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Culture Travel

Day 1154 and Putting on Airs

This time last year I was in a Mexican seaside resort town for a family birthday. While I never even got in the water I did soak in something else. I absorbed a human truth. For most of us, being rich isn’t an absolute state but a comparative one.

The local Mexican townie culture of Puerto Vallarta and its relationship to American Boomers reflects the cynical math of resort towns and tourist destinations the world over. It’s about feeling richer than someone else.

Apparently you go abroad because being rich and living in luxury aren’t the same thing. Plenty of Americans don’t feel rich.

It’s a source of intense insecurity and much of our national politics reflects the desire of Americans wanting “being rich” to mean living in luxury in comparison to someone else

Day 797 and Feeling Rich

By coincidence I’m in a seaside town again this year. I spent some of the day seeing the same class dynamics that I saw in Mexico.

I’m on the Ionian Sea in what is aspirationally called the Albanian Riviera. I say aspirational as it’s technically correct. It is in Albania and has all the qualities of other rivieras you may have been to in France of Italy.

Cliffside views on the Albanian Riviera.

It’s astonishingly beautiful in its natural splendor. It is awash in foreign wealth if you are close to the beach. The blue Ionian Sea is quite a draw.

The off season on the Ionian Sea
Empty pools and empty roads

It has the unmistakable angst of those wanting to feel rich. It’s packed with Italians. It would seem Italians come here Albanian to feel rich just as Americans do in Mexico.

If you’ve ever been to South Beach and had cause to step off the luxury hotel lineup of Collins Avenue into the Miami exurban swamplands you can probably mimic the feeling I am experiencing. Showy wealth doesn’t extend much beyond the constructed resort experiences.

I went an an automobile mechanic not more than a half mile from Main Street along the seaside. I saw the old communist block housing. Every place has its townies and the help can’t be too far off.

Every resort needs housing
Communist housing or resort town housing?

So if you want to “put on airs” as the British say and show off your wealth stop and ask yourself if feeling rich is about other people.

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Culture

Day 1152 and Sunsetting The Boomers

The Fourth Turning has become something like accepted elite discourse canon for generational analysis and grand theories of history.

William Strauss and Neil Howe’s theory is probably familiar to you but I’ll cite it for my own edification.

The Strauss–Howe generational theory, devised by William Strauss and Neil Howe, describes a theorized recurring generationcycle in American history and Western history. According to the theory, historical events are associated with recurring generational personas (archetypes). Each generational persona unleashes a new era (called a turning) lasting around 20–25 years, in which a new social, political, and economic climate (mood) exists.

Neil Howe Generational Theory

I go in for this “generational horoscope” theory. But I go in for lots of other “deterministic and unfalsifiable” things too so weight that in your assessment. I’m a woman who has a deep respect for woo even though I do generally consider myself a rationalist. And like all rationalists I’m hypocritically predisposed to biasing own qualia. Nevertheless I believe the hard laws are physics not culture.

So it was with interest that I was this theory of elder millenials cross my feed. The oldest of the last generation to live without the internet may prove a further data point for The Fourth Turning fans.


My guess is that the most interesting political figures of the next 20 years will come from this cohort— 1981-1987.
-not digitally native, but digitally fluent.
-came of age during or just after September 11th.
-Started adulthood just before or during the Great Recession.
-the final bridge to the 20th century, but young enough to be grounded in the 21st.Katherine Boyle of a16z on Twitter

American dynamism is a patriotic posture of older Silicon Valley culture. And this group of proudly rationalist and engineering minded types is extremely frustrated with being made the enemy by the government. Obama era technocracy represented what looks like a detente between the Boomers and the millennials.

If we are in the middle of a generational changeover between Boomers and millennials it would seem as if the elder children might inherent. But you don’t see a lot of folks who remember a world before the internet. I think there is something in this narrative that will prove important as the moods shift.

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Aesthetics Culture

Day 1151 and Waiting Line

Do you believe
In what you see
Motionless wheel
Nothing is real
Wasting my time
In the waiting line
Do you believe
In what you see

Waiting Line Zero 7 Sophie Barker

I like to do errands with noise canceling headphones on these days. The ambient noise of public life has become more grating as I get older. Cue up lo-fi chill hop beats you can study/relax to Bojack Horseman joke.

Or in my case, a down tempo bit on waiting in lines from some softer era when Garden State was all the rage. I have to admit I’ve never seen the movie.

