Categories
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.

Categories
Internet Culture Media

Day 44 and The Press Culture Wars

While I am a child of Silicon Valley (literally), I came of age professionally in media soaked New York City. The battle of startups versus the press has been one I’ve largely ignored as I think it represents cultural misunderstandings between two very distinct groups. I love startup life and I love media people. But to say they don’t grok their different motives and power incentives is an understatement.

So watching them fight is a bit like watching your two best friends in a spat. It’s awkward, you don’t want to pick sides, and you just hope everyone simmers down. But I’m beginning to think the beef between the 4th estate and the tech sector is starting to have some collateral damage. Not least of all because bad actors have infiltrated both: on the tech side we’ve got blackpilled monarchic misogynists and their jackbooted political protofascist admirers, on the nominally left wing media side we’ve got neo-reactionary Jacobins. Kinda hard to pick a side when those are your bedfellows.

I have generally sided with skepticism of media as I was raised on AdBusters and am vaguely aware there was a time when corporate media really was dominant. I’ve also been in control of large advertising budgets and seen first hand the little compromises that get made to stay in business. But the newest volley in tech versus media has erupted a new low of bickering and ad hominem attacks that have the memetic mobs of both sides are hungering for blood.

All this to say that I’m finally considering picking sides. And I don’t like it.

In the current narrative tension portrayed as techno-optimists rationalist thinkers (lol) versus the new reactionary left wing media, I’m sad to say I’ll end up siding with media. Not because they are right (they aren’t), but because the fragility of these self proclaimed centrists aren’t worth preserving over the 4th estate. We need the press more than we need “‘well, actually’ reply guys.” Feel free to take bets on how fast I get my first reply correcting me.

Too many of the critics of media have been black pilled by operatives that chose to be fascist influencers when they couldn’t make it in the traditional realm. Gamergate brought us the first wave of directed mobs sent to harass nominal new media figures. A lot of that was misinterpreted, but the end result has been that portions of the technologist and web set adopted too many of their rhetorical gambits. Which is not a winning strategy. Mid tier thinkers would rather martyr themselves on the sharp dicks of clout defenestration than actually win anyone over to their cause. So instead of being decent media critics, which we need, they just throw themselves down on their chosen causes.

Like I get it. I too was once a kid who was convinced being right was the only moral cause. Then I realized what “to the victor go the spoils” actually means.

You have to win so being right matters. Being morally right without a win is Pyrrhic victory.

So to the “rationalists” pissed at the New York Times I want to say you are not fighting a righteous enemy. You are fighting bitchy queens who are better at this narrative thing than you. It’s the fucking styles section for Christ’s sake. It’s normally used to skewer ugly clothing and idiot bourgeoisie real estate trends. Yes, it’s often the source of the most incisive cultural commentaries and the best writers are often housed there. So by all means fear it. Actually you should fear it as if one mean queen has it in for you they can do a lot of damage as they are really good at it. Just understand that it’s also a petty mean clique run by the same people that probably tortured you in high school (or for some of you that you bullied so sorry turn about is fair play).

There’s plenty of good reason to be mad at the New York Times or Washington Post right now. They are owned by plutocrats. Their operations are opaque. But so are the companies where you probably work. And I bet you think they do shady shit now and again you’d like someone to bring to light. Human institutions fail because they are run by humans. And no matter how smart you are you can never be free of bias. You can barely be less wrong. But the alternative of having no 4th estate is pretty bleak. So be careful what you wish for as you just might get it.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Media

Day 43 and The Freeze

I’ve been watching the television adaption of Snowpiercer. So I’m delighted to have the polar vortex collapse that is chilling most of American dovetail so well with my current media aesthetics. I’ve always loved the cold.

Colorado has been in the single digits all day and will be below freezing for the weekend. I had to drive out to a doctor’s office for some treatments and was terrified I’d slip off the road at every intersection. As the sun slipped behind the flatirons a gloomy grey quickly turned into a pitch back snowstorm.

The aesthetics of disaster and apocalypse generally lean more towards heat and explosions but the subgenre of extreme cold holds our attention. Day After to Tomorrow, Snowpiercer, The Revenant, The Thing, The Grey and many other freezing fear movies capture an aesthetic.

The natural fear of cold isn’t just about freezing to death. Much of the claustrophobic feeling of cold crisis movies comes from isolation, loneliness and it’s resulting paranoia. It’s why the genre does so well when mixed with horror or action. Game of Thrones regularly intoned the threat of winter.

Freezes typically operate on bleak but wide open spaces like arctic tundra or within the confines of a station or refuge that quickly closes in on its people. Scenes of mayhem and violence come out of close quarters that are supposed to guard you from the even more fearsome freeze right outside your door.

