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Chronicle Media Politics

Day 83 and Tribalism

For what are probably obvious reasons (a mass shooting inside a grocery store a few miles from my home) I’ve been trying to keep off of political media the past day or so.

I’ve mostly succeeded but it’s a challenge when my primary relaxation space, Twitter, is saturated with commentary on a topic I don’t want to discuss with anyone that isn’t also living through the trauma personally. It’s not even that I don’t want to hear from folks it’s more that even if you have had a similar tragedy in your community your reaction may not be the same as ours. Every trauma is unique even when cultural circumstances may not be.

I bring this up only because I realized today when a new app claiming to analyze your news bubble filter went viral I didn’t know what folks “thought that I thought” about politics. The app said I was 100% leftist in my filter. My immediate reaction was “bullshit” in that I probably tweet once a day “as a libertarian” and regularly discuss my views on small government. So I asked folks what direction they thought I leaned. There is not a lot of consensus so far.

I follow and am followed by a very diverse group of people. I probably follow everything from alt-right fanatics to avowed socialists. I socialize with bro-science masculine fitness folks and queer chronic disease and disability advocates. So I’m not surprised I am hard to place. If you are a trad life carnivore on a homestead your opinion on my politics is probably pretty different than if you are a healthcare for all anti-ableism urbanite. I work with Silicon Valley folks and venture capitalists and the New York media establishment. Finance and the press corp are not generally politically aligned so unsurprisingly those two groups may also think I’m in a very different place on the spectrum. To someone at war with the media I may look left wing. To someone in the media I may look right wing. And yes this comes out in the wash as centrist.

The reality is that I have fairly nuanced views and your take on my leanings may say more about how much you like me and thus how much you want me to agree with you. This is for a nice reason. We tend to like the people we agree with more.

So it’s possible if you want me to like you then you may assign me views that are more aligned with yours than I am in reality. Don’t fret though we can strongly disagree and I will still like you. If we have fun together on social media I don’t need you to agree with me on social or political issues. I spend time on social precisely because I do like all kinds of people and I want to enjoy that incredible diversity of humanity. And we are all here because in the end the only thing that keeps the loneliness at bay is each other.

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Chronicle Politics

Day 48 and Rush

My high school years had some ups and downs, which is how I ended up in Manhattan as an 18 year old, making up credits from the year I dropped out. I had an interest in news, so I talked my way into a job at a talk radio station 77WABC.

I’d take the 1 train down from 116th St to Penn Station and l, without even going outside, went up into one of the Penn Plaza towers where I screened calls for the block of radio programs that took the afternoon and evening hours. Some of the programs were pretty shoddy “left wing white guy vs right wing white guy” and announcing for New Jersey Devils hockey games.

But the marquee talent was Rush Limbaugh.

In the back of the rabbit warren of sales team cubicles and behind the other recording studios for B-list talent (which at the time included Sean Hannity), Rush had his own recording studio. And yes, the golden microphone was real. It stunk of smoke. His producer had somehow struck a deal with building management to allow him to smoke his cigars when the rest of the station had to plod down to 34th street for a cigarette.

The funny part of him having his own private recording studio is that Rush had already moved to Florida. Sure he recorded at the station, but even at the time he was enough of a star that he maintained multiple private studios. Such was the power of the EIB Network. Dittoheads had made Rush a fortune even before 9/11 and the rise of the neoconservatives. I can still recite the ditties. I can hear Rush recording his commercials. The way he would say Ruth Chris Steaks will stay with me till I die.

I have complex feelings about having spent time in talk radio. I didn’t stay long, I saw the money wasn’t particularly good in media and I decided a college degree was worth pursuing. Conservative chit chat hadn’t yet fully diverged from the overall skepticism of mainstream media into its own behemoth yet. 6 o’clock news on broadcast probably still mattered. Facebook hadn’t been invented. People got their hard news from real television and the side opinions of grumpy white men hadn’t fully turned to grievance culture yet. Sean Hannity was still partners with Alan Colmes.

Seeing what Rush Limbaugh wrought on America has been hard. I don’t doubt that without him January 6th wouldn’t have happened. Trump might not have been president.