It seems apt that the more alienated we become from the human component of public life that the more the waiting in line feels like an unreal unreal activity.

We run our little programs in our little lives. We accept being NPCs for a little convenience. You don’t want to slow up everyone’s business with any of your troubles.

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Culture

Day 1136 and Shopping in Heels

I had some practical acquisitions that needed to be purchased. They were most easily purchased via an in person retail environment for reasons I won’t get into. I much prefer ecommerce but not everywhere has Amazon if you can believe it.

I wanted to get this done quickly. While it’s true I like to putter around many types of stores. I’m quite fond of browsing in grocery stores for instances. But I prefer to be ruthlessly pragmatic when it comes to necessities. Browsing can be your enemy when you know exactly what you want.

Much of shopping can be a hostile and adversarial environment. Merchandising, pricing, sales associates all work on your focus and attention.

I have a few tricks I use on my own psychology if I would prefer my limited cognitive energy be used on more important decisions than what I’m about to purchase. Deciding between a bunch options for a non important decision weighs on your capacity. I don’t know if science has replicated decision fatigue but it sure feels like it’s real to me.

I wore a pair of high heels to go shopping in this case. It’s just enough discomfort to provide a bit of focus. I wouldn’t want to stay on my feet overly long in heels so I’ll encourage myself to make decisions quickly and not linger over it.

I was able to easily and without agonizing make quick decisions on a number of purchases. Once something fell within 80% of the parameters I’d set out for the item I know I wished to buy I said yes and moved on. It really can be that easy. I’d rather use my focus on important things.

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Culture Media

Day 1102 and Culture Matters

They say you shouldn’t talk yourself out of success. “You don’t know until you try” is the mantra of mothers, personal trainers and enthusiastic internet friends.

“Don’t negotiate against yourself.” People fumble their own ball all the time. Watching men strike out with women is practically an entire genre of social media. Confidence is key and reality might reward you more than you would be inclined to reward yourself. Go for the girl!

But I don’t think I realized we could talk an entire culture out of success until recently. Which is on me. I’m well versed in propaganda and media, so I should have had the priors for this intuition but it didn’t seem so clear to me until recently that humans were being talked into failure to launch.

This article in the Financial Times asks if the West is talking itself into decline. And it’s a bit bleak.

Another interesting theory is that of economic historian Joel Mokyr, who argues in his 2016 book A Culture of Growth that it was broader cultural change that laid the groundwork for the industrial revolution. Prominent British thinkers including Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton championed a progress-oriented view of the world, centred on the idea that science and experimentation were key to increasing human wellbeing

Is the west talking itself into decline?

It seems that there is now an interesting new overview that gives us some proof of what was being said across different narratives in different cultures. Mokyr’s theories being proven out by economic historians is encouraging for a few reasons. The British has a much more progress and technical oriented literature than the Spanish and got to the Industrial Revolution faster despite the Spanish lead on colonial mercantilism.

So what can we take away from this bit of economic history? The West has begun shifting its language away from technology and progress and back into caution, worry and threat.

Is the west talking itself into decline

If we can simply improve on our situation by believing we can advance, improve, and progress then we should spend all of our time talking about the possible better futures.

I wasn’t allowed much television as a child but my mother believed in Gene Roddenberry’s positive future. Wasn’t it a delight that the best of humanity was seeking out new life and new civilizations? Let’s try not to get too fixated on the failures to imagine perfect futures to remember that we aspired to good futures. No don’t let good be the enemy of perfect and get out there and make something.

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Aesthetics Culture

Day 1088 and Christmas Eve

I enjoyed a very American style Christmas Eve today. My husband and I have been so busy with professional obligations that we had not done anything to prepare for this Christmas week.

We piled into the car today, braved some unplowed snowy roads (more slippery than deep) and got ourselves to Costco. I am a big fan of the buyer’s club and its merchandising. You can find a lot of odd cheer at Costco over the years And it did not disappoint. While more traditional centerpieces like filet and lobster were available it was the Junior’s New York Cheesecake that was the surprise this year.

New York Style Junior’s Cheesecake from Costco

After we a did a run to the proper grocery for other necessities like satsuma tangerines (the rare Christmas citrus has a short season in December) we headed home laden with marvelous delicacies and at least ten meals for the week ahead. I was then very grateful to get an afternoon nap. So rare to be relaxed enough for REM sleep in the middle of the day.

