Categories
Media Politics

Day 331 and No Going Back

We were never getting rid of the downstream effects of the pandemic. All the joking about the “before times” was just our collective psyche exhibiting normalcy bias. There is no going back. Inequality is rising and people are struggling and attitudes have ossified. Not because of some bizarre conspiracy but because you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.

Every restriction and panic is just another day where the world gets more unfair and the prepared and the wealthy have more moves than those at the bottom. And so more people suffer and the gyre widens.

The thing about being privileged is that it compounds over time. Every instance of success and every lucky break build on each other. The math is an inexorable process that leads to one conclusion. The rich get richer.

The reverse is true too. Every barrier, every bill, every setback, every issue compounds too. An object in motion stays in motion.

If this all seems very unfair, I regret to say there is absolutely nothing any individual can do about the physics of success. The best you can do is try to bring others up with you. Educate them on the logic of success and arm them so they can begin to compound their own.

You can’t do it at mass scale. Individual outliers will distort every set of rules and every game within a handful of moves and the accretion of influence begins anew. There is no such thing as revolution. There is only hoping you can enable enough people to change the direction for good. That enough people chose collectively to make better choices for each other.

Anyone who preaches anything other than individuals aiding each other in freedom will have to acknowledge that all systems are prone to corruption and self serving. There is no level playing field.

Some of us just have enough ego to think if it is our people and our tribe or our political party in charge we’d do it better. That’s a lovely lie and history is riddled with the graves of societies that fell to egos of Caesars and strong men. Humans wouldn’t be interesting without our sins. We have to chose to overcome them and accept responsibility for their consequences rather than put our problems at the feet of elites.

And this unfortunate logic can lead one of two ways for America. We can either accept the personal freedom and self responsibility of each other. Or we can get smaller as a nation. What’s more likely to happen is the inequality widens. The rich and productive will write their own destiny. They will take advantage of the sifting sands. New fortunes will be built on pandemic logic and technology.

And the insecurity of the chaos will erode the positions of most fragile members of society and they will fall further as we climb higher. We will force rules on them we don’t abide by. Masks, testing, vaccines, restrictions of movement become for thee but not for me. We will restrict their capacity because it doesn’t affect our lives. It’s corrosive and unequal and cruel. It’s entirely without empathy. And we are accepting that because our stars are rising. The money is being made off this societal transition. It’s already in motion.

Categories
Aesthetics

Day 214 and Their Rules

If he wants to play their game, then he has to learn their rules.” – Downton Abby

I’ve been on a bit of a kick with taking notes for my grand unified theory of shitposting. Naturally I’ve been obsessed with the British aristocracy melting down during modernity in Downtown Abby. A great deal of class implosions make for excellent drama. Class and it’s privileges are crucial to understanding who can get away with what. And I’m becoming rather sure that shitposting is a way of changing the rules, through satire, of who gets to accumulate social capital.

I own a reasonably good library on the intersection of class, wealth, and capitalism. I suspect that sort of preoccupation isn’t that odd of a leaning when you come from family that jumped from working class to bourgeois and had set its sights even higher for their children. And it’s reasonably amusing that I file the topics together in my head and on my bookshelf.

Class, Greed, Liquidated, Capitalism and of course Zizek.

Money has never been the determining factor for class, but the American preoccupation with capital has led us to develop elaborate social mores to try to distance that we have overlapped wealth and status into the term “upper class” in this county. We don’t have peerage so things like taste and creativity has come to dominate. We absolutely hate the nouveau rich and disdain people with bad taste.

I spent a number of years working in “style” which is the overarching set of professions that dominate who has class. I worked for luxury houses, founded a cosmetics brand and even did marketing for a very high end gym. All of the kinds of things you can buy to demonstrate you have good taste and thus are worthy of being considered upper class.

Honestly it seems easier to have to learn the manners of the aristocracy than to have to bother with keeping up on style. At least those assholes had a consistent dress code. But an elaborate set of social distinctions overlaying signifiers on who has taste and credentials is fundamentally more accessible. Hipster are social progress.