But without Rush and my experience in talk radio maybe I wouldn’t have studied economics. Maybe I wouldn’t have pursued business. I might have stayed a comfortable Silicon Valley liberal. But spending my afternoon talking to the weirdos that call into talk radio was an experience I value. I had come from crunchy hippie comfortable white upper class towns like Palo Alto and Boulder. I hadn’t ever considered the kind of politics that bred Republicans and subsequently Tea Party reactionaries and eventually Trumpist alt righters. A lot of ground got covered in the years.

I doubt Rush (or Sean) would have liked where my politics landed. Libertarians are frowned on in “real” conservative circles. Probably worse than the kind of pleasantly socialist left wing politics I had when I arrived.

I hope no one takes any of this as affirmation or justification or even acceptance of what talk radio culture birthed. I’m not even sure how to feel about Rush Limbaugh’s passing. Not that we were close, heck I doubt he knew my name. I was a teenager doing shit work and I spent much more time on other programs. But I still had to take the afternoon off as social media rushed to rejoice in his death. Even knowing the scope of his legacy I just couldn’t take it. My life path might have looked very different without encountering the EIB Network.

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Aesthetics Chronicle Politics

Day 45 & Noblese Oblige

With great power comes great responsibility” is a comic book classic known as the Peter Parker principle. If you are bestowed with gifts, you must gift them back to your community. Noblese Obliege or “nobility obliges” suggests that nobility comes with a responsibility to fulfill obligations to the people who guarantee your status.

This sounds like a social good, and sure it anchors all the great heroic narratives of our modern age, but it appears to be unraveling in modernity. It used to be that we believed the morally good are the ones with gifts, if you weren’t wealthy it was because you didn’t deserve it. It was a bit of a religious and heroic tautology. But it worked! The nobles and the superheroes felt an obligation to their subjects insofar as publicly demonstrating their inherent goodness was crucial to demonstrating their nobility.

A key component of noblese oblige was showing off moral worth by giving to the people without the insistence that the people be inherently good. The people didn’t need to be worthy to get anything. Being worthy was the job of the nobility not the peasants. Which meant that all gifts from nobility to peasants were inherently gratuitous. No one deserves to be given gifts. Gifts were bestowed at random and in significant largess.

I’d suggest the reason our institutional trust is breaking down is not because we are wising up to inequality, but because the narrative arc of nobility living up to its responsibilities have broken down. America’s first robber baron class understood this with their grand social gifts of libraries, parks and endowments. Some of our Billionaires still do. But we no longer feel the gifts match the obligations. No matter how much this new nobility gifts, the rabble is still pissed.

Maybe it’s the insistence on making charity go to worthy causes. Or welfare go to people that deserve it. That is ass backwards. The nobility are supposed to be good. The peons with outstretched arms never had any worth to begin with. If they did then they would definitionally be noblese oblige too. You can’t ask everyone in the system to be good, moral, and true. That’s fucking exhausting. Even Christianity got that sin was so encompassing that literally only God could be expected to be without it. Probably why we used to let nobility get away with bad behavior. That is fine as long as they did their part. The prodigal son got shit without deserving it. That was the moral of the story.

The trouble with a time that has broken with historical arcs of goodness is that now no one is nobility or peasantry. No one is noble or good. Which means nobody deserves anything they get. Which is about as close to the war of all against all as I can imagine. Hobbes would be pleased.

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Politics

Day 41 and January 6th

Thirty five days ago feels like a long time. I was only on the sixth day of my daily writing experiment. I was entirely unprepared to have to live through a traumatic national moment let alone speak to it.

Obviously none of this is incisive political commentary. It’s barely coherent. It’s the emotional rambling of a woman who was born into a stable functioning democracy who believed it would be there for her entire life. Our system of government was a given for me. I believed in the American dream.

But as we get further from the moment and I become used to regular writing I see that some core of the moment did get rendered for posterity. I was born into a stable functioning democracy.

Watching the impeachment proceedings has done nothing to make me more confident our democracy will remain stable or functional. The Republicans appear to be in a state of either venial denialism or opportunistic fascism. I don’t know which one I think I worse. And the Democrats are somehow still operating under the delusion that the right gives a shit about rules and parliamentary niceties.

I’ve got some doomer predictions about how this plays out about which I sorely hope I’m wrong. How horrible to be the generation that allows the great American experiment to fail. How embarrassing to get it wrong just as much of the rest of the world is finally getting it right. American exceptionalism on its ass.

