A web of psychiatrists and officers have to watch the soldier with PTSD and catch them before they take weapons off base. And everybody else has to have their emails watched, and their purchases monitored, just in case one of them decides to give their life for the good of their own, twisted form of retribution.
Property and Selfishness
There are two sides in the debate on the origins of altruism: one that insists we're selfless, the other that we're selfish. However, the distinction between selfishness and non-selfishness is biased by our socially-acceptable notion of human goodness. We think we're selfish, but that's just because we have norms where we don't ask for people's charity. If we were selfless, all of our friends and family would have the same amount of money, or at least everybody would often rebalance so that everybody was roughly free from need in the same amount.
When children play, we often police them to make sure they share their toys. And yet, as adults, we would never share our property with the same frequency. It's just that adults know not to bug each other for their stuff. As adults, we are as selfish as we were in our natural state as children.
If there were no cure for headaches, we might not suffer them as much. When we reach for painkillers, the order of events seems like it goes from vexation to question to answer. We feel tense, then we ask, "What can be done about this?" to which the response is, "Use this." But the existence of a possible answer draws the question out of us, and in tandem the knowledge of the vexation.
For example, a mother is driving her son to school and notices he is quiet. She asks, "What's wrong?" to which he replies, "My head hurts." (In the past, he might have said, "My tummy hurts," or "I don't feel good.") Suddenly a Children's Tylenol appears in his mouth, which creates an entry for "headache" in his database of fixable things.
Perhaps even the question, "What's wrong?" wouldn't have been asked a couple of generations earlier because parents didn't have video games and pills in their panacea toolbox.
Robots will replace mundane tasks only after a century of nerds ruling the world. Someone has to create and maintain said robots
When a machine replaces someone's job, their individual increase in unemployment is more than made up for by the reduced cost of goods spread across the rest of the economy—so the theory goes. For optimistic futurists, machines will solve every problem, leaving us free to live a life of leisure.
However, these futurists and economists gloss over the transition to utopia. Engineers have to create these automatons, and while we could consider their jobs as temporary, how temporary is temporary? What if it takes a thousand years of computer programmers, working to automate everybody else's jobs, that the entire workforce becomes programmers.
Another scenario is that the future then becomes exclusively built for the machine-makers. Survival a hundred or so years from now could depend on having a minimum amount of technical literacy. This scenario could even come about in a roundabout way, whereby welfare becomes outsourced to companies like Google or Facebook, where in order to access your benefits, you have to perform certain technical maneuvers, like cashing in virtual money from playing games. Perhaps welfare is guaranteed to anybody who knows enough about technology to make a secure enough password to protect their Bitcoin wallets.
While the collective dream is one of an all-encompassing leisure life, there are so many roadblocks to getting there, that the roadblocks themselves could ultimately end up being the reality.
Status-seeking and creativity are inextricably connected
Social disparity breeds creativity. A society that is concerned with class is concerned with tournaments of all types. The starving artist feeds off of the banker in the fresh suit who saunters into the coffee shop. "The dog will have its day," the artist thinks to themselves. And the junior banker feeds off of the branch head who walks into the meetings with a fresh tan and a gold watch. "I too will have my day," the banker thinks. And so on and so forth, until all underdogs are wracking their brains to find the one idea or the one turning of the screw that will turn the tables on everyone else.
Teenagers are annoying in all species that separate growth years from child-raising years
Daniel Everett, who lived among the indigenous Pirahã for many years, observed that teenagers in their society were noisy and rambunctious too, which led him to conclude that they must be that way everywhere.
Animals have a notion of play too. Monkeys, for example, have been observed throwing themselves into bushes that bend and then fling them back at their friends, for no other purpose than that it gives them pleasure. (Evolutionary biologists, though, would say the purpose of play is to encourage skill acquisition).
Which brings up the question whether adult monkeys have the same attitude towards their teenagers as we do. Do they sit higher up in the trees, wringing their hands, looking down upon their "once-promising son or daughter" who is now spending their days making weird noises and jumping around like an idiot onto the bushes, having sex with whomever they please, with no consideration of anybody or anything else going on around them. With no respect for civil society.
The 90-9-1 Rule of Internet Forums
There is a rule about Internet forums that says 90% of users lurk, 9% upvote or contribute in small ways, and just 1% create content. Likewise, a historical study from 1900 to 2006 showed that once a nonviolent protest got the sustained participation of 3.5% of the population, it was then guaranteed succeed. So, in both peaceful protests and Internet forums, there is a disparity between the perception of who they represent and the minority that comprises their content.
