Questioning

March 13, 2010 — 18 Comments

In Eating Animals, Jonathan Froer mentions hidden camera footage of slaughterhouses. They are the videos that we’ve seen and were sickened by or maybe made a conscious effort not to see. The ones with abuses and disgusting conditions and an appalling lack of humanity. In both choices, there is this tacit admission that something is wrong with what is happening and our role in it. And a process that backs people into that kind of corner is troubling.

This is a theme in philosophy and real self-awareness as well. To look at that things that make us disassociate. That prompt us to rationalize. Or more banally to not probe something uncomfortable.

It calls to mind a line in Meditations about never regarding a thing as doing you good if it makes you lose your sense of shame or, “desire to keep things behind closed doors.”

Better: a Spartan anecdote from Plutarch about King Hippocratidas when a youth and his lover met him accidentally in a crowd. The two had turned their faces away and he said “You ought to keep the company of the sort of people who won’t cause you to change color when observed”

Dread

March 6, 2010 — 5 Comments

What’s so weird about dreading things that might happen is that you have usually already figured out what you’re going to do if it does. In which case, your role in the whole situation is kind of over.

Why the anxiety? Do you doubt your ability to stick with your own plan? Ok, so focus on that. Do you think the universe registers your fears and then takes them under consideration? No, obviously not. So you want to feel miserable for fun then?

Ideas

March 1, 2010 — 8 Comments

About 3 years ago, I was pretty early in signing someone off YouTube. At the time, the kid I represented had one of the top 20 channels and I thought we’d be able to turn it into something. I remember putting together this whole plan for where I thought it could go. Unfortunately, after a big rush of excitement, it limped to a close on both end – the agency kept stalling investing resources in some 16 year old kid and the kid himself eventually had a melt down. I left the whole thing feeling like my balls had been cut off.

Cut to many many months later, and the company pulls in someone else from online. His manager put together a strategy for his career and they asked me to look at it. Shockingly, it was a familiar sight. Two years had passed and someone is feeling out ideas I’d been begging them to try back then. I wanted to get angry. After all, what kind of fucking bullshit business is it where you’re getting pitched your own pitches and asked if you think they’ll work?

Then I realized that the real awful thing was the notion that I apparently only liked my ideas when I thought I was going to get credit for them. And my instincts were more inclined to let everyone know I’d been there first than to relish an opportunity to put them into action.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned about ideas. It’s your job to have them. It’s your fate that they’ll sometimes be ignored or unappreciated. It’s beneath you to throw a tantrum when this is exactly what happens. Finally, don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s enough to simply not mind getting credit. If you really want to get something done, go around looking for people for the credit to go to and work your execution backwards from there.

Self-Indulgent

February 14, 2010 — 8 Comments

Schopenhauer once said that the ability to “always see the general in the particular is the very foundation of genius.” Sure. And being a pompous fool too.

The running temptation on the internet is to take a minor observation and turn it some grand theory (Thankfully it’s not as common, but still shamefully alluring to name this theory after yourself. I wince every time I see a “Hugh’s Law” or one of the “Jarvis Laws of Media“). See a poorly run restaurant? – pontificate about the power of customer service. Hear an old media company fucked up? – let’s rant about how awesome blogs are.

Of course these articles always suck. The only people who can stomach them are the ones who have nothing to do with the industry in question – or they’d be struck by the overwhelming amateurism and cluelessness that drown out any value.

It’d be well and good if this stayed and died on the internet, but it doesn’t. People are being raised in this culture, consuming it on a daily basis, and letting it work alchemy on their soul. It’ll turn you into a laughingstock and a do-nothing long before it brings out your genius.

Work it like this, I think: cut yourself off the next time something makes you think “wow, that would make a good blog post.” It won’t. The fact that it feels like it would means it’s probably trite, obvious and self-congratulatory. Give it a some intense study before you expound the value of a new business model. Stop and consider how likely it is that new information will change the nature of the situation and you’ll find you probably don’t need to weigh in just yet.

It’s ok. You’re not missing out on anything. Focus on the vision you’ve planned for yourself. Leave the chatter to the people who enjoy peddling thoughts to empty rooms and avoid the tactic hell that is responding to every particular that pops up in front of you.

Distraction

February 7, 2010 — 16 Comments

As George Washington left office he famously admonished the country to avoid entangling alliances abroad, particularly those of a military nature. Whether or not people took it truly listened, the message stuck. Even today, you can hardly have a discussion about foreign policy without someone bringing it up. It’s especially loved by politicians – Democrats and Republicans equally – who like to throw it in each others faces when the opportunity arises. And of course, they’re well aware of the irony in doing so because in the same speech Washington emphatically warned against the formation of political parties which had at that point not yet taken hold.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when we strip observations from their context or pick and choose what we want to believe. We’re often left basing important decisions on ideas that are not even wrong.

That’s all I can think about when I hear people talk about the paleolithic diets and hunter-gatherer exercise.

Put aside the dubious science for a second. That Greek hoplites on campaign, for instance, subsisted almost entirely on grain and rarely ate meat – god forbid, we’d ever be cursed with their fitness. (For fun put a picture of a Greco-Roman statue and an African tribesman side by side) It’s an idea with a kernel of truth, stripped from its context and wrapped in contradictions. The real question is why?

What a relatively superficial problem to find with our modern lives. It’s a shame too when there is so much in evolutionary psychology that can be used to make us better people. It can help us understand roots of things like jealousy, ambition, and fear. We can think about these deeply natural drives and how they’ve come to fail us in the world we currently live, not to selectively embrace and emulate the conditions that created them. And what’s the goal here anyway? To not waste your time like the people who try to eat a balance diet and regularly exercise? Those idiots.

What the internet makes easier – and our culture encourages – is organization without sacrifice and beliefs that don’t require much conviction. Oppose a foreign war: quote Washington but cling to your political party. Creating a new diet: use evolution, forget the naturalistic fallacy. It’s the illusion of profundity without any of the risk. And I know it’s cute to think of ‘cavemen in New York City’ but it seems more like an undermining contradiction than irony to me.

The problem is that these ideas ultimately consume so much of our time and energy for muddled results at best. They are lifestyles at the expense of life. Like there is something shameful about waking up as a regular person and dealing with the issues that we all have in front of us: pride, anger, lethargy, accumulation… Do you waste your time playing videogames? Do you have to drink to be comfortable around other people? Do you find yourself consumed by petty office politics and gossip? So much is ignored at the cost of hunting raw meats and bone marrow and so little is gained in return. (For that plug anything)

To me these theories mark the very real temptation to stay busy at the expense of real work. It’s the trap of subbing meaningless discipline in for the kind that forces us to change and improve. All the upside of feeling accomplishment but without any of the risk that you might become a better person for the process.