Culture Politics

Day 1296 and Mandate of Heaven

If you’ve been educated in the Western Cannon you are probably familiar with hubris. One does not defy the will of the gods.

The evolution of hubris from ancient Greece to modernity has extended our understanding of the prideful ego’s journey to arrogance. To be arrogant suggests a break with reality.

The term arrogance comes from the Latin adrogare, meaning “to feel that one has a right to demand certain attitudes and behaviors from other people”. To arrogate means “to claim or seize without justification… To make undue claims to having”

Who can claim the Mandate of Heaven? To even dare to do in many faiths suggests hubris. The breaching of limits and violations of the natural order suggest that Man should not suggest he knows the will of God.

And yet we push against the natural order all the time. Sometimes it is even demanded by the mythology of our moment. To make bold claims is to be sure you have a right to make them.

Watching the American mood witness invoking the will of any god is heady stuff. It is from the land of myths and those programs run on old operating systems. It’s not very hard to crash systemically when running on old programs. But I’d guess that is obvious to more than a few of us.

Culture Politics

Day 1295 and The Politics of Envy

Wanting what isn’t yours is very human. Monkey see, monkey do. Coveting always struck me as one of the most reasonable taboos.

Envy is an ugly emotion which deprives you of the joys you already have in your life. And yet so much of politics seems dedicated to stoking the suffering of unmet longing. The politics of envy may win votes but it can never produce a real policy.

I’ve been thinking perhaps too much about the consent of the governed. The state is granted a monopoly on violence through our consent. I fear a politics of envy because it eventually produces policies that will rely on not just on coercion but violence.

I don’t know where we are headed in America but I fear where envy leads us. It’s not simply about material things. One can envy power, prestige, cultural capital, beauty, intellect and countless other blessings.

Some of those things can be earned surely but many are providence. Those blessings cannot be taken as easily but they surely can be envied. I don’t wish us to follow those dark roads in search of riches which cannot be granted.


Day 1292 and Well Heeled

Kayfabe is the art of being a real fake in professional wrestling. You are cast in a role and it is maintained for the audience. Many fans would agree that the most role is the heel.

A heel isn’t exactly a villain but they are antagonists and rule breakers.

 “The role of a heel is to get ‘heat,’ which means spurring the crowd to obstreperous hatred, and generally involves cheating and any other manner of socially unacceptable behavior.”

The Art of the Heel – Baffler.

When we can no longer agree on a hero, it is the heel who moves opinions. A personal mythos is more easily punctured than Kayfabe in the internet age of total recall. You step out of your assigned role and the hero’s journey is revealed to be a fraud. But a heel is always breaking rules.

We are in a well heeled age. Everywhere you turn is an antagonist. Cheering and jeering, we the audience long to see our heat applied. The heel relishes it and we relish their antagonism.

Would you rather be loved or feared? Machiavellians can debate but the audience loves a heel because they fear a world where no rules can ever be broken. His freedom represents their own.

Aesthetics Culture

Day 1288 and Real Fake Girlbosses

All I wanted the first time I raised venture capital was to be able to make my business case. Once I’d done that I was sifted into into the wider cultural moment of girlbossism with everyone else in my cohort.

It quickly became the way to raise money because heaven forbid gender not be important. I was no Diane Green so I better get comfortable mugging for the cameras. I’d not so secretly hoped I’d be able to offload some of that lifestyle element to someone else. Someone more suitable.

At first I figured fine whatever it takes to get the money who cares embarrassing shit like becoming avatars for the zeitgeist doesn’t matter.

But now I think maybe it did. Every time a piece of social media goes viral with women messing around at the office I think what did we do? I’d envisioned that the difference between me in 2014 and the new younger, better, more ambitious versions of me 2024 to be, well, actually better?

Maybe they are. Media isn’t reality. But I had visions of women quietly running companies and venture funds competently and without concern for their gender. Surely in ten years more would have changed?

Instead we’ve got we’ve got the simulacra version of women like me filtered through Cosmopolitan features and glossy magazine spreads into TikTok dances for a company that makes pimple and acne treatments.

And it’s all grist for the mill. People want to blame feminism and gender studies. Pffft. Cute. It’s not gender studies or critical theory that got us here. For all the Baudrillard, Foucault and Judith Butler we all absorbed, the thing is just a representation of a reality that never existed.

Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation explores the concepts of simulacra, simulation, and hyperreality. Simulacra are copies or representations that become detached from their original reality, leading to a state where distinctions between reality and representation blur. Baudrillard identifies four stages of simulacra: the faithful copy, the perversion of reality, the absence of profound reality, and pure simulacrum, where the representation becomes reality itself

Perplexity’s Synopsis

If you want a crack in the timeline go decide what the Summer of 68 produced as a culture. Maybe they were just reactionaries. Maybe I’m just a reaction to them. These girls are a reaction to me.

If you want to be a cynic there is no shortage of commentary on how media showed us culture that didn’t serve us. Those Summer of 68 men turned into Yuppie midlife crisis dads who weren’t there for their children and wives. Feminism giving depressed stifled women a chance to not regret their choices. But the choices already exist.