That such a disparity appears in both places means there might be implications for activism in general. Let's say that 1% of the population tells 9% what to read and write about. And let's say that 9% tells the remaining 90% what they should consider being mainstream thought. You would then only need to persuade half of that 9% to effect mass social change. Convincing 4.6% of the population is all it would take. This task may seem small or large, depending on your optimism, but it's certainly easier than trying to convince all of the Blue States or all of the Red States. Just sway the chattering classes, and the rest should work itself out.
The American Dream is financed by the tolls of American marriage
Stephanie Coontz, in Marriage, a History, posits that marriage in America is unique in history, not for its individual features, but for the lump-sum of them. The ideal of the Leave It to Beaver, happily-ever-after, nuclear family of the 1950s is new in history in that it bundles the expectations for affection, division-of-labor, co-habiting, financial co-mingling, and monogamy into the institution of marriage. In other words, American marriage is difficult, which would explain the high divorce rates.
That is not to say, though, that marriage shouldn't be difficult. Precisely the opposite, American marriage is difficult because American life is such a high stakes game. America, the land of opportunity, is more hierarchal than average. Because of its land, population, wealth, and overall standing, the country owns a giant chunk of the top of the global pyramid. In order to climb that pyramid, it's best to be a child of one of those nuclear families. For example, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are two of America's greatest success stories (at least according to an American definition of success), and they were the children of loving, engaged, two-parent households living in the suburbs. Steve Jobs's case is even more interesting since he was an orphan. With dedicated two-parent households, each parent can take on a handful of myriad beneficial roles in child-rearing, such as encouraging a child's extracurriculars or building wealth to afford great college tuitions or sizable backyards in expensive utopias such as 1960s Mountain View, California or Seattle, Washington.
Such benefits for children might come at the expense of parental happiness. In order to sustain the ideal marriage, the husband and wife must cease caring about sex with outside partners, they must have a love that starts out as lust and evolves into a deep friendship that is sustained, and they must collaborate relatively easily in dividing and spreading their responsibilities. The closest analog in the past was when the husband and wife were business partners, working the same farm. When that arrangement ceased post-War, the nuclear partners had to engage each other's minds, and comfortably sit and watch TV together while transferring knowledge to their children. Good parents are expected to moonlight as tutors and character role models for their children, as opposed to teaching their children a family trade. Those couples that can't check off all these boxes then collapse into a strained unhappiness or divorce. Those that do, get their American dream.
The Centralization of Technology
The current panic over the centralization of tech companies isn't new. While the fear that just a few players (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.) are dominating the tech space is a legitimate one, the forces underlying it are part of who we are. Centralization, technology, and capitalism are intertwined. In a way, all of those concepts are synonymous with leverage. Capitalism is the centralization of wealth that is then dispatched for singular aims. Technology is the means of transforming that capital into some value for society. Whether it's farming, weaponry, railroads, or industrialization, the first to seize on an invention is the first to capitalize on it. The subsequent rapid growth is then centralized by the wielder of that tech.
While Silicon Valley tech companies have a friendly face, they are the continuation of a long tradition of capitalists, from the East India Trading Company, to Big Oil, to Kingdoms and Empires. All power ultimately stems from technology. Even the tribal chief's power comes from the technology of spears and clubs.
Eventually, the capitalist's leverage gets co-opted and commoditized by insurgents. Democracy undid the trusts of Big Oil. Guerilla fighters with muskets undid the projection of power wrought by imperial powers. Eventually, an approximation of Google will emerge for less money. Eventually, Amazon's economy's of scale won't be so gross of an advantage. Facebook is a challenge to this model, though. The nature of its application comes from the size of its network, making it impossible for upstarts. And splitting up Facebook wouldn't work like splitting up Big Oil since Facebook's utility is in its all-encompassing nature. And yet, the incentive for upstarts to enclose people into smaller tribes that use different kinds of social networking experiences is too valuable. The king can only reign so long until the meek co-opts all of their advantages for their power play.
The New York Times bestsellers list exists to turn the words of book titles into public thought
People hear about a non-fiction book from a popular magazine article or through an interview on the radio and are seduced by the thesis. They then buy the book and start reading it in earnest, gaining an introductory understanding of the nature of the research backing the thesis. They then often skim the rest of the book or set the book aside.
