What Matters

August 28, 2009 — 10 Comments

The best part about Law and Order is that you can turn on any episode, at any point in time, and have everything you need. The show just does what it is supposed to do. This is because Dick Wolf designed the concept around the parameters of the syndication market, which had never been very kind to dramas. They’re too difficult to break apart and air out of order across channels. But not Law and Order. In fact, it is so different that were channels so inclined, they could split each episodes into two independent halves when the show switches from the investigation to the prosecution and have twice as many.

If I wrote a book about stoicism, I would have so much to say that I wouldn’t have any room to waste on ‘catching people up to speed.’ I wouldn’t even mention Zeno or Cleanthes or Chrysippus or Panaetius. Just like Law and Order doesn’t waste time on flashbacks and character romances and plot lines that bridge between episodes. The same should be true for any book, especially philosophy. But so many pages are wasted on dates and places and context and all this crap that nobody needs.

I’ll put it this way. Most times when I finish a book, I still have no idea who the author was or how to pronounce the names of the characters and subjects they wrote about. I will often find myself in a conversation about something I’ve known very well for a very long time and realize I have no idea how I am about to pronounce the word that is going to come out of my mouth.

The message from other people is that this is supposed to be embarrassing. Or insufficient or uneducated. In fact, in school you’re punished for doing so. But it seems to me that this is not only the best way but the way the author would want. Because what matters are the ideas and they only matter now, to you.

The rest is filler and masturbation. Or worse, it’s a ruse.

Arguing with Reality

August 19, 2009 — 15 Comments

Right after my girlfriend and I started dating, I got sick and she drove me to the hospital in my car. It was out of gas and when we stopped to fill up, she couldn’t figure out how to open the tank. I don’t know how it happened exactly, but the next thing I knew, we were arguing about whether the lever was on the door or not. Through the fever I remember thinking, how are we even having this discussion? Just because they’re normally on the floor doesn’t mean anything, it happens to be on the door.

John August wrote something in January about a new unlimited DVR service in Canada that might disrupt re-run and syndication rights. Buried in the middle is the same comical kind of thinking: I’d love to use the service they’re making but I don’t think they should be able to. Here is what I’m willing allow.

His readers chime in “yeah my vote is for John’s plan” or whatever. No one stops to point out that this whole issue is happening in another country, is left up to the courts, has no consideration for what individual writers may like or dislike about it, and lastly is part of an inevitable technological trend. They’re much too busy attaching riders like it’s a bill through congress. And that is the perfect metaphor too because what they’re doing is trying to vote on reality. They’re voting on reality

We’ve become so used to preposterous internet speak that we don’t even notice anymore. You have to remind yourself: don’t have time for these meaningless discussion about what should or shouldn’t be. Abolish a word? Are you serious?

Our energy would be so much better spent accepting it and finding a way to change it. Looking for cracks to apply leverage and force, not rhetoric. But it feels better to voice your disapproval like some papal proclamation. Ryan does not agree, the facts are on notice!

Enough. Admit to yourself that this is hollow. It is self-absorbed helplessness. And promise that you’ll try to waste less time arguing about reality, pointing out what the weather was supposed to be like today, and take the world as is, for what it is.

Fiction

August 11, 2009 — 14 Comments

If we consider that posturing tends to imply some basic deficiency and that social masks often cover for their opposite, what should we think about these business metaphors:


cannibalization, drilling down, war room, open the kimono, where the bodies are buried, twisting the knife, a hail mary, loose cannon, come to jesus meeting, brass balls, getting axed, poison pill, hit the ground running, consigliere, deal junkie, nerves of steel, pulling the trigger

I think it means that deep down we know there isn’t anything all that impressive about what we spend so much of our lives on. And we’re so desperate to make it sound better than it is that we dress it up violent imagery and sports references. You can’t draft off something else’s narrative, you can pretend, but the facts remain.

The Underside

August 3, 2009 — 7 Comments

Our first impulse is to try to stop people’s unpleasant behavior. But when you think about it, often the things that bother us can be more beneficial than the niceties we seem to want so badly. When people are:

—rude or disrespectful:

They underestimate you. A wonderful gift.

—duplicitous:

You won’t have to apologize when you make an example out of them.

—overly critical:

Managed expectations.

—lazy:

Make your accomplishments seem all the more effortless.

—For all behaviors that provoke an immediate negative reaction.

In Harness

July 31, 2009 — 16 Comments

One emotion I felt most often during the election was pity. That someone relatively intelligent, educated, would have to wake up one morning and write a piece like this.

Talk about a reach for your revolver moment. It just seems like it would be the worst thing ever. He might be a columnist, but he was compelled, unlike everyone else, to squeeze out a rationalization for what was objectively an embarrassing failure.

I feel the same way about most of the internet. We’ve sort of bought into this myth lately that there is this coterie of bloggers who hit the lotto. They have the life. They wake up, work from home and write whatever they want. But the thing is, if they were really in control, why do they all write about the same story within minutes of each other? They’re really in chains. Chasing controversy that turns out to be fabricated, pontificating on topics they couldn’t care less about. They’ll admit it sometimes, unintentionally, when you question them about why that had to be written. We know what they’re really trying to do but we still need to go on the record about it.

Seneca would call these nice people slaves. He’d say, each time you see their byline next to a story try sadness, not envy. They won it at the cost of life.

I saw a link to some article about Apple banning Google Voice from the App store earlier this week. All I could think was I’m so glad I have no idea what they’re talking about. Plug in any scandal, hot topic, a famous person’s life story. The same.

Not caring – being without the burden – is a kind of real peace; it means having the chatter at just the right volume that you can’t make out the individual words.