Showing you’ve got the capacity to read social signals has lead to a lot of weird shit. Our current preoccupation with critical theory for one. But it’s opened up class status to people who are capable of demonstrating their understanding of what it takes to occupy their place on the ladder. And yes I think shitposting is the new Harvard degree or house in Newport. I guess it’s no weirder than marrying someone with an estate on a cold island off the coast of Europe.

Categories
Aesthetics Emotional Work

Day 197 and Status Anxiety

I’m becoming quite bored of feeling like shit as I go on maybe day 8 or 9 of a poor reaction to an anti-viral. It’s not fun when the cure is worse than the disease. I noticed something fascinating as more and more “days off” piled up. I’ve still got a lot of emotional shit when it comes to being sick.

My anxiety over being seen as weak, lazy or lacking in willpower started to compound the more days I’ve needed to recover. What will people think of me that just as I’m making a comeback to full time work that I let myself get waylaid by a virus? Every project and meeting that needed canceling felt like I should accompany it with an apology tour. I felt like I owed everyone my time and energy. I felt ashamed.

The social striving and status chasing that have gripped the aspirational class seems to have its claws firmly in my psyche. At least when it comes to work, I’m convinced I must always be working to be “better.” Where the fuck did this self limiting belief come from?

Who cares if I needed a week off to cope with health care needs when I’ve been on medical leave for nearly two years? What is another week. Why am I so anxious to show that I’m capable of going back to work? Who the fuck cares! It’s not as if I’m dependent on a salary to survive. I’m not chasing a resume or CV polish on LinkedIn. I can just not work.

Technically I’ve already made it out of the status social climbing games. I’ve got money. I’ve got traditional credentials. I have a well compensated skill set that is easily hired out for income without sacrificing much of my time. I should not be experiencing any class anxiety at all. I should happily go into the leisure class and not concern myself that my workaholism isn’t possible for health reasons. And yet I’m absolutely panicked that I’ll be see as lazy and unreliable every time I have a minor setback.

It’s abundantly clear that aspirational class signals, especially around meritocracy and knowledge work, are as bogus as Edwardian England’s aristocracy. Class division can be upended if you just stop giving a fuck. But I’m experiencing exactly this anxiety noted in The Hedgehog Review.

The aspirationals’ endless pursuit of better can produce psychic restlessness and doubts beneath the façade of confidence and accomplishment.

I’ve always thought of my habits as being high status. I read science fiction, make a hobby of macroeconomics, and pursue healthy biohacking experiments. Of course, that I think of these things as having status is precisely what makes me signaling it low status. The perception of me caring so fucking much is proof that I don’t think my status in life is secure. I’m no better than the middle class strivers in Downtown Abbey who miss manner cues. How embarrassing!

But if I can admit that I’m anxious about my place in the world maybe it’s a sign I’m not so beholden to class systems after all. I’ve just now admitted that I’m afraid of how I will be perceived if my climb back to health isn’t perfectly stage managed. I hope that is the first step in letting it go. Fixating on fear and anxiety isn’t great for physical health. So I’m putting it out there that I’m afraid of how I’ll be seen by others. And I’m letting it go.

Categories
Emotional Work Preparedness

Day 192 and Cherries in Air Conditioning

I found myself eating an entire pound of chilled organic bing cherries in bed while binging episodes of Downton Abbey this week. Watching the British aristocracy cope with modernity poorly seemed like an excellent balm for the climate anxiety that has been gripping me during the consecutive heatwaves inflaming the American West.

I’m a doomer and a prepper but recently I’ve felt completely defeated by the looming impacts of climate change. And I’ve been manifesting it is a kind of orgiastic panic of consumption. We had a windfall this year and it has soothes some of the panic I’ve had about having the resources to survive. Maybe it will be miserable but we might have enough wealth to avoid dying.

But I’ve been spending more on petty purchases of comfort. I’ve bought 2lbs of organic cherries, the large carton of organic blueberries, the $15 bags of dark roast coffee for espresso, and the $10 bar of 95% dark chocolate without a second thought. We’ve had sashimi for lunch and on Friday I ordered a lobster roll. We live thousands of miles away from the ocean in Colorado. We don’t grow or fish any of those crops here.