None of the author's research is retained by readers, nor necessarily even read, even if hundreds of thousands of people pick up the book. And yet those hundreds of thousands will believe in the words of that author, and of those hundreds of thousands, some will be policy-makers or spiritual leaders. The stack of text then becomes a beacon or totem that says, effectively, "This is probably true." People will cite the book after it's initial publication, and eventually, the book could be hollowed out. But even if the text were lost forever, the title of the book and the author's name could continue to guide the direction of human thought for years to come.
The Olympics isn't about finding the best; Otherwise, it would be dominated by freaks and cyborgs instead of fair, entertaining fights
The Olympics only makes sense in areas where human universality can be displayed. That the best runners run roughly the same speed is critical to making a compelling game. Physical skills that only 10 people on Earth have would never be tested. Even in a game like basketball, there aren't freakishly tall people who are 10 feet or 20 feet tall. If there was, the sport would be dead or the super-tall players would be forbidden. Superpowers are therefore obscured on behalf of fair fights.
The advent of birth control has been balanced by the proliferation of birth-uncontrols like alcohol and drugs
The advent of birth control is balanced by the proliferation of alcohol and other drugs, which prevent people from making rational mating choices. Perhaps "balance" is the wrong word, because these are all just options. Birth-control is an option, and so is the ability to reach for a chemical to suppress rational thinking. The evolution of mankind is the evolution of freedom. From freedom of diet to the free use of our hands, to the free use of tools, we are driven by the expanding and exploiting of our infinite choice.
The ascendancy of the zombie genre is matched by the creepy feeling on the subway becoming the dominant day-to-day fear
The current peak of popularity with zombie genres is likely to last. This has to do, in part, with our search for new enemies in a world that is becoming increasingly peaceful (as spelled out in Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature). As violence declines, our fear of homicide transforms into a fear of mind-numbing people. The existence of anybody whose culture is contrary to ours becomes a violence against our humanity. The creepy feeling on the subway is now the dominant day-to-day fear.
Fascination with zombies must also align with an overall concern about mindlessness. It's hard to say whether or not people are more mindless than we were a twenty or forty years ago, but it's safe to say that people are more concerned about the mind-numbing aspects of technology or modern media. Whether it's video games, repetitive electronic music, formulaic pop chart mono-culture, droning rap music, or too many texts and screens, there is a general sense that we are becoming vacuous consumers glued to multimedia devices.
Paradoxically, the interest in zombies could also be due to cultural diversification. As the number of opportunities for individual self-expression increase, and the number of distinct subcultures explodes, everybody else starts to congeal into a single growing mass of unfamiliars, much like on the subway, even though everybody in that Other is as dissimilar to each other as they are to you, making them more likely to view you as a zombie just as much as you might view them.
The celebration of human greatness is the celebration of eugenics
Whenever we celebrate human greatness, we are celebrating eugenics. If we celebrate the best jazz players, we celebrate the best genes for improvisation and for music. In addition, we celebrate the players' dedication, which give us pleasure, and therefore celebrate their drive and determination, which happens to be a mixture of genes and free will. Through the collective action of our interests, we are all contributing to tournaments that passively sort out good people. However, since no individual is conscious of their part in the grand sorting, we are also all free from blame.
The desire to transcend class is itself rooted in class desire, specifically the middle-class's
A desire to transcend class first requires an awareness of class, which requires a minimum level of education combined with a general amount of free time to ponder such anxieties. Such education and leisure is found in the middle classes and above.
It also requires a special kind of class-anxiety, one that can only be articulated in class terms. Below the middle-class, class-anxiety manifests as anxiety about basic comforts and professional security. While these may be class markers, the high proletariat and below are more interested in career and money for reasons other than status. It's at the middle-class when money and security become excessive, giving room for status to take over.
As for those above the middle-class, class-anxiety is as high as ever, but it doesn't express itself as a desire to escape the strictures of class. The upper-middle-class is secure within the middle-class bracket, so their class confidence offsets any desire to transcend class. And the upper-classes have reached a point where the game can't be reduced to class vs. non-class. They are bound by greater, mysterious powers, many of which are outside of their control, such as their bloodline.
The desire to transcend class is rooted in class itself
When people say that they're unconcerned with class, it's hard not see that as a shrewd—but subconscious—calculation in class-advancement. This is impossible to prove, and it's circular thinking, but it can be seen in caricature. For example, consider the young adult who graduates from a top university with a liberal education who eschews having a fancy car or living in a nice apartment because such things reek of class. And yet, they would be reluctant to lay down their safety and live in a truly bad neighborhood, not one that was just edgy and hip. They would be reluctant to disavow their education, which is the ultimate class-signifier. And lastly, they would never date someone below their class.