We have done a feast of the seven fishes as our Christmas Eve meal over the years but it’s a challenge to eat that much when it’s not a crowd. So this year we’ve narrowed it down to three fishes. Technically they are crustaceans.

My hope is tomorrow will be a peaceful one of rest, prayer, relaxation and probably some movies. It will be Die Hard tonight as is tradition and hopefully A Christmas Story tomorrow.

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Chronicle Culture

Day 1087 and Christmas Weekend

I plan to work most of next week so I am particularly intent on resting throughout this weekend and Monday.

I was thrilled to wake up to a snowfall this morning as it’s been an unseasonably dry winter in Montana. My husband was up before me and started a fire in our wood stove.

I wandered into out into the living room sleepy and tired to find the coziest scene. Mountain living is wonderful if you’ve got the temperament for long cold nights.

I am tired which makes me more reactive. A soothing winter calm is a tonic for my nerves. I do not feel as if I am particularly reflective at the moment as that would require more control than I have the energy to muster.

I will watch some movies, enjoy a few meals, and otherwise let the season sooth me. I hope it’s enough as I am expecting 2024 to start with a bang.

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Culture

Day 1078 and Centering Ourselves

You’re telling me the church that tortured Galileo for the dismantling of geocentrism is against the erosion of the anthropocentrism of intellig

Beff Jezos

Venkatesh Rao wrote earlier this year on Ribbonfarm that he thought artificial intelligence was a Copernican moment for what constitutes personhood. I found his argument particularly compelling. Now as we approach Christmas, Pope Francis has weighed in.

Pope Francis has called for a legally binding international treaty to regulate artificial intelligence, saying algorithms must not be allowed to replace human values and warning of a “technological dictatorship” threatening human existence.

Reuters

I have to say this is setting off all kinds of alarm bells in the pattern recognition hypophenia section of my mind. Who might be working to use artificial intelligence for institutional control? Why would the most powerful religious institution on earth have this position? Might this be a good time to reflect on how this institution responded to the advent of the printing press? Is the Catholic Church merely seeking the same power over science as it always has?

Who might benefit from this type of institutional pressure? Certainly at the national state level we have players like America, Europe and China. At the multinational corporate level we have Microsoft. Gatekeeping technological dominance through regulatory suppression is practically Microsoft’s metier.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum was a list of heretical books which were deemed immoral to Catholics. I bring this up because Johannes Kepler‘s Epitome astronomiae Copernicanae was one of them.

The heliocentric heresy era of the Inquisition is worth reviewing as we as a species must grapple with the possibility that science may continue to reveal our humble place in the cosmos.

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Culture

Day 1071 and Easier Than You Think

I’ve got an intuition about performance and prestige. I believe all things being equal, if you are talented it is easier to get ahead in a prestige industry than a performance driven one.

My theory is that when it’s all performance your competition is stiff. When the workforce isn’t compelled to perform, it’s easier for you to win if you are good at what is valuable.

My intuition comes from having worked in several prestige logic areas including media, fashion and cosmetics. Some of the workforce in those industries do it only for prestige so compete merely on metric. If you can the level that makes the business make money or achieves the goal of the organization you out level those driven by only prestige as you perform.

Many industries compete on social capital and prestige which are different simply from doing the job well.

So I’ll say this probably applies to approaching anything considered valuable. Attractive women, the very famous, and similar dynamics. People assume they can’t compete.

But if you have the native skills for what is actually valued you can probably hack it by taking a shot. It might be easier than you think.

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Culture

Day 1067 and Commonality

I have deliberately cultivated an interest in how people rally around a common idea.How do you get multiple players to agree to fix their attention and resources? By agreeing to the rules of course!

I hate to reduce living human systems to variables but we clearly can encourage and discourage values. And what we value isn’t all that rational. But you can intuit many of the incentives that go into complex coordination problems.

I think it drives intelligent systems thinkers absolutely crazy that there can a calculable set of inputs and we still don’t quite grasp how the output came to be. The engineering minded and the highly numerate can find human intuition quite foreign. Cue memes about autists.

I happen to think that most humans don’t vary all that much from our biology though and you can backtrack a lot about a situation by assuming everyone is going through some baseline similarities.

And we’d be better served trying to understand what most people are going through is at least legible through common ties to basic instincts like hunger and fatigue. Animals having animal reactions is still the reality for even the most edged case among us. We can tolerate a lot when we think of the shared bonds of human culture coming down to needs we all share.