All of this conditioning from film and television makes a weather condition like a polar vortex collapse take on a bit of an edge. I indulged in my pre-storm prepping shopping to make sure we has enough beef for stew and chickens for roasting. But that’s partially ritual. A sacrifice to the gods that says I am worthy to survive the bitter cold that is coming. It’s almost superstitious. But it’s also joyful. Humanity against the odds of Mother Nature. We’ve developed rituals and technology to live in the worst conditions.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 42 & Audio Engagement

When a new social media application hits the J curve, it’s the most exciting feeling in the world. The magic of network effects kicking in to make each day on the app more valuable than the next for its users.

It’s also stressful as hell for teams because everyone is watching and has opinions. So I feel a little bad that today I’m going to talk about live audio talk radio app Clubhouse, but it’s on my mind and I made a commitment to myself to hit publish every single day, so here I am.

First some disclaimers. I didn’t join the beta in the spring because early users do the bulk of culture building and I didn’t think I had it in me. Several female friends of mine had negative experiences and I didn’t want to be on clean up duty. Toxicity compounds and I get plenty of it having significant visibility on Twitter. I’ve been doxxed, stalked, harassed (my favorite story is about Glamour Magazine’s attempt to do a crowd sourced Dos and Don’t section), and canceled by Gawker. So I’m inclined to steer clear of being an early adopter these days as I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to build positive communities that I’m not getting paid to build. This is not a commentary on whether I think Clubhouse is a good or bad place so much as a personal preference I have.

So I’ve only been on Clubhouse since it hit exponential. That means most of my feedback reflects the experience of the app hitting popular consciousness and not it’s early Silicon Valley FOMO insider days.

Audio is a wonderful medium that carries emotional depth. It connects you more intimately and is exceptional at narrative. It’s also much slower as an informational conveyer than writing and an attention resource consumption hog when you pay attention (some people like background noise, I personally do not). These two factors are the driving tension in the Clubhouse product. You feel connected listening to other humans, but your attention quickly lags as your brain works faster than the content.

Unlike in photo feeds, or a mixture of image and written content, you cannot scroll out of a lull. And unlike in precorded podcasts you cannot play it at 2x speed or rewind for something you missed. So you get stuck in boring rooms in Clubhouse but feel bad that other nice humans bores you. People are on a stage in Clubhouse “rooms” so you tune out, as unless you jump on stage there is no way to improve the engagement. And in large rooms you aren’t getting on stage.

But you shouldn’t feel bad that you’re bored because it actually is usually pretty boring in Clubhouse. People don’t naturally talk in consistently engaging ways without significant production and preparation. No one is always concise and engaging. Literally being “interesting” means to hold interest. And no one, not even A list actors or television hosts, are interesting all the time. Even though they have entire teams dedicated to making it seem like they are.

So what does this mean?

First, Clubhouse is going to need to elevate influencers that have experience in the kind of production work that works in audio. That probably means talking product cues from talk radio like call screening, cueing the audience what is coming next, having prepared topics and set time frames and giving audio stitchers to drive attention. TikTok is the gold standard in narrative tool enabling creation and might be a good source for product inspiration on what tools to give those on stage.

Clubhouse is also going to need to decide if they want to be more conversation driven. A stage and an audience naturally begets status anxiety and a one-to-many dynamic. But that means you can’t drive the same massive numbers as a one-to-one or many-to-many social space. Maybe they will be content to have a smaller influencer driven creative pool that brings in audiences but they will be forced to adapt their tools to that reality. In that way it looks more like Spotify. People use Spotify because the talent is there and it happens to have some social feature. I believe Clubhouse could pull this off as it certainly has the money for it and there is clearly an appetite for produced audio. Rush Limbaugh is a very rich and influential man (disclaimer I worked at 77WABC as an EA and did stints on his show) and there is room for more types of voices.

I’d personally prefer a conversational platform as a user. I was a rabid fan of the first iteration of Anchor before it became a podcast product. It was call and response “voice messages” initially. It was enormous fun to talk into the ether and get messages back. I still talk to friends that I made on it. To call back to my opener, it was a magical time as the app grew quickly around a massive influx. They eventually pivoted and sold to Spotify for what was clearly a better business, but I look back on those few months as some of the best time I’ve ever spent on social media. The magic of asynchronous audio messages made me feel in control as a user. There something I don’t feel I have yet on Clubhouse which has given me a sense of being overstimulated and even anxious. Timing choice is a significant part of social media scale for users as not everyone can be extremely online.

Clubhouse’s product choices in the next few months will determine how long they can keep that magic going and for how many people. Their team has captured something special for a lot of people and and they some of the best institutional backing in venture capital. I’d personally love if they went in a more conversational less status audience driven direction. But it’s not my startup so all I can do is comment from the sidelines and wish them the best.

Categories
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.

Categories
Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 40 and Forgetting

When I first committed to writing “something” every single day I didn’t have a lot on my schedule. I was busy with routines for my recovery (I’ve been busting my ass to overcome an autoimmune issue that presents in my spine) but most of those obligations didn’t require coordination with anyone but myself and my doctors. It can be a full time job between medicines, supplements, treatments, testing, and insurance. But it wasn’t hard for me to find time to write something. Hasn’t always been polished but I’ve always got “something” out the door.