When we get to the point where it's easy to picture a couple from separate classes — and not just those mixed couples where one is promoting or cultivating the other) — only then has genuine class-transcendence arrived.
The end of hipsters coincided with the rise of iPhones, because as soon as they all had to have one, it exposed their monoculture
Although the hipsters (circa 2007) initially rebelled against monoculture, they ultimately created a new monoculture, one that existed solely in opposition to the mainstream monoculture.
Hipsters ostensibly rebelled against such confines, and thus they would never describe themselves by such a single-serving label. But a malaise emerged in the scene, as their music became trite. A lot of what interested hipsters was novelty, but now novelty can be manufactured by throwing a little experimentalism in a catchy pop tune. Hipsters were into authenticity, but this can be simulated by reducing the production values of songs to achieve a "lo-fi" effect. And hipsters were into depth, which can be achieved by adding some difficult themes or moods to any genre, even rap.
Music was a leading indicator, and commentators derisively ruled the early death of the hipster, even as hipsters themselves eschewed the label, or ignored the signs of their extinction. What tipped the creeping malaise over the edge, though, was the introduction of the iPhone. Every hipster had an iPhone. Friends who didn't were chided when they couldn't play Words with Friends or properly receive group messages.
When you went for a smoke at a hipster club and saw the same iPhone in everybody's hand, it defeated the purpose of being in a place that was supposed to be celebrating diversity. It revealed the movement for what it was, which was all about representing things considered high-quality, pop, and "different"—all the things that Apple represents.
The existence of billboards is proof that democracy doesn't work
We all have a neutral-to-negative opinion about billboards, and yet the apathy of our collective voice cannot overcome the motivated will of a tiny advertising lobby.
The goal now isn't to seek terra incognita, but to revisit old lands with a fresh set of eyes
Now that every section of the Earth has been explored, where are the next adventures? Perhaps the beginning of post-modernism occurred not at the end of World War II, but when Antarctica was discovered. Or maybe that's why all the world wars happened, because that's when land became truly scarce, and there was nothing left to colonize; the great nations started getting anxious. There was nothing left to explore. Well, there was the moon, but we gathered nothing from there. So perhaps we're at the end of all linear explorations. In a linear exploration model, each new discovery accumulates and adds to the previous exploration.
Instead, now, we have cyclical explorations. We explore things that have already been tread on but have been forgotten for a handful of generations. Sometimes, in our own feverish excitement, we believe we're explorers. For example, the psychoactive pioneers of Timothy Leary and Terrence McKenna are really just re-discovering old shamanistic practices that have been lost for generations. The radical 1960s were in many ways a recapitulation of the Transcendentalists of Emerson's era or of prior anarchists.
All exploration is local now. You are a pioneer if you are the first of your tribe to do something, to forge out into the woods, and come back with the good news. In many ways, this has been the dominant model of exploration. The Native Americans, for example, didn't have any illusions about whether the lands they discovered had prior human contact. What mattered to them was that they found new territory and game for their people.
I often travel, with a sense of adventure, with the wind behind my back and the excited encouragement of my peers. And when I arrive, I find that the land has already been discovered, and all epiphanies I was expecting to get have already been tread on, over and over again, to the nausea of the locals. I could then simply stop traveling, but then I would have no stories to tell.
The middle-class is the least free because the poor have nothing to lose and the rich can always afford to lose more
Victorian England was too repressed. The 1950s-era Atomic Age America was too repressed. This is why they were followed by great releases: the Romantics and the Radical-60s respectively. At least, that's how the common interpretation of history goes. In actuality, social freedoms have been around forever, it's just that they've existed in only two classes of people: those without money and those with.
Consider women and freedom for example. The poor woman who came from an orphanage has never been pressured by anyone to start a family. She doesn't have a kitchen to tend to or a crying baby to feed. Likewise, the rich widower has never been held back from writing novels or from indulging in the same pleasures as men. She has always had her own money and she has always had her own lovers.
The middle-class supports policies that favor the rich because they assume money comes from hard work and talent
The middle-class understanding of wealth might actually be more positive than the attitude wealthy people have for themselves. The wealthy know that their wealth is not the product of hard work or talent, but of connections and opportunism. Those in the middle-class are stuck there because they are unaware of the dirty deeds necessary to get further.
The wealthy will always vote in their best interest. But since they are small, they need the inadvertent support of a middle-class that votes against their self-interest, otherwise, they would have no power.