The excuse I’ve been using is that I’m concerned (nay convinced) none of these things will survive the next 25 years except as extreme luxury goods. If I can see the changes coming should I not enjoy the access I have to food that will no longer be available in my fifties? If I can see the end coming why conserve? I’m not Exxon or BP or some giant mining extraction concern in China. My forgoing small luxuries as an individual will do nothing to stop the catastrophe and I would like fond memories of the taste of a cool tart cherry in my twilight years. Burn me at the stake for it I guess.

Categories
Chronic Disease Politics

Day 142 and Optimism

The pandemic has done more to improve my life than to it has hurt it. I have a little survivors guilt as I am not far from family and friends that have suffered but I was lucky. Part of my luck has been tied to my privileged place in society. I was able to enjoy housing flexibility and leave behind an expensive city apartment for a townhouse in my hometown. I was always able to work from home with little fear my income would be impacted by disease or even negative secondary effects. Nevertheless I haven’t felt much optimism until recently.

Part of my lack of optimism has been tied to my health challenges. It’s been two years of working to get a diagnosis, stabilize my spine, and get the secondary symptoms controlled. There were low points when drug regimens didn’t work. Or when it seemed like the fatigue or pain would keep my life away even when primary concerns were improving. I was genuinely terrified going into the pandemic as it did cut off my access to typical doctors visits and more hospital setting delivered care.

But I’ve found significant improvement over the past six months thanks to excellent remote care I was able to receive from functional medicine doctors. It’s almost as if with the operational and physical logistics of care removed the actual outcome of my care improved. I was able to get to the heart of a diagnosis and hone in on effective treatment protocols more quickly. Thanks to this improvement I’ve come to find my optimism again.

Not that I think the world is getting better. If anything I’m far more worried about the many axis of American failure. Our politics has become authoritarian. Our economy increasingly serves only the entrenched and already wealthy. Our interest in mitigating climate change remains low. It’s so bad the best we can do is chuckle at why millennials don’t have kids. It’s because they are selfish right? Nothing to do with how hard it is to trust that the system will ever work for you so why bother investing in the future?

But I am intrigued by the opportunities afforded by the chaos. There is money to be made adjusting us to new realities. Maybe by dint of accidental or unexpected changes we find innovations that change our world. Maybe those will be for the better. And maybe I can help nudge along the better outcomes. And for the first time in a while o believe my body will be up for the challenge. It’s nice to be optimistic.

Categories
Finance Politics

Day 141 and Double Indignity

I’ve always been interested macroeconomics. Even as a child I got very excited about trading and markets eating up movies & books with political themes. Precocious snot that I was I quoted the Economist in my high school year book. So was primed to be interested in Bitcoin from the start. I even had a physical copy of the ur-conspiracy theory of monetary policy “Creature from Jekyll Island” in college. Yes it’s embarrassing. Point being if you are a fiat freak you probably have some opinions about the Fed, a few of which sound utterly wild.

I’d been exposed to questions about money and what drives people to build and create. I was skeptical that we could continue printing currency because I was introduced to economics through the basics. I also had an intuition that this system was making bigger winners of the already advantaged and short term interests, while taking away from long term interests who need their time & money maintain its value on the horizon. Basically I think inflammation sucks for the young. And if you are young and poor it’s a double indignity.

This is why I find Bitcoin so appealing philosophically. The idea that those already in power can inflate their interests over those who come after them offends me. Dynastic societies become ossified. I found Steven Ross’s Stone Ridge investor letter to be a particularly compelling argument for why Bitcoin is a moral good for equity.

Money is, and has always been, technology. Specifically, money is technology for making our wealth today available for consumption tomorrow. Modern Americans with a ‘What’s water?’ mindset about money – virtually all of us – assume there is a sharp line of distinction between what is money and what is not. That’s false. Instead, throughout history, various monies (note: plural) have always existed1 – simultaneously – along a continuum of soundness, subject to competitive monetary network effects. Sound money – along with language – were the first, and have forever been the most important, human networks responsible for human flourishing. Imagine life without them.