I’m not entirely sure that what comes next is bad so much as just “is” what will come. History isn’t reversible. And we are in for a wild ride of institutional chaos as we adapt to new norms. I believe there is a way to ride on top of chaos even succeed because of it. I even think it is possible to thrive as it forces us to solve for more problems more quickly. At least for some of us.

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Chronicle Politics

Day 38 and Better Fear Than Anger

Culturally in America we’ve lost touch with the value of fear. Which is a shame as fear is a root emotion (along with sadness and happiness). We’ve became enchanted by anger instead. But anger is not a root fear. Anger is the steam rising off of fear. Cultivate, explore and release your anger and underneath you will find the fear that drives the issue.

We’ve decided we don’t like fear though. We’ve perverted it into a weakness. Especially during the pandemic. Anger on the other hand as won cultural acclaim in America. We use phrases like “right to be angry” and “righteous anger” rather than exhuming a deeper truth that will be more revealing. Fear is good though. It cuts deep. Fear shows us the child that lives in our innermost self, revealing the terrors and traumas children feel from being powerless, abandoned, and small.

Even as we cultivate strong bodies and swift minds as adults, the child who was betrayed by the accidental lapses by our parents remains inside of us. In psychology they call that the inner child. Perhaps your inner child is angry. Mine often feels anger. But at her heart the child is just scared. But rather than answer the questions raised by our fear and overcome it, we are seduced by the power of the anger steaming on top. We cultivate heroics to nurture the anger. Americans craft elaborate myths about the heroic value of anger.

I’m not suggesting you are not angry. Or that your anger has no place. Nor am I invalidating the source of your anger. I am however asking us all to dig deeper. Learn why you are angry. Then go deeper. Find the fear of the child that is inside you.

My fear? That I’ll be abandoned by my people during this pandemic. Just like I was abandoned as a child. I got angry seeing the choices people made. But underneath it was simply the fear that repeated a childhood trauma that I wasn’t important enough for anyone to save me. Knowing that helps me save myself. I take responsibility for my own fear. I can use it as an edge if others don’t work on their anger. But I’d rather we as a nation work through our shit instead.

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Chronic Disease Chronicle Politics

Day 36 and Responsibility For Yourself

As a libertarian, personal responsibility is a foundational philosophy. Owning your decisions and their impacts on others is crucial for freedom. It’s also an impossible standard at which we fail daily.

Humans are selfish and fallible creatures, prone to rationalization and justification. We tell ourselves stories about our innate goodness in order to shield ourselves from the pain of our sins. We believe our own lies first.

This has been particularly apparent to me, once again, during the pandemic, as I’ve watched family members make choices over and over again that show how much they need me to forgive their sins. As if I was their own personal Jesus and not their daughter or sister. Ready to tell them that leisure travel is fine because well they are probably being safe and oh sure winter is just so hard. Mental health is just such a struggle isn’t it?

I’m no messiah. I am not here to take your sins and wash them away. I’m just as much a sinner as you. And I’m certainly not the best person to ask forgiveness of when it comes to the health of others. I’m the personification of how your decisions actually affect real people.

You know our little stories about how “the sick and elderly should stay home and keep themselves safe because…list of rational reasons.” We’ve turned it into an entire political stance. We’ve built it into a moral edifice. When it’s just a lie we need to feel better about our sins to survive.

And so I stay at home. I don’t interact with other people. I see my husband and my doctors. Because I know I’m responsible for my own life and my own health and nobody else will be. I’m not asking others to be responsible for me that haven’t actively chosen this as their life path (with thanks to my husband and mother who did).

But I am asking my other family members be emotionally truthful with me. I’m asking them to admit to themselves and to me that their pleasures are more important to them my quality of life. That by taking a trip to a far away beach that they perceive as safe for them, they add to the aggregate set of decisions on a collective level that forces me to stay at home. That those decisions will keep me at home alone cut off from normal activities for longer. Basic life.

If you engage in those choices, admit the truth to yourself. And admit it to me. That your enjoyment of life is more important than me living mine safely. To not do so is to lie to yourself and to me. I can accept your choice. I cannot accept your lie.

I’m shouldering the sum total of all the bad decisions and little sins of everyone else who either can’t or won’t take responsibility for the impact that their own choices add up to at the societal level. It makes me angry, I’m a libertarian not an ubermenschen. I don’t want to carry responsibility for everyone else. If I was I’d probably have different politics. I’m only responsible for myself. So stop asking me to accept responsibility for yours.