Therapy and Wine-Tasting
The cost-benefits of therapy are twisted to favor the wealthy. The potential upside of good therapy is life-changing, but figuring who will or won't deliver that upside is maddeningly difficult. You could be stuck with a bad therapist for years and not know it because the therapist keeps you busy spinning your wheels while you work on your "issues." The only patients who can sift among therapists properly are either the already emotionally well-balanced (so they don't need a therapist), or the rich. For the rich, money is not a concern, meaning they can select from both expensive and inexpensive therapists.
Even though we have no studies showing that the quality of therapy is correlated with how it costs, we can assume that they couldn't not be correlated. At the very least, therapists that make patients happy will be in high demand and thus would charge more. As a result, the rich have access to the widest range of quality therapists. In this way, money does buy happiness.
The fact that quality therapy might only be available to the rich makes therapy similar to wine-tasting. Refining your palette in wine-tasting requires a lot of money. Wine-tasting is also on the genetic cutting edge: you are either born with a "nose" or not. Likewise, therapy is on the frontier of human expression. Most therapy is bad, but the good therapists are great, and the great ones are Earth-shattering. As a result, the wealthy are the patrons of our collective endeavor to explore the benefits of mediated introspection. The upside is enormous, but currently, the ability to unlock that advantage remains in the hands of the select.
The replacement fertility rate could stand at 1.0 if we assume only women need to replace themselves
Fertility rates for developed countries are declining, with the United States at 1.86 per woman and Europe at 1.59. Fertility rates are even lower for sub-groups within those populations who are white, educated, or wealthy. The headlines surrounding these usually involve panic and surprise, the latter of which is caused by how counter-evolutionary it seems to have a fertility rate lower than the replacement rate (2.00).
However, no nation has a fertility rate lower than 1.00, and while having one child is a marked departure from having two children, it's all a giant leap from having no children. Childlessness is the termination or failure of evolution, whereas having at least one child is still the continuation of evolution.
And it may not even be an issue with continuity, but rather our poor definition of replacement. We assume the replacement fertility rate is 2.00 because there are two parents involved. If we only consider the female's perspective, the replacement rate could be 1.00, since women only have to replace themselves. Theoretically, if the world had one man, a global fertility rate of anything just above 1.00 could still replace the world.
The rise of the creative class inevitably leads to the rise of the un-creative, or slacker, class
The creative class is partly a manifestation of what Paul Fussell calls "Class X", a new, burgeoning group of people who live outside the confines of lower-, middle-, and upper-class. Fussell described this group in 1992, but the modern creative class as described by Richard Florida may actually signal the start the classless ideal.
The creative class has achieved some air of class independence by retaining nearly all the perks of the upper-classes. If you factor out the scale of money involved in their ventures, both the creative and the upper-classes lead similar lives of leisure. And while such an advancement would usually mean that the creative class is yet another wing of the upper-class, the structure is more like a branching out of a parallel class system.
The creative class is a new class system, one that is growing, and one that is developing a spectrum of division, similar to the lower-, middle-, and upper-divisions before. The first sign is the rise of the under-creative or slacker class. This group has creative leanings, but they under-utilize them, or they don't profit off of them. And yet, via the largesse of society, they lead a comfortable existence.
The prototype for the under-creative class comes from the middle-aged who live off the largesse of middle-class parents who have tapped into the corporate American white-collar money pit. Or it manifests in childless couples where just one partner is employed. The working partner accepts this bargain because they enjoy their creative job, and it gives their partner a chance to pursue their dreams. Besides, the non-working partner may eventually accrue a profit and return the favor, leading to a cycle of each partner rewarding the other with extended sabbaticals. Or, better yet, the non-working partner may accrue intangible status gains from interesting hobbies, a status that was once the exclusive hallmark of the non-working upper-classes.
The social classes are gendered in a barber pole pattern
The social classes have gendered roles. The upper-middle-class is the most feminine, with lithe professors and an emphasis on respectful, politically-correct discourse. The upper-class is more masculine, with titans of industry and others looking to scale the highest peaks of wealth. Then, the top out-of-sight is feminine again, angelic in their security at the top of the firmament.
Going back down from the upper-middle-class, the middle-class is also feminine, focused on equal marriages and appeasing everybody above and below them. The high-proletariat, though, is masculine, with the six-figure plumbers and contractors being the kings of professions that favor strength. On down, through the low proletarians, are a return to femininity in the form of maternal safety nets to protect everybody who is one layoff away from poverty. And then below, we swing back to the masculine anger that comes with being destitute or bottom-out-of-sight.