I think Americans especially the monied elite interests are simply becoming too entrenched to the detriment of freedom here but most critically around the works. We have no incentive to let the rest of the world compete so we are rigging the game in our favor. I don’t like it morally even if it benefits me personally (though arguably not as much as it does Boomers and the old). I’d rather Earth compete as one as this drives our progress. Anything less is serving a double indignity to the least privileged among us.

Categories
Finance Politics

Day 135 and 4 Quadrants of Crypto

I’m on my own this weekend so I had some time to listen to podcasts on my daily walk. I stupidly decided to listen to a podcast entitled “best crypto debate ever” which was vastly overselling both participants capacity to engage in productive debate. Not because either wasn’t smart but simply because they were both approaching the topic from entirely different vantage points. One had reasonably well founded concerns about about the how existing powers will fight to preserve their interests and the other was too fixated on proving that the market was the only player that matters. I am beginning to think that crypto, and in particular Bitcoin, is having a “blind men and the elephant problem” that makes discourse challenging.

I’m not pretending to have a full understanding of the future of cryptocurrencies or Bitcoin, merely articulating to myself as an exercise (it’s my blog after all but maybe my thinking helps you too) the four expertises required to wrap one’s mind around how cryptocurrency will evolve and what consequences we need to consider. Because there are no “right” answers at the moment merely different vantage points to consider as we stumble into the future.

1. Macroeconomic: understanding central banking, treasuries, monetary policy and macroeconomic actors is a specialized skill set. I studied it at arguably the best university on the planet for the subject and I still find the ins and outs to be heady stuff. Who decides what money is worth? When do we change those valuations? How does one country’s currency impact another’s? You hear a lot of buzzwords tossed around like “rules not rulers” but the practicalities of it are in fact hard problems. Just tossing off that you think “fiat currency” is bad isn’t enough.

2. Geopolitical: governments need money to provide services and security which makes them economic actors in addition to being political ones. America’s political ambitions are distinct from China’s. How we make make our money and how we spend it both at home and abroad will affect how we perceive other currencies. You need to understand things like how the dollar’s reserve currency status operates (ideally it’s history) to even begin to understand the geopolitical implications of cryptocurrency. Much hay was made of Peter Thiel suggesting Bitcoin could be weaponized by China against the US. Clearly any currency, especially one not run by Americans, will have geopolitical consequences. That anyone got hysterical about it suggested to me that our understanding of monetary policy and its political implications is limited in the general population. One needs to understand how the many actors on the political stage intersect their interests, political and economic, to even begin to comprehend how a cryptocurrency, particularly a decentralized one like Bitcoin, might evolve. In other words you have to understand how it works before you can do any predictive work.

3. Technical: concepts like distributed ledgers, hash rates, decentralized computing, and cryptographic keys are all crucial subjects for understanding the mechanics of a cryptocurrency, who owns it, and how it’s transacted. The chances that you understand the above geopolitical and macroeconomic problems and also understand how to code say your own token or have the wherewithal to acquire and set up hardware for a mining rig are slim. Maybe you grok it but being an expert in all is vanishingly slim. Computer science, political science and economics are all separate disciplines. Sure Bitcoin mining basically operates like loot crates in a game and who am I to say whether it’s a better system to have dorks with a lot of hardware run our money instead of Steven Mnuchin.

4. Microeconomics: the final area expertise is how markets and all the different players in them will value a currency and use it both as an asset and as a payment system. The elaborate financial systems that exist to determine what you think something is worth versus what someone else does is elaborate. We’ve got Byzantine financial products that decide everything from your mortgage to your salary to the cost of a sandwich. And while it’s not intuitive the folks that work on currencies, monetary policies and macroeconomic issues are not equipped with the same skill sets at all as the folks who trade on financial markets, cut deals between market participants or work out balance sheets. I’m much more studied in the macroeconomic issues than the financial ones and I wish that weren’t true. It’s a lot more lucrative to work in futures, arbitrage and market making.