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Chronicle Internet Culture Media Politics

Distraction unto Death

I wasn’t allowed to watch television as a child. My mother has a firm view on the pedagogical benefits of using your full cognition range as a developing child. She simply thought the television did too much work for you which hindered building mental acuity in a child. But she also has a more personal reason. She believes distraction breeds stagnation.

As I’ve mentioned before here, my parents were utopian hippies committed to the manifest destiny of Silicon Valley. A classic book of the radical “information longs to be free” crowd Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death showed distraction as the primary tool of the tyrant. The real tyrant wouldn’t need force. They only need us to be distracted. Bread and circus for the plebeians to keep us complacent. In this sense my mother feared Huxley’s Brave New World more than she did Orwell’s 1984. In her view information need discourse, disagreement, and nuance. Television wasn’t a medium suited to debate. Particularly news programs who digested and provided a narrative and a moral arc. No one could discern facts or testable hypotheses from a story. That was an affront to enlightenment values, science, and frankly even religion (she hates when you drag belief into science). So I didn’t watch television as a child as quite literally it would make me stupid and lazy.

It is with this knowledge that I realize the main weapon the populist right has wielded the last four years was distraction. A constant drum beat of incessant crisis after crisis. Never having a moment of peace after outage after outrage was laundered through mass media insistent on making sure it never became normal. The #Resistance committed to remembering that “this is not normal” wore us down daily.

So in a way I think we have come out from under totalitarian thought. It was impossible to make progress on problems when one could only see the next crisis. The question is now how do we react from having constant distraction finally relieved? Do we realize the mess we are in? Distraction bred stagnation. But can we shake it off and begin to the think for ourselves again.

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Chronicle Politics Preparedness

Day 19 and The Anticipation

I’ve been hit hard by the sudden (lol) realization of the chattering classes that “it can happen here” both with the discourse surrounding the pandemic and America’s democracy crisis. Clearly anyone who deals in nuance has been concerned about our institutional capacity for sometime. But that realization becoming mainstream freaks me out.

I don’t mind being seen as a bit of a Cassandra. I think about doom precisely because I’m naturally optimistic. If I didn’t look at worst case scenarios I would live in a perpetually Pollyanna-ish state where I exude complete confidence that it’s all for the best. So I’d rather my public persona be one of concern and worry as I think it’s tactically more worrisome if I’m perceived as being overly bullish. Bulls never get the best prices. Please continue to think of me as one of your favorite bears.

So because I’m a bull hiding in bear clothing I really loathe when the zeitgeist tips into fear for everyone. I don’t know if that means I need to dial in my personal meter to greed to take advantage of the fear. Because if everyone is fearful then I need to go against that grain and be a bull. Contrarianism pays the bills right up until the second it fails spectacularly. The thing is I don’t actually believe anyone is fearful. We are talking a mile a minute about the threat to democracy and the rising death tolls but the entire upper class is riding the rising prices to greater and greater wealth. In a sign that I don’t have a particularly diverse social class everyone I know has has very good earning years. Everyone is rushing to invest and brag about their good fortunes. While simultaneously belly aching about how unfair it all is but really there is nothing they can do.

So what can I possibly use to temper my own temperament when it’s not at all clear where the zeitgeist lives? Is it fear? Or is it greed? is it possible that we are just petrified fat cats the entire lot of us? That would probably explain the banner year for gun permits. I quite honestly haven’t the slightest idea how the midterm plays out. All I can do is anticipate the second order effects. So I did a grocery order before inauguration and I looked at numbers for the spread of the nee covid variant. Only time will tell.

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Chronicle Media Politics

Silicon Valley Isn’t Modern and That’s Why It’s Good

My favorite genre of essay is elites discovering the system is fucked. The latest to catch my eye is ostensibly about a mother for whom the medical system failed her child and who then like Alice in Wonderland has to completely reset her expectations of reality. It’s a spectacular piece of writing in Tablet Mag by Alana Newhouse that weighs in on many topics near to my heart like modernism, Marxism and the aesthetics of the future. It’s helpful to understand the context from which she writes which is conservative Jewish American which is an uneasy set of political priors in our current moment (she hints at biological essentialism and the benefits of religious community order which are to put it mostly just not my jam). But this gives her a firm base for the cultural critique of both socialism and the individualism of which I’m a proponent.