The strength of a nation's creative class is only important if it indirectly helps build war machines
Everything comes back down to war. In the contest for scarce resources, force is the final answer. The ability to remove an opponent, i.e. to kill members of the same species, is the ultimate use-case for all the tools that evolution has provided us. Perhaps in 99 years out of a 100, those tools are not necessary, because there is an abundance of food, or simply that constant war is not efficient for a species. But it's in that 1 out of 100 times that all that intervening 99 years of work comes into play.
There is often an underlying notion that the history of humanity of moving towards greater intelligence. Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class, for example, paints a picture of a world where everybody is individually expressing themselves through creative projects. That somehow, a world where everybody is creative is the ultimate fulfillment of humankind's destiny. That just around the corner we will achieve that glorious intellectual environment of Ancient Greece, like Raphael's The School of Athens.
However, this supposed glory days of Ancient Greece was built on the backs of a 50% slave population. Also, Ancient Greece was supplanted by Ancient Rome, which had some elements of anti-intellectualism. Cato the Elder, for example, was for traditional Roman military values and plainspokenness.
Countries often go through intellectual purges and survive, possibly even thrive. We may yet see how China, post-Cultural Revolution, with its restriction on freedom of speech, will play out.
Creativity in America has led it to be the economic powerhouse that it is (combined with a great civic organization, hard-working people, and diverse natural resources). The GDP bought from that innovation has given the country a military necessary to rule the world. But could a less creative and innovative nation have a greater military in the future?
The standard narrative is that America's continued pluck and innovation America will keep it ahead. But all that creativity is only important if it can ultimately impact its war machine.
To seek rank is to seek the admiration of the lower ranks, thus lowering oneself in the process
If you seek to become peerless, you have two ways of validating your rank: mingle with those of the same rank, or mingle with those below rank. If you mingle with those of the same rank, at a soiree perhaps, your rank is only validated by the idea that somewhere, out there, are people worse off than you.
Another option is to mingle with those below rank, perhaps by running a company or estate, where you are surrounded by minions, which runs the risk of lowering your rank. Even if you control your accent and clothing, by the sheer volume of your daily interaction with the plebes, at the very least their rhythms will become yours, and their vulgarity will inevitably infect your vocabulary.
But perhaps this makes sense, as the longest lasting metropolises have a shimmering block pattern of destitute hangouts around the corner from posh cafes and hotels, thus making it easy for those concerned about rank to have constant reminders about which way is up.
Updating the Purpose of Heroes
What the torrent of sex abuse scandals has done is eliminate the Myth of the Hero. It’s impossible now to look at a bust of a once glorious Founding Father or a portrait of a War Hero and not wonder what vices they kept from the public eye. The regularity of the scandals is such that everyone is suspect, which begs the question, Why have heroes in the first place?
Warm cities are lazier than cooler ones unless they are a popular metropolis like Los Angeles, Miami, or Ancient Rome
A common argument for why cities in warmer climates aren't as prosperous as cities in colder ones is that it's harder to survive in colder climates. This argument falls flat easily when considering that there have been many other times in our history where the only interesting cities were in latitudes closer to the equator such as in Ancient Egypt or Assyria.
But there's another counter-argument, one that can draw from modern times. San Diego is a city that is free from weather-related strife, which could imply that its residents are going to eventually be lazier because they don't have to work as hard. However, a lot of wealthy people move to San Diego for the better weather, so perhaps San Diego might gain a net increase in tenacious citizenry, assuming that that wealth was generally acquired by smarter or more hard-working people.
Likewise, our ancestors who drifted up to colder climates must have done so because they couldn't make it in the warmer ones. While colder climates require more human effort to extract calories from the ground, warmer climates have more people which means more competition, which also requires considerable human effort. The statement, "It's too crowded here, let's move somewhere else," is ultimately a veiled expression of the form, "There is too much competition for resources here."
We lost the lower-middle-class when factory jobs disappeared. We will lose the middle-class when service jobs disappear
The poor have always asked for alms or welfare. But what if the middle class starts seeking that too?
Productivity has been constantly rising ever since the Industrial Revolution, but the gains from that extra productivity haven't trickled down to masses as quickly. Technology has been gobbling up more and more human labor, and economists have always argued that the cost savings in consumer goods are greater than the loss in human wages. So for example, the displaced farmer's wages are theoretically balanced out by the reduced cost of food.
The first problem with this theory is that it's cold comfort to the recently unemployed farmer. The second problem is that it's not true that every dollar lost in wages gets automatically replaced by two dollars in reduced cost of consumer goods. Instead, what happens is that those savings get accumulated by capitalists.