When it comes down to it these four quadrants all require distinct skills and very different areas of study. Much of the debate and disagreement may simply come about because we are seeing different possibilities. Wrapping your head around the whole is difficult and no matter how brilliant you are having exposure to all areas is a lifetime of work.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Startups

Day 99 and Swag

My favorite item of clothing in the pandemic has been a Facebook hoodie. It’s the perfect garment for long days indoors, not too heavy but not too light. It zips so it’s easy to get on and off. It has pockets for stowing my iPhone. It’s got a snuggly fuzzy inside but a smooth cool texture outside. I’m not sure I’ve been more dedicated to a piece of clothing.

Years of living in New York, where dragging dirt and debris in from the city was a real concern has made me a almost compulsive aficionado of “indoor clothes” which were not besmirched by the grime of subways and pavement. My Facebook hoodie remains my default “indoor clothing” top layer. At night I unzip it and place it carefully beside my bed. In the mornings if it is cold I put it back on before starting my day. The chances are good that if you’ve been on a Zoom call with me I’ve been wearing this hoodie. It’s just on screen and a strange affectation for someone that has literally never been a fan of the traditional Silicon Valley boy wonder aesthetic. The only item I have gotten more wear out of is a pair of Gucci boots I’ve owned for 12 years now.

To say that they are very different garments is an understatement. One is a thousand dollars worth of black Italian leather crafted into the Platonic ideal of day boots. They are feminine with tight knee high lines that maintain the slightly militaristic echo that typify the Italian school of fashion. The other is a baggy slouching genderless sack of blue with an embroidered white logo that splits with a zipper tight down the middle between Face and Book.

You would not imagine the owner of one garment was the owner of the other. Even when the tech plutocracy decided it wanted to play with high fashion status games (thanks Marissa) the two stylistic poles never really gained much common ground. Still tech has inspired a significant portion of modern fashion and fashion craves the semiotic power of Silicon Valley. I’m sure Willian Gibson could explain the common lineage but I doubt I have the chops. Nevertheless I do consider both pieces to be emblematic of my personal style. Something about utility I suspect. The two garments are not from entirely different worlds

Ironically I don’t use Facebook anymore (though I still have an account) and I don’t even support what the company has become. So you might think it’s odd I own a piece of swag from the company. I got the hoodie after I had already given up on the place. But I got it from a Facebook employee who I consider to be one of the best humans I have ever known. His name his Dan.

I didn’t ask him if I could write this little remembrance so I won’t give his full name. Thanks to the efforts of one of my investors he was an advisor and investor to one of my startups and was unfailingly the kindest person I had the privilege of working with. On a trip to visit him in Menlo Park he took me to lunch on the Facebook campus. We had tacos. Afterwards as we were walking we passed the swag store. I said that I thought it was a brilliant bit of marketing that they sold hoodies. Pop culture has long cemented the status of the hoodie with both the company and with founders in general. To have a specific Facebook hoodie seemed a powerful talisman filled with irony and hope. Without missing a beat Dan bought me one.

There was no way of knowing at the time, for either of us, that this garment would end up a significant figure in my daily routine. It remains an emotional link to Dan and the support he always showed for me. He never wavered in his belief in me. This is a trait he has demonstrated consistently with those in his life. One particular example is a dear friend of mine who worked at Facebook thanks to his efforts. She is also brilliant and kind and at the time Dan worked with her the victim of a deeply Silicon Valley crisis. The kind you might even associate with tech bros who wear hoodies with logos on them. An irony that is not lost on me. The tech industry truly contains emotional multitudes.

I’d encourage you to inspect the garment in your life that holds the kind of significance and emotional resonance that this hoodie does for me. Fashion exists in even the places we think are furthest from style. Like corporate swag. Like a Facebook hoodie. There is always a story and a reason behind what we wear. Indeed this was a topic I thought I’d make my life’s work when I first stumbled onto the internet. I kept a fashion blog on WordPress maybe starting in 2004 or so. I didn’t end up being a fashion critic. But I still get to blog about clothing if I feel like it.

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.