She references back to an excellent piece in The Verge about the flatness of millennial Silicon Valley consumption. It’s a significant and widespread aesthetic of ease and consumption we’ve all experienced. Some of us even like frictionless capitalism as she lays it out.

I also think she’s dead wrong about about both it’s causes and it’s main perpetrators. She blames Silicon Valley for the great flattening. Lays at its feet the horrors of socialism and capitalism alike with a hearty dose of Soviet aesthetics as its anchor.

But that’s just not the historically accurate view of Silicon Valley. I like to think I have some authority on the subject at hand for a multitude of reasons. If anything I am emblematic of her thesis. I’m someone who has fallen through the medical system by being spat out of the ringer of hustle culture. I also chose this fate willingly.

And it was not the aesthetics of Silicon Valley, late stage capitalism or libertarians who set my fate in motion. Or even American Calvinists (again I would know ask me how set theory and Russels paradox made me a born again Calvinist). It was the fucking boomer hippies.

Hear me out. I know this as I was born in Fremont (Palo Alto’s poorer sister) to a family of hippies who immigrated to Silicon Valley because they were devoted to the ethos of the Whole Earth Catalog. Information wants to be free and all that early optimism. They get woo. They were Age of Aquarius believers. They weren’t remotely modernists or Marxists. Hippies may be have pretended to be collectivists but in the end they were all about the pursuit of selfish enlightenment.

So I guess she gets the communitarian roots of it quite right. She simply missed the inherent radicalism of its early adherents. And I suppose it’s easy to forget this as most of the successful adherents became quite wealthy and became the anchor tenants of NIMBY towns like Boulder and Big Fork. They became the things they never wanted.

In other words Silicon Valley hippies became the Boomers their millennial and Gen X children know and hate. I honestly feel terrible saying this as my parents are the light of my life and I owe everything to them. My mother in particular hates being called a Boomer. As it’s come to represent an inversion of their core beliefs. It’s not really fair to be honest. They are better people than the term flattening could ever suggest.

Nevertheless it is true that Stewart Brand’s legacy is a complex one. The network society didn’t at all emerge into the utopia they envisioned. I believe it haunts them. It’s the great shame of their generation that their legacy on the turning of the cultural wheel would do so much to harm the very people they built it for: their children. And it wasn’t at all their intention.

Silicon Valley people are radical. But they actually believe quite a bit in hierarchy. They just believe it is earned. Founders wouldn’t be worshipped as messianic figures if this weren’t our culture. We wouldn’t have significant and elaborate sets of cultural capital signifiers if we believed in communists aesthetics of equality. Just because the outcome appears brutal doesn’t make it brutalist. Bertolt Brecht would be appalled to be compared to the radicalism of Silicon Valley’s meritocracy. It’s probably helpful to remember that Jacobin revolutionaries are not the same as those who exalt in the unique power of individualism.

But it’s a common historical fallacy Americans try to evoke as we become more and more uncomfortable with just how close our worshiping of liberties can overlap with the nationalist strongman of fascists of yore.

But the difference is the network state of Silicon Valley is a philosophy of freedom. It’s deeply retrograde in some aspects. It exalts the possibility of excellence for all that chose the system. That’s why America has been the country of immigrants in modern imagination. Being an American was a choice. So was Silicon Valley. The network is a choice. No one is born jacked in. Eventually you make a choice to be a part of it. The question I have is why do so many of us think we are victims of the choices we made?

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Chronicle Politics

Day 12 and The Shopping Binge

It’s always the after effects that get you. Last Wednesday’s insurrection riots in the capital left me reeling. This of course is a choice. But taking responsibility for the emotional turmoil is taking a few more days than I’d hoped. I let in too much stress and worry over an event that I can do nothing to improve and is miles away.

Which isn’t to say that I shouldn’t be upset only that I know I’ve let more stress into my life this week than I can comfortably handle. And while I’m lucky to have many routines that help reduce unnecessary anxiety like a meditation practice and a daily hike into the mountain foothills, I decided I should greet this crisis with a bit more force.

So ironically an exercise about about creating more is now chronicling what I consumed today. What an American way of handling things. I went on Amazon and binged on through an essential oil diffuser, a salt rock lamp, some paper and pastels, a white sage smudger and a Tibetan singing bowl for more meditation practice. Lets hope some improvements in my environment and a little bit of creative activity can keep me from worrying to much.