The majority of people would be unhappy with this arrangement if it were presented to them in stark relief, so the upper class has always made bargains with the lower classes to keep them from revolt. For the lowest class, they have been given a minimal amount of welfare to keep them from forming mobs. For the middle class, the arrangement has been more complicated.
The middle class's deal has been to get creature comforts that sort of scale with productivity gains, so long as they're willing to work hard, get educated, and specialize in a profession. Everybody in the middle class is operating under a system, whether simulated or real, of a meaningful division of labor. In their head, their job harks back to a time of apprentices, blacksmiths, and cobblers all contributing to a colorful and lively city and economy.
But we're reaching a point where the productivity machine is no longer just gobbling up poor farmer jobs. It's gobbling up middle-class jobs that were once secure. The accountant is being replaced by QuickBooks. The journalist is being replaced by Twitter. It's not hard to imagine the teacher eventually being replaced by Kahn Academy.
While it's true that there has been some creative destruction, with these smart workers switching to different, more creative careers, at some point there will be no more random marketing jobs available to mop up the unemployed. You can already see that some of the substitutes for these positions, like journalist/blogger, are at a lower pay. Educated, specialized, middle-class Americans are making the same, relative to inflation, today as they were ten years ago, despite total growth in GDP per capita. It's not hard to imagine that ten years from now, middle-class Americans will be making less.
This is going to call into question the special bargain between the middle and upper classes. Middle-class welfare has crept into existence through socialist states with universal healthcare. But, so far this has been under the premise that the average dollars that a middle-class person pays in taxes are much more than the services they get back from the state.
At some point—which may already be happening—the middle class will take more than they give. Conservative parties have recently been calling into question the viability of universal health care in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom. The middle class will have to get on a direct form of welfare eventually, lest they take up arms and revolt too.
We stereotype and extrapolate because life isn't long enough to collect samples and prove much of anything
Perhaps reason isn't the ultimate conclusion of human intelligence. We need the ability to extrapolate from singular experiences because there are so many things in life that we only get one shot at. For example, marriage and finding a child-rearing situation was a once-in-a-lifetime decision. You mated, and mated for life, and all your children came from mating with one person. You can't figure out who to marry based on experience. Or rather, you can, but it's through not experience doing the exact thing you want to test. You could date, you could have pre-marital sex (things which in some cultures today, and many cultures past, didn't happen), to sort of pre-sort who you want to eventually be tied up with. But even without that, the decision of who to mate with comes from some experiences, but they are one-offs. You kissed a girl who was blond once on the playground, and for the rest of your life, you like blond girls. Or some guy with strong arms stopped an escalator belt from crushing you, and from then on, you always liked guys with strong arms.
It is for this reason that cultural stereotypes are so fluid and harsh; They are often generated by exposure to singular experiences.
While apathy increases with larger states, so does mass activism, which is how we ultimately address local injustices
The problem with larger states is that motivation is so diffuse. When there are millions of voters, it's irrational to go to the polls. On the other hand, with a larger state, gross local injustices can accumulate enough small bits of regional ire to generate a unique, mass-scale response that would have otherwise been impossible, such as in the nationwide response that descended on Rosa Parks.
While men and women are free to dress as they like, women have ten times more genres to choose from, including ones of their own personal invention
Men either have less freedom or more freedom when it comes to dress than women do. True, anybody can dress however they want, adorning themselves with all sorts of shapes and colors that fit their imagination, but to dress stylishly, one has to consider the existing, acceptable stylish genres for their gender.
For men in a cosmopolitan city, there are anywhere from 2-4 genres of attire that, when followed fully, lead to something that could be considered a stylish ensemble. For example, in Austin, TX, there are three genres to choose from. There is the hipster adorned with a willfully eclectic mix of styles, retro or ironic sunglasses, and unusual, but of-the-moment colors (at one point, it was purple, and recently it was maroon). There is the uniform that could be called "white liberal" from those who shop at Whole Foods, who like the hipness of hipsters, but don't like how loud they are, and at the moment, tend to wear shoes sold by Toms, the company that donates a pair of shoes for every one you buy. Thirdly, there is the stylish dress of the more traditionally employed, such as those working in finance, who tend to pick a blur of styles from the hipsters and white liberals, but from 5-10 years ago, while throwing in flairs of attitude and class, such as maintaining a popped collar, or still wearing Lacoste shirts.