Your cultural war mileage may vary. Now we have cowardly millenial man children and forever princess boss bitches and endless rounds of upset every time we see women in an office doing something silly.

You can rage at critical theory all you like but this just one elaborate morality play being accountable. And no one wants that. Real fake Girlbossism selling blemish cream.

Everyone deserves better than this. I deserved better than this. The horror of contortions required to simply pursue work means you must do what media and finance require of you to succeed. Go watch Margin Call and see if you think you’d fare better in making those choices.


Day 1287 and The Long Haul

Good things take time sounds like pablum.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Every time there is a boom cycle fools rush in. I don’t know why someone would expect that luck would be adequate to any large task. Luck is the default conditions to even get started.

Then you gotta get lucky a lot. Multiple times a year if you are aiming to lead any industry. And you have to keep doing it until one person who compounded so much effort and will that what looked like luck is simply habit and habit becomes process and process becomes results and results get sustained.

And yes decay sets in. And it gets harder. Every gain requires the energy that it requires. Leverage is often simply about being the one that makes it for the long haul. Maybe discretion is the better sort of valor but I’ve yet to meet a winner who was a coward.

Culture Politics

Day 1285 and Platform Changes

I don’t want to make this into a whole thing but the Republicans have posted the GOP party platform. The Silicon Diaspora is now such an important constituency we’ve got enough sway to move policy.

A network state of e/acc, crypto builders, Bitcoiners, El Segundo hardware startups, deep tech autists and white pilled Space dorks changed a political party’s platform.

And it wasn’t the one I expected. Scientific progress was something I’d come to associate with liberals. It would seem Democrats are not as certain about being technically progressive anymore. But the middle that builds is a constituency.

It’s such a small thing and I know politicians don’t have a track record of doing what they say. But the idea that a ragtag group of internet friends could get our issues given place of pride in a platform feels nice. A multimodal pro-social game yielded a positive sum.

We want more technology being built quickly by those with the agency to do so. We’ve got diseases to cure, climate change to adapt to, software to be coded, nuclear reactors to be spun up and a long path to space from there.

I hope the value of better medicine, better tools, and more ambition makes its way to everyone.

For now I think it’s cool that I can see where every line in this policy document came from. A very hodge podge group of internet weirdos in Discords, policy shops, Twitter communities, and group chats got politicians to agree with us. It feels kind of nice. I believe FreedomToCompute is a constitutional American right and we are proving our case

Culture Startups

Day 1278 and Follow On

I’d like to think I’ve got a talent for understanding how hype and momentum are built.

I learned this skill set by doing. I picked it up simply by being a cool kid working in the trenches of the business of style.

How does hype turn into capital? Well it’s complicated. Consider two significant trends from my youth. Was Indie Sleeze a real cultural moment or manufactured? Did we get taken in by the HypeBeast? Ask Glenn Youngkin in his Caryle Group era about his Supreme investment. Get Gavin McInnes and James Jebbia to go a couple rounds about their relative wealth. and come back to me. Still unsure? Ask Barbara Kruger about the clusterfuck of uncool jokers.

The original culture and the commodification of the culture is a spectrum and the Tommy Hilfiger Event Horizon is infinite. Who makes culture, who money and who only brings money can be challenging to calculate.

The thing about cool, it’s sine qua non, is that it grapples at every stage of its existence with its own validity. Cool thrives as a grounding process to what’s actually happening in reality.

Cool is a relational experience between someone or something authentically popular amongst a group that relates well with each other.

And that relational power is validated by some wider need in the world for their belief, innovation, art, product or philosophy. Sometimes this can be quite irrational surely but consensus is hard to come by. One of the classic essays in validation of cool is geeks, mops and sociopaths in subculture evolution.

The validation of something “cool” eventually reaches a point of opportunistic acceptance by those merely into a thing for the capital. Sometimes it’s social and sometimes literal currency.

These so called “sociopaths” who follow the momentum often do not realize that they are just in it to capitalize on cool. I don’t want to suggest anyone in a thing for money or cachet is a sociopath just that incentives for status are significant drivers for people.

Often we need the people in it for the money. It’s wonderful that angel investing exists and momentum investors have perfectly rational incentives. Sometimes you will even see significant self awareness about this. If you put resources into a community and don’t cause trouble you are often welcome.

Now you can refer to this type in startup investing as dumb money. The follow-on capital that is riding on the work of others who authentically believed before a thing was cool is a necessary part of the ecosystem.

I don’t at all mind when someone is a follower. You can be “a cringe follower late adopter” or whatever terminology we are now using to describe laggards in the adoption curve.

 Everett Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations

Unless you are a pain in the ass, actively predatory, or making your contribution more trouble than it’s worth, you should go ahead and lend your support if you can take the risk.

Don’t take it personally when hipsters sneer. They may have been earlier than you but it’s fine to back winners. Just don’t expect the founders to give you special dispensation for getting on board when it was safe to do so. It’s right that the alpha premium applies. I personally love it when not only am I right but I got paid more for the privilege.