Today is the first day since that commitment to write pushed up against a building set of obligations to other people and projects. My medical stuff felt easy and part of a natural routine. And I didn’t take any downtown for recovery between obligations. I used to buffer my obligations with naps or even whole days of rest. Increasingly I have the capacity to do big blocks without any breaks. Which is how I find myself at 9pm without having set out a quiet block to write my thoughts.

I cannot tell you how exciting it is to have a productive day of work and healthy habits and find myself thinking well huh 15 hours have gone by since I woke up and yet I found no time to write? I look back and see no there really wasn’t an hour or two where I was in bed on my phone. That’s a first for me in quite sometime. I don’t feel exhausted or depleted. I feel if anything pleasantly energetic. Like I need to begin my bedtime routine to let myself come down. And I cannot wait to pick back up what I didn’t accomplish today first thing in the morning.

My human capacity to forget is kicking in. I’m forgetting what it was like to be unable to walk. I’m forgetting what it was like to be in so much pain I couldn’t think clearly. I’m forgetting the soul crushing exhaustion that took all but the most basic activities from me. I wouldn’t mind forgetting the bad parts to be honest. If I could just remember the emotional depths and new strengths I discovered I’d be pleased. I’m sure I’ll have a flare soon and become newly intimate with the ways pain overtakes all life. But I enjoyed forgetting it today. And maybe if I’m lucky I’ll have more time to keep forgetting.

Categories
Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 39 and Trustlessness

It may come as a bit of a surprise to people that know me that I find Bitcoin to be a little boring. Finance and decentralization are extremely exciting to me so you’d think I’d be into our standard bearer currency. It’s deeply cool and I’m HODL but it’s not the most fascinating intellectual problem that blockchain can unlock. The possibilities around ditching trust are what make the space.

Some of us don’t don’t trust the dollar. That primes decentralized finance for broader user adoption. as the dollar gets printed. Add in many governments, from India to Nigeria, pushing currency controls and bans, and the political desire for forgoing “trusted” central grows. It’s going to be a fun time as financial products and services get built out just as politics comes for crypto.

Culturally more Americans are sick of relying on trust. A chaotic year building on top of historic institutional meltdowns makes the need for trusted third parties significantly less appealing across all institutions. As a woman I’m excited to be less bound by bias and social expectations. We won’t need to fixate on gender or identity as old trust paradigms of who or what is risky fall away. It simply won’t matter. Decentralization frees us from old white men as being the most trustworthy. Excellence that is validated not by a third party institution but by verifiable information frees us all.

Categories
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.

Categories
Chronicle

Day 37 and Boundaries

I recently did a Twitter poll where I asked folks what they used to develop their emotional capacity. I listed therapy, meditation/mindfulness, coaching and “nothing” as the options. A full third of respondents choose nothing.

This really took me by surprise as much of my follower base is made up of folks in the technology industry along with significant business and finance types. Most have Silicon Valley mindsets tend to prioritize hobbies like biohacking and performance. Having insight into your mental and emotional state has become a burgeoning part of the quantified self movement. So finding out that a large number of people don’t invest in their mindset was, to quote Geoff Lewis, a narrative violation. I really thought we were all committed to parenting our inner children along with our Wim-Hoff breathing, weight lifting and protein eating.

But maybe I shouldn’t find this odd. It’s much easier and certainly more linear to put gains on your squat and cut your fat mass to show your abdominal muscles. The math on that can be done on apps and coaches can help along your progress. It’s trackable. Clear metrics for success exist. OKRs for your body. But learning to let go of self limiting beliefs, check your desire to self victimize, or refrain from vomiting your emotions all over your friends is less quantifiable.

Still you can track your meditation minutes in Calm or your time with a professional coach which your venture fund offers with their new fangled mental health benefits. So why is it that a third of people happily clicked that they were fine not doing anything for their emotions?

I suspect it has something to do with the challenge of knowing yourself and that knowledge necessitates drawing new boundaries. The further one gets in a journey of emotional and mental health the more one has to let go of habits and people that undermine us. Sometimes it can even mean giving up all the things we thought made up our life. Such is the high price of happiness. People may reasonably make the calculation that it’s too high a cost. That being unhappy isn’t so bad. That boundaries are too expensive for someone like them. So they tolerate what they’ve always known as the unknowns of pursuing happiness is too much.

It’s quite likely I’m overthinking this one as I’m currently reminding myself of the value of boundaries in my own life. Perhaps it’s as simple as being a fish in water. If you don’t know the water is there why question it? A third of people may have never considered the benefits of questioning their existing beliefs and emotions. Which saddens me a little. But also reminds me that investment in emotional growth is a significant edge.

Categories
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.