If a man doesn't dress in a genre associated with his demographic, he can only create a facsimile of style. He can have matching colors, have forms that fit well, and pay for a coherent haircut, but if he doesn't fit within those above three genres, something will always seems off or incomplete about his ensemble.
Women also have genres to choose from. Two of the genres for men mentioned above also exist for women: the hipster and the white liberal. However, the number of genres for women are not on the order of 2-4, but on the order of 12-16. And since women spend more effort outdoing each other in fashion, appearing unique has larger currency for them. For a woman to appear stylish, she really has two options: to either choose from a pre-made genre for her demographic (whether it's a platinum-blonde inspired from The O.C. or a bangs-bedecked cutie-pie à la Zooey Deschanel), or she can create her own genre and ensemble, as long as it adheres to general principles of aesthetics.
The expression, "I may not know art, but I know what I like," is a defense mechanism against real or imagined culture snobs. But there is an alternative, empowering approach called willful philistinism. The Sloanes, who were a group of wealthy Britons epitomized by Princess Diana, employed this strategy. They were unembarrassed to admit disliking ballet, opera, modern art, and James Joyce. Most public intellectuals of the 1970s and 1980s were left-wing, but because the Tory Sloanes were right-wing, they had to distance themselves from that culture. The Sloanes created an alternative reality of ideals wherein base taste was an object of admiration and pride.
Ironically, in dissing intellectual snobs, the Sloanes became snobs of snobbery. Whereas the typical snob rejects mainstream taste, the willful Philistine rejects those same snobs for trying too hard. So instead of cultural taste being like a spectrum, with good and bad taste being the poles, it is more like a ring. Those at the top of the pecking order, to protect their coveted position, reject the whole hierarchy itself, looping back to the bottom and identifying with plebian icons.
The Republican Party, which draws significantly more votes from the wealthy than the Democratic Party, has recapitulated willful philistinism. They've crafted messages that slam intellectualism and praise the countryside. While rural America could easily evoke illiteracy, destitution, backwardness, and naiveté, the Republicans have romanticized the farmer's life. Republicans emphasize homespun virtue and authenticity, abandoning cosmopolitan academics, and as a result, have created a strange alliance between rich and poor.
Within the casual excuse of "the world doesn't need more people" lies the truth about declining birth-rates
The paradox of declining birth-rates in Europe and the developed world is a puzzling anomaly. The birth-rate increases with lower incomes, which is counter-intuitive since more wealth seems to imply a greater capacity to support a family.
However, the higher birth-rate in low-income and low-education levels may simply be due to limited access to contraception. Or it could be due to the reproductive urgency of a harsh life; when people close to you die young, it increases the urgency to couple and reproduce.
Either way, education and money obviate those things, so then what's left? Perhaps the declining birth-rate could be explained by the simple folk short-hand excuse, "The world doesn't need more people."
Perhaps, when money and a certain station in life bring about the luxury of rational choices and family planning, to take on the costly proposition of child-rearing, the motivation has to come from external forces. Somehow, the couple needs to believe, "We need more people."
"We" could be anything. The default "we" is usually your city, church or culture. If for example, you are attached to Zoroastrianism (one of the oldest surviving religions, which now only has less than 200,000 members), and you attend the meetings regularly, you might feel the exhortation from elders to be fruitful and multiply as the only way to keep the culture alive. You may then pair up with a fellow Zoroastrian and shoot for five or more children.
In the absence of religion, you might feel like your town needs more people. If you were one of the early pilgrims, for example, reproduction would be an urgent communal necessity to grow the city to a large enough size to survive the ebb and flow of seasons and foreign threats.
But most Americans live in big cities now, and if you are ever stuck in traffic, it's easy to think that your city doesn't need more people. "We do not need more people, in fact, it would be nice if people went away."
This could all be a psychological trick, though, because your mayor wants more growth, and population growth is crucial for GDP growth. However, the individual is not attached to that at all. The individual's experience is that of overcrowding. If living spaces are tight, it might be easy to think, "Well, where would I put a new baby? How would I cram a kid into an already overcrowded school? How will my kid find a job one day?"
The Usefulness of Accuracy
Accurate statements aren't necessary, or even useful. For example, if your child gets mugged while walking down an alley in a rough neighborhood, then according to law and accuracy, the cause of their mugging was the mugger. Many other people have walked down that alley in that neighborhood and not gotten mugged. But you would still scold your child until they promise not to walk down that alley again, because that's what's most likely to prevent them from getting mugged in the future. You can cause your child to be less mugged in the future by blaming them for their mugging in the past.