Culture Emotional Work

Day 1266 and Advice Is A Form of Nostalgia

There was a Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody’s Free” that became popular at graduations for millennials. It was delivered as advice for the class of 99 and became a cheesy but heartfelt touchstone for many millennials celebrations.

It is a tearjerker and contains some useful insights on nostalgia and advice.

Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past
From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts
And recycling it for more than it’s worth

But trust me on the sunscreen

Everybody’s Free

I had sunscreen on my mind when consider its wisdom, I was trying on a new SPF tinted moisturizer as I dragged through my morning routine tired from 3 weeks of Covid. I tweeted a one off idle thought about the nostalgic advice I’d been given about how to live my life.

It’s amusing to me that two of the biggest cultural trends for women in the 2010s, Marie Kondo’s “spark joy cleaning” and Sheryl Sanders’s “Lean In” got immediately tossed the moment their life circumstances changed.

If there is one thing the internet agrees on it’s that life is always more complicated than 140 characters. Coming to terms with we feel about the advice and cultural stories we were told is a touchy subject online. Even more so when it comes to what women should be doing.

We all have ideas about how we should be living that come up hard against the realities. It’s a comfort to think anyone has living figured out. So much has changed and at such a rapid pace that we are looking for new scripts. It can be kind when someone offers you a solution. Let us take what lessons we can from the past as we seek the future.


Day 1259 and Cooler Than Me

I was once (devastatingly) told by an ex-boyfriend that the song he associated with me was Mike Posner’s Cooler Than Me. He felt I cared too much about taste.

This wasn’t an unfair assessment as I was working in fashion at the time and maintained all the intellectual pretensions of being a antiquity obsessed fresh out of Chicago Austrian school economist devotee. A capitalist with taste isn’t really a likable figure.

Twitter mutual Tracing Woodgrains (himself a frequent commenter on the value of beauty and taste) suggested reading this essay in the American Mind about the cultural flaccidity of conservatism and their taste problems.

Reading the essay, I thought it a shame that the taste problem that clearly plagues the right goes on unabated. They tolerate losers with bad taste. And they carry on about how they are losers which further salts the wound. It’s not the kind of commentary that suggests their culture is worthy of dominance.

I am privy to the occasional conversation on this subject as I being crypto libertarian I am bit of a neutral in the culture and institutional wars between progressive and reactionaries. At a dinner of mostly internet dissident right wing types, the topic of being losers was aired.

The host, a clear winner from the ascendant investing and engineering autist culture, rightly pointed out if conservatives wanted to align their fortunes to winning cultures (it was implied like Silicon Valley was a winner culture) then the right wing too needed to become winners. I fear that advice fell on deaf ears. It’s hard to tell someone that being a loser is a skills issue.

Libertarians get a kind of drop out “smokers behind the bleachers” kind of cool in America. The lower case libertarian of the philosophical bent not whatever big L party apparatus that might exist. Those guys are all losers.

The “fuck the Fed” constitution carrying types have a lot that is likable and winning. Fighting civil asset forfeiture, and for marijuana decriminalization, first and second amendment protections, and bodily sovereignty are winner issues across different constituencies.

To go against the grain of big government pieties of both left and right is to resign yourself to being on the outs pretty regularly by disagreeing with both sides but to rest confidentially in the cool of knowing you hold your ground.

To be on the outs means you retain a crucial aspect of cool. You aren’t the mainstream even though you benefit from not being made its enemy no matter who is winning.

Casablanca is libertarian coded and undeniably cool. Seeing the fallen world as it is and having the balls (or backbone for those with delicate sensibilities) to live your own life is an act of bravery. To have own opinion amongst sinners and saints is fundamentally to cultivate and know your own taste.

That returns me to the essay by Spencer Klavan “A Matter of Taste” that kicked off my response.

If we’re serious about a revival, we are going to have to accept the inherent risk and unpredictability that comes from letting artists see the world before they judge it.

In turn, we are going to have to learn to suspend our own judgment long enough to see what the artists bring us for what it is. In other words, we will have to cultivate a little taste.

If we do not know our own taste we can hardly know the line at which we draw the boundaries of civilization. To know what we value is the point of cultivating taste. To hold on to the standards you’ve set for yourself is to hold yourself up to others. To live this way in action and through your own revealed preferences is to say “this is what I value” in my actual life. If you can’t do that, then you will always be in danger of having someone they are cooler than you. And a loser might care.

Culture Reading

Day 1249 and Storytelling

I’ve never written fiction as I’ve always presumed it was a different skill set to write a story than it is to write an essay.

You’ve got to manage plot, pacing, character, and dialogue to write a story. In an essay you’ve only got to worry about plot and pacing. Many will argue that it’s all storytelling and I’m sure they are right. It’s just that when the story I am telling is my own it’s a lot simpler.

I don’t know if this is true. It may a thing I tell myself because I’m so comfortable now telling my own stories. Having twelve hundred days of writing under my belt on here puts me Scheherazade territory.

Fun fact, she managed to have four kids during her thousand and one nights. She never took a day off either. Thought it seems like she got a lot further on the fertility front than me.